Crow City #1
by Cole McCade
Genre: Dark Adult Romance
The first book in the new Cole McCade: After Dark erotica imprint; a darkly haunting erotica with the taboo appeal of V.C. Andrews.
"If the romantic character study is a genre, this fascinating contemporary novel is its exemplar." - Publishers Weekly
There's something wrong with Leigh.
She's known it her whole life. She knows it every time she spreads her legs. Every time she begs for the pain, the pleasure, the heat of a hard man driving deep inside. She's a slave to her own twisted lusts--and it's eating her alive. She loves it. She craves it. Sex is her drug, and she's always chasing her next fix. But nothing can satisfy her addiction, not even the nameless men she uses and tosses aside. No one's ever given her what she truly needs.
Until Gabriel Hart.
Cold. Controlled. Impenetrable. Ex-Marine Gabriel Hart isn't the kind of man to come running when Leigh crooks her pretty little finger. She loathes him. She hungers for him. He's the only one who understands how broken she is, and just what it takes to satisfy the emptiness inside. But Gabriel won't settle for just one night. He wants to claim her, keep her, make her forever his. Together they are the lost, the ruined, the darkness at the heart of Crow City.
But Leigh has a darkness of her own. A predator stalking through her past--one she'll do anything to escape.
Even if it means running from the one man who could love her...and leaving behind something more precious to her than life itself.
A pair of worn combat boots stuck out from under the Impala like the Wicked Witch’s ruby slippers. Leigh smiled to herself, tugged her earbuds out, and tip-toed closer, listening to the scuff and clang of rough hands at work. She stopped next to a pair of long legs in dirty, frayed jeans, rested her hands on her knees, and bent to watch, holding her tongue.
“You do know I can see your shadow.” A low, gritty voice drifted from beneath the Impala. Dry, coolly masculine, inflected with a certain cultured, exacting articulation, yet rough about the edges—as if he spoke so rarely his voice was rusty, ill-used. That roughness brushed over her skin like chill breath, and she shivered. That voice didn’t belong in the light of day.
“Ghosts aren’t supposed to cast a shadow,” she said.
“Is that what you are?”
“That’s how I live. Somewhere between the world of the living and the world of the dead.”
A humorless, mocking chuckle slid from beneath the Impala, followed by a long, ferally graceful body: a stark man, defined by absolutes and keen edges. Chill gray eyes, pale as cracked ice. Hair as black as the sea at night, sharp-cut and falling over one eye, spilling against the cracked wood of the creeper beneath him and touched with thin threads of shooting-star silver at the temples. Older, she thought, from his hair and a certain dignified elegance to his stubble-shadowed jaw. Tanned, scarred skin stretched over broad shoulders. Sweat and grease stains darkened his thin white A-shirt. His tattoos said ex-military, jagged silhouettes of fierce-sweeping wings and a pointed beak in the stark style of the Arapaho, turning his right arm into a canvas from shoulder to wrist, slick black oils painted on burnished gold. He stretched out atop the creeper in a long, lazy sprawl and looked up at her, guarded and impenetrable. Something about him spoke of cold precision. A gunsight in human form, locked on and ready to kill.
And when he looked at her as if he could see right through her, see through the transparent empty pointlessness of her, Leigh didn’t just feel like a target.
She felt like prey.
She straightened and looked away, tucking her hands into her pockets, her stomach shivering and light. “This your place?”
“One witch, at your service.”
“She’s contrary as a very witch herself,” she quoted, a smile trying to creep over her lips if only she’d let it. She bit it back and studied the Impala—watching him only from the corner of her eye. “You done working your magic on Gary Mitchell’s car? I’m supposed to pick up.”
“You’re Leigh, then.” He rolled to his feet with easy grace. He moved like an animal, something savage under his skin, behind those unreadable eyes. Something wild that pulled at Leigh like the jungle calling to a beast that had spent its entire life behind bars. She lingered on his hands, large and cruel and rough-cut as raw granite, as he wiped his fingers clean on a rag. “Just finished final inspection. You sure you’re big enough to drive her? She’s a brute.”
“My feet reach the pedals, Daddy.”
A forbidding stare pinned her. “Cute.”
Nothing else. Just that hard, steady stare while he stood over her, feline and powerful as a black-spotted leopard, lazy strength looming tall until she was a child in his shadow, beneath the weight of his gaze. He didn’t look at her the way most men looked at her. Like they were eyeing her pale pretty thighs and tiny skirt and slight, girlish body and wondering if she was street-legal, wondering if she’d let them go for a test drive to find out. There was a certain kind of man who went for the dirty grunge princess look, pure heroin chic, all smeared eyeliner and kiss-swollen lips, and normally when she made eye contact she knew with a certain click of rightness that she’d found a place to sleep for the night. Even the ones who didn’t want to fuck her, she could still tell what they were thinking—but not him.
He was a glacier, and she found herself wanting a name just to make him human.
Crow City 1.5
Reconnect with Gabriel, Gary, Maxi, and Crow City in this companion novella telling the story of THE LOST‘s Gabriel Hart before Leigh entered his life – and get a sneak preview of the sinister Priest, hero of THE FOUND.
Gabriel Hart is a broken man.
And everyone close to him dies.
His military unit. His sister. His parents. Everyone he’s come to care for has been taken from him, leaving him with nothing but a crippling war injury, a Vicodin addiction, and a scraggly, chewed-up rag of a cat. It’s enough to make anyone want to check out. And when he holds his service pistol in his hand and presses it against his temple, for the first time in a long time the world feels right.
But he’s not as alone as he thinks. And when grizzled bar owner Gary challenges him to honor his sister’s memory by repairing her houseboat before he gives up on life, he discovers she left more for him than her belongings. And her letters lead him on a trail through discovering himself, discovering what he truly wants…and discovering that he has the strength to choose his own path.
The phone rang twice before that click came, that sound of the line connecting when Gabriel had half hoped it wouldn’t. He didn’t know what he was hoping for. What he thought would happen. And he didn’t know what to say when a familiar voice rolled over the connection, deep and liquid with the fluidly lyrical inflections of a native Italian speaker.
“I never thought I would hear from you again.”
Gabriel closed his eyes. Priest’s voice wrapped him in chains. As long as Priest was alive, as long as one was left, something still bound him to earth.
Even as those chains squeezed the life from him, choking him until he couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t speak.
He had no voice. No words, when he didn’t even know why he’d called.
Because the one thing he wanted to say, save me…
That would never happen.
In the silence, Priest’s low, dark laughter drifted, a breathy and dangerous thing, heavy with sinister promise. With malice. He hadn’t sounded like that before. No. No, he’d laughed with hearty, cynical amusement, the laughter of a man surrounded by people he trusted and cared for like his own brothers and sisters, people he’d sworn his life to. Sworn his humanity to, though they’d failed to protect that. Gabriel had failed to protect that.
“I know it’s you, Hart,” Priest breathed. “Trying to pull me back from the edge again?” A long silence, and then he made a low, considering sound. “No…that’s not it, is it? You’re standing on the edge yourself. Looking over into the black. Ah, si…it’s so very tempting, isn’t it? Compelling. Seductive.”
Gabriel shuddered. Priest spoke about suicide the way some men spoke about sex, raw and deeply enticing, yet he’d never go down that road himself. No. Not Priest. Instead he’d filled the cracks in himself with blood.
Other people’s blood. I can’t do that, Gabriel tried to say, but the words wouldn’t come out.
“You know how to ease the pain.” Priest chuckled. “You just won’t do it.”
“I don’t know how you can.” He found his voice. It plunged daggers into his throat and carved the words out of him. “I don’t know how you can give this to other people. Make them feel it. It’s not right.”
“There is no such thing as ‘right.’ There is only who deserves pain, and who doesn’t.”
“You don’t get to decide that.”
“Don’t I?” Priest lilted. “Madre de Dio, you’re still so noble. But that is where you and I differ, my friend. Your scars cut away the monster to reveal the man. My scars killed the man…and left only the monster. And the monster understands that sometimes, pain is the only way out.”
“You’re not a monster.”
“We are allmonsters.”
“I can’t believe that. I can’t accept it.” He shuddered. “I can’t accept this.”
“Then your only options are to watch yourself die slowly—or finish it quickly.”
“Believe me,” Gabriel whispered, “I know that already.”
Again that laughter. That sick, darkly seductive laughter that didn’t belong to the man Gabriel knew. The man he’d loved like his own blood. This was the laughter of the grim reaper, reaching through the phone to wrap dry bone fingers around his neck.
“Look at you. Still sacrificing yourself for your country. Semper fi was never meant to be so literal, Hart.”
He ground his teeth and hissed, “Maybe not to you.”
“You and I are different breeds.”
“We weren’t always.”
“You changed them.”
“I didn’t do this to myself,” Priest growled, that voice deepening abruptly, the snarl of a wolf backed into a corner, hackles up. “This was done to me.”
“But you chose what to do with it.”
“At least I chose.”
“Yeah.” Gabriel opened his eyes, pulled the phone away, and ended the call with a swipe of his thumb. His fingers went numb, and he dropped the cell, carrier of hateful messages, onto the counter next to the Sig. “Yeah, you did.”
The Found Crow City #2
Witness to a murder. Kidnapped by a monster. Life hanging on a whim. Willow Armitage’s world was already falling apart; between getting fired and caring for her chronically ill father, she’s had little room for anything but survival. But that survival hangs in the balance the night she stumbles into a back alley – and watches a stranger die at the hands of the most beautiful man she’s ever seen.
His fingers grazed the curve of her waist. With a gasp, she snapped her eyes open. He met her gaze, fox-gold turned hot as melting amber, fierce and animal and stripping her more bare than that exposed, naked flesh. She felt like a butterfly pinned to a board, held by his gaze, her limbs going slack and her struggles stopping against her will. She hardly felt it, when he hooked a fingertip under the bunched edge of her tank top—then ripped with such effortless strength, the threads of the side seam snapping apart one after the other, until there was nothing left of her tank top but rags of cloth. No, she hardly felt that…but she felt it when he teased those rags from underneath the ropes, as every scrap of cloth stroked and washed against her skin until she was nothing but a trembling tangle of sensitivity and frozen breaths building tighter and tighter in her chest.
And she felt it when that taunting, teasing fingertip hooked in her panties, slipping into the opening just above her thigh, and she realized just what he intended to do.
“Don’t touch me.”
Suddenly she could move again—and she writhed against the ropes, fighting to squirm away. But she had barely an inch of slack, nowhere to go but against the ropes, hanging in midair and so fucking helpless she would scream with sheer rage if she didn’t want to cry with sheer hopelessness. Was he enjoying this? Enjoying watching her struggle? Enjoying how her skin tightened and pulled and her nipples swelled and her breaths came shallow with every touch, her fucking disobedient body whispering dirty thing, dirty thing, give me more of that dirty thing while her mind and heart screamed no, no, not like that, never like that?
Was he enjoying having her at his mercy, unable to escape his every touch?
His fingers dug into the fabric of her panties. Clenched it against his fist. Pulled. Cloth creased, bit, burrowed into her dirty, dirty thing, her wet dirty thing, her pulsing dirty thing, and she was a fucking dirty thing when she arched off the seat and cried out and whimpered and mewled, as he dragged the cloth against her and all she felt was sweet-rough friction and that slickness, sickness, wet and running like a licking tongue.
“D-don’t,” she cried again, and yet he only pulled harder, the panties so much worse than the rope when every fold and crease molded to her flesh like liquid fire and left nothing untouched. “Don’t!”
He paused, held that steady pressure, keeping her on the end of a taut-stretched wire. “Are you a virgin, firefly?” he growled.
She spat in his face.
Panting, body heaving, she drew back and spat in his face, and watched with a sort of foggy, dazed satisfaction as it landed in a wet streak on his cheek, dripping down his bronzed skin like a tear. He remained unmoved, watching her steadily, waiting, holding her dangling from the one hand as if he hardly felt her weight and those damnable fingers pulling her panties against her flesh.
“My body is not your business,” she hissed.
“Right now, your body is my property.” He slid a fingertip down into the crease between her hip and thigh, the place where the seam of her panties normally cut in whenever she sat, moved, shifted; there was something too personal about that touch, so close and yet so far, a threat that made her shrink back even as that feeling inside her nearly exploded, that hollow feeling that seemed like a rapacious beast, a dragon with an open maw and empty gullet that was hungry, so hungry to be full. “I want an answer.”
He bunched her panties into his hand again, curling the fabric in stretched wrinkles against his palm—and this time when he pulled he gave no quarter, a single sharp rip and a sound of cloth tearing like tape pulling off the spool, high and shrill. There was a moment’s painful bite, a muted cry welling in her throat, and then the pressure eased as the tatters of her panties fell, forgotten, to the floor.
Still he watched her. And she, naked with nowhere to hide, curled into herself; she felt her nudity like a presence, like a thing touching her and twisting over her flesh to force her to feel every moment of her exposure, every moment of her vulnerability and helplessness. Priest said nothing. He didn’t need to. He never needed to. When he wanted an answer, he got one, and would wait her out as he had before, implacable and unmoving and relentless. She had always imagined men like him to be all force, all bluster, all violence and snarling and threats.
She was quickly learning that silence—silence and careful, metered application of just enough strength to drive his point home—was just as effective as force.
And just as frightening.
Dangling from his grip like a puppy, she hung her head. Anything not to meet those piercing eyes; anything not to feel the shame of giving in to the quiet demand in his gaze; anything to make this end, so he would stop tormenting her and leave her alone.
“…yes,” she mumbled. Still he didn’t speak, or put her down. Defeat sparked into frustration, and she glared at him from under the fall of her hair. “Yes, all right? Are you happy? Is that what you fucking wanted to know?”
“Yes,” he said simply, and lowered her to the floor.
Crow City #2.5
For it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. – Leviticus 17:11
Before he was a mysterious, silent killer stalking the streets of Crow City, the strange man known as Priest (THE FOUND, Crow City #2) was a lost and broken soul—and part of Willow Armitage’s world in ways she could never have imagined. Shattered by the Afghanistan War, left with no companions other than fellow survivor Gabriel Hart (THE LOST, Crow City #1), ex-Marine Priest turns to his lost faith for answers when his life has lost all meaning…but in searching for his God, he finds a new religion. A religion of blood. Of pain.
And from that religion rises a mission to replace everything he had lost, to set right just a few of the small wrongs in the world…and to ease the constant bleeding of his broken heart, filled with sins without number.
Revisit Crow City and meet Priest as he was before the fateful night that brought him into Willow’s life…and reconnect with beloved names and faces as we discover what—and who—set him on his dark and merciless path.
Purgatory came in gray-washed flashes: faint bursts of pain, then darkness again, alternating in and out until it was a strobe lighting occasional glimpses of walls, of street lamps, of concrete streets and car seats and shadowed, moving figures that spoke in a language Vin didn’t understand. He thought he laughed, at one point, as he wondered vaguely if Charon had modernized, and replaced his ferry with a late-model sedan—for surely these were devils, ferrying Vincent to his judgment and either eternal torment or eternal rest.
He didn’t think he deserved rest.
Yet it came in increasing periods of blackness: freedom from the pain, as he sank into the dark again and again, and finally didn’t come back up. Somewhere he was aware of the sounds of cars, not so very far away, rolling through some dark highway of the damned but growing quieter and quieter, fewer and farther between, further and further away. The pain was a grinning thing crouched on his chest, a weight pressing him down, the only awareness of his body a dull hot knot of agony; his arms and legs seemed to have vanished into a kind of thick, lethargic mist.
Deep down, he knew this wasn’t purgatory. Wasn’t any kind of afterlife. He wasn’t dead yet, but he was getting there, and he thought the grit under his back was pavement. He’d been dumped in the street to bleed out, because that was the ending of a Greek tragedy: the hero dead, the damsel sacrificed, and if he tried to save himself he would only bring down the wrath of gods older and more vengeful than the one who had stopped answering his prayers years ago.
He wanted this, he thought. Just like this. One last burst of bright scarlet emotion to remind himself he was human…and then an end to it all. Quiet. Peace. A darkness where he could no longer feel pain, no longer feel loss, no longer feel anything at all.
He’d earned this, both with his suffering and his failure. Mi benedica, padre, perchè ho peccato. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.
A soft sound scuffed close by—too close. Right next to his head, the noise oddly loud, painfully so. He winced, and forced his eyes open. The light of street lamps spilling into the close walls of the alley nearly blinded him, searing…until someone bent over him, blocking them out.
Through hazed vision and trembling lashes, he glimpsed a pale, lined face, narrow and graceful, with dark eyes and a soft, full pink mouth below the strangest, most whimsically curling moustache Vin had ever seen. Dark hair fell across a high, smooth brow that wrinkled in confusion as the man tilted his head, blinking quizzically at him.
“Well hullo there,” he said, his voice rolling, ringing, resonant. “What do we have here?”
Crow City #2.75
There are worse things in life than loving a man who hates you.
Unfortunately, Walford Gallifrey can’t think of many.
Ever since a ghost from his past kidnapped his niece, Willow (THE FOUND, Crow City #2), Wally’s life has been nothing but grief, turmoil, and loss. With no idea if Willow is dead or alive, Wally’s only comfort is in caring for his grieving brother-in-law and Willow’s father, Joseph Armitage. For the past twenty years, Wally has never hoped to be anything but the backdrop to Joseph’s life; between marrying Wally’s sister and decades of mistakes building walls of enmity and resentment between them, Joseph has been firmly cemented in Wally’s mind as unattainable.
But the pain of Willow’s loss forces them to face the demons sleeping between them, find common ground—and more. Together, they explore mutual grief. Shared memories. Quiet respect. Warmth. Camaraderie. The joy of learning to live again.
And an unspoken attraction, buried beneath the scars of hurtful words and terrible missteps.
Yet even as they work through the thorns and tangles of old wounds, Joseph has his own struggles to face. The struggle to leave his ex-wife in the past. To let his daughter go. And to trust Wally to love him, to see him as more than just his multiple sclerosis, when so many have treated him as less than a man. The only way forward for them both is forgiveness. Trust.
And a second chance to discover what it means, to truly be in love.
Note: This novel, while a standalone, follows in the aftermath of the events of THE FOUND (Crow City #2), and ties in to the events of THE SAVED (Crow City #2.5), which detail--respectively--the events of Willow's kidnapping and Walford’s prior relationship with her kidnapper, Vincent Manion.
“Take it while I’m being sentimental.” With a mock-snarl, Joseph tumbled them both over onto their sides, pinning Wally with a leg draped over him and burying his face in his throat to bite and lick and nuzzle until Wally was laughing, pushing at his shoulders.
“Bloody stop that!”
“Nope.” Joseph bit his jaw lightly, then laughed and burrowed into him. “But FYI, I’m a pushover after sex. You should take note of that for future reference.”
“Giving me ammunition already?”
“Just a page out of the Joseph Armitage handbook.”
“And what would that be? The Proper Care and Feeding of Boyfriends?”
Joseph stilled. “Is that what we are?”
“Is what what we are?”
“Boyfriends.” Oh. Well that was…quite a bit more of a question than whether or not they’d be having sex again, wasn’t it? And still Joseph was so unreadable, simply watching Wally quietly, yet his body language was lazy and relaxed—and Wally didn’t think he’d be this lax and lovely stretch of warm sinew and masculine ease if the idea made him so very angry.
“If you’d like to call it that,” Wally ventured shyly, a small tremor taking hold of his heart. “I could call it many things.”
“A tryst. A liaison. An entanglement. Or…a second chance at what could have been.”
A slow smile broke over Joseph’s face, a dawning that crept up one second at a time until between one breath and the next it bloomed into something that snared Wally’s heart in bright-burning tangles. “Yeah?” he asked, and Wally let out a flustered laugh.
“I like that.” Joseph chuckled and kissed the top of Wally’s head. “But ‘boyfriends’ is less of a mouthful.”
Slender. Angry. (Part) Asian.
Yeah, that about sums me up.
Hi. I’m Cole. Xen. Whatever you want to call me; both are true, and both are lies. My pen names are multitudes, my nicknames legion. Tall, bi/queer, introverted, author, and of a brown-ish persuasion made up of various flavors of Black, Asian, and Native American. I’m cuter than Hello Kitty, more bitter than the blackest coffee, and able to trip over cats in a single half-asleep lurch; I’m what happens when a Broody Antihero and a Manic Pixie Dream Boy fight to the death, and someone builds a person from the scraps left behind. Beardless, I look like the uke in every yaoi manga in existence; bearded or not, I sound like Barry White. About half my time is spent as a corporate writer, and the other half riding a train of WTFery that sometimes results in a finished book. Romance, erotica, sci-fi, horror, paranormal; LGBTQIA and cishet; diverse settings and diverse characters from a diverse author.
Sometimes I shout about things on the internet. Usually intersectional feminism and marginalized voices, and whomever’s punching down in those directions today. Sometimes human sociology, the psychology of sex and gender, and my own gender non-conforming arse (he/him, by the way). Sometimes I get really mad at Stephen Hawking and nerd out all over the place about hairy black holes, and believe it or not, that’s not a terrible pun or even worse innuendo.
That’s it. I’m a huge dork. My humor’s so dry it could empty oceans. I’m a native Southerner from the New Orleans area with zero Southern accent; I’m a mess of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual influences; I have two cats. I wake up at daft hours of the morning to go running. I crochet terrible, lumpy things that never really turn into anything. I’m older than you think I look. I’m much more shy than my fury makes me sound (signifying gods only know what, but probably nothing). Recently I decided, at 36, that I needed to restart my life and move cross-country, so I tossed 75% of my possessions in the trash and randomly trucked it to Seattle. I’m in love with books and music and technology, and they war with each other for dominance and sometimes come together in a beautiful confluence. Most of the physical books I own are strange, obscure, out of print, overseas imports, or any combination of the four. Most of the physical books I used to own were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, and have been replaced with the infinite library on my Nook. My wallet has a dangerous attraction to anything with pages; it flirts and teases and gives its all, until there’s nothing left but emptiness and ruin.
There will always be things you don’t know, and I won’t tell.
But ask me late at night over live music in a seedy bar, and you might just get an honest answer.
...or you can poke me via: