Excerpt – The Heir of Death

Warning!  The stories in my Final Formula Series are intended to be read in order.  Reading them out of order will spoil the fun of an earlier tale.  For blurbs, excerpts, and retailer links on the previous books in the series, just click on my BOOKS tab above.


The-Heir-of-Death-800 Cover reveal and PromotionalChapter 1

Elysia stepped out of the room and tried to pretend that the door closing behind her didn’t sound so final. This was the last of the job interviews—and the one she thought the most promising. Apparently, she was wrong. The woman interviewing her had done little more than glance at her sparse résumé before sending her on her way. Lifting her chin, she steeled herself to deliver the bad news and walked down the hall toward the small lobby.

James rose to his feet and picked up her wool coat from the plastic chair beside his. Circling the receptionist’s counter, he met her at the elevator. “Not good?” he asked, helping her with the coat. Had he read her expression, or had he come to expect failure?

“No experience.” It had become a theme at every job interview over the past few weeks. She jabbed the down button on the panel beside the elevator. “How can I get experience if no one will hire me?”

“Someone will recognize your worth eventually.” He took her hand.

His warm palm pressed against hers and her spirits lifted. She looked up, meeting his gaze, and saw his sincerity. He was the one sane thing in her insane life right now. Although a relationship with him was all kinds of crazy. Not that logic ever came into play where James was involved.

The elevator arrived. Elysia considered pulling James inside for a quick kiss. Unfortunately, the elevator was occupied by an older woman in a rumpled pantsuit.

Still hand-in-hand, Elysia paused long enough to hit the lobby button, then retreated to the corner of the car with James.

The woman turned to watch them. Her fair eyes settled on James, and she lifted her brows.

Elysia wasn’t surprised. With his dark hair, vivid green eyes, and easy smile, James frequently attracted the attention of the opposite sex—though he rarely seemed to notice.

The elevator door slid closed, but the woman’s gaze didn’t move away from James. Elysia was about to say something when James pulled in a breath. Suddenly, she felt the brush of another necromancer’s touch along the bond that linked her and James. The woman’s eyes had lightened a few shades.

Not bothering with subtlety, Elysia slammed her full power into James, getting a gasp from him and the woman. Elysia fed him her soul until she knew her own eyes were completely white. Then she released him.

The woman took a hasty step away from her, no doubt noticing the way Elysia’s eyes reverted from white to her natural brown in an instant—the hallmark of an exceptionally powerful necromancer. The woman’s own eyes by contrast were still faded.

“Touch him again and I will Make you,” Elysia whispered.

The woman turned to the control panel, punching several buttons until she got the one she wanted. The elevator stopped and the doors slid open. The woman backed through them, her eyes falling to Elysia and James’s clasped hands.

“Necrophile.” She hurried away.

Elysia frowned after her until the elevator closed. She got the necrophile comment a lot from other necromancers, even her own family—though they never used that word. Aware of the silence, she glanced up at James. “I probably shouldn’t have done that.”

“I thought it was cool.”

She lifted a brow.

A slow grin spread across his face, and he leaned against the elevator wall, his black leather jacket creaking faintly. “You’re sexy when you go all badass like that.”

Her cheeks heated. “Yeah?”

“Hell, yeah.” He pulled her to him, then bent down and took her mouth with his.

She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and kissed him back. Other necromancers couldn’t understand her attraction to James because no necromancer ever saw the dead as anything besides an object to be controlled. James might be dead, but he wasn’t a walking corpse. He was a grim: a shapeshifter animated by hellhound blood. In most ways, his body was alive. He ate. He slept. He had even grown to adulthood. All he lacked was a heartbeat—and a soul. At least on the mortal plane.

The elevator slowed and Elysia stepped out of his arms.

James watched her like the predator he was, his green eyes glowing faintly where his magic had responded to hers, like to like. Their intense magical compatibility was the only thing that stood between them. Elysia didn’t know where the magic ended and her true feeling began. But after spending most of the last month around him, she was beginning to believe that the magic wasn’t as big a factor as it seemed. Not a deciding factor, anyway.

Hand-in-hand, they left the elevator, then the building. They walked the two blocks to the parking garage in silence. Had she been on her own, she would have found a parking spot on the street, but with James at her side, the dimly lit garage didn’t make her uneasy. A pair of men walking toward them crossed to the far side of the aisle, and she bit her lip. On some level, even the non-magical sensed the predator in James.

He pulled the keys from his pocket, and the headlights flashed on the black Charger two spaces away. The car wasn’t just painted black. The windows were tinted nearly as dark as the paint job, black lenses covered the headlights, and even the rims were black. The car was dark, dangerous, and sexy—like its owner.

James opened her door and waited until she slid inside before he circled around and got in behind the wheel. He was a study in contrasts. He dressed like a bad boy, but he was actually a gentleman. As a grim, he was the most lethal predator in the magical world, yet every day, he joined her at the hospital to visit the orphaned infant they had saved. The baby was the reason she’d had a job interview everyday this week.

She leaned her head against the seat. “If I can’t find a decent job, this isn’t going to work.”

James slid the key in the ignition, but he didn’t start the car. “Don’t quit before you begin.”

“I’m not quitting. I’m reconciling myself to the likely outcome.”

“Cora’s working on the legal end of things. She’s good.”

“Good or not, no one is going to let a twenty-six-year-old, unemployed single woman who has never worked anywhere other than a bar, adopt a baby.”

“Cora was about your age when she adopted Era.”

“She was a lawyer, and apparently, well-off even then. I don’t even have a place of my own.”

He started the car. “It’ll work out.”

She wished she had his faith.

James put the car in gear. “Off to the cemetery?”

Elysia groaned and slumped in her seat. “Yes.” Time for her daily necromancy lesson.

James gave her knee a squeeze before he moved his hand to the steering wheel and drove toward the exit.


Greenwood Cemetery was a small, rural graveyard just outside Cincinnati. Traffic had been heavy on the drive out of town, and the sun was dipping toward the western horizon when James pulled onto the single-lane gravel road that wove through the headstones. It was an older graveyard, but well kept. Though a bit out the way. It had taken the better part of an hour to get here.

James stopped the car along the grass verge, and shut off the engine. Wondering why her mentor had chosen this place, Elysia opened the door and climbed out. James joined her a moment later, quietly standing beside her as she surveyed the area. Were they early? She started to ask when movement drew her attention to the other side of the cemetery. Ian emerged from behind a large monument. He trailed his fingers along the dark stone as he passed, but didn’t glance up at the white marble angel kneeling on the pedestal.

The brisk March wind caught Ian’s shoulder-length golden hair—a color he and Elysia shared—and pushed it away from his strikingly handsome face. It was hard to believe that nine generations separated them. He didn’t look much older than her—his appearance was the result of the Final Formula, the Elixir of Life. Ian was a lich: an animated corpse with his consciousness still attached. Ian was also an alchemist, though he hadn’t designed the Final Formula, he had been fortunate to befriend the woman who had. Most liches his age would be little more than bones.

Elysia stuffed her hands in her pockets to keep herself from fidgeting. Even now, several weeks after discovering that he still walked the earth, Ian’s presence made her uneasy. She had come to terms with the curse he had placed on her family. The alchemical potion Ian had designed had been an act of vengeance against the man who had stolen his daughter. Ian had never intended for the potion to affect their offspring, but it had—even two hundred years later.

Elysia walked out to meet him, aware of James following behind. James didn’t trust Ian, but he understood the need for Elysia to learn her magic. It should embarrass her that she needed instruction, she was well past an age when most necromancers would be learning their craft, but the threat of insanity had always deterred her from using her gift. Was she tempting fate to learn it now?

“I can see by your countenance that you weren’t given the job,” Ian said when they met among the worn headstones.

It unsettled her that he could read her so well, but she tried to hide it with a shrug. “There will be others.”

“Perhaps I should accompany you to serve as a reference.”

She eyed his old-fashioned clothing, touched in spite of his cool tone. “Thank you, but I don’t think it would impress them if I needed my grandfather to speak for me.” He was actually her seven-times-over great grandfather, but referring to him as simply her grandfather was easier.

“Yet the boy accompanies you.” Ian gestured at James.

“James drives me there. He doesn’t go into the interview with me.”

“Who would hire someone who couldn’t even speak for herself?” James took a seat on a nearby headstone.

“What will you be teaching me today?” she asked Ian before the two men could start arguing. Like everyone else in her family, Ian didn’t approve of her relationship with James.

Ian stopped frowning at James and turned his attention to her. “I want you to find every body in this graveyard and animate all of them at the same time.”

Elysia lifted a brow. “Are you serious?”

“You are more than capable.”

“Exactly. This is a child’s game.” Literally. Young necromancers were encouraged to build up their strength through such exercises.

“Then you should have no trouble with the task.” He lifted his arms, gesturing at the cemetery around them.

Elysia fisted her hands within her jacket pockets and closed her eyes. She had learned quickly that it was pointless to argue with him. He never backed down.

She released her soul and it flew free, seeking the dead around them. The anxiety that had plagued her all afternoon left her body along with her power. She struggled to maintain a serene countenance as pleasure replaced the discomfort. A necromancer must use his or her magic, or the pressure built to the point of pain. For the powerful, it could be debilitating. But releasing the pent up power was the opposite. She was glad James had moved away from her. If she caught his scent now, she—

“Is that all of them?” Ian’s voice interrupted the fantasy growing in her mind.

She opened her eyes, aware of the heat suffusing her cheeks. Maybe he would think the rosy color was a product of the wind.

“Yes,” she answered.

Ian lifted a brow. “You’re certain?”

“I’ve found all the dead in the cemetery—not counting you, of course.”

Ian didn’t look amused, but James grinned at her. She had intentionally not lumped James in with the dead, even though to her senses he was as dead as Ian, as dead as the bodies in the ground around them.

“You haven’t animated them all,” Ian said.

“What? Where? I don’t—”

A black Mercedes pulled into the cemetery, gravel crunching beneath the tires. It rolled to a stop behind James’s Charger.

Elysia let the magic go, unable to completely muffle the grunt of discomfort at her soul’s return. “What’s he doing here?”

“He called while you were out,” Ian explained. “I told him I was meeting you here.”

James got to his feet and moved to her side. The driver’s door opened and Doug Nelson, the current Deacon’s son and her former fiancé, climbed out. He closed the door and walked across the cemetery toward them. His eyes skimmed over James and Ian before settling on her.

“You’re going to give me a complex by always wanting to meet in these out of the way places.” Doug smiled, the motion dimpling his cheeks. She couldn’t help but glance at Ian. He and Doug did look a lot alike, but then, Ian was Doug’s ancestor, too. Doug just didn’t know that.

“We were coming out here, anyway,” she said, wondering why Ian had him come here rather than meet her at the lab. Doug had been to the lab before.

“Still training?” Doug’s gaze shifted to Ian before returning to her. “What’s the exercise?”

“An Easter egg hunt.” She made an effort not to roll her eyes. “How many dead can I find and animate at once.”

“Ah.” Doug took in the old cemetery around them. “Good location. There are quite a few unmarked graves.”

She frowned. “What?”

“Show me,” Ian cut in.

To her surprise, Doug obeyed without comment. His vibrant blue eyes went white as his necromantic power flowed outward, animating the bodies in the ground around them. A moment later, he released them, his eyes immediately returning to blue. He gave no outward evidence of the painful return of his soul. He stood casually, not having twitched a muscle in the few seconds it had taken him to animate every corpse in the cemetery—even the ones she had missed.

“Did I pass?” Doug asked Ian, his expression somewhere between amusement and annoyance.

“Yes.” Ian’s gaze met hers.

Elysia crossed her arms.

“You didn’t?” Doug looked stunned. “You have enough juice to animate every body in this cemetery twice over.”

“Her juice is not the problem,” Ian said. “She lets the dead seduce her.”

“Clearly.” Doug’s gaze flicked to James.

James growled, the sound soft and barely audible. The hairs on the back of her neck rose, but it wasn’t fear that tingled through her body. She resisted the urge to shiver.

“Don’t start,” she said to Doug. He didn’t approve of her relationship with James, either. She turned to Ian. “I’m not seduced. I got distracted by the ones I had already animated.” Just because Ian no longer felt such sensations didn’t give him the right to criticize her.

“You fed too much into each individual. The point of this exercise is to get in and out quickly.”

“So? It’s not like I need to know how to manage a horde of zombies. We’ve been at this for over two weeks. Isn’t it time you taught me to travel?”

“When you master the basics, we’ll delve into more advanced topics.”

She glared at the clouds overhead, wanting to scream her frustration at the sky. It was a struggle to get her temper under control, but she managed. She straightened and faced Doug. “What do you need?”

“I got you in.”

James stilled beside her and even Ian stood straighter.

“I’m in contention for Deacon?” she asked. The Deacon was the leader of the necromantic community in the Midwest. Never in a million years would she have imagined putting herself up for Deacon—or wanting to. But she had no choice.

“Yes.” Doug looked as apprehensive as she felt.

“How did you get your father to agree?”

Doug glanced at Ian and James before answering. “Father figures Alexander will never let you go.”

Alexander had been the original Deacon, and though he was a lich now, he was still very much in control.

“And your father will be rid of me?” she asked.

Doug shifted his feet. “Something like that.”

Lovely. She wasn’t certain which bothered her more: that Doug’s father disliked her that much, or that he fully expected Alexander to remove the problem she represented. She had convinced herself that Alexander wouldn’t kill her, but this might be worse. Like Ian, he was her ancestor. He and Ian had a lot in common—they were twin brothers, for one.

“You don’t need to do this,” James spoke up. “Let me taste his soul,” he waved a hand at Doug, “then I can soul track him to the lich’s tomb.”

“Back off, dead man.” Doug’s eyes flickered white.

James’s snarl this time was much more vicious.

“Boys, please.” Elysia stepped between them and looked up to meet James’s faintly glowing eyes. “I’m doing this. Don’t argue with me.”

A muscle ticked in James’s jaw and he turned away.

Elysia bit her lip. She didn’t like to give him commands, but she wasn’t going to argue about this again. And certainly not in front of Doug.

“When?” Ian asked Doug.

She turned to face them, apprehension kicking up her pulse.

Doug took a deep breath and his eyes locked with hers. “Tonight.”


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