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The Midnight Realm (Paperback)

The Midnight Realm (Paperback)

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Even kings who serve at the whim of gods break the rules every now and then.

As the newly anointed king of the Underworld, I’ve worked hard to clean up the mess left behind by my predecessor. The realm is in relative peace at the moment, my main focus now on deciding the fate of recently departed souls. It’s a tediously boring task, and honestly, one I despise doing. But just when I think I can’t stand another moment of the monotony, one soul changes it all.

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Nyssa McKnight earned her ticket to Hell. She made her choices and even at the prospect of eternal damnation, she doesn’t seem to regret the actions that led her here. I can tell by her utter defiance that life has hardened her, a trait that has carried over to her in death. She should be begging me for mercy but instead calls me a “big old winged bat”. I should toss her right into The Crimson River for her insolence but instead I think I’ll keep her in servitude.

While I struggle to reconcile the intrigue—and attraction—I have for this human, I am forced to spend my days investigating rumors of an uprising in the Underworld. Unfortunately, my desire to keep Nyssa has provided a weak spot for the rebellious Dark Fae looking to gain control, one they’re quick to act on. Now, with Nyssa in danger and my throne threatened, I will stop at nothing to restore order, even if it means letting her go.

Can Amell, the king of the Underworld, find true love, or is he destined to rule alone until the end of days?

The Midnight Realm is a standalone romantic fantasy novel about unexpected redemption within The Chronicles of the Stone Veil series.

Read Chapter One

Chapter 1

Amell

You would think being king of the Underworld would be a job full of nothing but perks—as the title would imply—but there are downsides.

The biggest one right now is having to put up with this asshole. Maddox, the demigod, was sent to Vyronas by the god of Life—and death—Zora, to collect me to answer for my crimes.

It’s not that I mind facing the consequences. I knew they would be steep when I made the decision to intervene in a battle that I’d specifically been told to avoid.

But… fuck it.

I’d do it all over again.

Maddox and I pass through the veil that separates Vyronas from the First Dimension of Earth, emerging onto a path carved along the Jungfrau. It overlooks the vibrant green valley of Lauterbrunnen, the craggy, snow-covered peaks of the Bernese Alps in the distance.

Zora chose to settle here when she journeyed from a mortal life to death and from death to the god of Life. Her powers are infinite, and she could live anywhere she wanted, including in mystical realms that can’t be accessed by anyone but the gods.

Instead, she chose a modest Swiss chalet with a killer view and her two Bernese Mountain Dogs, Urosin and Mattia. Zora chose a life of solitude, which isn’t surprising. She spent the first twenty-eight years as a mortal trapped in the Underworld, isolated from family and love, made to endure painful magical infusions to store energy until such time it could be funneled into Kymaris, the then ruling queen of the Underworld. An overly long and involved story that eventually led to Kymaris’s death and my ascension to the throne, but suffice it to say Zora’s an introvert by circumstance and inadvertent design, and thus chooses to live in far-off places.

Maddox moves to the front door and it grates, the familiarity with which he walks right on in without knocking. He’s known her barely a year, whereas I’m all she’s ever known. It’s true I’d be welcome here anytime I wanted to visit, but I don’t.

My time with Zora ended the minute her sister Finley rescued her from the Underworld and she no longer needed me for protection.

Or maybe it never truly started, seeing as how I was one of the Dark Fae tasked with holding her prisoner. I was also responsible for forcing her to submit to the brutal infusions of magic by the Light Fae prince, Pyke. It was my duty to Kymaris that had me hurting the frail human I’d come to love and desire. A pathetic excuse, really. Zora never could’ve loved a monster like me, but my blackened heart beat for her.

That was then, though.

This is now.

Tucking my black wings in tight, I bend slightly to get them under the human-size entryway, closing the door behind me. Urosin’s and Mattia’s booming barks echo through the chalet due to the open layout, high ceilings, and distinct lack of furniture. They run straight for Maddox, not to rip out his throat as an intruder but to bound joyfully around him, vying for his attention and scratches. My teeth grit as he bends over to rub them, twisting his head to shoot me a shit-eating grin.

A crisp breeze that smells of mountain snow washes over me, and I turn to see Zora walking in from the deck that overlooks the valley. As a god, she can look and dress any way she likes, but she’s wearing jeans, knee-high boots with shearling trim, and a fuzzy-looking sweater in a deep, hunter green. Her snow-white hair is piled on top of her head in a messy bun, and her blue-green-gold eyes look upon me with displeasure.

Maddox calls the dogs to his heel and walks out the front door with them. He doesn’t do it out of consideration for me, but rather out of deference to Zora. A god meting out punishment isn’t a public affair, and Zora would never stand for someone to watch.

“You knew better,” she chides as she crosses the polished wood floors. “You were forbidden to interfere in the battle of Vyronas, and you’ve managed to really piss Circe off.”

Circe is the god of Fate and can be prickly. But I can’t help but point out, “She might manipulate the fates, but I also know she embraces free will.”

Zora glares at me. “Onyx wants your head on a platter.”

The god of War. She’s not prickly, but downright ruthless. She’s the one I really need to worry about offending because supernatural beings like demigods and the king of the Underworld are not allowed to help sway the tide of mortal battles, unless Onyx wants it done.

“She’s my daughter, Zora,” I say, clasping my hands in front of me. “There was no way I was going to leave Thalia’s life up to the fates, and I didn’t do much other than destroy a few demons to give the mortals a fighting chance.”

It’s been a weird few weeks. My daughter, Thalia, who I had never met, was battling an evil sorceress in her dimension of Vyronas. I watched from afar, but when she called out to me for help, there was never a choice to ignore it.

“You disobeyed your gods,” she says, and while her voice never rises in volume, the floor shakes with her power.

Most immortals would quake because Zora could kill with the snap of her fingers. But I’ve been in existence for millennia, and I don’t scare that easily.

“What is to be my punishment?” I ask, needing for her to get on with it. I don’t require the lecture I’m sure she’s itching to give.

It’s not that she’s truly mad at me, but more concerned. If I had disobeyed only Zora, I’d likely get a slap on the wrist. But I thumbed my nose at her brethren gods, and they’re probably calling for my death.

Zora sighs and shakes her head. “I’ve managed to get The Council to agree on banishment to the Underworld. You cannot pass through the veil anymore.”

“For how long?” I inquire. The freedom to come and go between realms is a luxury, but I can do without for a while.

“For eternity.” Zora lifts her chin, her expression hard and unyielding.

“Eternity?” I exclaim in horror. “But Thalia… I want to visit her. She’ll have children one day.” I try to rein in my temper, but it’s not working. “I’ll have grandchildren one day. You can’t keep me from them.”

“I can keep you in the Underworld,” she retorts hotly, lightning crackling within the depths of her eyes and her hands curling into fists. I brace for her to strike, but instead she takes in a calming breath and lets it out. “Amell… Onyx wanted your powers stripped and you tossed from your throne. This was a good compromise.”

“Take my powers,” I growl, throwing my arms wide. “Take your fucking throne. Do not keep me from my child.”

Zora’s expression softens, and she reaches out to touch my chest. There was a brief time when we were lovers, and her mere touch could get me to grant her almost any wish. Now, I only feel a frustrated kinship for all we shared.

“I’m truly sorry, Amell. The decision is made.”

It’s no balm, her apology. Gods apologize for nothing, yet I hear the regret in her tone.

It means shit to me right now as my temper flares. I step away from her and pivot on my foot, leaving her presence without a by your leave. If she wants to strike me down for my insolence, so be it.

I stride out of her house, deciding to walk down the mountain before creating a door through the veil to go back to the Underworld. Once I step through, I’ll be stuck there, so I’m going to take time to enjoy the beauty of Switzerland.

A low whistle sounds, and I turn to see Maddox, casually leaning against a tree. The dogs are off in the distance, running down a grassy hill. “Boy… that’s harsh.”

Of course, the asshole eavesdropped.

I ignore him and head along the path, but he falls into step beside me. “I need you to do something.”

The request is so shocking, I stop and glare at him. Maddox takes two more steps before realizing he left me behind and turns back. “A favor,” he clarifies.

“Why would I ever grant you a favor?” I ask. We’ve hated each other from the moment Zora became a possession both of us coveted.

He shrugs. “Never hurts to ask.”

I just stare at him, waiting to hear what he thinks I might be able to do for him.

“I want you to reincarnate Lucien,” he says.

His demigod brother.

I laugh, shaking my head. “I’ll pass.”

Pushing around him on the trail, I walk again. He blurs, whizzing past and stopping before me. “Why not?”

“Because you’re a prick.”

Maddox cocks an eyebrow. “You don’t have the power to do it,” he surmises, but he can’t hide the hope in his eyes.

“Don’t I?”

“If you possess such power, then use it. It won’t cost you anything.”

“Again, that’s a hard pass.”

I start walking again, but his next words freeze me in place. “You’re jealous,” he drawls, and I glance back at him. “You can’t stand the fact I’m the one in Zora’s bed now.”

I’d given up the dream of being with Zora a long time ago, but I’m not going to waste this opportunity to needle the demigod. “Maybe you’re the one who’s jealous,” I lob at him. “Because I had her first. I took her virginity, you know. And she begged me to do it.”

All true. Not a lie within that taunt, and it strikes its mark true and bold. Maddox snarls and flies at me. I brace, locking my arms around him, and we tumble down the mountain path. We roll and bounce, throwing punches along the way.

I’m able to bound up from the ground when I reach a plateau a few seconds before him and aim a well-placed kick under his jaw. Maddox’s head snaps back, but it doesn’t stop him from charging like a bull. Lowering his shoulder, he catches me just below the ribs and drives me into a tree which is pulverized by our velocity.

I push him off, wings flaring, and launch myself at him. He meets me with full force, and the impact of our bodies colliding makes the mountain shudder.

“Enough,” Zora bellows, using tendrils of lightning from her hands to wrap around our bodies and fling us apart.

Maddox slams into a large boulder from which chunks of rock explode, and I turn another tree into toothpicks. While he capitulates by holding his hands up in surrender, I lunge forward only to have Zora’s lightning lasso throw me back on my ass.

“I said enough,” she growls.

But it’s not sufficient to dissuade me. I’m poised to attack as soon as she lets me out of these magical shackles.

Instead, she says, “Be gone, Amell.”

Before I can protest, I’m back in the Underworld, still sitting on my ass at the base of my throne on the Bridge of Judgment, the Crimson River churning two hundred feet below.

“Your Highness.” Calix rushes over, reaching a hand out to help me up.

I swat it away in irritation as I jump to my feet. Calix backs up and bends in a low bow, bobbing repetitively until I acknowledge him.

“Stop doing that,” I growl.

“Of course, Your Elaborate Marvelousness.” Calix straightens and looks at me with hopeful eyes. He’s a short man, no more than five four with curly blond hair, a broad nose, and thin lips.

He’s a weasel of an assistant, inherited from the former queen and mine to use as long as I want to keep him around. He was a weasel of a man back in the First Dimension, a minor lackey under a corrupt Roman senator in the year 748 BCE. While the senator he worked for received a one-way ticket to the Crimson River upon his death, Calix was kept by Queen Kymaris to serve her needs.

“Stop calling me those stupid names.”

Calix bobs his head. “Of course, Your—”

I hold up a hand to stop him.

Old habits die hard. Kymaris loved the lavish praise and idiotic names he bestowed upon her, but getting him to just call me Amell has been trying my patience.

“I’ve got a job for you.” I ponder exactly how I want to do this. “I’ll need to take your body for a bit.”

“But—”

I touch Calix on the wrist and his body disappears.

He’s not gone, though.

His soul remains, a writhing ball of blackened smoke tendrils hovering before me.

Calix can hear me, but without the mechanics of a voice box that comes with a body, he can’t speak. I kind of like him this way.

“I want you to find the demigod Maddox.” The smoke rolls over on itself, expands and pulses. I take it to be excitement to serve. “Make his life hell for a few days.”

The smoke contracts, coalescing and darkening.

Needing clarification.

“Do poltergeist shit,” I mutter with a wave of my hand. “Knock stuff over, turn his lights on and off, whatever.”

While Calix doesn’t have a physical body, he is a ball of supernatural energy, an unencumbered soul with free rein to cause havoc if I so grant it.

I instruct Calix where to go. Maddox is living in Southern California near his other demigod brother, Carrick, and his wife Finley.

Who happens to be Zora’s twin, but a redhead.

It’s a tangled web.

Ripping a hole in the veil with nothing more than a magical thought—such are the powers Zora bestowed when she sat me on the throne—I usher Calix through. I’ll snatch him back after a few days of driving Maddox crazy, thus ensuring me the last, if not pettiest, laugh.

I don’t dare step through the hole back into the First Dimension. Zora’s sentence is absolute, and I have no intention of disobeying it. While I know Zora would protect me as best she could, I don’t trust Circe or Onyx not to come after me.

I don’t trust them not to go after Thalia, either.

So I’ll stay put.

For now.

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Product Release Date: December 6, 2022

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