Steele City Blues
Hell’s Belle Series
Genre: urban fantasy/paranormal romance
Date of Publication: January 3, 2017
Word Count: 98,000
Formats available: epub, mobi, pdf
Cover Artist: Robin Ludwig
Blood Ops leader Dr. O is chained in the bowels of Steele City, the state’s maximum security prison, and the clock is ticking for Nina and Frankie to bust him out.
Now that supernatural creatures are out of the closet, Providence is descending into an Apocalyptic wasteland. With the abrupt shut down Blood Ops, Nina and Frankie are on their own to save Dr. O and the other supernatural prisoners from certain death. Not knowing where Demon Mayor Bertrand’s loyalties lie, they are forced to rely on some questionable allies to battle Leila, a powerful vampire/witch hybrid hell bent on creating an indestructible supernatural army. She also happens to be Nina’s mom.
Alliances are tested and relationships fractured as Nina and her band of supernatural crime fighting misfits are pushed to the breaking point.
My 1968 Triumph Bonneville screamed on the downshift, and I lurched forward. The force almost shot me over the handlebars. Frankie’s bike engine whirred as he raced to catch up with me.
A bullet whizzed past my ear, the close call more a matter of luck than skill. It was the first near-miss since these clowns started shooting at us three miles back. Now we were coming up on the Thurbers Avenue exit on Interstate 95, and the goal was to lose them on an upcoming curve of the highway.
Mia’s long arms snaked around me, hanging on for dear life. She squeezed my midsection hard. For a 70-year-old lady, she had one hell of a grip. I hoped the nervous squeeze was from the sudden increased speed and not a bullet, since over a mile ago, I had sworn to her that the idiots chasing us were absolutely, positively, definitely out of bullets.
My bike was a steady 130mph, not even close to top speed. The goons behind us were on those crotch rockets — fast but zero muscle to them. We could lose them once we got past Thurbers, the deadliest stretch of highway in Rhode Island.
Not like it mattered much. Frankie, a vampire, was already dead, so a crash wouldn’t kill him. But if I died, I would go from half to full vampire, and honestly, I wasn’t up for eternal life right then. Ever since my own mother Leila unexpectedly rose from the dead, killed my aunt and unleashed hell on earth, I wasn’t too keen on sticking around forever. The only exception was if I could exterminate as many of these punk-ass vigilantes as possible.
But first things first — getting Mia out of here.
Frankie and I were tasked with getting Mia from the safe house to the airport. Bertrand, the demon mayor of Providence, had hooked us up with a supernatural sympathizer who worked for one of the few airlines still running out of TF Green. The plan was to smuggle Mia onto the last cargo plane flying out that night. It was departing at 11:40 p.m. sharp. Mia would fly to San Diego, where she’d be smuggled to a remote safe house just over the Mexican border. The operation was like an apocalyptic version of the Underground Railroad for witches, vampires and other supernaturals, or supernats, who wanted to live peacefully and discreetly among humans.
As a coven elder whose magic was so strong that it rivaled pretty much all witches, Mia was an important figure among supernats, Leila included. Even when she wasn’t practicing, Mia oozed magic. That kind of power put her straight into Mommy Dearest’s crosshairs, a very dangerous place to be. Leila would be able to get a read on Mia easily. We needed to get to that plane.
Nice and easy, I pressed on the brakes as the road began to bend. But instead of following my lead and slowing into the curve, Frankie flew past me.
“What the hell are you doing?!” I screamed over the wind, knowing his sensitive vampire hearing would pick up my voice.
Before he could respond, he lost control and his bike went into a skid. His body, still attached to the bike, slid across the asphalt roadway, spinning out of control for a solid 100 feet. The slam of bike and body against the cement barrier boomed through the quiet night.
“Frankie!” I yelled into the wind. My instincts screamed at me to open the throttle, but I forced myself to slow down as I negotiated the dangerous roadway.
When I got through the turn, I stopped the bike in the middle of the freeway. I yanked Mia off the back and sprinted towards Frankie, dragging her after me. If those goons caught up with us, Mia sitting alone on my bike was an easy target.
He was in rough shape, taking a direct hit to the head that left a crack in the huge cement barrier. Blood rushed out of his skull like a geyser. The bike could go up in flames at any second and I wanted to get all of us out of the way. But Frankie’s skull was split open, his grey matter oozing onto the ground. The bones were already fusing back together. His noggin knitting shut with his brain bits still on the pavement wouldn’t be a good thing. I had to get them back into his head.
Gritting my teeth, I scooped up his brains and tried to push them back into his skull. His head was healing too fast. I couldn’t get his grey matter off the pavement fast enough. I reached into my pocket and pulled out an athame. I pulled his blood-soaked hair tight, losing my fingers in its thick darkness. Then, without hesitating, I hacked at the bone to reopen his skull.
“Mia, help me!” I called to the witch. “There, pick that up.” I nodded at the brain tissue still on the ground. With one final slam, I re-cracked his cranium. Blood oozed out again. “Shove it in, fast!”
I jammed my fingers into the crack and stretched it out. His skull popped and cracked under the pressure, but it gave way so that we could replace what was missing. Mia, without gagging (bless her witchy soul), picked up Frankie’s brain matter and shoved it back into his head. I released my fingers and, quick as can be, his bones knitted back together.
“Well done, Mia!” I said, jumping up to give that heroic witch a hug. I turned just in time to see a gunman walk up behind her and shoot her point blank in the back of the head, execution style. She crumpled to the ground. This time it was chunks of her brain, dark red blood and bits of her broken skull that landed on my booted foot. Unlike Frankie, there was no fixing this one.
Without hesitation, I leapt at the gunman, grabbed his head and gave it a sharp twist. His neck snapped and his body crumpled. I tossed him into the middle of the highway like a rag doll. He landed right in front of two oncoming motorcycles, the remaining members of his posse. They both swerved to avoid his body and dumped their bikes in the choas, spinning out down the highway.
I ran after them, my living-vampire swiftness getting me there before they could register what happened. I snatched one up by the back of his leather jacket, dragging him along the ground to his buddy. That one I lifted off the ground by his throat.
“What the hell are you, lady?”
That was the one I had by the back of the neck. The one I had by the throat could only wheeze.
“I am no lady,” I growled. “I am your executioner.”
I tossed them both on the ground and shook out my wrists. A pair of razor sharp blades extended over each hand, my own special weaponized claws.
“You’re human, right?” I asked with a smile before plunging a blade into each of their throats simultaneously. I extracted the claws quickly and blood bubbled out of their necks. Between the blood and the expelling air, their throats made a gurgling noise.
“Good god, woman,” Frankie said, sneaking up behind me. “Must you always kill in such a vile way? That sound is atrocious.”
“How’s your head?” I asked, squinting at him. He wasn’t listing when he stood. That I could see, at least.
“What are you talking about?” he puzzled. “Come on now, let’s clean up your mess.”
I wiped the bloody blades against my jeans. “Leave it.”
“Are you mad? If we leave this….”
“What? Leila will send her goons out looking for me?” I said, toeing at one of the lifeless bodies. “These were her goons, and they were after Mia, not me.”
“Mia?” Frankie looked confused for a minute. “Mia…I can’t quite…” His clouded expression went bright with alarm. “Mia! Wait, where is Mia?”
I gave my arms a quick shake. The blades retracted. “They got her, Frankie.”
“What do you mean, they got her?” he asked.
I pointed to where Mia lay in the middle of the highway. Her grey hair was black and sticky from the blood pooled around her. “Where was I when all this was happening?”
“You took a nasty bump on the head. You were out for the whole thing.”
“Out, like passed out? Vampires don’t pass out.”
“The ones with traumatic brain injuries do.”
Frankie’s eyes went wide. “Really? I had a traumatic brain injury? And I’m not a vegetable. Extraordinary.”
I wiped my blood stained hands on my ass. “Frankie, we lost Mia. I just executed three of Leila’s human henchmen. My jeans are ruined. And I need a goddamn drink. What the hell is so extraordinary about your brain injury?”
His laugh was small and rueful. “Your dad and I used to argue about what would happen to a vampire if the brain was injured. Would we survive? Be vegetative? I figured there had to be something that kept us alive, in a manner of speaking, and there had to be neurons firing in the brain. So I said we’d be veg.”
“Well, you can give me the 50 bucks you bet then, since he’s not here.”
“It wasn’t a money wager.”
“Bullshit. There was no way you and my dad had this debate without some sort of monetary bet on the table.”
Frankie raised an eyebrow.
I was too tired to prod further. “Well, since you’re not a vegetable, you can help me roll these two assholes and see exactly who the hell they are.”
“What’s the point?” Frankie asked. “They are human, so most likely they’re bounty hunters.”
“Yeah and they executed Mia. She wasn’t just collateral damage. She was their target.”
“Right, and they work for your mom,” he said, shrugging.
“Leila,” I corrected him. That woman may have birthed me, but she was not my mother. “If they worked for Leila, I want to know who they are, where they live, where they work, who they hang out with. I am sure there are others in their posse tasked with assassinating other witches.”
“Good point,” he conceded. “Should we call Max?”
I shook my head. No reason to get the FBI involved. Or what was left of it. The Feds now worked for my mother—I mean, Leila. My team, Blood Ops, no longer had the backing of the U.S. government. We were the vigilantes.
“Hey ho!” Frankie called out, digging through a wallet he liberated from one of our attackers. “Got a driver’s license on him, out of Connecticut of all places. I think this may be near our roving pack of wolves.”
I sighed, remembering the werewolf pack we met just a few weeks ago. It felt like an eternity had passed since. “That’s just great. I have zero interest in talking to those pricks again. Werewolves are not exactly team players.”
“Keep your friends close, Nina,” Frankie reminded me. I stared while he stuffed the dead guy’s money in his jacket pocket.
“Frankie, what the hell are you doing? We’re searching them, not robbing them.”
“Nina, the boys are dead. If they are dead, can I really rob them?”
I opened my mouth to say something, but he cut me off before I took a breath.
“Don’t give me crap about dishonoring the dead and all that. It’s end times, Nina. Grab the greenbacks while we can.”
I didn’t argue, especially since I planned on making the same argument for taking their guns. Weapons were in even shorter supply than cash, which was becoming more and more useless anyway. “Find anything else?” I asked, pulling my hands clear of the pockets of the first guy I took down. “This guy was clearly the brains of the operation. He has no identification on him.”
“Let’s get off the streets then,” Frankie said. “Back to the bar?”
“Let’s split up though. Something doesn’t feel right,” I said.
“What do you mean, love?”
“I mean, it feels like we’re being watched.”
Frankie did a 360-degree turn in the middle of the dark highway. No one seemed to be around us for miles. “That’s paranoia, Nina, and they have pills for that.”
I shook my head. “I trust my gut here, Frankie. Someone’s been on our tail since yesterday.”
“Your mum—” he started and I shot him a look. “Sorry. Leila. She’s had trackers on us for days.”
I shivered, feeling those invisible eyes on me again. “No, it’s not her. It’s something else. Not sure what.”
“So it’s your witchy senses tingling?”
I looked down the interstate. The streetlights were out, and most of the houses and high-rise buildings in the distance were dark. The blinds on every window within view were closed tightly.
I nodded. “You stay on the highway. I’ll take the back roads and meet you at Babe’s.”
“Right,” Frankie said. “And if one of us doesn’t get there in 30 minutes, the other sends out the cavalry.”
“You mean Bertrand, don’t you?” I asked, growing cold at the mention of his name.
“He’s all the cavalry we have at the moment,” Frankie said.
That was true. Bertrand was our only lifeline right then, but a demon can’t be anything but a demon. That meant he was playing both sides – mine and Leila’s – so he’d end up on the winning one. But the winning side was, more often than not, the demon’s.
Frankie picked his bike up off the ground and swore at the damage on the left side. “Bloody hell, I don’t remember dumping my bike,” he muttered before the roar of his engine cut his voice off.
I straddled my bike and started her up, the rumble soothing. I glanced over at Mia, her slight body crumpled in a spreading pool of blood. One more innocent victim in a supernatural genocide. And I failed to protect her.
I kicked my motorcycle into gear and headed to the first exit to take the back roads to Babe’s, before the cops got wind of the mess littering the highway.
Welcome to Providence.
About the Author:
Karen Greco is originally from Rhode Island and loves hot wieners from New York System, but can’t stand coffee milk. She studied playwriting in college (and won an award or two). After not writing plays for a long time, a life-long obsession with exorcists and Dracula drew her to urban fantasy, where she decapitates characters with impunity. Steele City Blues is the third book in the Hell’s Belle series, after Hell’s Belle (the first) and Tainted Blood (number two). She writes contemporary romance for a small press under the pen-name Jillian Sterling, and has a day job in entertainment publicity.