Page of Swords

By: Ben Reeder

 (The Demon's Apprentice Book 2)




Acknowledgements:

New entries in italics.

No author ever writes entirely alone, or at least this one doesn’t. While I was first working on Page of Swords, I found myself saying things I never imagined I would before, usually phrases that included the words “my second book”. But most often, I found myself saying “Thank you”.

To the True Believers who read through the early copies and caught the little things I missed, many thanks. Especially to Todd and Kat, who saw things in my characters that went deeper than I expected, but were still true.

For Laura Davis, my most excellent editor, who made sure things ended up being more than alright, and for her daughter who helped me create Dani and get her right.

Greg Price, thank you for giving me Steve Donovan to work with.

Last, but by no means least, thank you to my publisher, Peter Paddon for having faith in a first time writer, and thinking my writing compares favorably to the Dresden Files. May your journey to the Summerlands be easy, Peter and may your next life be a good one.

Thanks to Angela Gulick for another awesome cover, and to Machine Fairy and Siroj Steems for the model photo used. Thanks also go out to Amanda Ables, my newest beta reader and reality checker.

And as always, my eternal gratitude to the readers who make The Demon’s Apprentice series successful.





Chapter 1

~ Love is the enemy of reason and the death of discipline. All that does not serve is swept aside in its heedless path. For good cause do the elders curse it. Oh, how we need it! ~

Henriette de Bernardis, 18th c. wizard

By eight on Friday night, my weekend was already dying an ugly death. My favorite moping place, the back booth at Dante's, gave me a great view of the dance floor and the stage. It was perfect for those nights when I showed up to Dante’s without Shade. For the fourth week in a row. Suicidal Jester seemed to hover over the crowd as they played one of their own songs, “Maddened Heart,” and Mike Destine was moaning the lyrics into the microphone:

Where are you now? In the middle of the dark,

In my mind's fevered eye, I see you laid down,

In grace pale and stark. My maddened heart watches over you,

And you can't know, you don't know to care, but I don't care!



His voice rose to a scream on the last word, and the lead guitar matched him as it launched into a solo. In the crowd, I could see a familiar mane of flame red hair as I found Shade. She had her arms up in the air as her hips writhed like snakes, dancing with her eyes closed to a rhythm it seemed like only she could hear. Shiny black boots flowed up over her knees and clung to her thighs, leaving a few inches of pale white skin showing before a painted-on black leather miniskirt wrapped itself tight around her hips. The top of her skirt disappeared under a black satin corset that was laced up the back; the only color in the outfit came from criss-crossing lines of blood red ribbon cinching her into it. Even though she was dancing by herself, I knew she hadn't come alone, and that twisted the knife in my weekend a little more.

“Dude!” Lucas yelled from across the table. I could barely hear him over the music. “Maybe she brought him here for some kind of Pack business or something!”

He’d taken off his denim trenchcoat, showing off his black t-shirt that read, “I have epiphanies.” Strands of black hair brushed his eyebrows and the tops of his new glasses, narrow-lensed with half rims. He’d gotten titanium frames and high impact lenses after his old pair had been broken for the second time around Yule.

Beside him, Wanda was in a red top with black hearts all over it, wearing a red choker trimmed in black lace and red lace fingerless gloves that hugged her elbows. Her new pentacle, a silver star flanked by crescent moons, rode over her shirt. Her mom had given it to her when she’d started her year-and-a-day training as a Wiccan dedicant, and it never came off, no matter how much crap she caught about it at school. Below the table, she had on a red and black plaid skirt and red lace stockings that matched the gloves. One of her heavy wedge-heeled boots was on the seat beside me, black with red flames coming up off the soles.

“What kind of business is she doing in a mini-skirt?” I yelled back.

“But Chance, she's so into you!” Wanda said.

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