If you like female friendships, action-packed urban fantasy, and a touch of supernatural horror, then you’ll love Smoke and Hellfire. Read it now and start the paranormal adventure!
Keep calm and call an exorcist.
Most people don’t believe in the supernatural—at least until a ghost starts making the walls in their house bleed. That’s when they call Bea Romo Reyes. She’s my best friend and roommate, and she works as a freelance exorcist and paranormal consultant. Meeting her plunged me into a supernatural world both wonderful and terrifying, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
But there’s something Bea’s not telling me, and her secret might be more dangerous than the demons she’s hired to exorcise.
Smoke and Hellfire contains four episodic, novelette-length stories:
The Scent of Brimstone
When my friend dies mysteriously and her house stinks of brimstone, I know a demon is to blame. And when it threatens my friend’s family, I do the only thing I can think of: I call a professional exorcist.
An Unfair Bargain
Bea and I investigate a missing woman who wandered into the forest at night like she was possessed. But the truth of what happened is—if possible—even worse than demonic possession, and we might not make it out of the forest alive.
A ghost tour in St. Augustine accidentally raises a vengeful spirit who starts picking off the tour group one by one. Can Bea banish the ghost in time to save the young tour guides from a watery grave?
The Corporate Job
I always knew corporations were evil, but this one takes it a step further when they summon a demon to increase their profit margins. With a possessed CFO chained up in the basement and Bea’s exorcism failing, the demon reveals a sinister secret that could change everything.
First Chapter Preview
Bea would be pissed if she knew I was writing this.
I wouldn’t even mind because that would mean she was here. But I’ll probably never see her again—no one will—and that’s not fair. She doesn’t deserve what happened. People should know all the good things she’s done, so I’m writing this, and I hope someday she reads it and threatens to set my house plants on fire unless I delete it.
I guess I should introduce myself. My name is Maggie Greenfield. This is about Bea, so I’m not that important, but you’ll need to know a little about me, right? I’m twenty-eight years old and a freelance web designer. My three favorite things are cats, the smell of old books, and anything hazelnut flavored. I’ve got dirty blond hair that’s so curly I have to keep it short or it gets completely unmanageable, and I’m about five foot six, bony, and freckled. I’m also a witch.
If that last part bothers you, maybe just stop reading now, okay? There’s only more supernatural stuff coming.
I met Bea in July three years ago. My friend Silvia had passed away two days earlier, and I was on my way to her house with a casserole for her family. Don’t ask me why a casserole. I had to do something, and I remembered that’s what everyone had done when my nana had died. Grandma Gail and I had needed to rearrange all the dishes in the fridge five times before they’d fit.
I parked in their driveway and got out. The house was one-story and tan, built maybe twenty years earlier. Half the houses in the neighborhood were the same style, but it stood out because of the yard, which would put a botanical garden to shame. Red hibiscus bloomed in bushes near the windows, and shrubs of Mexican heather lined the walkway to the front door. Crape myrtle and magnolia trees provided shade near a butterfly garden of starflower and other pink blossoms, and a hanging basket of lantana dangled beside the entryway. Silvia had spent so much time and care on the yard. I felt an ache at the thought of it getting overgrown with her gone.
I rang the doorbell and only had to wait about thirty seconds before Silvia’s son opened the door.
Reader, I’m going to call him Joel, which you should know isn’t his real name, but I’m using pseudonyms for Silvia and her family to protect their privacy. He’s in his late thirties, too old for me—or at least that’s what I tell myself. With short brown hair and a wide, usually smiling face, he looks like the lead on a made-for-TV rom-com.
But on that day three years ago, his face was haggard, with patchy stubble covering his cheeks and chin.
“Oh,” he said. “Maggie.”
“Hi.” I stood there in silence for several long seconds, feeling even more awkward than usual. Then I thrust out the dish. “I brought a casserole.”
His face softened as he took it, and he attempted a smile. “Thanks. You want to come in?”
I stepped inside and jerked to a halt.
The scent wasn’t overwhelming, just a faint hint in the air that made me scrunch up my nose. I wasn’t a particularly skilled or knowledgeable witch, but I knew brimstone meant demons.
“Sorry. It stinks in here, right?” Joel caught my expression. “I can’t figure out where it’s coming from. I’m hoping Avery just dropped some food in the couch cushions and it’s not a squirrel that crawled into the attic and died.”
I smiled and nodded. That made sense. A nice, normal explanation. I shouldn’t immediately jump to “demons” as a conclusion, but since my mind had gone there… Well, the house didn’t feel right. I shivered and glanced over my shoulder, sensing something watching me. The hallway looked perfectly normal, bright and homey with family photos on the walls, but seeing the closed door made me feel trapped. My instincts yelled at me to get out and drive away. I pushed down on the feeling, telling myself I was being silly. It was probably just a rotten egg in the back of their fridge or something.
I know, reader, I know. I should have listened to my instincts. I’ve learned better since then, I swear.
I followed Joel into the kitchen, where he started playing Tetris with the contents of the refrigerator to make room for the casserole dish. Vases of flowers covered the table and had overflowed onto the countertop, artful arrangements wrapped in ribbons and paired with sympathy cards. But they were already dying. The colorful petals had browned and shriveled, their sweet scent turned cloying and rotten, mixing with the brimstone smell in a foul concoction.
It made no sense. Silvia had only passed away two days ago. The flowers shouldn’t wilt that fast.
“Um,” I said. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Like exorcise your house, I wanted to add, but I kept my mouth shut. Like most people in the world, Joel didn’t believe in the supernatural. Silvia had complained about his skepticism often enough. She had moved in with him five years earlier, supposedly so he could care for her in her old age. But I thought he got more out of the arrangement than she did. As a single dad who worked odd hours as an EMT, he would’ve had to pay a small fortune in childcare without her to look after his daughter.
What would he do now that Silva was gone?
“I’ll let you know if I think of anything.” Joel closed the refrigerator door, shoulders slumping. “Everything’s… pretty hectic right now.”
“I can babysit Avery if you need time to take care of things,” I offered.
I already watched her about once a month when Silvia needed a break, and I suddenly worried if I’d get to see her anymore. Silvia had taken me under her wing after Nana had died, but Joel and I had never been close. He probably thought I was a weird new-age hippie. (Which… to be fair, wasn’t wrong.)
“I’ll let you know,” Joel said again. “About the funeral too. I’m still working out the details.”
We stood in silence for a while. Small talk was hard enough without a recent tragedy.
“Can you smoke cleanse the house?”
I jumped, not having heard Avery come into the kitchen. She hovered in the doorway, fiddling nervously with the edge of her Batman T-shirt. Eleven years old, she was short, chubby, and baby-faced. Her strawberry blond hair looked even messier than usual, and I didn’t like the dark circles under her eyes.
“Avery,” Joel said firmly.
“I can talk about that stuff in front of Maggie.” Avery turned her gaze from me to her dad. “She won’t think I’m crazy. Please. Something bad’s inside, and we need to get it out.”
Avery had noticed it too? Did she recognize the meaning of the brimstone smell, or had something else happened? I glanced over my shoulder again, unable to pinpoint why the kitchen felt so sinister. It was all white cabinets and marble countertops, the fridge covered in souvenir magnets from different cities. The smell must have been getting to me. It made the air feel oppressive.
Joel’s jaw tightened, like he had to bite down on his first response. When he spoke, his voice was measured. “Avery, nobody’s in here but us. There are no ghosts. Your grandma’s gone—”
“It’s not Grandma!” Avery looked aghast. “I said something bad. Duh. Aren’t you listening?” She waved her arms wildly. “It’s a poltergeist or a demon or a shadow person or—”
“Avery.” Joel pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes and obviously trying not to snap.
“I don’t mind,” I said quickly. “I’m sure Silvia has— I mean, I’m sure there are herbs in the back that I can burn.”
Joel opened his eyes, but the tightness didn’t leave his features. I didn’t want to know what he thought of me right then, but it made me squirm. Was he going to yell and kick me out of the house? I didn’t mean to make things harder for him, but I couldn’t just leave a malevolent presence there.
“We have to go to the funeral home in twenty minutes,” he said.
“I can be done by then,” I promised.
He gazed at me for a moment longer and then glanced at Avery, who gave him the adorable pleading look that only children and puppies could pull off.
Joel sighed. “Fine. Just keep it quick.”
Avery let out a small “yessss” and dashed back toward the sunroom. I gave Joel one more awkward smile and followed.
The sunroom had been Silvia’s workspace. She took clients there, using herbs and rituals for magical healing. Joel apparently hadn’t been a big fan of the idea, but Silvia had put her foot down.
Potted plants made it feel almost like a greenhouse, and the walls held display shelves of crystals, candles, and framed pressings of dried herbs and flowers. A small altar stood by one of the windows, and cabinets held home-grown herbs and other tools. If anywhere in the house should have felt safe, then that sunny room was it. But the smell of brimstone seemed stronger there, and everything felt ever so slightly wrong, like someone had moved all the furniture two inches to the left.
Trying to ignore the goosebumps rising on my arms, I turned to Avery. “You find the bowl, and I’ll get the herbs?”
She nodded eagerly, and I searched the room. Was this where Silvia had died? I didn’t know the details, only that it had happened at home and they suspected an aneurysm. Joel had been the one to find her, thank goodness—not that I wished that on Joel, but better him than Avery.
I found a few different herbs already bundled into wands, and after a moment of consideration, I selected rosemary. But when I pulled the wand out of the drawer, I knocked a small planner off the top of the cabinet. It hit the floor with a flutter of paper, and I reached down to pick it up. Silvia’s elegant cursive handwriting filled the pages, marking appointments with clients and noting their ailments.
Avery was digging through the drawers, and Joel hadn’t followed us. I heard him moving around in the kitchen. Quickly, I flipped the pages to July, feeling like a shameful snoop. But two days earlier, on the day Silvia had died, there was a note.
Francine Davis (Not real name?) 4:00 PM
A phone number was jotted beneath it, presumably Francine’s (or whatever her name was). And on top of the page, held in place by a paperclip, was a business card.
An exorcist? Had Silvia felt an evil presence in the house before she’d died? It couldn’t have anything to do with her death… No, of course not. Silvia was an experienced, powerful witch. She would have exorcised whatever it was herself. She wouldn’t need to call someone.
“Found it!” Avery lifted a small stone bowl triumphantly.
I put the planner back on the cabinet and took the bowl, wondering if I should ask Avery about the evil presence. Could Joel still hear us? He had refused to let Silvia teach Avery any witchcraft. Would he want me talking to his daughter about the supernatural? I dithered so long that the smile fell from Avery’s face.
Oh, what the heck.
“What makes you think there’s something bad in the house?” I asked.
“I saw it—sort of.” She looked around warily and lowered her voice. “I woke up, and something dark was standing over my bed. It smashed the amulets Grandma made me. Dad thinks I did it, but it wasn’t me—I swear. I hid under the blankets—not because I was scared or anything. I just… I thought it was a dream. When I peeked back out, it was gone.” She glanced down for a second, hair falling forward to hide her face. “You believe me, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.”
She perked right back up. “What do you think it is? A ghost? The Boogeyman? Do you think it’s a zombie? I bet the bad smell is coming from a zombie. Have you ever—”
“Whoa.” I held up my hands in a stopping gesture. “I don’t know what it is. I…” I certainly wouldn’t tell an eleven-year-old that I thought a demon was stalking her. “I think there’s just a lot of negative energy in the house right now.”
“Oh.” Her expression crumpled, and I knew I’d said the wrong thing. A zombie or a ghost was an exciting adventure, one that would have distracted her from Silvia’s death. I should have let her cling to that.
“Open the windows for me while I light this thing?” I asked.
She scampered off, and I tried to center myself before lighting the rosemary. I almost wished I hadn’t asked her about the details. Picturing a shadowy entity looming over Avery’s bed made my skin crawl, and I needed strength and calmness to cleanse the house. The cold lump of fear in my stomach wouldn’t make the spell any more effective.
But knowing what I was dealing with would help me better prepare myself. This was a lot more serious than the usual bad vibes I banished when I smoke cleansed my own home. I’d never dealt with an actual entity before, and I desperately wished I could ask Silvia for advice.
She would know what to do, wouldn’t she? Or had the entity been stronger than her, and that’s why she’d had the business card for a professional exorcist in her planner?
I felt sick to my stomach. If Silvia couldn’t banish it, then what hope did Ihave?
Joel’s voice from the living room jerked me out of my worrying.
“Avery, what—? Don’t open the windows. It’s ninety degrees outside.”
“But Daaaad, they need to be open. Or else how’s the evil spirit supposed to leave the house?”
“It’s a spirit. Can’t it go through walls?”
Avery scoffed. “That’s not how it works.”
“Well, tell it our power bill is high enough without running the air-conditioner into the ground.”
He didn’t stop her though. I heard the rattle of more windows opening as Joel muttered that at least it might help with the smell. I breathed in the brimstone-tainted air and gathered my nerve. I had to do this. Avery was depending on me—Joel too, though he didn’t know it. With Silvia gone, I was the only one who could protect them.
Avery dashed back into the room. “All ready!”
Joel followed at a more sedate pace, stopping in the doorway and crossing his arms as if waiting for a show to start—which was great, really. Just great. It’s not like I wasn’t nervous enough.
I sat in front of the altar and held the rosemary wand over the stone bowl so it would catch the ashes once it lit. Silvia had kept a cheap plastic candle lighter, and I squeezed the trigger with my left hand. With a click, a small orange flame leaped from the end of the barrel. I moved the flame to the tip of the rosemary wand.
Ideally, you let the rosemary burn for about thirty seconds and then blow out the flame. The wand’s tip should form orange embers that make a nice amount of smoke to spread around the house.
But that’s not what happened. No, as soon as the wand caught fire, I felt a chill, and the flame died.
Avery let out a soft gasp, but fear kept me from making a sound.
What was that?
Twenty seconds passed with me frozen before Joel asked, “You okay there?”
“Fine,” I squeaked. It was probably nothing. The lighter was cheap and old, and I was nervous. I squeezed the trigger to try again. It clicked, but nothing happened. I tried again. And again.
Click, click, click went the lighter. But no flame.
“Let me see.” Joel came forward and took the lighter. He fiddled with it for a minute and then shook his head. “It’s busted.”
“Do you have a spare?” I asked, trying to keep the panic from my voice. “Or some matches?”
Avery gave him a beseeching look, her small body tense.
“Let me see,” Joel said, his voice almost a groan.
He trudged down the hallway, and I rocked back and forth nervously. I needed a flame. I needed to smoke cleanse the house right away, or something terrible was going to happen.
Avery twisted the edge of her shirt, and neither of us spoke as we waited. Thank goodness the afternoon sun made the room bright. I’d be out of my mind with fear in the dark. But would daylight protect us? It hadn’t stopped the whatever-it-was from snuffing out the flame.
You don’t know that’s what happened, I told myself. It could just be a bad lighter. Don’t jump to conclusions.
Joel came back holding a small box of matches. “Two left,” he told me, tossing it into my hand.
My eyes squeezed shut. I really didn’t need more pressure. I opened the box, fished out the first match, and froze.
Okay. You can do this, Maggie. It’s just a match. You’re a grown woman, and you can light a match.
I stared at the striker on the edge of the box. Hand trembling, I swiped the match across it.
I almost dropped it in surprise, not having expected it to work the first time. I set down the match box and snatched the rosemary wand, moving it to the match head as fast as I could.
As soon as the flame touched the rosemary, another chill washed over me, and the fire died.
A small cry escaped my mouth. I’d definitely felt something, and it hadn’t been my imagination. A shudder went through my body, my insides cold. This couldn’t be happening. I’d never heard of an entity that actively prevented a smoke cleanse. What the heck was I dealing with?
I fumbled for the second match, my hands shaking so much that I couldn’t get it out of the box. I blinked away tears.
Reader, I can practically feel you heckling me. It just blew out a candle, Maggie. Sheesh. Why are you crying like a baby? Well, if you’ve never had an encounter with the supernatural, then you don’t get to judge, okay?
Joel took pity on me. “You want me to light it for you?”
Sniffing, I held out the box. “Please.”
He pulled out the last match and flicked it effortlessly against the striker. It didn’t light, and the air in my lungs stopped moving. What if it didn’t work? This was our last chance. What would we do?
Joel’s face scrunched up in annoyance, and he struck it again.
I jumped up, thrusting the rosemary toward the flame.
The air blurred between us, and for a split second, I heard something like a cross between a car engine and a growl. Then my forearm erupted in stinging pain.
Joel’s hand jerked like something had smacked it, and he dropped the match with a curse that he probably shouldn’t have said in front of his eleven-year-old daughter. The match fell to the carpet, the flame extinguished.
I gaped at it, feet rooted to the spot like a tree. My arm burned, and I looked down to see two thin red cuts on my inner forearm.
I’d been in haunted buildings before—it was hard not to living in St. Augustine, Florida. The last one was an old house whose owner claimed a spirit was causing trouble. I had gone there to put it to rest, and the scariest thing that had happened was some creaking noises. Well, the second scariest thing. The first was the homemade cake the owner had offered as refreshments, gooey slices with rock-hard raisins and a smell like sour milk.
This… This was beyond me. I didn’t know how to handle it, and to be honest, I was pretty proud of myself for not curling into a ball on the floor and weeping.
Avery moaned and pressed her back against the wall. “Did you see that?”
“See what?” Joel huffed and bent down to pick up the match.
“It knocked the match out of your hand,” she almost shrieked.
“Avery, honey.” He checked that the match had extinguished. “I just dropped it. It was static shock.”
“Then who blew it out when Maggie was lighting it?” she demanded.
Joel ran a hand over his face. “The wind. All the windows are open.”
Avery looked at me for support, her eyes widening as blood welled up from the cuts on my arm. “Oh no! It got you!”
Joel followed her gaze. “Jeez, are you okay?”
He took my arm, turning it over to inspect the cuts. His grip was both firm and gentle at once. “They look pretty shallow. Did one of your bracelets catch you?”
My bracelets? I wore several of them, most made of round crystal beads and a few with silver charms. None of them were sharp, and they were several inches away from the cuts.
Avery shook her head so hard that I was surprised she didn’t make herself dizzy. “No. We made it angry. This is bad.”
“It’s okay.” I found my voice, though it was shaky. “It’s okay. I’ll get another lighter—I’ll light the rosemary outside and bring it in if I have to. Or I can use crystals—”
“Maggie.” Joel held up his hand, silencing me. “That’s enough. We need to get ready to head out.”
“But…” I felt a knot form in my throat. “Um, okay. I can come back later after I get some supplies? Maybe after din—”
“We’re busy,” he said. “Come on. I’ll walk you out.”
I stared at him, and he gazed firmly back. The message was clear: don’t make me kick you out of the house in front of my daughter.
“Okay,” I said again, more softly.
Joel held out his arm toward the hallway, and I gave Avery one last glance.
“See you later,” she murmured, looking at the floor.
I let Joel lead me to the front door, passing through the house in a daze. The open windows had defused the brimstone smell a bit, but it would come back as soon as they closed them. The entity causing it hadn’t gone anywhere.
“I’ll text you the date and time of the funeral when it’s decided,” Joel said, his voice gentle like he was talking to a child who’d just had a meltdown. “Wash those cuts with soap and water when you get home, okay?”
I opened my mouth to insist that he let me back inside. Avery was in danger, and if Silvia were alive, she would know we needed to do something. But I couldn’t get the words out. Joel said goodbye and closed the door.
I stood there on the front step and wondered how on earth I could keep the two of them alive.