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«Mark of the Demon», Diana Rowland

For Jack and Anna, my two favorite Demons

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Since this is my first published novel, I feel I should thank everyone who helped me get this far. On the other hand, my publisher might get a bit testy about having to add an extra twenty pages just for the acknowledgments, so I’m going to have to cut it a bit short and hit the highlights.

Therefore, thanks go to:

My mother, Sue Rowland, for encouraging a love of science fiction, fantasy, and all things weird.

My sister, Sherry Rowland, for tolerating the weird little brat who shared her house, and for continuing to tolerate the weird, middle-aged broad who shares her life.

Kat Johnson, for introducing me to the demons. Dak’nikahl lahn. Tah agahl lahn.

Laura Joh Rowland, Andrew Fox, Fritz Ziegler, Marion Moore, Gwen Moore, Mark McCandless, and the rest of my writing group for suffering through the early drafts.

Kent Brewster, for being everything that is Kent Brewster.

Daniel Abraham, for helping me through several varieties of angst over the years, for continuing to believe in me despite my angst, and—most importantly—for telling me what was wrong with this book.

The entire St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office. You Rock.

Dr. Peter R. Galvan, and the rest of the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office. Y’all made death fun!

Dr. Michael DeFatta, for answering heaping scads of questions related to forensic pathology—far more than any one man should ever have to answer. Lots of questions. Seriously. Lots.

Lindsay Ribar, for pulling my manuscript out of the slush pile, for falling in love with it, and for being a completely awesome chick!

My agent, Matt Bialer, for agreeing with Lindsay, for being an absolute rock of support, and for finding my book a wonderful home.

My incredible copy editor, Kathy Lord, for taming my wild use of commas and the word “just,” and for keeping track of demons, victims, and phases of the moon far better than I was able to!

My editor’s assistant, David Pomerico, for patiently answering my many stupid questions.

And finally, my editor, Anne Groell, for not letting me get away with any degree of authorial laziness, for devoting incredible amounts of time and effort and patience, and for guiding me and goading me into making this book a thousand times better than I could have ever imagined.

CHAPTER 1

I could hear the intruder breaking into my house.

Unfortunately, it was in the same instant that the demon appeared before me.

The sound of shattering glass upstairs disrupted my focus for only a fraction of a second, but it was enough for the arcane portal to shift from my control and leap away from me like an untethered water hose. I made a frantic grasp at the portal, cold sweat breaking out under my arms as I struggled to wrench the power back into place. My heart slammed in my chest as I fought the uncontrolled energy, seizing each strand to bind and anchor it. My technique was raw and inelegant, but I didn’t give a crap. I was only interested in surviving, not in how pretty it looked.

It felt like an eternity, but it was merely several frenzied seconds before I had the wildly fluctuating potencies settled and calmed. I cautiously loosened my hold as I took several deep, ragged breaths, struggling to slow the mad galloping of my pulse. That had been far too close for my peace of mind. If that loss of focus had come just a few seconds earlier, I most likely would have been ripped apart—either by the maelstrom of the arcane portal I’d opened in the basement of my house or by the claws of the demon I’d just summoned through that portal.

I exhaled a shuddering breath, finally releasing my hold on the portal as I looked with no small amount of triumph at the massive demon on one knee before me, his head lowered and his wings tucked along his back. He had remained utterly still throughout my battle with the portal, and I silently thanked whatever powers existed that I had already sealed the terms with him before losing control. I could feel a grin spread across my face. I’d done it. I had summoned a reyza, the highest of the twelve levels of demons.

I was officially a full-fledged summoner.

The sharp crack of more glass breaking spoiled my reverie. My grin shifted to a scowl. A burglar. Just great. If I went upstairs to deal with the idiot, I would have to abandon my ulterior motive for summoning the demon. And summoning a reyza was worth more than a few wordly possessions. Besides, my wordly possessions weren’t worth very much.

But the demon snapped his head up at the sound. “Someone intrudes on your demesne,” he growled, deep voice resonating powerfully through the basement. Before I could take a breath to give a response or command, the demon bounded up the heavy wooden stairs of my basement, bursting through the door that exited into the main hallway of my house.


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