Monday, August 5, 2019

Reality Bites - Chapter 1

Yes, Reality Bites is on preorder at all the major e-book retailers and will be available in less than two weeks!

REALITY BITES - Coming August 15!

Being a regular human in the supernatural world is never easy, something Mai Osaka learned before she could walk. So when her boyfriend’s fairy ex strolls into the casino where Mai is head of security, she knows there’s more to the Seelie’s story than she’s telling. But can Mai figure out the real plan and who’s behind it before the fae pull the biggest heist in the history of Las Vegas?

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In the meantime, here's a sneak peek...

Mai Osaka stood next to the limousine and waited for the small private jet to taxi closer to the Augustine hanger. St. James hanger, she told herself sternly. She wasn’t the only one who’d slipped over appropriate names and conduct the last two weeks. But as the head of security for the Las Vegas branch of the Western United States Vampire Coven, she was expected to set the example.

Even if she was a Normal.

Sharp-edged sunshine bounced off the tarmac and penetrated her standard black pantsuit and boots. Her extra dark sunglasses barely held back the rays. The only color marring her standard uniform was the blue and gold watch with the obnoxious cartoon duck on it. It wasn’t her taste, but when the new boss’s wife gives you a gift, you don’t argue. Especially since said wife was a brand-spanking new goddess of death who wasn’t entirely in control of her powers at times.

The enforcer standing next to Mai pulled a white handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped the sweat from his face and neck.

“I don’t know how you can stand this heat, Ms. Osaka,” Thad Wolford said.

“It’s a dry heat.” Her standard reply. Personally, she couldn’t wait to climb back inside the limo. It was a wonder her sidearm and watch didn’t rust with the amount of sweat overwhelming her antiperspirant and trickling down her torso and arms.

Thad grunted in response. Given that his wife was a werecoyote, noncommittal sounds probably kept the peace at home. The former small-town sheriff didn’t feel the need to make constant small talk, which was why she brought him instead of one of the were or witch enforcers.

The men standing by the fuel tanker didn’t say much either as they waited, too. But maybe that was more due to the hearing protection they wore.

Engines whined as Miko Osaka guided the coven jet into an “L” turn and a stop at a safe distance. She waved off the tow vehicle and cut the power. Crap. That meant her little sister couldn’t even stay for dinner.

The jet’s door swung down, creating the staircase to disembark, while the workers set about refueling the plane. Mai’s heart did a little pitter-pat when Stan Gryffudd ducked his six-six frame through the opening. Brown and green canvas bags were slung over both broad shoulders. A tight scarlet t-shirt covered his torso. Equally tight jeans covered his lower half. His white-blond crewcut literally glowed under the afternoon sun. His long-legged stride made a beeline for the limo.

Thad popped the trunk, met Stan, and offered to carry the bags. The new general manager of the Karnak Hotel and Casino flashed a genial smile and politely refused the offer of assistance.

Unsure of what to do, Thad shot a confused look at Mai. She shrugged, and he backed off. When Duncan St. James had been Normal, he was nobility. Before him, Selene and Ptolemy Antonius had been literal royalty. They all expected a certain amount of deference from the people who served them in Vegas beyond the usual vampire hierarchy bullshit.

Between those three, Grandfather Kensai had been in charge of the coven’s interests here for two and a half very short years. But even his Normal status as a military man had carried through with how he expected the staff to behave. Frankly, all the vampires, employees, and Family in Las Vegas were looking at a huge adjustment.

A vampire would have been a better choice, but with a potential cure for the virus on the horizon, there wasn’t anyone Duncan totally trusted. By the same token, he couldn’t appoint a Normal Family member. The other vampire masters would consider such a move a sign of weakness.

Which meant he needed someone with supernatural abilities. Someone who could protect themselves, like Stan.

“Getting maudlin in your old age, sis?” A devilish grin lit Miko’s face as she approached the limo.


“Right.” She wrapped her arms around Mai. “I don’t need telepathy to tell when you’re thinking about Grandfather,” she whispered.

Mai returned her baby sister’s hug. “What happened? Vegas was supposed to be your last stop today,” she said softly. Miko released Mai and scowled. “Alex happened. I swear he’s getting more paranoid than Duncan ever was as chief enforcer. He scrambled travel plans because he thinks someone leaked the originals.” She held up her hands. “So don’t ask me where I’m going next. I’m not allowed to tell you.”

There was more to the story, but Mai wouldn’t press right now. Alex Stanton didn’t panic over nothing, and she was fairly certain Stan would tell her later.

“In the meantime, I get to babysit new pilots.” She gestured toward the cockpit. A vaguely familiar face looked back at them. The man behind the windshield smiled and waved enthusiastically.

Mai saluted him before turning to her sister. “Who is that?”

“Tom Wellington.”


“One of the Billings, Montana, vamps.” Miko rolled her eyes. “He’s been a bush pilot for a century but I’ve got to get him up to snuff on jets.”

The name finally clicked in Mai’s head. “Wait a minute. Doesn’t he write romance novels?”

“Yep, with his wife.” Miko grimaced. “They’re branching out to same sex romance.”

“And he’s using our need for additional pilots to do a little research?” Mai tamped down on her irritation on her sister’s behalf. Even though they’d been raised by their bisexual grandfather and his male partner, Miko still got weird bout being out of the closet herself.

A shadow loomed over them. “You don’t have to say anything about your personal life to Tom, Miko.” Stan’s voice rumbled with his displeasure.

“It’s not him. It’s me.” Miko fidgeted, which wasn’t like her at all. Finally, she said, “Brittany and I broke up last night.”

Mai cupped her sister’s cheeks with both hands. “Why didn’t you call me?”

“Because it was a long time coming.” Miko sighed. “With the demon craziness the last couple of years, coven matters have taken precedence in my life.” She drew Mai’s hands from her face and held them. “We’ll have a sister night soon. I promise. And I’ll tell you everything, but right now, I have a schedule to keep before a certain vampire has a cow.” “All right, but I expect a call in the next two days.”

They hugged again before Miko jogged back to the little jet and climbed inside. The fuel truck had already departed. She waved at Mai before she closed the door. A minute later, the engines roared to life, and the plane headed for the line of aircraft awaiting clearance for take-off.

“Mai, would you ride in the back with me?” Stan said.

“Yes, sir.” She tried not to shiver at his voice. It wasn’t his fault he was part fae. Half the time, she didn’t think he even realized the affect he had on her.

Thad opened the rear door for them and stiffly held it.

And despite protocol, Stan insisted she climb in first. Mai bit her tongue to keep from chewing him out and wasting even more time. Duncan had to adjust his normal responses when Caesar appointed him the city master of Las Vegas. Her experience with Stan indicated it would take twice as much time to retrain him.

Once they were settled in the back seat, she looked at Stan. “Did something happen?”

He rubbed his temple. “Yeah. A car bombing in Seattle two days ago. We’re pretty sure the target was Donna Whitefeather.” Thad climbed into the driver’s seat. “Is she okay?” Something else bothered the other enforcer than the attempt on Donna’s life. His slight accent became noticeable only when it was personal.

Stan reached into the satchel he still carried. “Shrapnel cuts and mild burns. Nothing the V-virus couldn’t handle, but one of her Normal nieces and the girl’s were boyfriend were killed. Pissed doesn’t begin to cover Donna’s mood.”

“Suspects?” Mai thumbed through the reports. As she suspected, the additional attacks weren’t limited to Seattle, or even the western U.S.

“The Vampire Liberation Front is claiming responsibility.” Stan shook his head wearily. “Despite Caesar’s fears of an all-out civil war, they’re the only real problem. And the incidents with them have been limited to guerilla tactics.” A particular name sent a trill of worry down Mai’s back. Her eyes met Stan’s. “Dare Coven?”

“What about Dare Coven?” Thad asked as he guided the limo down the service road around the airport.

“An explosives-filled van rammed into Virginia’s main house in Maryland at twelve-oh-five in the afternoon last week,” Mai answered as she read. “Three daytime enforcers died. Virginia and her inner circle weren’t there at the time, and the surviving staff were able to get the two vampires in residence to safety. That doesn’t make sense. Virginia’s on their side when it comes to the cure.”

“So far she hasn’t accused Aug—” Stan sighed. So Mai wasn’t the only one slipping. “She hasn’t accused St. James of sponsoring the VLF, but Duncan’s concerned that was the terrorists’ intent. The DNA of the driver matched one of Caesar’s grand-nephews who remained loyal during Selene’s rebellion.”

“It says here his wife reported him missing two weeks ago,” Mai said.

“Yeah, he was supposed to pick up his kids from school and never showed.” Tension bled off Stan.

“They could have threatened to kill his kids when they nabbed him,” Thad offered.

His suggestion sent a chill through Mai. Was that the real reason Miko and her girlfriend had broken up? The possibility of harm coming to the woman she loved might have driven her baby sister to do something stupid.

Mai frowned as she looked at Stan. “Those kind of stunts will attract too much Normal attention.”

“Alex thinks that’s their plan,” he replied.

“Why out themselves if they want to stay vampires?” Thad said. “That makes no gahddamn sense.” He flipped the turn signal and pulled into the second left turn lane to exit the airport.

Mai sighed. “There’s more than a few sadists who enjoy spreading fear on both sides. If they get enough people afraid, no one will take the cure or the vaccine. They can increase their numbers and make a play for world domination.” “And how do we know this Vampire Liberation Front are actually vampires?” Thad asked.

“What are you suggesting?” Stan asked.

“The ones with the most to gain from the collapse of the Vampire Nation are the fairies,” Thad bit out as he drove down the Strip.

“Wolford,” she snapped.

“I’m just saying what none of you will,” he growled back.

“And I will not tolerate racial slurs from any of my staff. Is that understood?” Mai said. Good. Now, she knew where things stood with him and could take steps.

After a long moment, Thad said. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Do you have a particular problem with me or just sidhe in general?” Stan asked.

“I had a bunch of Unseelie murdering people in my jurisdiction.” Thad glared at them in the rearview mirror. “Ah. You’re the former sheriff from Ohio.” Stan shifted to look at Mai as well. “Wanna explain to me what’s going on?” There wasn’t any tickle in her mind indicating Stan read it, but then, he never needed to resort to those tactics. She shrugged. “I wanted to see how Mr. Wolford would react given his previous encounters.”

Thad didn’t say anything more until he pulled in front of the Karnak’s private entrance and stopped the limo. He turned to glare at her over the driver’s seat. “You expected me to shoot the new boss?”

“Given Anne’s report of what happened in Millersburg, it was a concern of mine.” She returned his glare. “Considering your use of inappropriate language, it seems my concerns were warranted.”

Thad sucked on his teeth for a moment before he turned to Stan. “I apologize, Mr. Gryffudd. It won’t happen again.”

“Good.” Stan scowled at the Normal. “I’d hate to start my tenure here by turning you into a mushroom for insubordination.”

Mai made a sound low in her throat. She didn’t need Stan making his first day here a total disaster.

He shot her a look. “I’m just teasing him.”

“I wouldn’t go there if I were you, Mr. Gryffudd.” Thad smirked. “You need Mai. She’s the only one I’ve met who can keep Sam Ridgeway in line.”

“Really?” Stan’s left eyebrow quirked upward. “This could be an interesting assignment.”

“You have a series of meetings tonight, sir,” she reminded him. “You might want to get settled and cleaned up before then.”

Thad climbed out of the driver’s seat and circled the limo to the right side.

“Slave driver,” Stan whispered in her ear.

A shiver ran through her body that she managed to quell before Thad opened the passenger door. She climbed out on unsteady legs. Thankfully, Stan’s attention was on his luggage after he followed her out of the vehicle. Maybe she should have Kunal deal with their new boss. Her judgment was too…compromised when it came to Stan.

It wasn’t exactly either of their faults really. Maybe her cousin Tiffany was right that Murphy was the one true god. Mai swallowed a sigh. Anything that could go wrong had gone wrong in her life.

When Thad drove off to return the limo to the coven’s vehicle pool, she led Stan to the private elevator for the penthouse. Sanjay, one of Kunal’s Normal cousins, guarded the alcove. He pulled a pin made of Olympian bronze from his lapel.

She held out her hand, and he poked her little finger. Bright red blood welled on her skin, and Sanjay handed her an antiseptic wipe. While she cleaned off the excess blood, he repeated the procedure with Stan.

The enforcer inclined his head. “Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Gryffudd.”

“I’m happy you’re not poking me with an iron pin,” he said dryly.

A wry smile tilted Sanjay’s mouth. “As Ms. Ridgeway says, it takes something a little more to detect the dino demons.” Mai headed for the elevator door.

“Have you had any more incidents here?” Stan asked, his long legs keeping pace.

“Not since Master St. James and his wife moved back to Los Angeles.”

“So six months, then?”

She didn’t want to talk about what had happened. The demon who had gotten into the kitchen still gave her nightmares. “Your biometrics are already encoded for access. Place your hand on the plate.” She indicated the black plastic panel on the wall. “And say your name.”

She turned to leave when he grabbed her arm. “Who else has access to the penthouse?”

His inquiry only reminded her of her limitations as a Normal. Something she had never questioned until the dinosaur demons had started their campaign against Sam. “Unfortunately, I haven’t devised a way to keep out all deities.” He flashed his bright, charming smile. “I meant staff? Security?”

“Only myself, Kunal Saravati, and your executive assistant Staci Warner. One of us has to authorize access for anyone from another department such as housekeeping or room service. The enforcer on duty checks everyone who goes upstairs, but he or she can’t control the elevator.” At his odd expression, she added. “St. James is the only coven looking for dinosaur demons. They’re not bothering anyone else.”

“I’m aware. But maybe you should come up?” Another grin. “To make sure I understand all the security measures. I’d hate to set off a false alarm by brushing my teeth.”

Her back stiffened. “I adhere to the standards set by our chief enforcer.”

Stan glanced around and lowered his voice. “C’mon, Mai. No one’s going to suspect anything by you showing me around.”

She could feel her resolve melt. They’d never been assigned to the same city, so things between them had slipped under everyone’s radar for years. But Stan Gryffudd had become her private addiction, and she didn’t know how she’d deal with their new status.

And if she asked for a transfer, Duncan would want to know why since she was the highest-ranked enforcer within the Las Vegas branch of the coven. Hell, she had five years of seniority on Kunal, who’d been perfectly content with his string of drycleaners in Houston until Selene’s rebellion.

“Please?” Stan's pale blue eyes didn’t glow like a vamp’s, but they held a different kind of intensity. One that dissolved the rest of her control into a massive puddle.

She mutely nodded.

He slapped his palm on the panel and said his name. With a ding, the doors parted, and they stepped inside the car. He pressed the “PH” button and glanced upward, no doubt noticing the security cameras.

“Guess I’m not sneaking a woman up here without you knowing.”

She didn’t take his bait. “There’s a facility outside of the city that caters to supernatural clientele.” She couldn’t suppress her grimace. “It’s my understanding Selene made frequent use of their services.”

“Are you equating me with that bitch?”

Mai suppressed a smile at his aggrieved tone. “Of course not, sir.”

He frowned at the panel. “Is ‘L3’ the old safehouse vault?”


“Maybe we should clear it out. We may need it if we catch one of these VLF bastards.”

She chuckled. “Unfortunately, we cannot at this time.”

“Why not?”

“Sam’s storing some…courtship presents from previous suitors that she cannot exactly return. We don’t have any other adequate facility to put them.”

Stan groaned. “Should I ask?”

“The worst is a rosebush Ares gave her. It drinks blood, and has a tendency to wander around if it’s not locked up.”

“And she didn’t take it with her to L.A. because…?”

Mai looked up at Stan. “Do you really have to ask that?”

He rubbed his forehead. “Forget I said that. No interfering in other people’s marriages. I blame jetlag.”

The elevator doors slid open. Mai was pleased Staci had followed her suggestions. Greenery filled the penthouse living room. Compared to Duncan’s minimalist tastes, it almost felt crowded with the multitude and variety of potted plants.

His gaze swept the area. “Did you do this?”

“Not in my job description, but since you couldn’t bring your greenhouse with you—”

Stan dropped his bags, grabbed her and pressed her against the wall. His warm mouth covered hers. And she willingly gave in to him.

She was breathless when his attention turned to her neck.

“Morrigan, help me,” he murmured against her skin. “You have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”

She chuckled. “I can guess.” It didn’t help that his huge hands cupped her ass, and her legs were now wrapped around his waist.

“A quickie is not what I had in mind for the next time I saw you—”

Mai’s walkie-talkie crackled to life. “Ms. Osaka, we need you in holding.” Mike Warner’s voice. Despite the werecoyote’s youth, he didn’t call her unless it was a real problem. Hell, he’d been the one to realize the new busboy wasn’t remotely humanoid.

Her forehead fell to Stan’s shoulder. “And we’re not even going to get that.”

He lowered her back to the floor, making a point of sliding her body down his length. Like she wasn’t frustrated enough already.

She unclipped her radio from her belt. “What’s the issue, Mike?”

“We have a player from Marley’s roulette table who was a little too lucky. She smelled ozone.”

Mai groaned. Last thing they needed was a cheating witch in the middle of all the Karnak’s other problems. But Marley had been running roulette eighty years ago when she’d been Normal, and she had an eye for the scammers.

“I’ll go down with you,” Stan said. “A witch won’t randomly fling spells if I’m there.”

Mai pressed the response button. “We’re on our way.” She released the button before she said, “And they’ll be fucking lucky if I don’t stick them in the vault with the blood-sucking rose plant.”

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