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“CODE BLACK is a fascinating new concept to urban-fantasy. Definitely worth a read!”Emmeline
The Book Herald
“The introduction to the Paranormal Crimes Division (PCD), CODE BLACK, promises to be entertaining and tense. Humor is never far from the surface, which comes in handy because the world they patrol is treacherous and fear-inducing.”RT Book Reviews
“Moss’s debut, CODE BLACK, a near-future tale of paranormal humans living under the repressive Northern American United Government, chugs steadily along with occasional fireworks….A cast of vampires, psychics, and shape-shifters delivers…witty quips that round out this solid example of the genre.”Publisher's Weekly
Gossip mag reporter Sera Benenati knows a thing or two about unearthing secrets...and burying them.
As an unregistered supernatural, her freedom depends on keeping her fire-wielding abilities contained.
Yet the threat of a little flame isn't enough to snuff out her journalistic pursuits. She's determined to claw her way to the top and land a spot with a real paper.
When she tracks a lead on a string of gruesome paranormal murders to the small town of Buckhorn, Arizona, she's certain she's landed the perfect scoop. But as the crime scene reveals victims with bite marks, torn flesh, and battered bodies, Sera may have smoked out more than she can burn.
As the investigation grows hot and Sera winds up in the crosshairs, she'll need the help of a sexy shifter, special agent Talon Rede, to unmask the murderers before she becomes the next victim.
“A cast of vampires, psychics, and shape-shifters delivers...witty quips that round out this solid example of the genre.” – Publishers Weekly
If you like Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, or K. F. Breene, you'll love this paranormal romance with crime-solving suspense!
Release date: September 29, 2015
Publisher: City Owl Press
Print pages: 330
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Behind the book
Inspired by my love for all things paranormal and too many episodes of Criminal Minds, Law & Order SVU, and NCIS!
BROWN RESIDENCE, BUCKHORN, ARIZONA
Sera stared at her fingernails, picking at the chipped red paint and wondering how in the hell to interview a murder victim’s sister. “How do I get myself into these things?” She flicked the cherry apple flecks at the dashboard and leaned her skull against the headrest. Remembering exactly how she ended up in this suburban neighborhood, procrastinating in the morning sun shifted her thoughts to seven days earlier. And a conversation she couldn’t forget.
“Don’t you think people deserve the truth?” That line had gotten her into this mess in the first place. One week ago, she’d won a huge bet with her favorite poker buddy, who also happened to be the county medical examiner. When he couldn’t cover his bet, he gave her a prize of equal value—the unlisted office number of Special Agent Talon Rede, team leader for the Paranormal Crimes Division in the district. She’d been after an inside connection to the PCD for months. He knew the weakness and played his hand well. Information proved the ultimate jackpot, far more than any dollar amount. The journalistic philosophy accounted for her not big enough to be called a studio apartment and the meager double digits in her savings. The phone number almost made up for her severe lack of closet space. Her fingers couldn’t whip over the touchscreen fast enough.
“Agent Rede, you can’t possibly believe releasing these ridiculous tidbits of information is fair to the public.” The accusation had flown a few seconds past the initial greeting of, “Hello. I’m Sera Benenati. A reporter. Don’t hang up.” The collar of her button down blouse irritated her neck. When he’d stayed on the line, she dug in. “The more the people know about these crimes, the safer they’ll be.”
His silence dragged on, and then, he growled. “Well now, this should be interesting.”
She’d been instantly intrigued. His strong velvety voice did something to her insides. Donning her most professional tone like armor, she said, “What’s interesting is the way the PCD dodges every reporter’s questions about the Rodriguez case.”
“Sweetheart, you can ask me anything you like.” His pause spoke louder than his words. “But if I think for a second my answer will put more people, the public, the same citizens this office protects in danger, you’re damn right the only phrase you’ll hear is ‘no comment.’ ”
“Wow.” She hadn’t meant to let it slip, but his honesty and boldness impressed the hell out of her. “You always this straight forward?”
“What you see is what you get.”
“But I only hear you, Agent Rede.” She could almost envision his grin over the line, picturing it in her mind and imagining the man behind the voice.
“For now, Ms. Benenati. But I doubt you give up easily.” Another heavy pause. “Am I wrong?”
“Not on your life.”
They’d traded barbs for almost an hour after, each striking and dodging in turn. She never did get more from him on the case, but it ended up her poker pal had the scoop. Another game, three days later, and she had the details she needed. Only now, she couldn’t get the special agent out of her head.
“Stupid. You never even met the guy!” Yet it didn’t seem to matter. Her cheeks heated whenever she thought about their one phone call—a conversation she replayed over in her head far too many times. It’d been forever since a man had captured her attention so much. Hell, had any man ever fascinated her like Agent Rede? But when the conversation had ended, he didn’t ask for her number and she hadn’t called him back. Better to keep the fantasy than be disappointed with reality.
Sera sighed and flipped down the visor to check her makeup. The foundation she’d spent way too much on flaked in the heat and the simple lipstick she’d chosen to look “professional” clashed with her hair. Worse, the nail polish she’d been picking at as she killed time in the car made her fingers look like bloody stumps.
Resigned, she flicked off the dried red polish and hopped down from her Jeep 4x4. With the victim’s file clutched to her chest, she hurried to the house. Her heels clicked over the endless cement driveway. She’d read the medical examiner’s report—the latest aforementioned poker prize—six times. Details of the crime remained hidden away from the press, but with this, she’d been able to uncover the crucial facts. She flipped through her notes for the seventh time as she walked.
Victims, Juan and Margaret Rodriquez, aged thirty-two and twenty-nine respectively and registered as humans, were found dead in their home. Bite marks and bruises on the victims’ arms and legs show signs of a struggle, but no foreign DNA fibers could be identified. Reports of similar blood and tissue loss from attacks by unregistered SUBs are on file, but no suspect type can be recorded without further analysis. See appendix on supernatural or undead beings for possibilities.
Her hands started to sweat. “This is what you wanted, remember?” She tucked the file under her arm and wiped her palms on the hem of her pencil skirt. “A chance to prove yourself, to be a real reporter. No more gossip mags or d-bag bosses.”
The little voice in the back of her mind started screaming, the bastard echoing her fears. You should be nervous, pet. After all “Man gives Birth to Two-Headed Alien” and “Tractor Comes to Life Killing Farmer” don’t exactly put you up for a Pulitzer. Rubbing her temple, she mouthed a silent, “Shut up.” Over the last eight years, she’d fought to tune out the annoying monster, the secret she’d had to keep from everyone. It was part of—okay, maybe more than part of—the reason she hadn’t contacted the special agent again. How could she have a relationship with anyone when she had this thing in her head?
And that was the big problem—it was literally all in her head. Her mind to be exact. The neurons in her brain fired on two different planes of thought. One was hers and the other belonged to another, an entity. Sera could manage to get his side quiet most of the time, but every now and again, he surfaced at just the right—or rather wrong—moment.
“Guy, if you start with me,” she said, addressing her inner tormenter, “I swear I’ll zone out on sleeping pills for the next three days.”
Touchy. Whatsamatta? Big bad reporter got a bug up her—
“Stop it!” At sixteen, she’d dubbed the voice, Guy, and thought he might be some type of supernatural creature or a part of her own mixed heritage. Her human father refused to discuss Sera’s otherworldly side, and her mother, who as an unregistered supernatural had no legal protection or paper trail, died giving birth to Sera. Thus, the sole keys to unlocking the mystery of her inhuman DNA remained buried. Whether Guy was some type of freak or just a part of her damaged psyche didn’t make much difference in the end. He still remained a major pain in the ass.
“Guy, can it. I don’t need your shit now.” She stalked down the football field masquerading as a driveway to the front door, blocking out all other thoughts than the task at hand. A tentative knock on the brass handle had her fiddling with her bun and smoothing the wrinkles from her tan suit jacket. As she waited, she shifted her feet, the high heels pinching her toes something fierce.
“Ms. Brown?” she said, knocking again. “Ms. Brown, I’m from the Arizona Hornet. I’m here for an interview.” Sera could hear shuffling inside, but the front door remained closed. She leaned to the right, trying to catch a glimpse through the window. An overgrown myrtle bush blocked her view and tickled her nose with its allspice scent. The sun reflected off the glass in harsh streaks. She shielded her eyes with the back of her hand and tried to keep the desperation from her voice. “Please, I just want to ask some questions.”
More shuffling preceded a scraping sound as the door opened mere inches. “Another reporter, huh. What’d you want now?” A pair of red-ringed eyes narrowed on Sera.
“I’m sorry to bother you, Ma’am.” Grabbing a pen in one hand, she tightened her grip on her file with the other. She flipped through her notepad and looked down at the list of questions. Nerves poked at her concentration. The letters blurred together like a Rorschach inkblot. She chewed the pen cap. The urge to rip the paper into tiny shreds made it impossible to focus. “This won’t take long. I have a few questions about your sister’s murd...about what happened to your sister.”
“I already told the police everything I know.” She clipped each word as if struggling to get them out through her clenched jaw.
Ms. Brown began to close those precious inches. Cursing her stupidity at wearing heels, Sera wedged her foot in the thin space.
“What do you think you’re doing?” The dark circles under Ms. Brown’s eyes lessened as her gaze widened. “How dare you!”
“You don’t understand. I think I can help you.”
“Help me? You think you can help me?” Ms. Brown shook her head and muttered, “Crazy bitch. The only way you can help me is if you bring my sister back from the dead.”
The door pulled open wide and an umbrella’s metal tip poked Sera in the chest. She stumbled backward. “Ms. Brown, I want to find the killers.”
“Get off my property! Or you’ll find a killer right here.” She slammed the door closed. The chain rattled as the lock slid into place.
That went well. Guy’s taunts returned full force. Priceless, really. I especially enjoyed the part where you jammed your foot in the door. A nauseating laugh rolled through Sera’s mind. Nice touch.
Sera rubbed her side. Ms. Brown’s damn umbrella had landed right between two ribs. She’d have nothing but bruises to show for her first real assignment. “Not nothing,” she said, walking back to her car. “You have the medical examiner’s report. Coco might have a connection at the police station. You’re not out yet.”
Coco? You going to a coffee barista for information? Ha! Like the Wild West, but a cafe instead of the saloon. Oh pet, this gets better and better. Why not just ask your special agent friend? Afraid? Something to hide?
“Enough, you little maggot.” The retort was enough to quiet him, but it couldn’t stop the question from buzzing through her brain. Why the hell didn’t she just call Agent Rede? Deep down she knew why—secrets. But she didn’t want to face that baggage now. Instead, she pushed the thoughts of the intriguing special agent very firmly from her mind.
Sera jumped into her truck’s front seat, slammed the door and revved the engine. The black Jeep was hardly a reasonable vehicle for Sera’s downtown Phoenix life, but as she never knew where a lead would well, lead, she liked the added protection of four-wheel drive. It cost her a pretty penny, but when she hopped into the leather driver’s seat and cranked up the satellite radio, she didn’t regret a dollar spent on the creature comforts.
Grunge on the Underground station proclaimed “all the hits from the pits”. The latest anthem for the millennial generation blared through the Jeep’s speakers and drowned out Guy’s echoing protests. The bastard hated rock music of any genre. Sera cranked up the volume and enjoyed the silence in her head, even if the noise threatened her eardrums.
Pulling off Ms. Brown’s dead-end street, she came to the intersection at Montclair Avenue in the heart of Buckhorn. The light of the setting sun reflected off storefront windows, a blazing red that matched the traffic signal. With her foot on the brake and knees steadying the wheel, she freed her hair from the bun and pulled it into a long ponytail. The amber strands struggled against the hair tie, but stayed intact. She stepped on the gas and put her hands on the wheel as the light changed to green.
“A clue’s out there. I know it,” she whispered, letting the radio volume fall to a murmur and her thoughts turn to the story. Dusk gave way to evening with the sun’s last orange rays dying on the horizon. “I’ve just got to find it.”
Down the road, the area shifted to residential with Sonoran-style houses lining both sides of the street. Stucco encased every exterior. Granted she hadn’t ventured far into the suburban town, but the early evening hours guaranteed cooler weather and children should be jumping at the opportunity. Instead of kids running around playing and riding bikes, she found nothing except birds chirping from trees and telephone lines.
“Weird.” Streetlights clicked to life during her preliminary investigation. “Small town. Close neighbors. Someone knows something.”
Yeah sure. Just like your Daddy knows something about you. Doesn’t mean you’ll find out.
“Seriously? Give it a rest for one day.” She stopped at the next intersection. The street felt quiet, too quiet. She could hear her breath over the radio’s soft hum. She clicked it off, resting her head against the steering wheel.
You can’t even figure out what you are, and you expect to be a reporter? What a joke. Guy’s heckling reverberated in her head.
“Please, enough already.” She lifted her eyes to check the traffic light. “I don’t need your...”
The words died on her lips. Her heartbeat accelerated, leaping inside her chest. Under the orange and red glow from the streetlights, a figure appeared in the middle of the road. It could pass for human, except for its head. The jaw unhinged from the base exposing two rows of four-inch razor sharp teeth. Black eyes bulged from the center of its face forcing its nose into a nub and its forehead into a thin strip. Without warning, the creature launched at Sera’s windshield.
“What the hell?” It busted through the glass, cracking the hard surface and causing Sera to dive down in the driver’s seat. Her eyes fixed on the gash in her windshield. Adrenaline sped in her veins like fire. Running away didn’t even cross her mind. Ever since Guy’s presence first whispered through her mind, her flight response had been set permanently to zero while her fight instincts soared into overdrive.
Slamming on the emergency brake, she fumbled under the driver’s seat with her free hand. Sweat coated her palm. The metal bat slid from her grip twice before she managed to grasp it. She opened the door, kicked off her heels with a curse and raised the bat over her head. It shook in her hands, but a fiery impulse ripped across her mind blocking the fear. Guy’s meddling gave her a jolt of courage, but his pestering induced a throbbing headache. As usual, he wanted control.
“I can handle it myself.” She stifled his complaints with a loud internal yell. He slouched back into the recesses of her brain after a couple of well-chosen expletives.
The creature, meanwhile, continued the onslaught of her truck, beating its fists into the metal. The hood whined and black fluid spilled out the side. With bat in hand, Sera whacked at the thing’s head. A piercing cry filled the night, before it rolled over the hood of her truck and onto the ground.
As a smile crossed her lips, a thundering roar echoed down the street. If it hadn’t been so deafening and nearby, she might have chalked it up to an oncoming storm. But the intensity left no mistake, the noise signaled something else.
“Oh shit.” Her mouth went dry. She dropped the bat and scrambled back into her truck. The two tons of steel surrounding her provided little comfort. Releasing the parking brake, she switched into drive and slammed her bare foot on the gas.
The traffic light turned green. Her truck sputtered, but didn’t move. A host of creatures, like the one that lay bleeding below, came forth from every direction. Swarms of sickening teeth and engorged eyes shone from the streetlamps. The steady green traffic signal cast an eerie glow along her Jeep’s dented hood. Her headlights illuminated the creatures approach. Row after row of them encircled her truck like vultures on a corpse.
A harsh whisper broke across her psyche, Let me come out and play.
“No, Guy. You’re not welcome.”
Now, now pet. No reason to be that way. We both know I can handle this.
Her hands went instinctively to her head. She laughed at the absurdity of trying to block out an inner voice. “The last time I let you out, I had to switch jobs.” She took a breath, but her voice shook. “We won’t even talk about the first time.” Her hands gripped the steering wheel hard. The creatures closed the distance leaving mere inches of space between Sera and them. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to care as her blood boiled. She spoke aloud to Guy, “Remember the police investigation? The cover-up? I’ve spent too much time trying to hide.” The Jeep shook as the creatures grabbed at it, pulling and pushing in turn. Sera ignored it, focusing on the vibrations within her body. “You won’t let me even pretend to be normal. When are you going to tell me what you are?”
You already know the answer, pet. No reason to ask.
“Never. Never’s the real answer. Just more of your mysterious bullshit. Why should I give you control then, huh?”
Because if you don’t, we’re both going to die. A low sadistic chuckle crowded her mind. Besides, do you really want to fight me?
Sera let the smoky laugh go free. It filled up the Jeep’s interior. “No.” Raw energy quickened her pulse and licked her skin. “No, I guess I don’t.”
Blazing white-hot light ignited her body. The barrier dividing her and Guy shattered until a single voice remained. Not separate but whole, not two but one. The union sent untapped power coursing through her veins. It rippled from every pore, making her skin seem afire. Her amber hair caught the wave. It cut apart the rubber band binding it and flowed like flames. Her eyes radiated as if the sun’s rays burned in them. In one volatile surge, the feeling erupted and the intersection exploded in an array of color. As the fire spread to those monstrous creatures, it incinerated every one of them into piles of ash.
The blast lasted but a moment, draining her energy with its force. When the light faded and the world righted itself once more, Sera collapsed.
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