Authors: R.L. Naquin
Phoenix in My Fortune
By R.L. Naquin
A Monster Haven Story, book six
When Zoey Donovan found out monsters are real, her life changed—mostly for the better. Since then, she’s fought bad guys, saved the world a time or two and earned the love of a growing family of humans and Hidden creatures alike. But the danger that’s chased her from the beginning is finally here.
Shadow Man, aka The Last Hidden, has stepped out of the story humans wrote for him and into the real world, hell-bent on stealing children. Fiction has become reality and Shadow Man intends to break the Covenant, reclaim the Hidden, and kill all Aegises along the way…triple bad news for Zoey and her mother, the only two Aegises still alive.
Zoey will have to rescue the stolen kids and hunt down the most terrifying villain humanity has ever imagined. But how can she fight a creature only invented a few years ago? If Shadow Man triumphs, the world as she knows it will end. If Zoey succeeds in driving him out, the people she loves the most may be lost to her forever.
This month I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you who
read, review and recommend. Word of mouth is so critical to the success of a
book, and we so appreciate not just those of you who write reviews on retailers,
review sites, and your personal blogs, but also those who have a love of talking
books, as I do, and recommend the things you enjoy to friends, family and fellow
readers in conversation, on social media, and at parent/teacher conferences
(yes, I’ve done this!). Thank you, you help us grow and thrive!
Speaking of books to review and recommend, I hope you find
something in this month’s lineup that inspires you. First, we’re pleased to
introduce two debut authors. In
by Julianna Keyes, eight
years in prison have left Dean insatiable, and a decade apart isn’t enough to
stop Rachel from surrendering any way he asks. Don’t miss this sexy contemporary
For those who have longed for something different in
historical romance, Pamela Cayne delivers in
The Fighter and the Fallen
. In Victorian London, Lady and King, a prostitute and a street
fighter, are kindred souls, each trapped in their own hells. Both owned by a
ruthless businessman, they have no chance at love if they don’t first risk
Also new to Carina Press this month is a brand new male/male
space romance series from author duo Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen set aboard a
-esque freighter, following a cast of misfit super-soldiers
who have been through intergalactic hell and offering up a delicious and
unexpected reunion romance. Don’t miss the first book in the
For those who love revisiting favorite authors, HelenKay
Chain of Command
is available this month. Special ops Marine
Sawyer Cain is ready for civilian life, trading danger for more stability by
opening a gun range with his friends, but first he needs the land and that means
going through Hailey Thorne…and nothing prepares him for her.
A drunken kiss between an out gay man and his supposedly
straight best friend awakens long-repressed feelings that neither man is able to
ignore in fan favorite A.M. Arthur’s
Getting It Right
Proving that all good things come to an end, we’re sad to say
farewell to urban fantasy series Monster Haven from R.L. Naquin. In
in My Fortune,
Zoey must stop the terrifying Shadow Man from breaking
the ancient Human/Hidden Covenant and taking away all the Hidden in our world
forever—including Zoey’s family.
Hunted by a killer, Layna Blair knows trust isn’t a mistake
she can afford, but the six-foot-four Marine makes her an irresistible offer—her
freedom, his rules, no questions asked in
Author Kate Willoughby delivers another sizzling contemporary
Out of the Game
. Alex Sullivan may be the San Diego
Barracudas’ resident playboy, but he’s never forgotten his kiss with Claire
Marzano. When he sees her again at a teammate’s wedding, he can’t think of
anything but spending more time with her. Preferably naked.
Last, we wrap up two science fiction trilogies this month. In
The Epherium Chronicles: Echoes
by T.D. Wilson, Captain James Hood
and his ship, the
, survived the battle of Cygni, but the
victory at the new colony puts humanity in more danger both in space and on
And from Timothy S. Johnston’s science fiction mystery series
the Tanner Sequence, described as Agatha Christie meets Michael Crichton,
Homicide Investigator Kyle Tanner is on an emotional journey as he hunts killers
in a society plagued by violence and brutality. Stranded on a disabled vessel
with a hostile crew that includes at least one serial killer, he must
rely on the love of a remarkable woman in order to decipher the clues and solve
the mystery in
Coming in April 2015: a hot erotic romance, two new debut
authors and the launch of a new male/male new adult trilogy.
Here’s wishing you a wonderful month of books you love,
remember and recommend.
Editorial Director, Carina Press
For all the wonderful readers who stuck around to see Zoey’s story through to the end. If I could, I’d send every one of you a closet monster of your own.
Every ending is the beginning of something new.
This is the finale of the Monster Haven Stories. There are a lot of people who helped make the entire series happen. I owe thank yous to so many people.
Many, many thanks to all the folks at Carina Press for taking such good care of me and my books. And a special thank you to Angela James for being the one to make that acceptance phone call four years ago. I waited my whole life for that call. I’m glad it was you.
Through the course of these books, I had three different editors. Thank you a million times to Alison Dasho for plucking my novel out of the slush pile, breathing life into it and teaching me what I didn’t know I needed to know on those first three books. Thank you to Mallory Braus for stepping up and adopting me for books four and five. Five was an especially tough one, and you made sure my own personal hell didn’t keep my book from coming out on time. And finally, thank you to Rhonda Helms for coming in on the last book on short notice and working double-time to get me caught up. You went above and beyond, and I’m so grateful. All three of these women rock pretty damn hard.
Thanks and gratitude go out to my friends who didn’t move out of Northern California like I did and were able to answer my regional questions and/or send me photos of odd things I needed to know—Kate, Murffy, Rhett and Paul. Thank you for never answering “I don’t know.”
The Lawrence Writers Group provided constant encouragement, ass kicking and all-around support from the beginning. I love every one of you. Thank you for all your help.
Thank you to my kids, Jake and Alyssa, who gave me ideas, meals, help around the house and faith in myself through their faith in me.
And, of course, thank you to my husband, Kevin. He gave me all the tools I needed, then stepped back and let me shine. I am so lucky, my pockets must be lined in gargoyle snot.
As a little girl, I’d have given up my Barbie Dreamhouse to have a miniature purple dragon—as an adult, I didn’t find it nearly as exciting. My knees hurt from kneeling in the dirt with a scrub brush and a can of turpentine while I tried to get purple paint out from between Simone’s scales. Not exactly the fun and games five-year-old me had been looking for.
My sweet friend Bruce had gone off on a mad search for other pygmy dragons so he wouldn’t be alone in the world. We’d been delighted to meet his new girlfriend, then immediately horrified when a bucket of paint fell off the ladder above her and drenched the collie-sized reptile.
So embarrassing. Bruce was probably mortified.
So much for bringing your girlfriend home to meet the family.
I saw her for a brief moment before a bucket of Plum Paradise tumbled from where I’d been painting the roof trim and splattered across her back. She’d been a lovely shade of pale green, much lighter than Bruce’s emerald hue. Because the bucket had been more than half full, every inch of her was saturated.
Personally, I’d always thought purple and green looked great together. In fact, those were the same colors we were in the process of repainting my house—sort of a dark turquoise with purple trim.
It didn’t look so great on a pygmy dragon. Maybe I’d have to rethink my color choices.
I made a face. I’d already spent months with paint chips, waffling between five different shades of purple, three greens, and a shocking pink that Sara finally put her foot down on and told me she’d stage an intervention if I insisted on using it to put polka dots on my house.
Unfortunately, everybody else agreed with her. My house or not, I wasn’t getting polka dots, especially of the hot pink variety. I was lucky they didn’t gang up on me for choosing green with purple trim. No. I’d have to stick with my decision, no matter how awful it looked on a pygmy dragon. Houses were not dragons. It would work out.
I splashed more turpentine on the rag I was using and dabbed it against the side of Simone’s neck. No amount of soaking, dabbing, rubbing, or scrubbing achieved more than a thin layer of paint removal. Letting out a deep sigh, I dropped the rag in the bucket of water next to me.
“Simone, I’m sorry.” I brushed a stray hair from my face with the back of my hand and gave her a mournful look. “It’s not coming off. I think your belly furnace baked the paint into all the crevices between your scales.”
Simone snorted. I couldn’t understand her without our resident interpreter, Molly the brownie, but the little dragon didn’t appear to be upset. I would have been upset. I’d have been in tears. But then, dragons didn’t have heads full of curly hair that frizzed at the slightest thought of humidity or wind. Dragons were lower maintenance than humans.
Bruce waddled closer, making a series of breathy snuffles that I suspected was laughter. He nuzzled Simone and snaked his tongue out to taste her face, then turned and gave me a pointed look I didn’t understand.
After a long, awkward moment during which I wondered if I’d truly pissed him off, he stepped toward me and head-butted me in the leg, sending me sprawling backward into the grass.
Strong hands grabbed my upper arms and dragged me farther from the dragons. I looked up to see Riley’s gray eyes crinkling at the corners.
My fiancé, love of my life, thought it was hysterical. Awesome.
Bruce’s breathing became deeper and heavier. His sides pumped in and out in a bellows motion, stoking the fire in his belly.
I glanced up at Riley, frowning. “Hey, isn’t turpentine flammable?”
He didn’t get a chance to answer before Bruce exhaled in Simone’s face and she turned into a fireball the size of an English sheepdog.
Had Riley not pulled me out of the way, I’d have looked hilarious without eyebrows.
As it was, the end of one of my shoelaces sputtered like a birthday candle. Riley spotted it before I did and yanked my sneaker off my foot. He stomped on it—the whole shoe, not just the flaming lace—effectively squashing the shoe out of shape, but also putting out the fire.
I wiggled inside my rainbow toe-sock. “My hero. But now you’ll have to carry me everywhere.”
He swooped me up in his arms, laughing, and kissed me hard. “The shoe is fine. You’re just too lazy to walk anywhere.”
“You can’t prove that.” The toes inside my sneaker and the ones flashing rainbows all curled in happiness.
He set me down on a ladder rung and kneeled in the grass. With a very serious face, he pushed the shoe back into shape, unlaced it, slid it on my foot as if it were a high heel made of glass, then laced it with care.
I shook my head, grinning. “Weirdo.”
He winked and helped me descend to the ground. “You’re not really a good judge, you know.”
He had me there.
I returned my attention to the pygmy dragons a few feet away. The purple paint had bubbled and curled in the extreme heat of the fireball and was flaking off each time Simone moved. Bruce nuzzled her behind the ear, and a long strip of paint peeled away to fall in the grass.
“Bruce, you’re a genius.” A little heat from the inside had baked the paint in, but a lot of heat on the outside had blasted it off. Never underestimate the ingenuity of the Hidden. Bruce may have been small and didn’t speak my language, but he was over two hundred years old. Odds were good he knew a hell of a lot more than I did.
Riley and I went to work peeling the dragon until she was her normal, green self again. By the time we were done, despite the language barrier, we’d gotten to know Bruce’s girlfriend quite well and had welcomed her properly to the family.
Simone and Bruce snorted to us and waddled off into the backyard to find a comfy place to settle themselves for their stay. Most likely, they’d curl up under the apple tree toward the far side of the property. That was where Bruce usually slept when he visited.
“So.” Riley stood and brushed himself off. “I guess we’re done painting for the day. I’ll clean up.”
I waved my hand at him until he grabbed it and pulled me to my feet. “I’m starving. Are you starving?” I didn’t wait for an answer. “I don’t think we have much in the house. I’ll run to the store.”
“Shirking cleanup duty?” He gave me an exaggerated stink-eye.
I shrugged. “It’s not like I made the mess.”
His eyebrows shot up. “No?”
I smirked. “Okay. Maybe I had something to do with it.”
He rolled his eyes and bent to pick up the brushes I’d abandoned in the grass. “Go get us some food, weirdo.”
I danced up the porch steps to grab my purse, humming to myself. Inside, my happy mood wavered. The house was so quiet these days. As recently as four months ago, I’d had people living on top of each other. Now it was mostly the two of us—Riley and me.
After Aggie had died, Mom and Darius moved into her cottage on the other side of the woods.
Kam, missing one of the three magic jewels embedded in her wrist, had gone in search of other djinn. Unable to get back to the djinn world without full magic, she needed to hitch a ride with someone else. For the time being, she took freelance jobs as a soul catcher and wandered the country in search of someone like her.
I could have told her before she’d left that there was no one like her. I missed her. She was like a sister to me. But I wanted her happy more than I wanted her with me. I’d have to settle for visits whenever she came close enough to stop by.
And then there was Maurice. My beloved closet monster. My dear friend. My brother. He’d done what all of us eventually did—or at least hoped to do. He’d fallen in love. And he’d managed to do it with my best friend, Sara, who was now a demon, thanks to the bastard incubus who’d raped her both physically and metaphysically. When the queen of the demons had handed him over to Sara for a taste of his own medicine, he’d forced Sara to take more of his energy than she could hold. As a result, she couldn’t pass for human any more than Maurice could. They couldn’t live at Sara’s house in Sausalito without alarming the neighbors unless they kept all the curtains closed and kept the house dark. I’d offered them the master bedroom here, but they wanted to be on their own.
So, they’d left.
My heart squeezed in my chest. I had to stop thinking that way. They didn’t really leave. They were here all the time, visiting. But mostly, they traveled. Now that Sara was no longer human, Maurice could take her with him to travel through the network of closets around the world. If I called them, they could be here in seconds, no matter where they were.
Currently, they were hanging out in Australia. Lots of wide-open spaces, sparse human populations and natural immunity to all the poisons and venoms of Australia’s wildlife. Whenever they needed to travel, they waited till dark and sneaked into a farmhouse to use a closet while the owners slept.
In an emergency, caves worked, apparently, but were terribly uncomfortable.
So, my house was empty. Sure, there were a few Hidden who lived outside, but inside the house, it was only Riley with me. I loved having time alone with him, but I still missed the noise of having everyone here—hard to believe, considering I’d been perfectly happy living alone two years ago. It surprised me how much the constant chatter and bustle of a house full of supernatural creatures had made me feel needed.
Not even my weekly check-in calls with Bernice and Art at the Hidden government’s headquarters helped. They were busy trying to fill the empty positions on the Board. We kept in touch, but they didn’t need me either, unless I was willing to fly out to Kansas and help them conduct interviews. That wasn’t going to happen.
I sighed and grabbed my purse. No use letting the quiet ruin my mood. As I passed him on my way to the car, I blew Riley a kiss, and he blew one back.
I pulled out, singing made-up words to a song on the radio I’d never heard before. At the end of the driveway, I stopped to check for cars and prepared to turn left.
From the corner of my eye, I saw a figure staring at me. No. I felt it more than I saw it. Something impossibly tall and thin and dark. I whipped my head around to see it, but there was nothing there. The figure was gone.
Goosebumps covered my arms and sweat broke out on my upper lip. I shivered.
Nothing there, Zoey. What the hell is wrong with you?
Nothing there. Whatever I’d thought I’d seen clearly wasn’t there. Yet I didn’t believe that for a minute. Hungry or not, I backed the car up and returned to the house.
As I pulled in, Riley shut off the hose he’d been spraying to try to return my grass to its natural color. “Forget something?”
I stepped out of the car, my body shaking. “I saw him.”
Riley’s face paled. “Are you sure?” He didn’t bother to ask who I’d seen.
I nodded, paused, shook my head, paused, then nodded again.
He dropped everything and came to wrap his arms around me. “Well, shit.” He kissed the top of my head. “I guess the reprieve is over.”
I buried my face in his shirt and my voice was muffled. “I’m not ready.”
“We’re as ready as we can be. We’ve beaten everything that’s come before. We’ll be okay.”
He was right, of course. We’d beaten a hungry incubus intent on devouring every woman I came in contact with. We’d beaten the Leprechaun Mafia and a sorceress who’d tried to auction off all the Hidden to the highest bidder. We’d beaten the most powerful empath the world had known and a cult of Shadow Man’s worshippers attempting to set off the zombie apocalypse.
Knowing all this didn’t mean I believed we were ready. This was it. The end of the line. The Last Hidden had stepped into the world, and he was there to destroy it.
* * *
We’d known he was coming. Four months ago he’d sent a cult of worshippers to kill all the Aegises in the world, thereby breaking some mythical Covenant nobody really understood and causing the zombie apocalypse.
Except, it didn’t really go down that way. The cult had managed to kill all the Aegises but my Mom and me. And then they didn’t wait for this Covenant thing to be broken and the two of us to be dead. They went ahead and started the zombie apocalypse anyway.
It was all out of order. Which probably meant a couple of things. First, that not even this Last Hidden guy really knew the terms of the Covenant. And second, he wasn’t too eager to go by the book and was playing by his own rules.
In the end, we put the zombies (and werefolk, demons and vampires) back in their boxes. Mom and I had also been getting messages from the First Hidden, an enormous bird called the Simurgh. Like its descendant the phoenix, every time she died, she was reborn and started life again, which was why she was still around after thousands of years. At least, that was what my research suggested.
Her most recent message had been the awesome news that the Last Hidden had chosen a name. I’d really been hoping he’d be the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but no. That wasn’t the name he chose.
Then, we had four months of peace and quiet. We’d dared to hope maybe he’d changed his mind. Or was two inches tall and not the threat he’d expected to be. Or invisible and totally helpless to communicate with us.
Anything was possible, right? A girl could hope.
But fun-time, apparently, was over.
In what I would forever think of as The Great Time of Peace and Quiet, I had researched Shadow Man. About six years ago, a group of psychology grad students at a small Midwestern college had created him as an experiment using a round-robin approach. The first person described Shadow Man as being tall and thin with an elongated face. From there, they each took turns adding to his description and creating a backstory.
Orange, bottomless eyes. Trailing overcoat the color of dried blood. The ability to unhinge his jaw like a snake. Sometimes appeared in bedrooms and watched people sleep. Peered through windows. Crickets followed in his wake.
Stole children from the playground. From the street. From their beds.
Once the group tired of creating this terrifying creature, they took him out on the Internet for a trial run. They mentioned him in urban-legend forums. They dropped his name on supernatural websites. They reported sightings in the comments on articles about Bigfoot and Nessie.