Hi, folks! I'm very excited about AT ODDS WITH DESTINY, a book collection recently released which in my humble opinion sets a new level for all omnibuses.
This one offers ten critically acclaimed, best selling authors all in one place - and the collection is now FREE. It's crazy, and it's a super deal. The really cool part of this is that in AT ODDS WITH DESTINY, each full length novel is BOOK ONE in a series. So if you fall in love with an author and his characters, there are many more to turn to in their stable of works!
Today we're featuring an excerpt from this amazing collection from our very own S.W. Vaughn's HOUSE PHOENIX series. Book 1 is entitled BROKEN ANGEL, and I guarantee you, it'll hook you on page one!
Aaron Paul Lazar
Here's the synopsis to get you started:
One man's fight for freedom will shake the New York City underground, and change the game forever.Drifter Gabriel Morgan has only one constant in his life: his beloved sister, Lillith. So when a powerful crime lord called Slade kidnaps her and makes an offer Gabriel can't refuse, he'll do anything it takes to win her back.
Beneath the glittering surface of the city, the night has teeth...
Forced to join Slade's syndicate as a low-level fighter, Gabriel discovers a dark underside to the city that few have ever seen. There, he becomes known as Angel -- brutal, determined, and rising quickly to the top. His success turns Slade's rivals into dangerous enemies...but he also discovers unexpected allies with their own reasons for opposing the leadership.
Soon, Angel realizes that the game can't be won by their rules -- so he'll have to make his own.
Beneath the glimmering surface of New York City, the night had teeth. They’d bitten Gabriel Morgan more than once in the six months he’d been here. Tonight, as he stood before yet another rundown bar in Brooklyn and steeled himself to enter, he expected to bleed again.
Not far from his feet, a used condom festooned a patch of brittle weeds jutting from a crack in the concrete. Cigarette butts, crushed plastic cups, and the occasional spray of brown glass littered the sidewalk near the entrance, where a dented aluminum-backed sign above the door proclaimed Bottoms Up in neon letters. They buzzed and stuttered, and the ‘tom’ section flickered on and off at irregular speeds like a strobe with a coke habit.
Gabriel grimaced and set his gaze on the door again. The names changed, but the landscape stayed the same. A typical stench loaded the night air: smoke, cheap beer, vomit, sweat. The usual sounds battered the inside walls and escaped to assault his ears. Bass-boosted music mimicked the beat of a heart. Between thuds, raised voices became a torrent of incomprehensible words, while the intermittent scrape of a stool chair fought through the general din.
A hundred bars like this one lay behind him. If he had to, he would search a thousand.
More. He’d search more.
A lead from a two-bit dealer at a fight last week had brought him to this bar. The dealer had assured him tonight’s entertainment would point to the organization. But he’d heard the line before. It no longer inspired hope, only a grim determination.
The bar door burst open. Gabriel moved aside to avoid a collision with a couple who looked ready to drop down and screw on the sidewalk. A hooker and her john. The john had a hand thrust down the back of the hooker’s scrap of a skirt. His fingers clenched and kneaded beneath the tight material, lifting the edge enough to show the curves of her ass as she dragged him by his belt buckle.
They paused, and the john kicked the door closed behind them. A few stumbling paces later, he bent to her neck. She squealed and jumped. He laughed against her skin, nuzzled harder, and her mood snapped in a flash.
“Hey! No marks, I told you.” She pushed his head away.
The john laughed, a thick rasping sound. “Whatever, babe. I’ll just mark you where nobody can see.”
“Yeah, I bet you will. Big man.” She grabbed his crotch and squeezed until he gasped. “You gonna— Hey, what do you think this is, a peep show?”
She was staring right at Gabriel. He held his hands up, backed a few steps and gestured to the bar. “Sorry. Just heading in.”
With a sneer, the john stepped in front. “They don’t serve soda in there, kid. You heard the lady. Get lost.”
“Do you own the place?”
“No, but I know who does. And he ain’t gonna want you here.”
“I’m legal age, and I’m going in. Excuse me.”
He tried to sidestep the pair. The john laughed and shoved him. Considerable power behind the push almost sent him sprawling.
“I said you’re not. Don’t try to palm off a fake ID on me. Turn your ass around and go home.”
Gabriel’s hands clenched into fists at his sides, but he held back. He’d already spent half a dozen nights in jail over the last six months thanks to his temper, and hadn’t minded much because at least he’d been fed. Tonight he had to get in that damned bar. One way or another.
“What’re you waitin’ for? Beat it, kid. This bar is for big boys.”
The hooker stifled a giggle and put a hand on the john’s arm. “Cortez, c’mon. I’m getting bored. Let them handle him inside, honey, okay?”
An odd name, Cortez. It seemed he’d heard it somewhere, maybe even from one of the dealers he’d talked with. His mouth went dry with anticipation and he reached in his jacket for Lillith’s photo.
Before he could extract it, a knife blade pressed against his throat, and he froze.
“Don’t do anything stupid. You have no idea what you’re walking into here.”
He met Cortez’s glittering gaze and tried not to breathe. “It’s just a picture,” he said as evenly as possible. “I’m looking for someone.”
“I ain’t seen whoever it is, and neither has anyone inside. Now take your hand out, slow, and you better not have anything in it unless you’re looking to wear a red necklace.”
The hooker sucked in a breath. “Stop it,” she whispered. “Let’s go. We’re gonna be late.”
“Hang on,” Cortez said, not looking away from him. “I want to make sure this puta gets the point.”
He removed his hand and spread his empty fingers. “Happy now?”
The knife pressed harder, then Cortez lowered the blade and it disappeared. “No. C’mon, Jess.” With an arm around the prostitute’s waist, he led her away.
Gabriel stared after them, then turned to the bar, pulled open the door and slipped inside before he could talk himself out of it. The lights had been dimmed to a mellow glow. Hoping not to be noticed, he shuffled away from the entrance, spotted the bathrooms past the dartboards on the far left wall and made his way over. The raucous crowd paid little attention to him.
Glad to find the bathroom empty, he glanced in a mirror and ran a hand over the roughness coating his cheeks. He’d been staying at a YMCA for the past few days, after he couldn’t come up with fifty bucks for another week in the sinkhole of a room he’d been renting over on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. The grand he’d come to New York with hadn’t lasted long. He’d discovered a few ways to make a fast buck since, none of them pleasant.
He braced a hand on the sink and pulled out the photo he’d been trying to show the asshole outside. The woman frozen in the worn snapshot shared his coloring. Raven-black hair, warm green eyes and honey-gold skin. Lillith Morgan—his sister, his world—gone without a trace. If he didn’t find her soon, he’d have to resort to those unpleasant alternatives, because he wasn’t leaving this damned city without her.
Where are you, Lilly?
The picture back in his pocket, he ran the hot water in the nearest sink and scoured his face and hands. He combed wet fingers through tangled hair. Nothing he could do about his bloodshot eyes, or the hungry look in them. He’d spent too many long nights at places like this, begging strangers to help him. For his trouble he’d received derision, humiliation and jail time, but precious little in the way of information.
He grabbed a small stack of brown, grainy paper towels from the shelf above the sinks, dried his skin and scrubbed at his hair until it stopped dripping. There was a dark stain on his threadbare shirt—one of two he owned. He rubbed at the spot with the towels, and it faded a bit.
A glance back in the mirror had him shaking his head. Despite the growth shadowing his lower face, he supposed he still looked young, even for his age. Twenty could get him in most places, but not all of them. He’d paid a small fortune for a slick license fudge that even the cops had never questioned. According to the DMV, he was twenty-two. He had to be if he wanted to find Lillith.
The wad went into the trash on his way back out, and then he searched the bar for indications of his next goal. The location varied from place to place. Some had guards, others just a locked door the barkeep would let spectators through, if they knew what to ask. Occasionally the setup proved a bit more sophisticated, with metal detectors and stone-faced men in dark suits.
A tall, heavyset man stood with folded arms in front of a door in the far right corner. Gabriel wound through the bar toward him and avoided meeting anyone’s eyes directly. The bouncer fixed him with a threatening stare.
“I’m here for the action,” he shouted over the clamor.
“Who said anything about action?”
He produced a battered wallet from his back pocket and extracted a crumpled twenty, the only cash he had. Trying not to think about how he’d acquired it, he pressed the bill into the bouncer’s upturned hand. “Freddie said I’d find some here.”
The bouncer grunted, reached back and opened the door. “Move along. Eli and Jeff’ll see to ya.”
“Thanks.” Greedy son of a bitch.
Gabriel entered a short hallway. The door closed him in, and two men ambled out from a recessed area at the other end of the hall.
He approached slowly, keeping his hands clear of his body. These people didn’t like to feel threatened. The men regarded him with similar expressions of ridicule before the taller of the two nudged his companion and smirked.
“Your turn, buddy. Have a blast.”
“Ah, Jesus,” the other man groaned. “Who let you in here, kid?” He glowered and held up a hand. “Stop there. Hands on the wall.”
Gabriel turned, bent slightly, and placed his palms against the cool surface.
“Don’t move.” The guard shifted behind him. Hands clapped against his body in hasty rhythm, gingerly at first, gathering more force as the search progressed downward. Once he’d finished, the guard shoved hard against the small of his back and dropped him to his knees.
“Got some ID?”
Gabriel struggled to his feet. “Why should you care about ID? I’m already in.”
“Just give it. I’m curious how old you are.”
“Come on! I’m old enough.”
“Shut up and give it.”
With a sharp glare, he fished out his wallet and flipped it open to his driver’s license.
The guard snatched the wallet from him. His eyes widened briefly, and he motioned for his buddy. “Jeff, c’mere.”
The taller man approached with a grin. Eli tossed him the wallet, and Jeff’s smile faded. The stares they pinned on Gabriel sent shivers through him. “What? I’m legal.”
“Yeah. Okay, pal.” Jeff handed the wallet back, and both men moved aside. “Go on down and do your business.”
What the hell was their problem? Nothing in his wallet should have caused such a drastic attitude shift.
He walked past and entered the recessed area. Another door. This one opened on a set of stairs going down, and a medley of familiar, unwelcome sounds. After a while, all street fights looked the same.
Here we go again. He trudged down the basement stairs, already tuning out the flat smack of flesh meeting flesh. Thudding noises rose above the din of a crowd gathered to watch men beat each other senseless. What fun.
He fished out Lillith’s picture and searched the crowd for fresh faces. He’d seen too many of these people before, talked to hundreds of freaks and degenerates. So far he’d learned only that she’d been seen in the company of prominent members of an underground community of street fighting, prostitution and drugs. Members of this organization were identified by a symbol—a five-colored star.
In all his time in the city, he hadn’t even glimpsed the goddamned star once. Maybe the organization didn’t really exist…but he couldn’t entertain that possibility. No organization meant no Lillith, because without it he’d never find her.
A skeletal brunette leaned against the wall, smoking something. It might have been a cigarette or a joint, or worse. He stopped and brushed back a greasy lock of hair from his eyes. “Excuse me, miss,” he said. “I'm looking for someone. Have you seen this woman?”
The brunette turned glassy eyes on him, blinked and tried to focus on the picture he held out. “Why?” she slurred. “You a cop?”
“No. She’s my sister.”
“Oh.” The woman stared at the photo a few seconds longer. “Nope, haven’t seen her. Sorry.”
“All right. Thanks anyway.” He walked away and searched the blur of faces for a new target. Most of his conversations these days went the same way. “Are you a cop? No, never seen her before. Piss off.” Just like all the other people at all the other bars.
Give up. The suggestion drifted through his mind, imploring and small. Not happening. He couldn’t stop. Six long months of searching, and he’d just now come close. Someone here had to know something.
He showed the picture to three more people, got two “nos” and a “piss off.” The odds were good the next person would tell him off, too.
Fists clenched in frustration, he entered the heart of the mob and headed toward the roped-off space in the center of the floor. The fighters—two shirtless men drenched in perspiration, panting and bleeding—circled each other like territorial toms after the same scrap of food.
This close to the action, the stench he’d come to associate with these flesh-fests surged strong, carried on ripples of stale air from the fighters’ turbulent motion. A hot smell, like molten metal doused with brackish water, of pain and sweat, of victory wrought from punishment. Here the cheers and hisses became a deafening crescendo, a callous demand for more bloodshed. The fight wouldn’t end until one of the men collapsed and couldn’t get back up.
Battling despair, he silently repeated the mantra he said after every rejection. Just one more time.
He singled out a grinning drunk in a nine-to-five suit who swayed on his feet with a half-empty beer bottle clutched in one hand. Drunks usually stayed cheerful while they crushed his hopes. He approached, thrust the photo before the drunk’s face and shouted over the crowd.
“Hey, have you seen her around?”
The drunk looked from the picture to him. His grin widened. “I mighta seen her.”
Gabriel’s heart thudded against his chest. “You have? Where?”
“Christ, I dunno. It was like a week or two ago.” The brow furrowed. “Lessee. Think it was over in Harlem, mebee right near Uptown.” His smile twisted into a leer. “I seen a lot more ‘a her than that, too. She’s a tight little piece.”
“Yeah, she cost me a coupla hunnerd, that little lady,” the drunk blathered on. “But she was worth every penny, know what I mean?” With a sloppy wink, he tried to nudge him, but stumbled.
Cold fingers of apprehension squeezed his stomach. Lillith, a prostitute? No. “Are you sure?” He held the picture closer to the drunk’s rheumy gaze. “This woman here. You saw her?”
The drunk squinted. “Mmph. Mebee not. The eyes ain’t quite right…hair’s wrong too…”
“So it wasn’t her?”
Laughter dribbled from the drunk’s mouth. “Hey, wha’s it matter, right? Ya seen one whore, ya seen ’em all.”
Gabriel’s temper nearly snared his tongue. He drew a deep breath and shook the photo. “Look. Please. Was it her, or not?”
The drunk lifted the bottle to his lips. After a deep swig, he blinked a few times and stared at the picture. “Nope. Sorry, it musta been somebody else.” The grin resurfaced. “She’s hot, though. How much you want for her?”
He balled his free hand and launched it at the inebriated smile. His knuckles met the drunk’s jaw with a dull smack. The drunk flew back to land flat on the floor. The crowd shifted away, and the drunk struggled to prop himself onto his elbows. Blood bubbled from his lips. Turning his head, he spat a mouthful of thick liquid along with a tooth.
He shoved the picture into his jacket. “That’s my sister, you bastard. She’s no whore.”
The drunk sat up with a wheeze and looked from his recently departed tooth to Gabriel, as though he couldn’t quite make the connection between the two. At last he lifted to his feet and swiped a clumsy arm across his blood-smeared mouth.
“Whassa matter witchoo?” The words tumbled from lips that couldn’t seem to move properly. Pain registered in the drunk’s eyes, and anger lurked beneath. “Why’d you go an’ do that?”
“F*** off.” Gabriel turned and pushed through the packed crowd toward the outskirts of the room. Behind him, the drunk shouted something, and he glanced over his shoulder. A man had grabbed the drunk and held him back.
What the hell?
Gabriel broke free of the knot of people, only to walk into a denim-clad, devil-bearded Hispanic who didn’t look happy to see him.
“You’re causing a lot of trouble, kid.” The Hispanic ran a hand through short brown hair and let out an exasperated breath. “Why’d you go and slug poor Kev there? He’s only having a good time.”
Frustration sharpened his fury and buried his restraint. “Get out of my way.” He shoved the man with both hands.
The instant drop in the volume of the crowd turned irritation into cold fear. Even the fighters stopped and stared, as though he had just shot the Pope.
“You touched me.” The man sounded genuinely amazed. “You pushed me. First you knock my cousin’s teeth out, then you try to punk me?” His words rang in the silence. Veins popped into relief along his neck. He stepped forward.
Dull pain exploded in Gabriel’s gut. His breath gasped out, and he landed on his knees. He hadn’t even seen the blow.
“Out,” the Hispanic barked.
The floor beneath him vibrated. Murmurs hummed through the departing crowd like water whispering down a drain. He started to rise, but someone behind pushed him down.
Something solid planted itself between his shoulder blades. It felt like a foot.
“Not you. You stay.” The voice belonged to the man he’d pushed.
“You want his wallet, Diego?” a man behind him said.
“Yeah. Then let him up.”
The pressure on his back increased. A hand wrestled his wallet from his pocket. His head throbbed with confusion. They weren’t mugging him. So what was so goddamn fascinating about his wallet?
The foot retreated. He coughed and stood. Another Hispanic, a heavily muscled thug in a tight blue tee shirt, had joined the one called Diego.
Diego looked from the license to his face. He closed the wallet, held it between two fingers and tapped it on his open palm. A dark smile surfaced, and he said, “I’d kill you for free. But right now, you’re worth more to me alive.”
Check out S.W. Vaughn's AUTHOR PAGE on Amazon to catch the next books in the HOUSE PHOENIX series!