Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"Mind Games" by Christine Amsden

Mind Games
(Cassie Scot Book 3)
by Christine Amsden

Mind Games, the third book in Christine Amsden's Cassie Scot series, has just been released. Also available: Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective (ON SALE for $0.99) and Secrets and Lies (read my blog post). Coming soon: Stolen Dreams.

Mind Games is currently on tour and stops here today for a guest post from the author and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

Beware your heart and soul…
Evan broke Cassie’s heart two months ago, and she still doesn’t know why. She throws herself into family, friends and her new job at the sheriff’s department, but nothing helps. The only thing that finally allows her heal and move on is the love of a new man, mind mage Matthew Blair. Cassie finds him … irresistible.
Matthew may also be the only one who can help keep the non-magical residents of Eagle Rock from going crazy over the murder of a beloved pastor’s wife. It looks like a sorcerer is to blame, but while Cassie tries to figure out who, others take matters into their own hands. With tensions running so hot, a single spark might set Eagle Rock ablaze.

Warning: If you are new to the series, I strongly recommend you check out the first few chapters of book one in the series, Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective. This excerpt contains some series spoilers that would seriously undermine your enjoyment of the first two books.
Evan Blackwood reached within himself for the magic – vast, untamed, and yet somehow vital – roiling just beneath the surface. It was as much a part of him as the blood coursing through his veins. And tonight it was the only thing that might save his life.
He channeled the untamed energy into an invisible shield a moment before a curse struck with what could only have been deadly intent. The glow of energy meeting energy lit the overcast twilight sky, casting an ominous glow across the door of the rickety shack behind him. The strength of the blow forced some of the shield energy to reverse course, creating a feeling reminiscent of a static electricity shock – except it hit every blood cell at once.
He gritted his teeth against the pain, willing it to pass quickly. Beads of sweat trickled down his forehead. That had been way too close. If his shields had come up a second later…
Murmuring the words of the sleep spell he had readied for just such a battle, Evan scanned the line of white pines sloping down the steep hill, looking for his attacker. It was hard to make out anything in the dim light offered by an overcast evening sky, but then he saw something flicker off to his right. He clamped down hard on his instinctive response to lash out at the first sign of danger. This could be a trick. A brief look through his special glasses told him that the flicker of movement had, in fact, been mere illusion.
He maintained both his shield and his sleep spell, wondering how many attackers were out there and what other tricks they knew. His special glasses helped him spot two more illusions, but so far they hadn’t helped him see the truth.
The camera-mounted glasses had been Cassie’s idea, though Evan had never thanked her for the concept. Since magical illusion was a form of mind magic and cameras had no minds, they could see through it.
There. In front and just off to the left. Tying a whisper of energy to his prepared words, he cast the spell in what he hoped was the right direction. Then he held his breath until it hit its target.
The dark figure crumpled to the forest floor with a soft thud. One down. But how many to go?
Evan was getting better at combat magic, but tonight had him fearing he might not be good enough. His pacifist mentor, Henry Wolf, had refused to teach him, leaving him to learn on his own. At least his innate gift of telekinesis was well-suited to confrontation. It gave him an edge he felt no qualms about using. It did not, however, make him anything like invincible.
Most spells took time, preparation, and materials to cast, but with a little advanced preparation he could keep some spells ready to use at a moment’s notice. Shields were a common defensive strategy employed in this way, but Evan had been the one to hit on the idea of using the sleep spell as an offensive technique. Not only was it faster and easier to pull off than the more common stunning or black-out spells, but it carried less risk of permanent damage to the victim should things turn out to have been a simple misunderstanding.
In this case, there was no misunderstanding. The man now sleeping in the woods would have killed Evan with his death curse had Evan not defended himself. He could still feel the residual tingles here and there, though the shock had long-since worn off. He’d rid the woods of a low-life blood mage, and so far he wasn’t even breathing hard.
Don’t get cocky, he chided himself as he continued to scan the woods with both the camera and his own eyes. He still hadn’t gotten through the wards on the shack behind him, which was both good and bad. It meant that despite its shabby appearance, someone wanted to protect this rickety pile of lumber nestled in the Appalachian Foothills. But it also meant the guard now sleeping in the woods undoubtedly had allies of indeterminate number and strength.
Evan tensed, listening for the sounds of anyone else waiting to ambush him the moment he let down his shields. He couldn’t break through the wards with his shields up, making him a perfect target. Not for the first time, he wished he had backup, but Scott Lee refused to leave Eagle Rock at the full moon and Evan refused to let this wait another three nights. Dark sorcerers often carried out blood rituals at the full moon, which meant if he didn’t get inside that shack tonight, someone would die. He only hoped it wouldn’t be him.
Evan had put in a call to the local magical leadership, now unified under Alexander DuPris – an ambitious sorcerer with dreams of uniting the country. But they hadn’t given him anything aside from a vague, “We’ll see what we can do.” So he was on his own.
Taking a deep breath, Evan lowered his shields and turned back to the door hanging slightly off its hinges. To the naked eye, it wouldn’t look like much of a barrier. Even someone experienced with traditional protections would miss the power on this door if they did not also possess a sensitivity to magical energy. There were no plants, herbs, or runes here. There was only raw magical power, bolstered by the blood of the innocent. It was an unhealthy sort of energy, not at all in tune with the natural world.
Something cracked under Evan’s onslaught, a tiny gap in the flow of energy, but he could work with it. He began chipping away until the crack grew deeper and wider, creating a hole in the protection. Almost there. He just needed a few mores seconds…
Suddenly, Evan flew backwards, thrown by the force of an enemy he hadn’t seen or heard until it grabbed him around the neck and yanked him away from the door so hard that his feet momentarily left the ground. He slammed his shield into place, but too late – the attacker had followed him to the ground, landing atop him chest to chest. The man was inside the shield range, using extraordinary strength to pin Evan to the ground.
Evan wasn’t exactly a small man. He was over six foot tall, and he regularly worked his body alongside his magic. Yet this enemy had him immobilized as easily as if he were a small child. He wasn’t a small child, though. He was a full grown man with a powerful gift that he used instinctively whenever he felt fear or anger. It wasn’t something he had to exert effort to do. He scarcely had to think, and the things around him went flying.
Evan could not remember ever feeling so much fear – at least, not for his life. His only thought at that moment was to get his attacker away from him. He thought it with such force, with such raw panic, that his enemy should have gone flying, but instead it thumped a few inches to the side, fighting against Evan’s hold.
That’s when Evan recognized it as a vampire.
It didn’t look any different from a human, except for the feral yellow eyes that only manifested when it hunted. Evan had missed them at first as he’d fought for his life. Other than that, it was just a man – and not even a particularly big one.
“Crap,” Evan muttered, trying to hold it still with his will as he backed away. He knew he couldn’t hold the thing for longer than a few seconds. And he hadn’t prepared himself for a confrontation with a vampire. No crosses. No holy water.
It shouldn’t be here. Vampires didn’t usually get close to a community of sorcerers. And the tiny town of Appalachia was comprised entirely of magic users united under a powerful and, in Evan’s opinion, somewhat dictatorial council. No normals allowed.
Whatever should be didn’t change the truth. There was a vampire. And Evan had about two-and-a-half seconds to think of a way to fight it before it tore his throat out.
The seconds passed. Nothing occurred to Evan. The vampire broke free and lunged at him once again, fangs bared. Evan closed his eyes, wondering if this would be it. The only weapon he had left to him now was the anti-venom potion he had taken as a child. It would keep him from being thralled or turned, but it wouldn’t keep him from dying. Not unless this vampire knew nothing about it and he could pretend, as Cassie had once done, that he was under the vampire’s spell. Enjoying having his blood sucked out.
He shuddered. He might have had an obscene amount of magic at his disposal, but he didn’t think he could play that convincing a game of make believe. And it would kill him.
In that moment of certain death Evan felt regret, almost as sharply as he felt fear. In his mind’s eye he saw dark blue eyes, rich auburn tresses, and a wide mouth that often seemed to smile even when things were going wrong. Cassie would live the rest of her life without understanding why he had left town in such a hurry. He had abandoned her to the belief that he had turned against her, been bribed away from her, or fallen victim to some kind of spell.
It wasn’t true. He had merely been tipped off to the fact that he had wronged her beyond his ability to repay. Or acknowledge, even to himself.
He had been in denial.
The revelation, startling and belated, came to him in lieu of his life flashing before his eyes. He thought he’d left Eagle Rock to think or to find a purpose. Now he knew it was because he hadn’t been ready to tell her. He hadn’t even been willing to admit to himself that somehow, over twenty-one years ago, before either of them were born, the magic that should have been hers had instead gone to him.
He had lived with that magic, with that awesome power, his entire life. He thought he had always used it well. He was still trying to use it well, risking his life to save others from dark sorcerers. It was his, dammit! It hadn’t been his fault – he hadn’t even known – and now the magic was a deeply ingrained part of his self.
None of which seemed as important on the brink of death as the idea that he at least owed her the truth.
Saliva dripped onto the throbbing pulse point in Evan’s neck. He closed his eyes, felt the first touch of the vampire’s fangs, and then…
Something threw the vampire off of Evan with enough force to knock the wind out of both of them.
Gasping, Evan struggled to sit up. He searched for his rescuer but saw only a blur of moving darkness barely distinguishable as two separate beings. One was a vampire. The other… Evan had never seen a vampire hunter in action before, but he knew that one had just saved his life. Only vampires and the hunters who destroyed them could move like that.
Finally, there was a strangled cry and the action ceased. One figure slumped to the ground, a stake protruding from its chest. The other figure, breathing heavily, worked an axe free of his belt to chop off the vampire’s head. The separation of head from body was what truly killed the vampire. Otherwise, there was a chance it could reanimate when the stake was removed from its heart.
Evan let out a breath he hadn’t been aware of holding, struggling to come to grips with a second chance at life after he’d felt the sure knowledge of his own death.
When the victorious vampire hunter completed his messy task, leaving the decapitated corpse where it lay, he turned his gaze to Evan and called him by name.
“Do I know you?” Evan asked.
“No,” he said, “but you know my cousin, Cassie.”
“Jason.” Evan took an unconscious step backwards. Rumor had it that Jason had turned into a vampire. The other hunters were after him in force.
“That’s me.” Jason scanned the area, utilizing what Evan knew were heightened senses of sight and hearing. Evan just didn’t know if Jason’s superior senses came from the hunter in him, or the vampire.
“What are you doing here?” Evan asked, trying not to let suspicion taint his voice. Show no fear was a motto he’d lived by since middle school, and it was more vitally important now than ever before. The fact that Jason had killed a vampire hardly meant he hadn’t turned; vampires killed one another more often than hunters did.
“So far, saving your ass.” Jason flashed Evan a humorless smile that did not reach his eyes. Were they yellow? Evan couldn’t tell in the rapidly deepening twilight, not at this distance. The other vampire’s eyes had practically glowed yellow, but when they weren’t in the grips of bloodlust, a vampire’s eyes reverted to their natural color.
“How did you know to come here?” After a pause Evan added, “I didn’t call your order. Didn’t even know there would be vampires here.”
“My order doesn’t know I’m around, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t clue them in.”
“I think I owe you at least that much.” Evan rose to his feet, never taking his eyes off the other man.
“I don’t collect debts.” Jason kept scanning the area. “Why don’t you get your thing over with so we can get out of here? I’ll watch your back.”
Evan only hesitated a moment before getting to work. Vampire or no vampire, Jason obviously wasn’t intent on killing him right now. If he were, he’d have done it already, or let the first vampire do it to save himself the trouble. Evan didn’t feel safe, but he did believe he had found a temporary ally.
The hole he had made in the ward energy had largely resealed itself, but now that he had an ally of sorts he could devote more of himself to the task. He didn’t turn his back to Jason, but he did allow himself to relax enough to focus. This time, he was able to cut through the wards in less than a minute.
“We’re in.” Evan pushed open the door. Inside, a sea of illusions tried to convince him he had entered a sort of labyrinth. Wood-paneled corridors led to the left and the right in a way that suggested the shack was bigger on the inside – something Evan didn’t believe was possible. Between his disbelief and the camera-mounted glasses, he easily saw through the illusions that would have led him in a wide circle around their victim, who lay bound and gagged in a shallow hole in the middle of the room.
Rushing forward, Evan untied the young woman and helped her to her feet. She was so filthy that he couldn’t tell if her hair was a dirty blonde or if it was just dirty. She wore only a thin white gown that barely covered her torso, and she had been tattooed with the runes of the ceremony that would likely have been carried out the next night, at the height of the full moon. She had not yet been bled.
“Evan!” Jason called from just outside the door. “Company!”
Evan led the woman out of the shack and ordered her to stay in the shadows while he and Jason confronted the five men emerging from the trees. Two were vampires, their glowing yellow eyes giving away their identities and their intentions. The other three were probably human, but Evan felt a thrum of magic in the air telling him they were armed and dangerous.
He didn’t feel afraid at that moment so much as resolved. Maybe it was the directness of the attack – the fact that he could see what was coming. Or maybe he’d passed some threshold past which the fear couldn’t touch him. Either way, he knew what he had to do.
The two allies shielded themselves. Jason thrust something into Evan’s hands with a whispered order, “Use this to keep the vampires away, but let me handle them.”
Evan felt the familiar shape of the cross. After a startled moment of curiosity about how a suspected vampire could handle a holy relic, he nodded his understanding.
That was all the time they had for a strategy session. The vampires charged. The sorcerers let loose a volley of curses. The night filled with the flashing lights of magic hitting magic.
Evan had never experienced magical combat like this before. The vampires were fast, strong, and practically immune to magic. Jason’s strength and skill equaled theirs, one on one, but there were two of them.
Evan, too, was outnumbered. In his case, three to one. There was power in three.
The sorcerers linked and hurled a spell at Evan that his shield barely managed to absorb. The force of it sent him backwards several steps, and he once again felt the static-like shock. He didn’t let it rattle him, though. Show no fear. Show no weakness. Not now.
He fired back with a sleep spell, but it had no impact on the linked trio. As long as they remained linked, a magical attack wouldn’t work against them. But what if he could arrange a physical attack?
Studying the line of white pine trees, Evan found his target. Felled just right, the giant evergreen would crush all three sorcerers if they didn’t get out of the way. And it wouldn’t even take an ounce of his weakening magical reserves. His gift of telekinesis required nothing but intent, which he used now to pull the massive tree down. It cracked ominously at the base of the trunk where the wood splintered. Then it crashed to the forest floor.
Two of the men leaped away in time.
Evan had never killed anyone before. He felt an odd pang of – not quite regret – but a sense that this moment would change him. He had little time to reflect on the feeling, though. Two sorcerers remained, and if anything they would be more intent upon killing him now.
The men started running in a move that could only be described as a charge. Carefully preparing his sleep spell, Evan aimed it at the nearer of the two men. He might have overcharged it. Without the enhanced power of three, the man fell asleep so abruptly that his forward momentum sent him into a sort of nose dive at the ground. He landed hard and probably not without injury, but Evan spared no sympathy for the fallen attacker. He rearmed himself and sought out his final enemy.
The last man standing seemed to know that Evan had him outclassed and outgunned. He skidded to a halt, then turned on his heels to retreat.
Not this time. These men would pay for what they had done in the past and for what they had tried to do to the young woman still hiding in the shadow of the dilapidated shack. With a cry of bottled up rage, Evan threw the sleep spell at the man’s retreating back. It hit its target in his cowardly backside, sending him sprawling to the ground.
Any last vestiges of fear had gone the moment Evan felled the last human. He felt powerful now. Victorious.
With adrenaline still fueling him, Evan turned his attention to Jason, locked in mortal combat with both vampires. The three were nothing but a blur of motion. Evan wanted to help, but the deadly trio of combatants moved too quickly for Evan to tell them apart, let alone intercede.
One of the blurs suddenly flew away from the other two. Evan thought he recognized Jason, arms flailing wildly as he tried to right himself. Using his gift, Evan slowed Jason’s progress so that the hunter landed softly on his feet. Then, when the vampires charged toward Jason, Evan froze one of them in place. He could only hold the creature for a few seconds with his gift, but if Jason could get moving it might be enough.
Jason didn’t miss a beat. With a stunning display of strength and speed, he thrust a wooden stake into the captured vampire’s chest. Then, with barely a blink, they repeated the exercise with the other vampire. Evan held him for the space of a second or two while Jason thrust a wooden stake directly into its heart.
Everything went eerily silent. For a few minutes both men stood, panting, surveying the aftermath of the battle. Would they face further attack?
The rescued woman apparently didn’t think so. She ran out of the shadows and threw herself around Evan’s neck, trying her best to kiss him. He managed to sidestep her, but barely.
“What are you going to do with them?” Jason nodded to the sleeping sorcerers.
“Call the locals,” Evan said. They would arrange to pick up and hold the survivors until Evan could get in touch with Alexander DuPris, who had put him on the trail of these men in the first place. Evan tried not to think about the dead one. Dead at his hands. It still didn’t seem real.
“Alexander has been looking for these guys for a while,” Evan continued. “I wouldn’t have found them if it hadn’t been for the smallest drop of blood they left behind at their last ritual.”
Jason shuddered. “What do you know about that guy?”
“Alexander?” Evan asked.
Jason nodded.
“Not much,” Evan admitted. “He’s trying to unify the country and put a stop to people like these.”
“Hm,” Jason said. “Well, I’d appreciate it if you don’t mention my involvement tonight to him.”
“Am I supposed to tell anyone I saw you? People are going to wonder how I managed to handle all these sorcerers and vampires on my own. I’d think you’d want me to get the word out that you’re not actually a vampire.”
“What makes you think I’m not?”
Evan tossed the cross back at Jason, who caught it, deftly.
Jason stared at the cross, then he smiled. A real smile this time. “If you tell anyone about this, they’ll think there’s something wrong with you. Not that I’m okay. Trust me, you don’t want to be associated with me. You’re going to hear more rumors about me… some of them may even be true.”
Evan had no idea what to believe, so he said nothing. He would have to sort through all of this later to decide who to trust, and how far.
“So,” Jason said, running a hand casually through his hair, “I don’t suppose you’ve seen Cassie’s friend, Kaitlin, lately?”
Evan paused, trying to figure out how personal he wanted to get. But, he reasoned, Jason had broached the subject. “Yeah, I’ve seen her. I was the one who performed the binding after her baby’s wild magic nearly pulled a building down on top of her and everyone around her.”
Jason flinched. “I figured my aunt and uncle would take care of her.”
“Yeah, now.” Evan tried to feel charitable toward the man who had just saved his life, but the way Jason was abandoning Kaitlin, pregnant with Jason’s baby, made Evan feel unaccountably angry.
“She’s better off not knowing me right now,” Jason said. “Look, be careful who you trust.”
“Why?” Evan asked.
“Jason!” came an unfamiliar masculine voice from the trees.
“Who’s that?” Evan asked, the tension and battle-readiness returning to his body so fast it might never have gone at all.
“One of the reasons Kaitlin’s better off not knowing me.” With that, Jason sped away in a blur of motion too rapid for Evan to follow. For a long time, he just stared after the blur, barely aware of the young woman pressing herself against him in a blatantly seductive manner.
“I’m Evelyn,” the woman said.
“Evan,” he replied, trying his best to sound disinterested in her overt offer. He wasn’t dead, but he really wasn’t interested. Only one woman interested him right now. Cassie.
If there had ever been a chance between them, even in light of what he now knew, he had done a great job of messing it up last month. His only defense, which sounded weaker by the hour, was that she would have hated him if he had told her the whole truth.
She hated him anyway. And his attempts to make up for it by rescuing other women didn’t make him feel any better.
Tell her, his grandmother had urged. She was a seer; if anyone would know, she would, but still he hesitated. Strange that he could rush headlong into battle without blinking an eye, but talking to Cassie made him so nervous. Probably because in the end, she could hurt him worse than any enemy combatant could.
Evan pushed Evelyn away, as gently as he could. “I’m not free.”
For a second he thought she would argue, but she simply nodded and hugged herself.
He fished his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed his local contact number. When he told them what he had done, they agreed to send half a dozen men to help him clean up the mess. Then he called Alexander DuPris’s headquarters in rural Pennsylvania.
“We’ve been trying to take down that group for a year,” the man on the other end of the line said in an excited, squeaky little voice. “How long can you stay? I’m sure Alexander himself would like to talk to you.”
Evan had already been gone for three weeks, and Alexander might keep him occupied for a few weeks more. He wanted to go straight home to talk to Cassie now that he had bolstered up a little nerve. But, he reasoned, if he still had important work to do here then it could wait. Besides, this was his chance to actually meet the renowned Alexander DuPris face to face.

Praise for the Cassie Scot Series
"Amsden continues the story of the only mundane member of a supernaturally-gifted family in this middling sequel to Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective. Cassie, stubborn and proud, is bravely trying to live on her own after her family disowns her. Struggling to make ends meet, she accepts a case involving a pair of magical girls who disappeared from summer camp. With the aid of the handsome Evan Blackwood, to whom Cassie is attracted despite her family’s disapproval and her own better judgment, she follows the trail of the missing girls. What she finds is a dark side of the magical world, and the hidden depths of her family’s past force her to reconsider long-held assumptions. The growing complexity of Cassie’s world makes this an entertaining installment, focusing as much on the will-they, won’t-they romantic chemistry between Cassie and Evan as on the primary mystery. An inconclusive ending is clearly intended to feed into the next volume." ~ Publisher’s Weekly
"When sorcerers call the shots, what’s a girl without powers to do? Get ready for a ripper of a murder mystery full of romance and intrigue, where magic potions bubble, passions spark and vampires are definitely not your friend. Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective grabs you by the heart and won’t let go until the very last page. Well written, immersive and unputdownable. This is urban fantasy at its best. More please!" ~ Kim Falconer, bestselling author of The Spell of Rosette, Quantum Enchantment Series

Guest Post by Christine Amsden
Warning: This Series is Meant to be Read in Order!!
I'm not going to be coy or beat around the bush here. I wrote the Cassie Scot series in such a way that if you pick up my latest release, Mind Games (Cassie Scot #3) before you pick up Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective and Secrets and Lies, you will be lost. You have been warned! :)
But this isn't just meant as a warning. I want you to understand what this series is about. Yes, there is a mystery framing each book. The mysteries create drama, enhance the world building, and help define the characters. They also bring each book to a natural stopping point. Yet there is a bigger story I'm telling here: the story of Cassie Scot, ungifted daughter of powerful sorcerers, learning who she is and what she can do – even without magic.
People enjoy series for all kinds of reasons, but for me the beauty of the series is that you have a chance to tell a longer, deeper, and fuller story. You have a chance to show a character reacting to what has come before and growing to meet new challenges. You also have the chance, in fantasy at least, to add new dimensions to the world with each volume. I quickly grow bored with series that stagnate, and I don't usually read mystery purely for the problem-solving element. (I do, of course, bow down before the master of mystery, Agatha Christie.)
I'm excited about the latest release in my series, Mind Games, and by the early reviews coming in from loyal followers of the series who report that things just keep getting better and better. (I agree, but I'm biased!) I can't wait for the final book in the series, Stolen Dreams, to come out this summer. Stolen Dreams is my favorite, but then, how could it be any other way? The best part of a story should be the end.

About the Author
Christine Amsden has been writing fantasy and science fiction for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. Speculative fiction is fun, magical, and imaginative but great speculative fiction is about real people defining themselves through extraordinary situations. Christine writes primarily about people and relationships, and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for everyone.
At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a condition that effects the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams.
In addition to writing, Christine teaches workshops on writing at Savvy Authors. She also does some freelance editing work.
Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two beautiful children.

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