DEATH AND BLOODSHED
A fast-paced dark fantasy western series with wit and bite, Devil's Angel follows two renegades – a gunslinging hard-luck prostitute named Mae, who teams up with Aluest, the vicious fallen General of a race of warlike angels, as they follow twin paths of revenge. Together, they'll shoot their way through hard luck to take vengeance on their enemies -- no matter the trail of bodies they leave in their wake!
COMING IN 2019
DEVIL’S ANGEL BOOK 1
Aluest the Calm, Scythe and High General of the warlike Velasi, has touched the forbidden Book of Truth. Shorn of his power and cast out from his homeworld, he is desperate to return to his warlord's good graces. Mortal and wounded, he languishes in a desolate world, a hard place civilization never touched. Taking refuge in the brothel of Elsennia Mae Argentine, wanted woman and gunslinger extraordinaire, Aluest brings more trouble to Mae’s porch boards than she ever hoped to see again.
Now, the viper with dust-pale eyes and the madam of silver sixguns must join forces. As warlords and bounty-hunters track them down, these killers realize their stories of bitter revenge are not unfamiliar. An unexpected history will bind them together, securing their future in a brutal, unforgiving showdown.
Together, the Sixgun and the Scythe will reap their revenge.
Mae Tallis knew the drifter was trouble the moment he arrived at her porch boards. Talk ceased in the evening rush of Fancy Mae’s Bar, the last light of day dying outside. Night was minutes from falling, and when it did, it would be colder than a witch’s tit. But the stranger who walked three prima-bred black horses up to the hitching post in the dusty avenue neither hurried nor showed any concern that he’d almost been caught out past Darkfall.
Mae paused behind the bar, setting down the crystal clourdis bottle she was pouring. The horses’ hooves made no sound as they pawed the whispering dust. She watched the stranger dismount with grace in the indigo shadows. Standing under the eaves, out of the wind’s talons that swirled crystalline ice off the hardpack, the man struck a phosphor match and lit a home-rolled smoke in his cupped hands, flicking ash to the susurrating dust. Staring down Main Street, he contemplated the barren reaches of the Panne. No emotion attended him; no desperation nor malice. Just a thoughtful emptiness, as if he listened to the wind’s moan.
Mae stared at the man, the bottle in her hand forgotten. Three of her regular cattle-men, skinny and pockmarked Rellun Jessup, wrinkled old Eldun Smalley, and broad-shouldered Heldur Abenathy halted their card game at their table to the left of the bar, gaping at the newcomer beyond the open barn doors. Doc Ramey looked up from his whiskey and a leather-bound medical book by one dusty window. He blinked at the man over his wire-rimmed spectacles and rubbed his thick white mustachios. Two of Mae’s girls tittered behind the bar, and Mae silenced them with a cutting look before returning her attention to the stranger – wariness prickling the back of her neck.
The kind she hadn’t felt in a long, long time.
“Who in Ferrow’s Hells?” Heldur Abenathy drawled from their table, watching the rider, the flush in his hands forgotten. “What kin’a damn bastard watches the Panne like that? A desperado? Thief? Hunt-man?”
“Gotta be a thief.” Eldun Smalley whispered to his fellows in a clandestine drawl. “Lookit those black beauties! Where in Seven Tar-Winds he get those?”
“Magnificent, thems.” Rellun Jessup whistled, soft enough to not be heard by the stranger but loud enough to be heard by Mae behind the bar. “Well-trained. Coats only get glossy from care, mind? Thems horses’ll withstand the Panne, so-is-so.”
“Thems horses…sumthin’ funny ‘bout them…” Eldun rubbed his graying beard absently.
The black horses were fine, but Mae’s attention was all for the rider as a prickling unease set her veins on fire. Indifferent to the locals, the man lashed his beasts to the post. His long duster was faded like bleached sand. The sun-shader upon his head was beat to shit, his chaps and boots dun as death. Like his garb, the fellow was hard-worn, his tall, lean frame wired tighter than a tunka-snare. His skin was tanned, his hair as sand-bleached as the dust that coated his gear.
Mae had no more time to speculate as the man finished his hitching, then dropped the butt-end of his smoke and stubbed it dead with his bootheel. Stepping up to Mae’s porchboards, he approached. An eerie silence marked his passage. As if he danced upon air, his boots made not a one of those old slats creak. Like the specter of Long Death, he didn’t amble or swagger, just moved in that steady, implacable rhythm, as he entered the sun-streaked gloom of Fancy Mae’s like a dying heartbeat.
As he swept the sun-shader from his head, Mae saw his eyes. Pale as the ice that blew across the flats at midnight, they were bright, a sharp dust-shine to them. Stubble graced his chin, sun-bleached like his hair. Though his face was austere, it was also handsome – a face to make women weep. He could have been terrifying with such high cheekbones and a sharp jaw, if his face had any emotion to it. But only a dire calm licked out from him, empty as the day was long.
“Holy fuckin’ Saviour!” Breathed Yula, one of Mae’s girls, come to stand beside Mae’s shoulder behind the bar. “I want that one tonight.”
“Shush! Go make a’man welcome!” Mae bit under her breath. Yula and Lennia complied, dancing forward on agile feet. Shrugging their silk shawls down, they offered a shoulder above their red and cream satin work-corsets. Rouged with silver locks done up, the two far-north girls had big doe-eyes and pale skin. Mae’s girls were bright as new cherries, kept clean with tinctures and salves against groin-rot and crawlins. But though they worked their sashays and eyelashes, the stranger moved past. His dust-bright eyes pinned on Mae as he stepped to the bar and claimed a stool, sliding up with a movement that was all lean sinew and fighting-grace.
Mae went cold. He was here for her – she could feel it. Some connection lanced between them, buzzing between Mae’s shoulder-blades. Racing up the back of her neck and through her heart into her fingertips, she felt a cord shivering between them – his eyes pinned to her; hers to him. He had the feel of a hunt-man, or some other kind of lawless law, come for Elsennia Mae Argentine. A hired gun, maybe from Genevens, maybe from one of the Inner Baronies Elsennia Mae had ransacked in her day. Mae’s fingers slipped beneath the bar, touching her short-barreled cattle-gun mounted muzzle-out. The beast of a gun could shoot straight through the ironpine bar and blow a hole the size of a supper plate in the fellow’s gut if need be.
Ain’t gonna take Elesennia Mae dead or alive. Not today, not nohow.
“What’ll it be?” Mae asked, cold steel in her voice, her finger on the trigger, out of sight.
“Shockey,” the fellow responded, “burnt sweet.”
His voice was baritone and mellow, so full and soft it rippled around Mae like dark molasses. It made her shudder, touching things inside her that never saw daylight. She set her jaw, willing herself to not show her shock. But Mae knew her accents, and his couldn’t be placed. Rich, his musical tones held a vastness to them, elegant. His accent hadn’t the languid slur of Genevens, nor any of the Inner Baronies. It had no clip of the northern mountains, no grinding bite of the eastern reaches.
His pale-bright eyes narrowed, his blonde eyebrows drawing down at her delay. His gaze flicked to her chest. Not to her cleavage above her blue dress’ modest corset, but to a spot below her collarbones. Fixing there, a frown etched his face, turning his full lips down at the corners.
“Cream?” Mae asked efficiently.
His gaze flicked back up. Staring at Mae, his pale eyes bored into her as if they could drink her in until there was nothing left but ash and emptiness. Mae shivered, her finger tightening upon the cattle-gun’s trigger. The bar had fallen into a tense hush, all eyes on the stranger and the bar’s proprietress.
“No cream,” the drifter murmured, his gaze strange as he watched her eyes intently. Shivers cascaded through Mae’s body, like the sumbitch had just stalked her grave. But he wasn’t wearing sixguns, and though he had a skinning knife at his belt, he gave no inclination of using it. He wasn’t using humor to butter her up, or threats to mow her down. Whoever this fellow was, he wasn’t a hunt-man, and hadn’t come here for her.
Not because of her trouble five years back, anyway.
This fellow was something else. Mae had to release the cattle-gun to move over to the fancy copper steaming machine upon the glossy bar and pull the beverage he’d ordered. Good shockey from the Inner Baronies gave her place class, far superior to the swill the cattle-men drank out on the Panne. Mae let it drip until three fingers of the bitter stimulant filled the stout tumbler, then mixed in a spoonful of mesquite honey and set it before the stranger.
He reached out with a liquid movement, faster than she had anticipated. Their fingers met upon the glass tumbler. A bolt of energy speared Mae so hard her knees nearly buckled. Skewering up through her arm, into her heart, it speared her spine between her shoulder-blades. She caught a swift breath as the man’s eyes opened wide and his lips parted in a shock as plain as hers. His eyes seemed to brighten, nearly gold in the twisting light of the evening oil-lamps.
For a moment, they stared at each other, the bar around them fading to nothing.
“Honey, ash… roses…” The man shivered, as if affected by what had just happened. But then a veil slid over his eyes. Their brightness died, leaving them cold as a rattler and thrice as mean. His fingers slid away. Reaching into his duster, he pulled out a leather purse and spilled two silver selvens onto the bar. “Supper. A room for the night and stabling for my horses.”
“Whiskey? Moon-shift nightcap?” Mae recovered quickly, sweeping the money to her belt-purse. “It’s enough coin for a few nights out here on the Panne, an’ a girl besides.”
“I’ll take a whiskey after supper. And only one night of lodging. One night is all I need.”
The way he said need made Mae think of sex. Something hot roiled in his gold-tinged eyes. It made Mae want to touch him again, to feel their uncanny connection. Pulling away, she bustled to the kitchen to hide her unnerve. Fetching a meal of roast brisket and beans from the pot with pork-collards, she heard the squeak of a chair out in the bar. Moving to a small cedar chest in the back, Mae liberated a loaded sixgun and slipped it into the deep pocket of her blue dress. It weighed heavily and assuring at her thigh as she glanced out the doorway, watching wrinkled and homely Eldun Smalley rise from the local’s table, the old fool approaching the stranger.
“Eldun!” Bull-shouldered Heldur Abenathy hissed from their table, making a swipe for Eldun’s arm as he departed. “Git yer wrinkled ass back here!”
“Shit! Eldun!” Skinny, pockmarked Rellun chorused to his old uncle.
But there was no fool like an old fool. Ignoring his young rustler friends, Eldun ambled over to the stranger in his casual way, thumbs hooked in his suspenders. Mae kept one eye on the interaction as she plated out the stranger’s meal, wiping her hands on the print apron over her blue cotton dress. Trouble wasn’t something she tolerated – started by locals or strangers – and her rack of slatewood guns behind the bar showed that with well-oiled clarity.
“Well, how-do?” Eldun drawled pleasantly.
The rider did nothing, other than pin Eldun with his eyes. He pulled out another smoke and cupped his hands, lighting up. Taking a long draw, his pale eyes roved the cattle-man. Mae deposited the stranger’s plate upon the bar, her hackles rising as trouble prickled the air. Every eye of the fifteen patrons and ten girls in her bar tonight was riveted to the scene, a few of the rustlers with hands drifting to their sixguns. But the stranger’s pale eyes dismissed Eldun, fixing upon the plate Mae had set down.
Eldun took a few breaths, unnerved. But he didn’t sit back down, which would have been the smart option. Eldun couldn’t spell the word smart. He tried again, nodding toward the open doors. “Goin’ out to the Panne, out west yonder?”
The man did not look around. Loading a tray of whiskeys for her girls to circulate and ease the tension in the room, Mae kept an ear on the interaction. Still smoking, the stranger’s gaze fixed upon Mae as she loaded Yula up with the whiskey-tray and sent her off circulating.
“Sh’all be your death, friend,” Eldun drawled, his dumb stubbornness intent to engage. “She’a hard mistress, that Panne. Western track goes to’uh Burnin’ Sea. Ain’t nothin’ out there, kennit?”
The shadow of a smile lifted the man’s lips at last. He’d still not ceased staring at Mae, and she shivered, pinned by that dark draw. The rider’s smile was somehow worse than when he had shown no emotion at all, diabolical and sexy as hell. As conversation began to rise from the girls circulating with drinks, the rider took a draw upon his smoke, his precise hand-roll almost all ash.
“Sure. I kennit.” The man showed cruelty in his derision of their local speech. Casting his burnt-out smoke to the floor, he crushed it with his bootheel. Turning those too-bright eyes from Mae to Eldun, his gaze roved the old-timer until Mae heard the rustler’s guts liquefy. Eldun took a step back, blanching from that gaze – the gaze of a demon come straight out of a land of devils.
“Night’s coming soon.” Resonant, the man’s baritone rolled through the bar like wind across the empty Panne. What little conversation had risen around the room hushed, every eye turning his way. “The cold devours those who press on in slow wit. So you’d best be on your way, kennit? And if you don’t want to feel the talons of fate, you’d best forget about me. Forget about all this, as if the whore who whelped you was never even born.”
A shiver passed over Eldun, and one through Mae. She felt as if the stranger had escorted Eldun right to his grave and danced upon its fresh mound. Mercifully, the rider pulled his ash-bright eyes away from the old-timer and went back to his meal. Picking up a fingerful of brisket, he pinned Mae with his gaze again, a small smile lifting one edge of his lips as he nodded to her in acknowledgement of his meal.
Eldun whisked away, released from the man’s regard. The cattle-boys Heldur and Rellun gaped at their compatriot, Heldur easing his meaty hand away from a sixshooter nearly drawn. Tension was released in the bar as Eldun thumped back into his chair and picked up his hand of cards, gazing at his fellows expectantly.
“Damn, Eldun! What’a man go’an do crazy for?!” Heldur hissed from across the table.
“What’a fella on about?” Eldun arranged his cards like nothing had happened.
“You! Him! At the bar!” Rellun squeaked, his brown eyes enormous in his skinny face.
“Speakin’ to a damn dust-devil like a sumbitch!” Heldur admonished again. “Goddam! Make’a man wanna shit the britches!” Heldur pulled ravenously on a newly-lit smoke, his hands shaking. He gestured with it towards the drifter at the bar.
Eldun turned to look, but Mae saw his eyes glaze over, confusion in their rheumy depths. “Ain’t no one at that bar but Mae, son.” Eldun gave an odd chuckle and suddenly rose. Without setting his cards down or sweeping his hard-copper winnings from the table, he strolled through the bar and out the door, like his brains had been completely addled. Heldur and Rellun stared after him with mouths agape, as Mae’s hackles rose high and tight.
Eldun’s memory was bad, but not that bad.
Wiping the bar with a rag, but really slipping a hand in to caress her sixgun, Mae’s mind raced, her instincts killing-tight. This drifter was dangerous, whoever he was. There were flats-yarns about dust-devils that could steal a man’s soul, but those were just campfire tales cattlemen told while driving steer up through the mountains. Mae had seen charlatans and palm-greasers of the Inner Baronies who faked mind-talents, and mesmerizers who lit a candle to charm a man out of his money.
But her body crawled now. This man had used no charlatan’s tricks, and yet, he’d fucked up Eldun, good and evil. This man, whatever else he was, was trouble. A kind of trouble Mae hadn’t ever seen. Weighing her options, on whether to pull her sixgun and blast his ass, Heldur’s drawl suddenly shouted, “Darkfall, Mae, comin’ on down! Lock it up tight!”
“Shit!” Mae cursed. Her options were cut. Forcing the stranger out past Darkfall was certain death. And though he was a high-stakes risk, the stranger had asked for an overnight, and Mae had given him nothing for his silver but a plate of meat and beans.
“Heldur! Git them horses to the barn!” Mae barked, rousing into action like a military general. “Rellun, lock up those window-shades! Yula, Doc, come help me with the main doors. Lennia, git to the kitchen backdoor. The rest’a you girls, dash ‘round the tables and git on upstairs to make sure all the windows are shut!”
The bar erupted into bustle, Mae’s girls hustling around to latch the six-inch quilted shutters that secured the windows, and haul the barn-doors shut. Bars in up in the mountains of the Inner Baronies had fancy saloon-doors, but down in the Flats, saloon-doors were death. Mae’s place had sliding doors of stout iron-pine, six inches thick and padded to keep out the cold. Folk from three towns overnighted at Fancy Mae’s, and trusted her to keep her place warm and their asses alive.
But her preoccupation with the drifter had made Mae sloppy. Shouting orders, she got everyone in motion. As people pitched in, Heldur dashed to pull the lead-lines of the three black horses. They snorted with fire in their eyes, tossing their heads. Heldur reached out to stroke the neck of one, when it snapped one black eye upon him and bared teeth. But the teeth in that mouth were wrong – too sharp, too angular. And as the beast pulled back its lips, it snarled.
“Fuckin’ be damned!” Heldur shouted, pulling his hand back fast.
The rider looked around from his seat at the bar, the ghost of a smile lifting his lips. “Yank on a helori and get savaged, boy.” The stranger spoke, soft enough that only Mae heard him. But he gave a shrill whistle though his teeth, and all three horses snapped their heads to look at him. With a hard dominance, he stared them down, and they bowed their necks as one. “Take them to the barn. They’ll follow you now.”
Heldur gaped. But then the deep darkness of true night swept the porch, the temperature falling fast. With a cuss, Heldur jogged the horses around the bar and out of sight. Mae and Doc Ramey rolled the heavy doors closed, leaving a thin sliver for Heldur’s return. Velvet night fell beyond the warm glow of the bar, yellow lantern-light illuminating the cold ice crystals that began to salt the air. Not snow, just the last moisture falling from the hard-frozen sky. Heldur came running back, hands trapped beneath his armpits. He barreled in and Mae slammed the door shut, while Heldur stomped his boots and blew on his blue hands.
“Fuckin’ Saviour!” Heldur cussed. “Got the barn secured, Mae. But, damn! Cold as shit!”
“Let’a doc see!” Doc Ramey was there fast, having a good peer at Heldur’s hands. “They’ll be fine. Warm ‘em on a hot whiskey glass, son. Here, come have one on me.”
Doc Ramey led Heldur back to his seat, Heldur’s coarse ass stomping off in his rough cattleman’s boots as Mae returned to her domain behind the bar. Fifteen patrons lingered, and Mae’s girls circulated, laughing and plying their wares in earnest now. Joining gamble-games and offering cigars while the accomplished Gelsema showed off her skills at the piano, Mae’s cherries tugged men toward velvet chaises by the quarry-stone fireplace, bright with a blaze to push back the cold.
Through it all, the drifter ate his meal with blank persistence. When sweet Yula sidled up and tried to touch his arm, he flicked those eyes and stared with his rattler’s gaze until she shied away. Gradually, the dining room emptied, patrons mounting the stairs to the upper levels – where they would mount a pretty young thing all night long. As the night seeped toward the devil’s hour, Heldur came to the bar, gazing at Mae with longing in his dumb brown eyes. She had to shake her head and thrust her chin at dark-eyed Carina, who led him away by the arm. Carina was Heldur’s second-favorite, and only when he couldn’t get Mae. But Mae couldn’t leave a customer alone, even a gamble-risk one, and Heldur’s dumb ass knew that. She’d stay awake as long as it took to get the stranger squared away in a pleasure-bed or a drunk-bunk.
And if he tried anything, there was sixguns.
At last, Mae’s expensive clock from Ritlandia chimed the midnight hour. The stranger had switched from shockey to whiskey, and now sipped a five-malt from Ortland, Mae’s most expensive. Taking out another home-roll, he snapped a phosphor match on his thumbnail and cupped his hands. Smoke curled up around him like steam of the Ferrow’s Pit. Turning his gaze from the fireplace, his sand-pale eyes bored into Mae, watching her wipe down the final glasses of the night.
“Do you enjoy your life?”
His voice startled her, and Mae glanced over. That question was personal, and she didn’t get personal except for a good, paid fuck. “Who’s askin’?”
The man’s lips curled into the subtlest smile, though his amusement didn’t touch his devil-bright eyes. “Do you enjoy your life, or would you like it to end?”
“Someday.” Mae slapped her rag to the bar and crossed her arms. She didn’t go for the gun in her pocket yet, though she was tempted. The man had shucked his duster to the barstool beside him, along with his sun-shader, and Mae gave him a critical eye. Linen sleeves rolled up to his elbows, his forearms were corded sinew, his fingers lean but strong as he lifted his smoke to his lips and drew. The fingers of his left hand were black as death. They didn’t look rotten, moving the smoke to his lips with agile grace, but something wasn’t right about them.
“Fingertips black as soot,” Mae spoke. “Usually cold-rot that bad needs tendin’.”
The man’s gaze burrowed into her. Something like fury coursed through his eyes before they went dead once more. “They’re not rotten. They’re cursed.”
“Curses ain’t real, cowboy.”
The man gave a soft snort. He let the full weight of those pale eyes press her. Once again, Mae felt a tingling between her shoulder-blades, and it raised her hackles. This man was killer. Hunt-man or not, something in him was so cold, so violent, it didn’t even have a name. Without sixguns, without a shooter to his person, he was somehow more dangerous than anyone Mae had ever met.
Perhaps even more dangerous than she was.
Slowly, he lowered that blackened hand, stubbing the smoke out in a blue glass ashtray rather than casting to the floor this time. With his pale eyes burning, he opened his hand upon the bar, offering it. Something eased into Mae from that opened hand. Entering her chest, seeping into that spot between her shoulder-blades as if invisible hands had actually touched her, gathered her in. Her eyelids fluttered and she was drawn forward, compelled to place her hand in his.
“Feel me, woman.” The stranger’s words licked around Mae as he held her hand, tracing a circle in her palm with his blackened thumb. “Taste me. Take me and be taken tonight. All night… or as long as you can last.”
Mae shivered like a blown horse. Her heart hammered, her chest and spine buzzing with an energy that made her sweat, cold as hearth-ash. When the stranger stood, guiding her around the bar by a touch of his blackened fingertips, she came. Watching herself succumb, furious that she moved to him, yet unable to break that pull. For the first time in her life, Elsennia Mae Argentine found herself absent of her fierce flare of self-preservation – of shooting first and asking questions never.
Rolled by his touch, Mae fell into a dark place, cursed as the Panne was cold. And knew that she was his. About to give the pale rider whatever he wanted, as they descended into Ferrow’s Pit – all night long.
Copyright 2018 Jean Lowe Carlson. All Rights Reserved. No part of this content may be reproduced or used without the author's written permission.