Hey, everybody, happy new week! Tomorrow is the release day of The Phoenix Codex (the ebook version, anyway), and I also have a vacation day tomorrow…after having very few Saturdays or Sundays off this year. So I’m feeling good!

The Phoenix Codex is up for pre-order on AmazonBarnes and Noble.comiBooks, and Kobo (and it’s already available in print on Amazon.)

Over the weekend, I shared chapters one and two. Thank you to everyone who gave me feedback — I appreciate that so much! This next chapter begins in Cassie’s point of view. Jonathan is still in her psyche, and he has just figured out that she’s not a witch who’s causing animal attacks on purpose.

 

The Phoenix Codex Bryn Donovan best new paranormal romance series fantasy supernatural about brothers 2017

 

CHAPTER THREE

Cassie didn’t let down her guard. “Who are you?”

“My name’s Jonathan West. Listen, I know I scared you—”

“You assaulted me!”

He held up a hand. “We need to figure this out. Your coworker, Tiffany Daly. Did you get mad at her, too?”

Even though she didn’t trust him in the least, she couldn’t avoid telling him whatever he wanted to know. “I got mad at her that morning. She was bullying Ana again. Tiffany made her cry, and it was totally uncalled for.”

“This is Ana Quintero you’re talking about.”

She stiffened at the mention of her best friend’s name. “What are you? FBI, freak division?”

“Something like that.” He took a step toward her. “And you got angry with your uncle.”

“He wanted another handout from my mom. And he got her all upset.”

Jonathan West nodded. His thoughtful, steady gaze should have disturbed her less than the cold glare it had replaced. Instead, it registered as a different kind of danger, one she couldn’t name. “The attack on Charles Warner was the mildest of the three. The javelina slashed him in the legs, and he got a few stitches. Would you say you were less angry with him than with your ex?”

“Probably.” Uncle Charlie had been nice to her when she was a kid. “I mean, he is family, even if he can be a dick.”

“And you were angrier at Tiffany Daly than your uncle?”

She could see what he was thinking. Tiffany’s attack had been worse than Uncle Charlie’s, though not fatal, thank God. “Yeah. I never have to work with her myself, but she treats her staff like that all the time.” She looked down at the ground. A tiny lizard scuttled from one rock to another.

“And in each case, there was some time between when you got really mad and when something happened.”

“I guess so,” she said.

His forehead puckered. “I’m surprised nothing happened to your ex-boss.”

Shame prickled along her scalp. It was stupid. There were more embarrassing things than losing your job. Going around attacking innocent people, for instance. “You know everything about me.”

His rueful laugh surprised her. “I wish. Why were you fired?”

“I don’t know. I feel like some people blamed me for the coyote attack on Tiffany.” She shoved her hands in the front pockets of her jeans. How strange that she’d be wearing the same clothes here as in the real world. “Someone mentioned that it was weird, after what happened to Rick.”

“So your boss fired you for hexing someone?”

Cassie could just imagine the HR people putting that down in their paperwork. “He said I wasn’t a good fit with the corporate culture.” Her shoulders sagged. “Which was probably true.” She cursed too much. She wore cowboy boots.

“Your ex-husband’s new fiancée… You must have been mad at her, too. Why didn’t anything happen to her?” His eyes flicked up at the sky, maybe expecting it to reveal a lesser attack on her—a hornet sting or a Chihuahua bite.

“She’s not the one who made wedding vows to me.”

Jonathan tilted his head, conceding the point. He paced a few steps. A jackrabbit bounded out of his path, narrowly escaping the bottom of his boot, and he froze. As he watched, it scampered maybe fifty yards and then hid behind a lone palo verde tree. Frowning, he turned back to Cassie. “I’m going to get out of your head now. But you have to keep answering my questions.”

“I’ll call the police.” Shit. She hadn’t meant to say that out loud. And how the hell could she do that, anyway? In the real world, she was tied to a chair.

“Calling the police wouldn’t help. I’m not easy to catch.” He sounded sympathetic. “You need to work with me, or you’ll be in trouble with people who are a lot scarier than the cops.”

“Whoever sent you to kill me could send someone else.” Dread trickled down her spine.

“They won’t.” Reassurance warmed his voice, and she wanted to believe him. “It’s going to be fine as long as you cooperate.” He flickered into transparency. “When we’re back on the other side, stay calm.”

Black clouds rolled in from the low blue mountains. Darkness ate up the landscape from all directions. The breeze ceased, and Cassie felt the chair under her. She opened her eyes.

They sat in her kitchen again. Jonathan’s hands still enveloped her fist where he’d bound it to the chair back.

He raised his head. “Your hand is freezing.”

A wave of nausea roiled through her. He eased the duct tape off her mouth, although it hadn’t been on long enough to really stick. She tried to wipe her wet mouth on her shoulder. He grabbed a bandana out of his pocket and blotted her lips. The overly intimate gesture made her uncomfortable, and she wanted to say something smartass but couldn’t come up with anything.

He unfolded a large black knife, and she recoiled. He held up his empty hand. “I’m just cutting the ties.”

She had pulled against them as hard as she could. When she inspected her freed hands, she saw red streaks marking her wrists, front and back, with a few thin smears of blood.

“You’re a fighter,” he muttered, sounding angry. He took a metal box out of his backpack and she stared at it. What the hell was he planning now? He flipped it open to reveal bandages, vials, needles, and gauze.

“You have all kinds of things in that bag,” she said. “You’re like a…scary Mary Poppins.” The room tilted and spun, making her dizzy.

He rubbed some kind of salve on the flayed skin of her wrists. She winced at the sting, and he mumbled, “Sorry.”

Did he think she’d forget about the fact that he’d done this? She would have punched him, except her feet were still tied to the chair legs. Gently but quickly, he wrapped one wrist and then the other with gauze. Then he kneeled down and cut through the ties around her legs. This time he didn’t take care to stay out of the range of her boots. She aimed a vicious kick at his face.

He jerked back and to the side, and her toe barely connected with his ear. She jumped to her feet and hoisted up the chair, intending to swing it into his head. He caught one of the chair legs and yanked it away from her with little effort, tossing it over his shoulder. Even as it clattered to the floor, she was darting toward the gun on the table.

She almost made it. From behind, he pinned her arms to her sides, hauling her in against him. She struggled, stomping the heel of her cowboy boot down onto his toes as hard as she could. It hit something hard—steel-toed boots, she guessed. Why did she even try? Maybe she’d seen one too many action flicks. His chest pressed hard against her back. Her ass was shoved right up against his crotch.

He adjusted his stance, putting a little space between them there without loosening his grip. “I’m not going to hurt you. Even if you keep trying to hurt me.”

She stilled. He hadn’t retaliated when she’d tried to kick him in the face. Hell, he’d just taken care of her skinned wrists.

He spoke into her right ear, a distracting imitation of tenderness. “You need our help. What if you got mad at your parents? Or Ana?”

Terrible images flashed through her head. Her mom and dad, lying on their living room floor, their throats ripped out like Rick’s had been in the graphic pictures leaked to the internet. Ana opening a sock drawer and finding it full of scorpions, the small, most dangerous kind. She had managed not to cry before, but now tears sprang to her eyes.

He relaxed his iron grip and turned her around to face him, still holding her upper arms. When he saw she was near tears, his controlled expression melted into concern. “Hey. You’re going to be okay.”

It caught her completely off guard. A connection flared between them, as though she’d known him very well, long ago, and just now recalled it again.

No. None of this made any sense, and she shoved the feelings aside. Who the hell was he, even?

He closed his eyes briefly. “I haven’t given you any reason to trust me. I’m asking you to trust me a little anyway.”

Cassie had never heard a less sensible proposition, not even in biker bars, but the sincerity in his deep voice swayed her. “I won’t hit you again.” She felt too weak anyway, and for some reason, very cold.

He let go of her and inclined his head toward the couch. “Go lie down.”

“I have to go to the bathroom.” And she wanted to change her shirt. She stank, with that awful, panicky stench one only got in truly terrifying situations, like when one was about to be murdered or about to speak in public. Her thoughts darted to her gun, still waiting in the nightstand drawer.

Maybe she didn’t need to protect herself from him anymore. He hadn’t picked up his own gun again, and she vaguely wondered why. Anyway, he wasn’t stupid. He followed her into the bedroom, and when she reached for the dresser drawer, he put his hand up against it.

“I just want a fresh shirt,” she snapped.

He paused and then let go of the drawer, watching her as she opened it and grabbed one. As soon as she did, he pushed the drawer shut again. His gaze flicked to the adjoining bathroom and back to her in what must have been a rapid risk assessment: one high window over the shower too small for a person to squeeze through, one door that locked but that he could probably kick in if necessary, and one freaked-out woman. He nodded.

She locked the door behind her and took the opportunity to pee. It was a wonder she hadn’t peed her pants already, considering. She raked a comb through her hair, wanting to feel less disheveled, more in control, and then scrubbed under her arms. Maybe she could call the police now. But her phone was in the living room. She put on the plaid Western-style shirt and fastened the snaps up the front.

Nausea still swirled through her. She emerged from the bathroom and wanted to collapse on the bed, but she didn’t like him being in such a personal space. “My head hurts. I’m going to lie on the couch.” Exactly as he’d suggested—no, ordered—a minute before. He followed her, like her horse, Layla, when she knew Cassie had a granola bar in her pocket.

She tossed the purse and newspapers from the couch onto the floor. Since she’d moved out on her own, she hadn’t kept up as much with the cleaning. She stretched her body out and appreciated the softness of the cushions.

Jonathan picked up the quilt wadded at the end of the couch. Her great-grandma had made it out of scraps. It was ugly, to be honest, but she liked having something that had belonged to an ancestor. He spread it out on top of her. One minute, he was going to blow her head off, and the next minute, he was doing this? The contradiction disturbed her—and allured her, which was all the more disturbing.

“I’m going to check your pulse.” He lifted her hair, damp with sweat, away from the side of her neck and rested two fingers beneath her jaw. The light touch made her quiver. “Still strong,” he said, as though to himself.

“I’m fine,” she muttered, just to get him to leave her alone. He ignored her, holding his fingertips there for several seconds. Then he looked straight into her eyes, maybe checking for some other kind of symptom. His scrutiny embarrassed her, and she looked away.

He withdrew his touch. “Heart rate’s not bad. Considering.” Anger edged his tone again—why? She peered up at his face. Was he mad at himself?

She resisted the urge to pull back when he picked up her hand, studied her rough, short fingernails, and then set it down exactly in the same place as before. He grabbed a pillow from the other end of the couch, lifted her feet, and tucked it beneath them. “If you’re in shock, it’s mild.”

“No thanks to you. You scared the shit out of me!”

With an enormous crash and explosion of shattering glass, something huge barreled through the sliding door to the kitchen. They both leaped up. Jonathan stepped in front of her, planting his feet wide.

A black bear snarled at them. A fucking bear, in her house. Huge and pissed off. A rancid locker-room smell lled her nostrils. So that’s what bears smell like. Cassie stood frozen.

“That didn’t take long,” Jonathan muttered.

The beast shook shattered glass off his pelt like drops of water and advanced into the living room toward him, blocking his path to the gun on the table. Long, sharp canines glistened as he drew back his lips and let out a throaty growl that vibrated through Cassie’s shoes.

Of course this would happen. Cassie had gotten as angry with Jonathan as she’d ever been with anyone. And now a bear, who had no interest whatsoever in harming her, was going to tear his head off right before her eyes.

Jonathan stepped away from her. The bear bounded toward him, fast and graceful despite his massive size. He rose on his hind legs. Jonathan crashed his fist across his mottled brown snout. Holy shit. Who punched a bear in the face?

The massive animal staggered and went back down onto all fours. His nose was probably more vulnerable than the rest of him, padded with thick hide and hefty muscle. Jonathan only got a step closer to his gun before it charged toward him again.

She picked up the floor lamp and smashed it down on the bear’s head.

He turned to her. Oh God. Now he’s pissed at me, too.

His face reflected hurt and bewilderment. He was only trying to protect her from this intruder. Confusion swirled in her brain. Maybe she should have stood back and let him.

Jonathan sprinted for the Glock. The bear launched himself after him and reached him with one swipe. Claws slashed red lines in Jonathan’s back. Pivoting, Jonathan delivered a hard-booted kick to the creature’s other front leg, right at the knee joint. The animal let out a high-pitched howl. Jonathan made it to the kitchen table and picked up the gun.

“Don’t shoot!” Cassie screamed. He froze and looked over at her.

The bear ran away. This made no sense—animals didn’t know about guns. It was as though he’d picked up on her fear for his safety. Even with the limp from the damaged leg, he moved fast, disappearing through the shattered sliding glass door.

Jonathan took a step after him, still aiming. Then he lowered the weapon, panting.

“Is he gone?” she asked.

He nodded once, his mouth slightly open. “Why’d you tell me not to shoot?” The tone of his voice implied she was crazy, which raised the question of why he’d obeyed her.

“It’s not his fault! He was trying to protect me.” A sad thought occurred to her. “But I don’t know if he’ll survive with a broken leg.”

“Didn’t break it. Tried.” He craned his neck around, trying to see his back. She came over to get a closer look and sucked in a breath.

Blood soaked the back of his shirt, or what was left of it. The claws had ripped it into long ribbons that revealed torn, glistening furrows of flesh. Oh, God. My fault. She couldn’t believe he hadn’t screamed in agony.

Maybe she should try to run now, while he was injured and distracted. Drive away, call the cops.

But what if he were the only one who could help her? Like he said, she couldn’t let this happen to anyone she cared about. She didn’t have the worst temper in the world, but she wasn’t a saint, either. He’d been trying to protect people, just like the bear.

She said, “I’ll call 911.”

“Don’t.” His scary voice had returned. She straightened. “I know someone who can stitch me up,” he added in a more human tone. “You’re staying with me.”

What if she said no? He’d said he wouldn’t hurt her. Hell, when the bear had charged toward them, he’d jumped right in front of her, instinctively shielding her from the threat. Of course, she hadn’t been the one at risk. Even if he’d really made the switch from executor to protector, she didn’t like the thought of one of his friends showing up, whoever they were.

“We’re not going to a crowded hospital.” Pain tightened his words. “You’re too dangerous.” He bent down to grab his backpack, swayed, and almost fell on his head.

He was in no shape to drive. Hell, he could pass out behind the wheel and run somebody over. “I’ll take you. Let me get some bandages.” She didn’t want him bleeding out in her living room, and he’d need something sturdier than the gauze in his first aid kit. She ran to the linen closet, grabbed an old sheet, and after scrabbling for scissors in the kitchen junk drawer, she cut and tore a few long bandages. When she rushed back into the living room, he’d stripped to the waist and was tying the T-shirt around his middle.

A thick purple scar slashed across his collarbone, shiny against pale skin. A concave gouge marred his side. A bullet wound? Brown hair smattered his chest and traced the trail from his navel downward. A small silver crucifix hung near his heart from a cheap ball chain. He gave her a bemused look as he took a makeshift bandage from her. “Surprised you’re helping me.”

“So am I,” she muttered, but she cringed as she caught another glimpse of the slashes. This was what she did to people. He gritted his teeth, knotted the second strip, and then picked up the Glock again. She froze. “Give me the gun.”

He gave a short laugh. “No.”

“Otherwise, I’m not going anywhere with you.”

“I’ll make you go with me if I have to.” He sounded resigned rather than hostile. With his injuries, could he force her to do anything? Maybe.

She looked him in the eye. “You really want to piss me off again?” She was pretty sure he wasn’t up to a second bear fight.

His eyes darted down to the Glock and back to her. “They said you’re a good shot.”

“Damn right I am—Who said that?”

This elicited a chuckle from him despite his clenched jaw. He unloaded the gun and handed the magazine to her. “Good enough?” She nodded and shoved it into her giant purse. Once they were both in her truck, she asked, “Where are we headed?”

“Southside.” He gave her the address. Not the safest neighborhood in the world, but not the worst, either. Her parents lived in Mesa and volunteered at a food bank not far from there. She’d gone with them as a kid.

The Phoenix Codex Bryn Donovan best new paranormal romance series fantasy supernatural about brothers 2017

 

Gravel sprayed as she sped out of the driveway. “So who the hell are you? How did you know about the animals?”

“Can’t explain that.”

He could if he wanted to. “How can you get in my thoughts?”

“Uh. Natural ability. And practice.”

“You do that to people a lot?” She took a sharp turn, and he grunted.

“Only when someone’s murdering people with magic.” He laid his head back on the seat. A couple of days’ worth of stubble covered his jaw and upper lip.

This is crazy. It can’t be real. She asked him, “How many people have you killed?”

“Not people. Witches, demons. Monsters.”

She shook her head. “You expect me to believe that?”

“Would anyone believe you? About the animals?”

Fair point. Still, her temper rose. “Who gave you the right to decide?” Her tire hit a pothole with a thump, and he took in a sharp breath.

“Try not to get mad. You don’t want a bear coming through your windshield.”

“They don’t show up right away.” Nonetheless, she forced herself to calm down, fast. She couldn’t afford car repairs. “There’s no way you work for the government.”

He shifted in the seat, his long legs sprawling, and said nothing. Maybe he wasn’t part of a bigger organization. Maybe he was just an insane, violent man.

“Jon!” A loud, male disembodied voice in the truck made her jump. “I’ve called you ten times. What the hell’s going on?”

 

The Phoenix Codex by Bryn Donovan #best new paranormal romance series 2017 #urban fantasy series for adults #romance series about brothers #best new 2017 #strong female heroine

 

So now you know why his back is slashed on the cover.

Thank you for reading! Hope you have a great week!

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