NATE GARRETT IS BACK! (and contest news, too)

My good friend and critique partner, Steve McHugh, has just released the second book of his Urban Fantasy/Adventure series, The Hellequin Chronicles. Book One was the terrific CRIMES AGAINST MAGIC, and since I’m lucky enough to have read an advance copy of BORN OF HATRED, I can say with confidence that this second book is even better than the first. I’ve included the first chapter below, to tempt you.
But before that, a few reminders … there’s a new interview and giveaway this week, and I’ve got two contests that are still going on.
First up is a brand new interview at THE READING CAFE There’s a giveaway and, as always, it’s open to international readers. Stop by and say “hi!”
And don’t forget the two contests still going on. There’s the Mistletoe Madness Blog Hop with tons of cool prizes, and a Grand Prize of a Kindle Fire. Click HERE for details.
And, of course, the ongoing contest just for my readers, with five autographed copies of the Limited Edition print format of BETRAYED, and a Grand Prize that includes a $30 Amazon gift card. Details can be found HERE
And now, as promised, the complete first chapter of BORN OF HATRED (HELLEQUIN CHRONICLES BOOK 2) by STEVE McHUGH
Chapter 1

Basingstoke, England. Now.

She lay on the floor, panting. Her chest rose and fell quickly in an effort to get as much oxygen into her body as possible. Her bare midriff, the muscles taut and inviting, the skin tanned and beautiful, glistened with sweat. Only one thought entered my mind. Oh crap.

“You want a drink?” I asked, picking up a bottle of water from the floor.

Sara sat up and caught the cold bottle in one hand when I threw it to her. As she drank, water dripped down her chin, landing just above her sports bra and trickling down between her breasts. I stared at my bottle of water and considered tipping it down my pants. I settled for drinking it, while ensuring that my gaze fell on nothing that could be considered sexy. A stack of blue mats sat at the end of the huge gym hall. There is nothing sexy about a blue gym mat. That did the trick.

“So, you want to go for another round?” she asked.

I turned back to her just in time to catch the half empty bottle of water she’d thrown at my head. “That’s not nice,” I said with a smile. “You’re going to have to be taught a lesson.”

Sara got back to her feet and put herself in a fighting stance. “Come on, old man; let’s see if you’ve still got what it takes.”

I tossed both bottles aside, and deflected the punch I knew was coming. I pushed her arm aside and stepped around her, keeping my distance, making her do the work. Sara might have only been human, and only been fighting for a few months, but what she lacked in experience, she more than made up for in sheer tenacity and quickness.

Her foot spun round, trying to catch me in my ribs, but I blocked it with ease. Unfortunately, she knew what I was going to do and quickly switched tactics, throwing a punch, which I wasn’t positioned to block effectively. I took a glancing blow off my cheek as I dodged aside. “Good shot.”

Sara smiled. She’d remembered not to get dragged into a conversation with the person you’re fighting. Concentrate on the person trying to knock you out, not on trying to chat them up.

She threw another punch, this one meant to distract from her attempt to knee me in the stomach. I wasn’t distracted. I grabbed her thigh, falling back and using my momentum to drag her over and dump her on her back.

What I hadn’t expected was for Sara to grab my arm as she went over, pulling me with her. So, I was the one who ended up on my back, with Sara straddling my chest. Her smile beamed as she undid her ponytail, letting her long blonde hair fall loose over her shoulders.

“Old man,” she said

“You learn quickly.” I tried to sit up and she pushed me back.

“Not yet. You must learn patience.” She laughed, mocking a familiar speech I’d given to her when she’d wanted to learn more quickly than she was capable of.

I pushed her hand away, which caused her to lose her balance. She fell forward, her face coming close to mine. She inhaled sharply as our mouths almost touched. Her pupils dilated and she licked her lips invitingly. I looked into her green eyes and wanted to take her, wanted to feel her naked skin against mine, to feel her moving around me as I entered her. The moment lasted longer than it should have.

“Would Nathan Garret report to Thomas Carpenter’s office? That’s Nathan Garret to Thomas Carpenter’s office.” The loudspeaker announcement brought us both back to our senses.

“We should go,” Sara said, and rolled off me, going over to grab her bottle of water.

I lay on the ground a moment longer, and tried to think of something calming. The gym mats weren’t going to be enough. When finally ready to move, I got back to my feet and made my way to the intercom by the main entrance, pushing the button and informing whoever was on the other end that I would be half an hour. Tommy could come find me himself if it was that important. I didn’t work for him.

“You okay?” I asked Sara, who hadn’t spoken in a few minutes.

“I have a boyfriend,” she said softly. “I love him. I love being with him, he’s fun and sweet and treats me well. Something I’ve not had much experience with.”

“I know,” I said.

“So why do you make me forget all about him? How is it that you have this effect on me? That I want to do incredibly bad things to you every time I see you?”

I shrugged. “I’m sorry, Sara. If you want me to stop training—”

“No,” she snapped. “Tommy and you have told me that if I’m going to be his assistant, I need training. And more than one person has said you’re the best to do that. I just want to be able to train. Without the desire to rip all your clothes off and fuck you on the floor.”

“I don’t know what to say. Maybe we both need a cold shower, and to try and keep it as professional as possible in future. No matter how difficult that might be. I don’t want you to do anything to jeopardise the happiness you have at home.”

“I won’t,” she said, sounding certain. “I can control this. I just need to avoid draping myself over you in future.” She picked up her bag and slung the strap over one shoulder. “I’ll go shower and tell Tommy you’ll be up soon.”

“Thanks,” I said, and then she was gone leaving me with a great desire to bathe myself in ice cold water for the foreseeable future.

As it turned out, once I’d showered and dressed, any longing I felt was buried deep inside me as I walked through the busy office building owned by my friend Thomas Carpenter.

Technically it’s two buildings, one was three stories and the other twenty-five, joined together by a walkway above the staff parking area outside. I looked out of a nearby window, down at the smaller of the two buildings. It’s the only entrance to the larger building, and includes enough security to make getting into the White House seem like a walk in the park. Six lifts, all glass except for the floor and ceiling, each containing a thermal imaging unit and metal detector. Runes, carved into the very structure of the building, ensured that no one could use their abilities unless authorised. I looked down at the small bracelet on my wrist; the runes carved into the wooden beads allowed me to access my magic. Each staff member wore one, even the humans, so that no one could be identified from appearance alone. Each bracelet was designed for that person only, and not all bracelets were created equal.

The larger building had a similar rune structure, carved into the steel and concrete. And it wasn’t overkill. My friend Thomas, or Tommy as he liked to be known, was a Private Investigator, or used to be. Now he runs his own investigations firm, and he’s managed to piss off a lot of powerful people in the process.

But none of the measures were there to protect him. As a six-hundred-plus-year-old werewolf, he’s quite capable of taking care of himself. But he’d never have forgiven himself if his people got hurt because of a lack of care and protection.

I made my way through to the lifts, saying hello to the various people who knew me, and gaining a few odd glances from those who didn’t. When everyone else is wearing smart suits, the man wearing jeans, a hooded top, and carrying a leather biker jacket sort of stands out.

As the lift doors opened, revealing the mirrored walls inside, another loudspeaker announcement sounded. “Can Mr. Garrett please go to the employee parking lot?”

I stepped into the lift and pressed the button for the ground floor. I had no idea what Tommy wanted, but I was already certain it wasn’t going to be good.

By the time I’d reached the smaller building, I’d already devised a dozen scenarios in which Tommy asked me to do something either ridiculous or dangerous. Probably a combination of the two.

I walked along a curved corridor of the smaller building, passing armed guards. I occasionally glanced down through the glass sides at the reception below, until I reached a set of lifts. The green button lit up when I pressed it, flashing slowly as the lift made its way up the three floors toward me. The reception lifts moved slower than the normal ones, and had glass walls, so that the occupants could be monitored.

I took the lift down to the reception and said hi to a few more people as I left through one of the two revolving doors and into the parking lot outside. I found Tommy and Sara standing beside a large, black Toyota Hilux truck. They were deep in conversation which stopped when Tommy saw me.

Sara had changed into a blue blouse, her hair pulled back into a ponytail. She glanced up as Tommy threw something at me, which I caught one handed. A set of car keys.

“Are we going somewhere nice?” I asked.

“Sara, can you give us a moment?” he asked.

Sara walked away to a respectable distance, before playing with her phone and pretending that she wasn’t trying to listen in to Tommy and me.

“I need your help,” Tommy said.

I raised an eyebrow. “Since when do you need my help?” I gestured to the building behind me. “There are a dozen people in there that would die for the chance to help you.”

“I need someone I can trust, no matter what happens.”

“Why? What’s going to happen, Tommy?”

He at least had the decency to look outraged. “Nothing,” he sighed. “It’s recon work I agreed to do to help a client. And I want you to be my backup.”

“Start talking.”

“Fifteen years ago a nasty little bastard by the name of Neil Hatchell attacked and raped seven women. He got out of prison two weeks ago.”

“There’s more to this, I assume.”

“He’s a werewolf, and after he was done beating each of his victims half to death, he bit them. Three died from the change and another one killed herself when she couldn’t cope with what she’d become. He was charged by Avalon with seven counts of rape, three of murder, one destruction of a mind and seven of gene manipulation without consent.”

“So, why isn’t he dead?” I asked. Avalon doesn’t exactly look fondly on crimes like his. In fact it was a surprise that Neil had been arrested at all. Normally the LOA aren’t shy about ending problems on a more permanent basis.

“No idea. Instead they stuck him in the Hole. Third floor.”

The Hole was a prison on an isolated island in the North Atlantic. It’s not on any maps, and has a permanent no-fly zone around it for anyone not associated with Avalon. It’s also one of only three prisons with enough capabilities to handle even the most powerful of creatures. It consists of ten floors, the more dangerous you are the higher the number, and the further underground you’re kept. The first seven are guarded night and day, the last three are left unguarded and it’s up to the prisoners to rule themselves. No one in their right mind wants to be placed down there. I’ve been down there twice. Once I almost didn’t make it back out, and the second time was even less fun.

“Bet that wasn’t a picnic. How the hell did he get out after only fifteen years? He should have served over two hundred years for the deaths alone.”

“Again, no idea. But he’s out and officially can’t be touched, he’s served his time and is a free man. Unofficially… well that’s where we come in. My client wants him checked out. So I want to bring you and Sara with me.”

“You want us to go pay him a visit and make sure he’s behaving himself? So why is Sara coming?”

“She’s my assistant. She’s been here two months, and she hasn’t accompanied anyone on assignment. She needs to know the type of work we do. I figure with me and you there, there’s nowhere safer for her to be.”

“Except in the office here,” I pointed out. “She’s not ready.”

“Is that Nate the fully trained, professional problem solver talking, or Nate’s penis?”

I couldn’t help but chuckle. “My penis hasn’t done a lot of talking lately.”

“She has a boyfriend.”

“Thank you for the relationship advice,” I said. “I know this already. Nothing has happened between us, nor will it. But if something bad happens, she’s had no weapons training.”

“You’ll keep her safe, and you know it.” He turned and walked back toward his truck, waving at Sara to come and join him. He opened the door for her to get in and I sighed and followed. Tommy was right, although I’d have never told him that. Sara did need the experience.

As I opened the driver’s door, I saw a big beaming smile on Tommy’s stupid, smug face, and I already knew I was going to regret saying ‘yes’.

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