Grave Watch by Annie Anderson
(Soul Reader, #3)
Publication date: September 28th 2021
Genres: Adult, Urban Fantasy
Meeting long-lost siblings should be awesome, right?
Well, when you happen to be on the wrong side of the law and have every intention of staying there, having a cop for a sister isn’t exactly ideal. And teaming up with said sister? Well, that is just the cherry on top of the craptastic pie that has been my life.
But when our brother decides to attack us head on, banding together is the least of our problems.
Because in our family? Being the hunter also means being the hunted.
Simon wiped at his leaking eyes before striding across the grass and pulling me up by my biceps. “He gave you an hour and we’ve wasted enough of it. You have to get ready.”
Dumbstruck, I allowed him to pull me by the forearm back to the house.
“Clem, get their leathers ready,” he called over his shoulder as we crunched over broken glass and fallen books.
The house looked no better than it had a week ago after our little invasion, and I had to wonder how many times it had broken apart and been put back together by magic over the years. Simon muttered to himself for a second before picking through the debris, yanking me behind him to the staircase. An irritated trill pulled my gaze to my feet, and an angry set of glowing green eyes pierced me with an annoyed glare. Simon yanked me again, and Isis wound around his feet nearly tripping him.
“Damn and blast, Isis. It’s not my fault you went and hid under the bed. The whole bloody house was going to fall on us, you mangy feline, and you can’t die.”
She couldn’t? Well, that was new information—and sort of comforting if I was being honest. The world without a little skeleton kitty in it seemed just a bit awful to me. I pulled my arm out of Simon’s hold and picked up the bone cat, cuddling her in my arms as I continued following him up the stairs.
“Did evil Simon leave you behind, my sweet girl. What a bad daddy.” Scratching at her nonexistent fur, I smiled evilly when Simon shot me a look over his shoulder as he muttered something about children these days.
Annie Anderson is a military wife and United States Air Force veteran. Originally from Dallas, Texas, she is a southern girl at heart, but has lived all over the US and abroad. As soon as the military stops moving her family around, she’ll settle on a state, but for now she enjoys being a nomad with her husband, two daughters, an old man of a dog, and a young pup that makes life… interesting.
I finally get four hot men and the world’s going to end. Typical.
I’ve gone to hell, I’ve faced off against the devil and I’ve lost someone who meant the world to me. That’s usually the end of the story, but it seems the universe isn’t quite done with me yet.
Lilith is still out there, the end of the world is getting closer and only I can hope to stop it. The more I discover, the deeper I dig into the mystery of Lilith’s past and my own powers, the less sure I am that I can actually defeat her.
Still by my side are the four men I’ve fallen hopelessly in love with—leave it to me to get my romantic life in order just as the world falls apart. With all the questions, there are only two things I know for certain—I will face Lilith, and only one of us will walk away from it.
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence, bloodshed and death. There are mentions of child abuse, inadequate parenting and bestiality.
“I could tear your soul right out of your stupid, entitled body!”
The man I’d yelled at stared at me as if I were crazy, but that didn’t even slow my tirade. He might think I was a nutjob—and maybe I was—but that didn’t mean I wasn’t fully capable of doing exactly what I’d threatened.
“You’re insane,” the man said.
“You’re the one who’s attacking that poor woman who works here.”
“She made my drink wrong.”
“So?” I set my hands on my hips, giving him my best melt him into the ground right where he stands look. “You think you’re entitled to everything you want? You think the world revolves around you?”
There beside us stood the barista we were arguing over, her dark eyes wide. In fact, she looked far more concerned about our interaction than about him acting like a spoiled brat. When I had been standing by the bar, waiting for mine, he’d brought his back to tell them they’d made it wrong.
“It really is okay,” the barista told me. “It’s not a big deal. I can just remake it.”
“No,” I responded. “It’s not okay. People can’t just expect others to be perfect, to have it all together all the time. He needs to be understanding.”
“I don’t expect perfect,” the man said. “I asked for iced and she made a hot drink. That’s it.”
“So? She’s trying, damn it. She’s the one working, so you should just say thank you and move on. What makes you so special that you think you’ll get whatever you want?”
His mouth hung open, like he’d never dealt with someone telling him off before. “I wasn’t even rude,” he argued. “All I did was ask her to remake it.”
“She’s doing her best,” I repeated for what had to be the tenth time, that same thing that stuck in my head. “She’s just human, and maybe she’s having a bad day. Maybe she recently lost someone she cares about. Maybe she went to hell and is now in some sort of existential crisis because she doesn’t know how to bring the person responsible to justice. Did you ever think about that, or did you just decide to criticize her?”
The chime above the door rang, and when I turned, I realized maybe I’d gone just a little overboard.
Troy walked in, and I doubted he was there as my friendly neighborhood werewolf just making the rounds.
Which meant someone had called the police on me.
For what? A little disagreement?
Or maybe because I told him I’d rip his soul out of his body…
“Finally,” the man said as if Troy were his saving grace.
“You called the police?” I muttered pussy under my breath, low enough that Troy wouldn’t catch it.
The sharp look in his silver eyes said he had. Stupid werewolf hearing.
“You are going to get arrested,” the man said in the mocking, self-assured voice of a kid who had tattled to Mom on his sibling.
“I doubt that.” I leaned in and kept my voice low. “Because I’m fucking the detective.”
Then, just when I was pretty sure my childish behavior couldn’t sink anymore, I stuck out my tongue at him.
At least he looked shocked.
My high horse didn’t last long, however, not when Troy wrapped his large hand around my upper arm. In a different, sexier moment, I might have even liked his macho bullshit. “I’m very sorry,” he said to the man as he pulled me toward the door. “I’ll handle her.”
I would have told Troy exactly what I thought about that, but he lowered his voice to all but snarl into my ear, “You should probably keep quiet.”
The rumbled reprimand shocked me into silence. Troy never used that tone of voice with me. He was typically soft-spoken and the most likely of the men in my life to let me get away with…well…everything.
So his commanding tone kept me quiet until he opened the passenger-side door of his car and tossed me in. By the time he came around and got into the driver’s side, my brain had started working again and I realized—I didn’t let anyone talk to me like that, not even my sort of boyfriend who turned into some sort of wolf creature and had plenty of weird emotional hang-ups.
“Don’t you manhandle me,” I snapped.
“What was that?”
“What was what? I was protecting the staff against a male Karen. That’s called being a good person. Not my fault you don’t recognize it.”
“You were arguing with a stranger so aggressively that the staff called us about you.”
I crossed my arms and sat back. “He was getting mad at her over one little mistake and she was trying her best.”
He let out a long sigh, as if my words had been more telling than I’d meant them to be. The damn man was far too observant. “I know it’s frustrating to have no leads.”
Frustrating didn’t even start to explain it. After Lilith had killed Gran, after I’d sworn she would pay for it, everything had stalled out. Swearing revenge like that was supposed to be some sort of catapult to action, to lead almost immediately to a big showdown where things got resolved. People didn’t swear to make someone pay then spend six weeks doing absolutely nothing about it.
It was said revenge was a dish best served cold, but it turned out I lacked the patience to let it cool.
It didn’t matter how much I wanted to rain hell down on Lilith—I had no idea where she even was, and neither did anyone else.
The only thing I’d been able to do was help out the werewolves and vampires by removing Lilith’s influence from infected immortals. Doing that felt like a tiny jab back at her, a way to give her the middle finger, but it just wasn’t enough. I could only do it so often, and many of the afflicted had to be killed before anyone could capture them, so it didn’t feel like much of a win.
“I thought we’d have something by now,” I admitted, letting my head fall back against the seat.
Troy set his hand on my thigh, the weight of it reassuring even when I didn’t want it to be. Something about him having my back never failed to make me feel a bit more optimistic. “Ava, you survived hell. You faced off against Lucifer. You destroyed a reaper. You’ll get through this, too. It just may not be as fast as you’d like.”
“Hell was easy. We knew which way we had to go. This, though? I’ve got no idea where to even start.”
He squeezed my leg. “You look exhausted. Are you not sleeping well?”
“I’ve got enough horrible things going on in my life when I’m awake. Why should I sleep? Just so I can dream about the mist there?” Just saying it made me shudder.
I’d had those nightmares all my life, but since going to hell, they’d gotten worse. I woke up choking, coughing, gagging as I clawed at my throat with the memory of that damn mist. Even after I could breathe, I couldn’t shake the horrible drowning feeling.
“You can always sleep at my house,” he offered, his voice having lost its sharp edge, having quieted as if coaxing me to agree. This was the sweet man I was used to.
“You might be able to scare away most things, but I’m afraid you aren’t the best dream catcher.” Despite what I said, he had a point. Even if he couldn’t keep the damn dreams away, no doubt it would be better to wake up next to him than alone.
But I wasn’t that girl, the one who threw away everything for a man—or four of them. I’d survived those dreams my whole life, so I could deal with them alone now.
“What if Grant gets some ambrosia? You slept and didn’t dream when you took it before,” Troy pointed out.
“I’m not ever touching that stuff again. I saw it grown in body parts—I almost was the body some was grown in—and that made it lose its magic. No thanks.”
I kept to myself the fact that I hadn’t actually seen Grant. He and Hunter had both all but disappeared upon our return.
After everything, they had just dropped off the face of the earth—or hell, whatever—without a word.
Was it because of what I was? Maybe the reality of sleeping with a reaper was a turn-off they couldn’t ignore anymore. Fucking the cute, eccentric girl who talked to ghosts was one thing—getting naked with a reaper must have been a hard limit.
“What’s wrong?” Troy asked, probably having caught my expression.
He sighed, the sound telling me he knew I was lying. “Ava…”
I turned to face him. “It’s just more of not knowing where to go, of not having a plan, of being totally and completely stuck. You know, same old, same old.”
He pressed his lips together, as if he knew there was more I wouldn’t say, but he shook his head. “Why don’t I drive you home?”
“What, no handcuffs?”
That glow in his eyes started, the one that said he really wanted to do just that.
Not that I’d gone without…
In the six weeks since we’d returned from hell, I’d ended up in bed with Troy countless times. Always at his place, and usually because I went there, because I craved his scent, his taste, the feeling of his strong hands on me.
It made me wonder if there wasn’t something to this whole mate thing, some bond that drew me to him, that made me need him like I hadn’t before.
Or maybe I was just addicted to his stupid knot.
That was very possible.
He inhaled, slowly, the glow of his eyes brightening. Right. He could smell me, always knew when I was thinking such things. There weren’t a lot of secrets in a relationship with a werewolf.
He leaned forward, as if drawn by the smell of my desire, driven by the need to satisfy me.
I put my hand up and over his face, stopping him before he could kiss me. “No time.”
His groan was muffled by my palm. “I can be quick.”
“No, you can’t.”
Normally, that would have been a wonderful compliment, because the reality was that I never left Troy’s bed unsatisfied. In fact, I usually fell asleep there because I couldn’t stay awake another moment, not after he’d had his way with me, some wild part of his wolf needing to turn me boneless, as if laying a claim.
He nipped my palm before sitting back. “Will you at least promise to stop harassing strangers? I don’t want to get called out on you again.”
“I wasn’t harassing anyone.” At his lifted eyebrow, I blew out a long breath. “Okay, so I may have threatened to rip his soul out of his body.”
Disapproval flooded his expression.
Which I guess was fair.
Maybe that wasn’t the smartest thing I’d done recently. Or maybe it was. It hadn’t been a very good six weeks.
“I know you’re frustrated, Ava. I know you want to find Lilith, that you want to handle this, but going off the rails isn’t going to make it happen any faster. If you end up in jail or rushing into trouble, it isn’t going to help. You need to relax.”
“How am I supposed to do that? Yoga? Meditation? Tea?”
“I have tomorrow night off. What if we go out?”
I paused at the offer, which had taken me off track. “Like…a date?”
He nodded. “We’re involved, aren’t we? Let me take my mate out, have dinner, act like any normal couple.”
“I don’t think you get to use the word ‘normal’, not when we went to hell, had a threesome with a vampire and your penis gets stuck inside me when we have sex.”
He let out a rough laugh. “You’re impossible, you know that?”
“I’ve heard that before, yeah. So, you’re not going to arrest me?”
“Not today.” He caught my arm as if calling me on how I hadn’t actually agreed to the date. “Dinner tomorrow?”
Maybe trying to date like some happy couple wasn’t the best idea in the middle of everything else, or maybe that was exactly why I needed it right then.
“Okay,” I said, inexplicably nervous. Then again, when was the last time I’d had a real date planned?
Maybe never? Certainly never with someone I actually loved.
I went to get out of the car, but he didn’t let me go. Troy shifted his hand to the front of my shirt, then tugged me in until he could take my lips in a possessive kiss, one that screamed mine in a way that melted me.
Whether it was him or his wolf leaving a mark on me, I didn’t know, and honestly, I didn’t really care.
Being claimed by both of them was fine by me, and one of the few things going exactly right in my life.
Jayce Carter lives in Southern California with her husband and two spawns. She originally wanted to take over the world but realized that would require wearing pants. This led her to choosing writing, a completely pants-free occupation. She has a fear of heights yet rock climbs for fun and enjoys making up excuses for not going out and socializing. You can learn more about her at her website.
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Blank: Madam Doesn’t Like That
by Zhanna Hamilton
Genre: Science Fiction
The Blank Series blurb: A former human turned military spy bot escapes the oppressive Solar Government, leaving behind a secret that turns order into chaos. Now, she’s being hunted. Blurb for Blank: Madam Doesn’t Like That (Short Story 4 of The Blank Series): An unexpected visit from sex bots turns into a secret mission with deadly consequences.
Arlo read a large sign passing by on the boulevard.
KILL ALL BOTS!
“What the hell is Razor doing?”
“She’ll be fine. She does it all the time.”
“Does what all the time? Never mind. Don’t tell me. We have to stop her.”
Zen crossed her legs, tapped the console with long, golden nails and stared past the protest.
“You stop her.”
He watched Razor lift a helmet off the ground and put it on, pumping her fist as she walked into the chanting crowd.
“I can’t be in a protest, Zen. I have a career to protect.”
“Don’t we have somewhere to be?”
“And we’ll get there.”
“This is ridiculous,” he said, stepping out of the pod. He tried to spot her. Nothing but angry strangers. Walking towards the crowd, he felt the electric energy of frustration.
“PEOPLE OVER BOTS! PEOPLE OVER BOTS!”
He stood at the edge of the moving spectacle and scanned for Razor.
Against the grain of the crowd, he spotted the oversized biker’s helmet with flowing blonde locks extending beyond the edges. She grabbed a bat off the ground near a closed psychedelics store.
“Razor, no!” he yelled, his voice drowned by the raging chorus.
What inspired you to write this series?
I read a lot about emerging technology, which stirs my imagination. This science fiction series is an extension of my interests and curiosities. I feel compelled to continue bringing this fictional universe to life.
What does the title mean?
“Madam Doesn’t Like That” refers to the Supreme Leader of the Solar Government, Madam Siren Opia. It references a specific scene, but also captures her general nature and power.
Do you consider the series to have a lesson or moral?
Yes, though the series can be read in different ways. One way is for fun, and another way is to focus on the more serious topics. I’m deliberate about what I include in the series, so if it’s there it has a purpose.
What is your favorite part of the series?
It’s difficult to name one favorite. The entire series is a joy to write. The futuristic technology, the dystopian romance, the misbehaving bots–I love writing it all.
Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
Aura Swain, the former human turned military spy bot. As a former unchipped human, she has a complex backstory. Her renegade activities give her an antihero edge even as the protagonist.
What are your immediate future plans?
“You’re Dead to Me, Cupcake” is the 5th installment of The Blank Series, which I will release next on Wattpad. Readers can follow me there so they never miss a story release.
About the Author:
Zhanna Hamilton is a science fiction writer and the creator of The Blank Series. In May 2019, she released the first installment of the scifi series on Wattpad, “Blank: Begin Again,” which has been named in the top 100 list of femme fatale stories and chosen as an “Undiscovered Stories” Wattpad Pick on the independent storytelling platform–home to 90 million readers worldwide. Readers and future readers can follow Hamilton on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZhannaHamilton.