Today I’d like everyone to take a look at Susan Illene’s debut novel, Darkness Haunts. Susan has been an online friend of mine and I’m so happy that I can share with you her debut work. Just check out that cover! Isn’t it gorgeous?
Melena Sanders faced her fair share of danger with insurgents and terrorists when she served in the U.S. Army, but now she is about to go up against a new threat. Her best friend, Aniya, has disappeared while on a trip to Fairbanks, Alaska—a supernatural haven. Most humans have no idea darker races lurk amongst them. Mel knows better. If she wants to get her friend back, she’s going to have to go in alone—but not unarmed.
Melena has a few special skills the Army didn’t provide, but the odds are still against her. She’s got to come up with a plan fast that doesn’t involve her, or her friend, dying. But danger likes to play it rough. A war for power is about to rise in Fairbanks and if she wants to get Aniya back, she’s going to have to step right into the middle of it.
Note: The following excerpt is rated G. But please note that this novel is intended for adult audiences, not young adult.
The woman caught me hovering at the door and waved me inside. I took two steps in and stopped. She wasn’t much of a threat, but coming near her still made me squeamish. The vampire from the night before had been a reminder of the dangers I faced with sups.
“You look lost, my dear. Are you searching for something?”
Once my eyes had adjusted to the dim interior, I saw she had kind hazel eyes, and a face framed by long silver hair. The wrinkles lining her skin accentuated, rather than detracted, from her appearance. My senses told me she was pushing seventy years old, but she had a small, nimble body that must have been more than capable.
The mystic must have been one of those types who got into the act of her profession because she wore a long, dark robe that flowed around her. Something I might have expected from a tarot card reader. Of course, she ran her business inside a major tourist attraction. She would want to cater to customers’ expectations.
“Actually, I’m looking for someone.” Pushing aside my trepidation, I pulled out my picture of Aniya. “Have you seen this woman?”
She leaned over the black silk-draped table she sat behind and squinted at the photo. After a moment, she shook her head.
“No, I’m sorry. She hasn’t been around here.”
“You haven’t seen her anywhere?”
She smiled. “I don’t get about town much these days. This is the one place I have a chance to see anyone aside from my family.”
I supposed that made sense at her age, but this was the last place I had left to visit in the park and had hoped for better results. It was the only reason I’d been willing to take a chance on her. Vampires couldn’t mesmerize her into forgetting like they could the humans around here. Not at her power level.
“Why don’t I give you a reading? Perhaps that will help.”
My body tensed. Sticking around a sup, any sup, for very long did not sit well with me. Never mind that I needed to work on getting past that particular problem if I was ever going to have any luck finding Aniya. I really didn’t think she was with a human anymore.
The mystic cocked her head at seeing my reluctance. “If you’re really worried about your friend, it could be worth a try.”
Doubtful, but this was an opportunity to get a feel for the woman and see what she was made of. All the other readings in my past had been fake, done by people who had no skills at all. I went along with the show because it amused me to see how far they would go in their act. My ability to sense magic let me know they were doing nothing more than guessing. But this woman had magic—not that it would do either of us any good.
She took the twenty I handed her and stuffed it into a small opening in her robe. I contemplated asking her if she could do a spell with Aniya’s picture to find her, but didn’t feel ready to ask for that kind of help. One step at a time. I’d just set the photo down on the table. Maybe she’d make the offer herself.
She turned her back to get a deck of tarot cards after motioning for me to take a seat. My muscles cramped as they bent down into the chair, the kind of ache that came after too many hours on your feet. The run this morning must have taken a bigger toll than what I’d thought. I made a mental note to get myself into a better routine with my workouts. They were more important now than ever.
The mystic shuffled the cards and arranged them with care before laying them down. We both took an indrawn breath at what was revealed, or rather, not revealed. The woman’s face turned ashen. I drew back in my chair. Every card she laid down came up blank—solid white, with nothing on them. It was the last thing I’d expected.
Her magic was trying to pull my information, but couldn’t, so it wiped out the details of the cards. She mumbled under her breath as her hands began to shake. Guilt stirred inside me at seeing her so upset. From what I could tell, the cards had their normal illustrations on them until she laid them down, then they blanked out. She tried several times with no success. My very nature made me a void for magic, but I hadn’t realized it went that far.
Our attention was so riveted on her trying a new deck that neither of us noticed the man who stepped in until he spoke.
“Those won’t work on her, Yvonne.” His rough voice carried over to us. I jumped.
Instead of making the traditional post high school move and attending college, Susan joined the U.S. Army. She spent her eighteenth birthday in the gas chamber — an experience she is sure is best left for criminals. For eleven years she served first as a human resources specialist and later as an Arabic linguist (mostly in Airborne units). Though all her duty assignments were stateside, she did make two deployments to Iraq where her language skills were put to regular use.
After leaving the service in 2009, Susan returned to school to study history with a focus on the Middle East. She no longer finds many opportunities to test her fighting abilities in real life, unless her husband is demanding she cook him a real meal, but she’s found a new outlet in writing urban fantasy heroines who can.