include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Carnelian by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.

Published by EVERNIGHT PUBLISHING ® at Smashwords


www.evernightpublishing.com




Copyright© 2018 Serenity Snow



ISBN: 978-1-77339-790-0


Cover Artist: Jay Aheer


Editor: CA Clauson



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.


This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.






DEDICATION


Thanks K for being a real friend. No, I still didn’t take all your advice.



CARNELIAN


Midnight’s Jewels, 5


Serenity Snow


Copyright © 2018


Prologue


Carnelian Montag groaned as she reached for the cell phone dangling precariously on her nightstand. The song blared again, and she growled.

“What?” she demanded. She’d been up two days straight working on a case for a covert agency called Mojo that had finally come to an end last night. She was part of the company’s cyber-crimes division.

“What the hell were you thinking?”

“What the fuck do you want?”

“Your head on a silver platter for putting my woman in danger.”

“F you,” she muttered. “If Kia can’t do the job, then maybe the bosses made a mistake,” she snapped. “Tell her to get a tissue and get over it.”

“A tissue? She was stabbed,” Blade, one of her co-workers, snarled in her ear. “I’m going to come over there and drive a damn knife through your arm and see how you like it.”

“Bring it on, baby,” she retorted sitting up. “I’ll send you back to Ace in a body bag.”

“Oh, yeah? I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Blade, sweetie, let it go,” Kia said in the background. “She was just doing her job, and I’m fine.”

Listen to your woman,” Carnelian sniped. “That’s something she just might actually know.”

“You and I are going to have a strong conversation when you get in today, reckless asshole.”

“You just better remember who has your bitch’s back in the field,” Carnelian retorted and ended the call. Carnelian let out a scream.

She should have had that job. She had logged more time on this job as well as in the field than that priss. She was tougher, too, and had no fear of her powers, which made her hard to take down.

Carnelian clenched the phone in a death grip, palms growing warm. The catchy beat cut into the red haze spreading across her mind making the room hot.

“I swear, Blade if you don’t stop calling me—”

“It’s me, Carne.”

Her cousin’s voice was a little strained, but still held that familiar warmth. “Hey, Mina, what’s up?” Carnelian asked tightly.

Mina let out a little laugh. “Nothing much. I was just wondering how you were,” she said.

She rolled her eyes. “You haven’t talked to me in four months. Now, you want to know what’s up? I needed you then to help me clean up that mess, but you totally bailed on me.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t handle it.”

“More like didn’t want to be associated with it,” Carnelian snapped and pushed her hair behind her ear. “You’re a part of this family, too, Mina, no matter how much you attempt to duck and dodge the truth.”

“Stop ragging my ass, cuz,” she muttered. “I know I let you down, but it’s not like you were alone.”

“That is not the point!” They’d lost two family members, almost lost a third in the witch war, or more accurately, family feud between her family and another that had been raging for at least a hundred years. “We could have used your help.”

“I don’t want to piss away my life on petty crap,” Mina said quietly.

“None of us does, you self-centered jerk.”

“Okay. I’m all that and a sack of shit, but I need your help,” Mina pleaded.

Carnelian’s stomach clenched, and her breath locked in her chest. “What’s wrong?” Mina was never in trouble unless you counted the occasional bar fight that landed her in jail, but that was only when her buddy, Jeri, wasn’t around to bribe the local law.

Mina was too good for that.

“I’m not sure. I need your professional services,” Mina said. “I thought about just contacting the agency, but I don’t want my business all over the country or Europe.”

“What is it?” She did have a case to finish and couldn’t actually leave immediately.

“I think someone’s stalking me. I need protection.”

“Do you think you’ll be okay for a few days? Three or four? I have a case I need to close before the kid gets away.”

“Yeah. I—if the kid gets out of the country you might never get it back, so by all means. I just need the name of a good hacker in the meantime. That will get the ball rolling for me nicely,” Mina replied.

“Okay.”

“I need someone who can get into a system without alerting anyone. Can that be done?”

“I know someone that’s the shit. No one will ever know she was there.”

“Who? Can she get started today?”

“I think I can persuade her. Are you okay? You sound a little subdued,” Carnelian said the last softly, concern now niggling at her.

“I’m good, girl. Don’t worry about me. Are you good?”

“Yeah. I’ll see you in four days.” Carnelian ended the call with a frown. If Mina was in trouble, she should probably drop the case. Mina was a star, not a fighter.

Still, the kid she was trying to help get back was more vulnerable than Mina. So, why did she have an odd feeling in the pit of her stomach that she was going to regret her choice?

****

The next morning…

Blake Zuckerman’s jet-black eyes fixed on the woman seated across from him on the Sea Bat moored in Santa Monica. The table was covered with a white cloth and laid with croissants and scones. The rich Columbian brew scented the air, though beneath it, the tang of ocean and salt warred for dominance to his advanced senses.

“What am I doing here?” he asked. He knew the woman was a werebat shifter because he’d met her before when she’d been running the very successful company, Fancy Foibles.

The company had been a premiere label for children’s fashions until five years ago when the designer and her partner had been murdered and Ansill Adams had slowly sunk into obscurity.

“I heard you’ve had some dealings with Kensal Obsidian that didn’t turn out too well.”

He tensed as he blinked back at her. Obsidian had stolen his chance for obtaining the perfect company. Then, she’d annihilated his cabal. He’d taken the loss of the family without grief, but he was still smarting over the loss of the company and the fortune.

He’d gotten away with a good deal of money, but over seventy percent of it had vanished from his accounts within months, forcing him back to his life as a grifter sooner than he’d planned.

“And?” Was she going to tell Obsidian he was back in the country? The bitch would likely tear him apart, and he’d be pretty powerless to stop her.

Vampire bat shifters—dominant lesbian ones—were violent with long memories. You never crossed one and lived to regale your friends with the tale unless they let you, or you managed to escape as he had.

“Wouldn’t you like a little payback?” Adams asked, a glimmer of coldness in her eyes.

“I’d prefer to go on living,” he said evenly. “So, count me out of whatever plan you have.”

“I know we can’t take them head on, but with your knowledge of her and how she operates combined with the plan I have, we could take her down,” Adams said, confidence shining in her eyes.

“No one takes anything from Obsidian,” he told her coolly as he recalled her decisive attack on his cabal, on him personally.

“My plan is flawless,” Adams told him coldly. “So, a gradual assault will lead to an eventual take-over of her city.”

“Where flawless is good enough with other bats and even some vampire bat cabals, it’s not even close with Obsidian.”

“I think you’re wrong,” Adams said. “Especially now that Barkline is out of the way.”

Blake frowned. He’d heard Barkline had been attacked, but word of whether she was really dead or not hadn’t materialized.

“If you killed Barkline, and didn’t wipe out her covenant then you’re in deeper shit than you were with Barkline alive,” he murmured. “Barkline may have had the numbers, but she didn’t have the power Obsidian has. She’ll eat you alive and use Barkline’s covenant to do it.”

She’d used them to take out his cabal. The woman had the mind of a killer and the moves of a general.

“I have the forces, so we won’t be outnumbered if that’s what you fear,” she told him smoothly.

Stats meant nothing when you pissed these people off and whatever she’d already done to take out Barkline had likely left a bitter taste in Obsidian’s mouth.

“Thank you for the invite, but I don’t want any part of it,” he told her. “I’m on my way out of the country in a few days.”

“If you warn Obsidian—”

“I’m not going near her, let alone talking to her on the phone,” he assured her, his tone hard.

Blake had no interest in this fight or the women who’d be waging it. He did have an interest in doing more than surviving. He was getting back to living, and he was happy about that.

“I’m looking out for number one.” He pointed to his chest. “And that means getting the hell out of Dodge before it’s too late.” He got to his feet and gave her a curt nod.

Obsidian had traced the money he’d stolen after he’d left, but she’d had no idea he was still alive. If she did, she was leaving him alone, and he was happy to give her the same courtesy.

He’d be getting out of this city now and out of the country later tonight. He didn’t trust dominant female bats of any kind. Most were far more vicious and dangerous than their male counterparts.

Adams got to her feet as well. “I’ll walk you out.”

“That’s okay,” he said, holding up a hand. He headed to the door leading to the hallway and the hairs on the back of his neck rose.

Blake turned in time to see her driving her wrist forward. He blocked it, knowing that he would still be stronger than her, unlike with a vampire bat.

She showed mother of pearl teeth in a silent snarl and kicked him in the shin. Blake shoved her back with all his might and hurried out and up the stairs leading to the upper deck. Blake had barely reached the door when a knife pierced his side from behind.

Sun glinted off the water, temporarily blinding him, and she swept his leg causing him to pitch to one side as a wave chose that moment to rock the boat. He landed on his stomach hard and rolled onto his back to see her advancing, a knife in hand.

Blake kicked her back and screeched. She let out a scream as the harsh noise pierced her eardrums. The sound didn’t affect brown bat shifters, but it could kill anyone else, including the werebat shifter she was. Despite the breed being born of a brown bat’s bite, werebats didn’t have all of the brown bat’s abilities.

He released another screech, and she tightened her grip on the knife even as she dropped to her knees. Blake didn’t tarry. He rose and ran. A gust hit him from behind sending him overboard.

Salt water wasn’t kind to bat skin. It left it red and burned for days, but that would be better than her shooting him out of the air, so he allowed himself to land in the water rather than shift into a bat.

Blake screamed upon hitting the waves and sank beneath the blanket of blue. The initial burn opened his skin in small gashes, but he didn’t come up. Blake forced himself to swim beneath the water, ignoring the pain even knowing his blood could draw sea predators.

“I’ll get you, Blake, after I’ve finished with her. In fact, I’ll send one of them after you once I’m in control of the Midnight Agency.”

Her voice was shrill, making him cringe. However, he ignored her vow because she’d be dead long before she could execute that plan if he knew Obsidian.

Obsidian hid behind a mask of civility, but she was a hands-on kind of woman. She got down in the trenches to fight with the minions and didn’t hang them out to dry as his king had done.

Blake also suspected her alliance with Barkline had been for one simple reason and it had had nothing to do with Barkline having a larger force. Obsidian had taken her time with her old boss and gained her trust and her company.

He was willing to bet she’d already taken over Barkline’s cabal and was preparing to turn them into a force no shifter could touch.

And he was he was going to watch the fireworks from afar.


Chapter One


Five days later…

Kensal Obsidian stood in the spacious second floor conference room in the Midnight Cabal’s den. She’d always admired the place and considered it a very strategic location for a base. They were surrounded by trees on three sides, giving them the advantage of any attacker.

Before her at the long table was her second in command, Ryle Kane and Bali Gale. Both women were in a position to dispute her claim on the Midnight Cabal, but only one of them could stop her when it came right down to it.

“It’s been five days,” Kensal said, her gaze going from one woman to the other. “Have you two decided what is to become of the cabal?”

The Midnight Cabal had previously been run by its leader Jeraline Barkline, but Jeri’s recent death had left the vampire bats under her rule without a true leader. Jeri’s only heir was the rightful alpha, but the girl was nobody’s dominant. So, it fell to her mate and Jeri’s second to decide.

“We have a proposal,” Ryle said evenly and threw Bali a look.

“What is it?” Kensal asked.

“I don’t want the cabal and neither does Bali,” Ryle told her quietly.

“Why not?” Kensal demanded curiously. She already had her suspicions, and she didn’t hold them against either woman.

“Running my agency is something I’m good at,” Bali told her. “But I’m not interested in the politics any more than Jeri was. Thanks to this mess the bee-bats created, other bats are going to be gunning for us.”

“And you don’t want to send anyone to die,” Kensal said coolly. She didn’t understand. She was a businesswoman and had survived in this city as an alpha shifter by defending against and defeating any enemy that threatened her or those close to her.

She wasn’t a soldier, but she was a fighter. She didn’t see anything wrong in dying for what was right or what was hers.

“No. That’s why Ryle and I proposed to allow you to take over with us being your joint seconds.”

“I’ll take over if anything happens to you,” Ryle said.

“And I’ll step up as her second,” Bali replied. “The cabal trusts me, I’m your liaison to the people you’ll lead. The transition will be hard for some of them. They’ll need a familiar voice.”

“I agree,” Kensal said simply. “What about the agency?”

“My employees are part of the Midnight Cabal, they’re at your command,” Bali told her. “I won’t interfere any more than I did under Jeri’s command.”

Kensal held Bali’s gaze, thinking how much she liked the other woman. She had always seemed like a strong yet steady force. Kensal had thought Jeri was lucky to have her.

By the same token, Ryle was more dominant, not as diplomatic as Bali. They’d make a whole and be a great balance for her.

“I like the idea,” Kensal said. “Ryle, I want you in charge of security. I’m moving here and I want my mate’s safety ensured as well as can be.”

“The place is sound, as you well know,” Bali retorted. “I did that right.”

“I know, Bali, but Jeri’s killer is still out there. I think she’s going to come after me, but the difference between me and Jeri is I have a mate. Anyone who touches her dies, and those who fail to protect her will meet the same fate.”

“Naturally,” Bali replied tonelessly.

“I’m not going to pull my punches with either of you. We’re going after Jeri’s killer and everyone involved with this woman and that bee. Death is the payment for attacking us. Death is the payment for marching onto our land and taking from us.”

There was steel in her tone as she clenched her fist. She was still smarting from Jeri’s death. It had happened right under her nose and that pissed Kensal off. She still had no idea why Jeri had gone out there that night, but she was going to find her killer and make her tell her, then Kensal was going to kill her unless Bali did it first.

“When I’m done, no one will doubt that to fuck with us means annihilation,” Kensal said acidly.

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Bali said. “But the way she came after Jeri was the coward’s way out. No mercy.”

“No mercy,” Ryle agreed.

****

In the dark, she had no idea what she was seeing, but Carnelian was willing to bet the killer might. Getting on to the boat would have been difficult without the right kind of spell breaker, and she doubted they’d had one around.

So, the killer would have had to wait for the spell to weaken on its own which it was starting to do.

Carnelian carefully removed the small box from the square compartment in the floor and closed the lid before moving the chair back over it, not that it mattered. She removed the lid of the smooth pretty photo box with an envelope attached.

For Jeri.

The boat rocked as Carnelian stored the box in the messenger bag on the floor next to her and quickly zipped it before getting to her feet.

“What in the hell are we even looking for?”

The voice carried through the open door and Carnelian winced, backing away from it.

“Now that the spell has faded, we’re just here to torch the place. Now, get started in the kitchen.”

“Wait,” the second man said. “I’m getting a message.”

“What’s it say?”

“Wait, damn it.”

There was a brief pause.

She was going to have to get out of here somehow even if that meant fighting. However, the last thing she wanted was to be seen.

“She wants us to look for anything that might point back to her. Jewelry she might have left on board, a box of videos that Mina might have made of their conversations, a recorder.”

“I don’t want to be caught out here. I’ve heard some talk around town about people not buying what happened, especially since Mina’s boat is still out here. And with that girl in town hanging out at Mina’s, this whole thing makes me nervous.”

“They should have thought it out better, but I guess no one expected the broad to have put such a strong shield on her boat since she couldn’t save herself,” he said.

“Why don’t we just torch the place? They’re only going to get rid of whatever we find.”

“Give me a few minutes to look around then we’ll light up.”

“Hurry up.”

There was movement.

“Check the office.”

“Right. Just let me know when I can start.”

Carnelian prepared for an attack, standing behind the door. However, for five minutes, she just stood there, sensing him outside the room but making no attempts to come in.

He was spooked or unconcerned about whatever his employers wanted them to bring back.

Then, the door opened and liquid splashed in, plopping to the wood floor. Seconds later, fumes wafted to her nose. He moved into the room, and Carnelian swung her bag out catching the man in the chest before stepping away from the wall and jump-kicking.

He grunted, staggering back, and she threw herself into him, but his body was like a wall.

Carnelian winced as she collided with pure muscle.

The stranger shoved her before back-handing her, and she cried out as she smashed into the wall, and he came after her. She kicked him between the legs and rammed into him, knocking him to the floor. Stepping over him, she ran for the door.

Out in the corridor, Carnelian sailed into his partner and the momentum took them to the ground. The can in his hand came free, and he stared up at her.

“You.”

She punched him and leaped to her feet. He grabbed one boot as she tried to escape. Carnelian fell and rolled onto her back as he got to his feet. She jerked her right hand forward, index finger pointing.

The energy she released hit him square in the chest, throwing him back into the man coming out of the bedroom.

She scrambled up and raced for the door. Once on deck, she gritted her teeth and rubbed her palms together. Sparks flared.

“Fuego.”

The spell ignited the gasoline and the men screamed as they back-peddled.

Carnelian raced off the boat, jumping onto the dock. She landed softly on the worn wood and broke into a run as the boat’s windows exploded and the fire flared higher. A moment later an explosion ripped through the air.


Chapter Two


“What is it?” A glass of vodka dangled from one hand while Bali held the phone to her ear with the other.

“Bali Gale?”

“What do you want?” she asked, tiredly, though her heart beat faster and her bat raised is head.

Bali hadn’t slept in almost a week as she’d lain awake wondering why she hadn’t questioned Jeri that night. Why hadn’t she gone outside with her when she said she needed some air?

She knew why.

She wasn’t Jeri’s babysitter. They’d been friends, but in the days before Jeri’s death, she’d began to realize that had never been enough. Jeri had slowly erected a wall between them, pushing Bali to the outside of her life. Jeri had begun strengthening her ties with her director friend, Mina.

Mina had no cabal, which was probably the only reason Jeri hadn’t brought Mina into the conflict that had taken Jeri’s life.

Damn her.

“I’m calling about my cousin Mina Applewood.”

The voice on the other end of the line jerked her from her thoughts, the voice setting off bells of memory now. Mina had called her Carne.

“What can I do for you, Miss Applewood?” She kept her voice low and controlled as that old hunger rushed to the surface.

The woman sighed heavily in her ear conveying all the pain and anger Bali felt. “Mina owned part of Jeri’s production company, Midnight, but my cousin’s vanished without a word. She knew I was coming here, so I find that strange. Is Mina there?”

Bali blinked. She hadn’t thought much about the company. She knew Jeri would leave half the company to Mina more than likely since they’d gotten so much closer, but this was—it was a surprise and possibly a lead.

“No.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” she said.

“How long ago since you last talked to her?” Bali asked, her blood going cold because now that she thought about it, Mina hadn’t been to Jeri’s Passover service.

“Five days now,” she said.

The heaviness and pain her in voice resonated deep inside Bali and her hand shook, sloshing the liquid in the glass to the floor. She wanted to reach out and stroke the woman’s pain away, but how could she when she couldn’t tackle her own demons?

“Are you sure your cousin is missing?” Bali demanded carefully. Mina could have been part of this conspiracy, though Bali doubted it. Still, you never knew what drove a person to commit some acts until they did.

“Reasonably. I’m going to see the sheriff in the morning.”

“Do you want her disappearance investigated?” Bali asked. It was a chance to find answers and Jeri’s killer. Maybe.

“I’m taking care of that, but I do need to meet with Jeri.”

“Jeri’s dead, Miss Applewood,” Bali told her and fresh waves of pain swept through her, pricking her like so many needles.

The silence on the other end was so thick she could cut it with a knife.

“We need to meet, Carne,” Bali said finally. She had to find out what was going on—what had Mina known? Mina’s disappearance had to be connected to Jeri’s death.

“After I talk to the sheriff tomorrow, I’ll contact you.”

“Where are you? Hollywood? Nice?” She wasn’t exactly sure of Mina’s primary residence since she was certain she’d never been there.

Carne had been still in her teens and a stunning beauty though a little thin. Despite that, there had been something about her, that smile and the way she’d looked at Bali that had awoken her bat.

The animal had wanted to taste her, but the woman had wanted to do so much more with her. So, Bali had done the only responsible thing. She’d put the girl out of her mind.

“No. I’m in Spring where Mina’s main residence and studio are.”

“I’ll come to you immediately,” Bali insisted. Part of her felt compelled to protect the young woman.

The girl had been in college then, sheltered, by Mina’s accounts. Her major had been languages or something. She probably sat in an office all day or taught rowdy high school kids. Her safe little life wouldn’t prepare her for the violence of this world.

“That’s not necessary. Sorry I woke you. Goodnight.”

The line went dead, and Bali growled. She input a number and waited, not concerned with whether or not she’d be waking anyone else.

“Bali, what’s going on?” Kensal demanded coolly.

Of course, she hadn’t been sleeping. Bali wondered if Kensal slept at all.

“I just got a call from a woman who claims her cousin owns part of Jeri’s production company. What do you know about it?”

“I don’t know much about Jeri’s will, but I’m over at her lawyer’s office. He was killed tonight,” Kensal told her. “The will is actually missing, but I know Mina Applewood did own part of the studio.”

“Are you kidding?”

“About what?”

“About the lawyer being dead,” Bali snapped. “Zhara was meeting with him in the morning for the will reading. He’d been out of the country until yesterday.”

“I know. His partner has been contacted. I’ll talk to him and see if I can find out anything. Is that the only reason you were calling?”

“No. The call was from Mina’s cousin. She said Mina’s missing.”

“Missing as in vanished? Missing as in took off? Missing as in in hiding?” Kensal asked, a hint of impatience in her tone.

“Missing as in might be dead.”

“Are you sure it was her cousin? Have you ever met her? It could be the killer fucking with you attempting to lure you out as she did Jeri.”

“I don’t know,” Bali said. “It’s been years since I last saw her. She was a scrawny kid in college.” But her voice has sounded familiar—so had that feeling looking at the girl had always sparked in her.

“With this lawyer dead, I’m inclined to at least check this out,” Kensal said. “Did she say where she is?”

“Spring. I’m going down there.”

“Don’t,” Kensal ordered. “I want to get permission from Brookside Burns first. I don’t want to make any moves of aggression against him yet.”

Kensal had arranged to have a bat cabal’s compound, which had been located in Spring, blown up the night Jeri was killed. The bats had conspired against her and Jeri in an attack nearly killing them both.

“I guess you’re certain you’ll have to,” Bali said.

“I’m certain I’m going to,” she muttered. “The bastard isn’t innocent—he harbored those who attacked us, who still have something planned for us. He’ll be punished just like they will.”

“I’ll wait one more day,” she said. “Then, I’m going down there.”

“Do me a favor and get over to Jeri’s office at the studio tomorrow and see what you can find,” Kensal remarked. “Jeri had to have left a copy of her will someplace other than with her lawyer.”

“County courthouse,” Bali remarked. “I’m sure he filed one there, but that’s been months ago. She could have changed it since she decided to move to Nice.”

“I’ll have my lawyer check that out in the morning. In the meantime, lay off the drinks and get some sleep.”

Bali ended the call and swallowed the rest of her drink. She wasn’t drunk by a longshot and had no intentions of getting there. Wouldn’t do any good anyway, judging by the pain that still ate at her even with the hangover she’d had for the last two days.

Bali got up and headed for Jeri’s office. She flew over in bat form, not wanting to risk being pulled over by an overzealous or bored cop.

Jeri had been a dominant female, but nothing like Kensal, which had made her plight to get from under the dominant men of her family all the more difficult. Jeri’s father had doubted she’d make it and Jeri had proven him wrong on so many levels.

Jeri had been a major producer of indie films that Hollywood had come to respect and admire. She had dozens of awards, her movies had gone from something interesting to Academy Award winning.

Her company had become known as one of the biggies in the industry. However, despite her professional achievements, Jeri hadn’t been a fighter. She did it to survive. Forming an alliance with Kensal had been Bali’s idea. Jeri had balked at it, but Bali had done her research even before they moved here.

She’d known Kensal was a kick-ass, take no prisoners bitch. Plus, it hadn’t hurt that some of the most bad-assed women in the security business were old friends of Kensal’s.

Bali got into the studio with no problem, finding it empty at this hour. She took the stairs up to Jeri’s office on the third floor where Mina also had an office along with the security team.


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-22 show above.)