Demon Riding Shotgun

Demon Riding Shotgun

L. R. Braden

November 2021 $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-61026-168-5

Our PriceUS$17.95
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Possessed by a demon since she was eleven years old, Mira Fuentes maintains a fragile alliance with the snarky soul who shares her body. Together they hunt down unstable Rifters—demon-controlled humans bent on causing chaos in the mortal realm. But when a routine hunt leads to a powerful Rifter with plans for Baltimore, Mira quickly finds herself in over her head and at the top of the city's Most Wanted.

Recently retired from the PTF after losing his partner, Ty Williams now works for the Baltimore PD and keeps his distance from cases involving magic. But when a person dies of clearly magical causes and the PTF doesn’t have any agents to spare, Ty is the closest thing the department has to an expert. Saddled with a new partner he doesn’t want and a mountain of self-doubt, it's his job to track down a suspect who looks suspiciously like the one-night-stand he brought home from the bar last night.

Mira will have to set her trust issues aside and enlist the help of a man determined to uncover her secrets if she hopes to learn the identity of the demon's host and prevent the human race from becoming meat puppets for the denizens of the Rift.

About the Author: L.R. Braden is the bestselling and award winning author of the Magicsmith urban fantasy series. Her work has won the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Sci-fi/Fantasy, the New Horizon Award for debut authors, and the Imadjinn Award for Best Urban Fantasy. She lives in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies with her wonderful husband and precocious daughter. To connect online, visit her website and Facebook page.

On DEMON RIDING SHOTGUN: "Braden delivers an expertly paced plot brimming with magic, gale-force fight scenes, and delicious romance. This character will get under the reader’s skin, muscle, and bone.”

—Hunter J. Skye, Author of the award-winning Hell Gate Series

On OF METTLE AND MAGIC: "This series has been building and building, and the crescendo was absolutely fabulous.”


On COURTING DARKNESS: "This book was a fantastic second install­ment to the Magicsmith series.... Truly brilliant writing!”

—Richelle Rodarte, NetGalley Reviewer

On FAERIE FORGED: ". . . Well-written, engaging, and entertaining. The plot was engrossing, fascinating, and action-filled.”

—Pam Guynn, NetGalley Reviewer


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Chapter 1


MIRA SHIFTED to keep her legs from going numb and scratched the head of a white cat who’d come to investigate her hiding spot in the bushes at the edge of the construction site. There was a chunk missing from the cat’s ear, and one of its front paws was black up to the elbow, as though it had stepped in ink.

<The night’s half over. Are you sure this is the right target?> The tin­ny voice filled Mira’s head like an off-key echo of her own.

"It’s hit two soup kitchens, a homeless shelter, and a women’s rescue.” Mira’s words drifted into the cold night on a cloud of condensed breath. "This is the next closest place that fits the bill.”

Mira rubbed her eyes, blinked, and shifted her tired focus back to the area in front of the homeless shelter—although homeless resort might have been a better description. Cafeteria, business center, gym... she’d never seen a shelter with so many luxuries. Certainly not in any of the places she’d slept.

<It could’ve hit that soup kitchen over on Oliver. That was about the same distance from the last attack.>

"And hosted in a church. Most demons avoid those like the plague.”

The voice made a soft chuffing sound. <Most demons are idiots. Holy ground is no different than anywhere else on the corporeal plane, and priests are just men with titles.>

The cat suddenly went stiff under Mira’s hand. It crouched until its belly brushed bare dirt, looked at the area framed by the shelter and the pink insulation board walls of the unfinished building next door, and hissed.

The crescent moon cast only a weak silver light, but Mira had no difficulty spotting the man shuffling along the road toward the shelter with a heavy, uneven gait. He passed beneath the glow of a streetlamp. Mira smiled. Unlike other paranaturals, demons dwelled in the Rift—the chaotic energy that connected all the Realms. They couldn’t manifest without a physical body to anchor them. That’s where rifters—demon-possessed humans—came in. But such unions usually took quite a toll on the host, and the marks weren’t easy to hide.

<Sunglasses at night? Could he be any more obvious?>

He could not wear the glasses. Mira responded in the privacy of her thoughts to keep her voice from carrying.

<Well, yeah. I guess there’s that.>

The presence inside Mira coiled with anticipation as the rifter moved closer to their ambush point.

Mira shifted her weight to the balls of her feet and checked to make sure none of her muscles had stiffened during her long wait crouched in the shadows. Damp dirt clung to her dark jeans.

She gave the cat one last pat on the head and whispered, "You wait here. This could get messy.”

<Pfft. He doesn’t look like much. That body’s nearly done for.>

Don’t let your guard down.

The man continued his single-minded march toward the shelter.

Mira took a deep breath. The moment she started drawing energy for her magic, the demon riding that body would know.

The man stepped into the road, preparing to cross. Then he paused. His gaze swept away from the homeless shelter toward her hiding spot.

She tensed.


The rifter’s gaze continued past Mira’s patch of shadows to the building on her other side. When he started walking again, his destina­tion had changed.

Grinding her teeth, Mira crept along the wall of the shelter until she could see the front of the unfinished building. A man in faded jeans, a blue plaid shirt, and a bright-orange vest stood in the wood-framed hole destined to become the building’s front door. Silvery gray hair ringed the bottom of a hard hat that matched the orange vest. A Santa-worthy beard covered the bottom half of his face.

"Ay, coño,” Mira hissed. The whole point of this ambush was to avoid cas­ualties.

<Wrong place, wrong time. Sucks to be him, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.>

The construction worker turned and vanished through the doorway.

Mira frowned. What’s he even doing here so late?

<Other than totally screwing up our plan?>

The rifter followed his new target into the building.

Mira darted across the open space between the buildings and crouched under a glassless window opening. Voices drifted out.

". . . area is claimed. You’re drawing too much attention.”

"There’s plenty to go around.”

They’re... talking?

Mira rolled her eyes. Or rather, the demon riding shotgun in her soul did.

<We can speak, you know. Well... most of us.>

Since when do rifters stop to chat with their victims? Besides, it seems like that old guy is leading the conversation.Mira peeked over the lip of the wooden frame. The construction worker had his arms crossed over his Day-Glo vest. His face was twisted into an unhappy scowl that created deep creases in the skin around his eyes, but his flesh seemed intact—no signs of puppet strain, as Mira called the marks usually created by demon possession. Could he be a rifter, too?

<If he is, he’s hiding deep.>

Or balanced.

<Don’t get your hopes up. What we have is not normal.>

But not impossible. She bit her lip.[DD1] If there’s another pairing like ours...

"This is your only warning.” The construction worker uncrossed his arms and widened his stance, planting his feet. "We won’t let you upset our plans. Find somewhere else to gorge and die.”

This guy definitely knows what he’s facing. And did he say "we”?

The rifter sneered, his upper lip rising just enough to reveal grayish teeth and black gums. "Make me.”

The rifter Mira had come to kill launched forward, striking the construction worker in the chest. The second man took the impact, lean­ing forward slightly to keep his feet as they slid a few inches across saw­dust-covered plywood.

<Definitely not human.>

Whatever he is, I want to talk to him. Mira vaulted the window frame, calling her magic. She landed in a crouch, one knee touching down in sawdust. Both men turned to look at her. Energy swirled through her, pulled from the air and focused, with the help of her hitchhiker, into a glowing ball on her palm. Tendrils of blue static cracked around a white center. The presence that was always with her but not quite a part of her swelled.

Picturing the result she wanted, Mira flicked her wrist and exerted her will. An arc of pale lightning connected her to the rifter she’d tracked, resting for a moment against his chest before he was blown off his feet. Two-by-fours splintered as he made a new opening in the skeletal frame of an interior wall.

Mira didn’t rise from her crouch but pivoted to face the second man. Maybe another rifter. Maybe a practitioner. Maybe someone like her.... "Who are you?”

The man’s gaze shifted between Mira and the broken wall. He pursed his lips. Then he stepped through the doorway behind him that led deeper into the building.

The downed rifter sat up amid snapped beams and a cloud of dust.

She’d come to end him—she needed to end him—but what she’d overheard from the mysterious construction worker had raised more than a few questions, and Mira wanted answers.

Racing past the stunned rifter, she darted after the second man.

He was on the far side of the room, passing into the next.

Mira charged up another bolt of energy as she ran—strong enough to knock him down but not enough to permanently injure him if he turned out to be mortal.

"Wait,” she shouted. "I want to talk to you.”

She launched herself through the next doorway, hand raised to throw her charged bolt.

The construction worker was only halfway across the room this time, facing her. His gaze met hers The metallic bronze of his eyes sent a shiver down her spine. A dark shape clung to the man’s body, draping him like a liquid shadow.

Before she could release her energy, an invisible wall slammed into her, throwing her back through the opening. She connected with some­thing that offered a moment of resistance, then hit the ground in a tangle of limbs as she and the recovered rifter rolled together across the floor.

She tried to break away, but the rifter pulled her down. His glasses had come off during their tumble. Jagged fissures radiated from his eyes, cracking his skin like dirt in a desert, and in the depths of those wounds flowed lines of radiant darkness like the cooling trails of a lava flow. The hands that clutched at her bore a similar texture—skin flaking around the fingernails, inky veins snaking just beneath the surface.

Mira elbowed the rifter in the teeth, knocking him back hard enough to crack his head against the floor. She twisted to follow up with a cross jab, but the rifter’s foot found her gut with a painful shove.

Mira grunted as she rolled backward, but the shot had given her enough distance to glance into the other room.

The construction worker was gone.

Mira clenched her fists. She wanted to go after him, but he had magic and a head start. Her chances of catching up to him at this point were next to nothing, and she still had her original target to deal with. If she didn’t finish this rifter, more people would die before she tracked him down again. She didn’t need any more deaths on her conscience.

Growling like an angry bear, Mira opened herself fully to the flow of energy around her. A pale glow coated her skin, encasing her like a suit of ethereal armor. The constant presence in her mind swelled along with the energy, growing stronger, more dominant. A gnawing hunger filled her.

I want to question him, she warned.

<Then let’s get him in a talking mood.>

Power surged through Mira’s body as she closed on the rifter. The first punch she landed cracked his jaw.

The rifter’s response was a roundhouse aimed at the side of her head.

She managed to block, but the impact sent knives of pain through her arm. She wasn’t the only one with a demon amplifying her strength.

The rifter’s tongue slithered along his upper lip, licking at the new split Mira had put in his skin. "I’m gonna eat you up.”

Mira had seen the crime-scene photos of this freak’s handiwork. He liked tearing people apart, but those victims had been human. Mira hadn’t been human for a very long time. She planted her feet and waited for him to come at her.

She didn’t have to wait long.

He snatched at the collar of her black leather jacket. She knocked his hand aside and snapped a quick jab at his nose. The two exchanged a flurry of blows, neither doing significant damage. Mira took an elbow in the face and a knee to her ribs. She returned an uppercut to the gut that lifted the rifter’s feet off the floor. As they fought, the dark film clinging to the rifter grew thicker, more opaque, just as the swirling energy around Mira grew stronger.

Mira grabbed for the rifter’s throat but was knocked aside. The rifter snatched at her wrist. Mira twisted free.

<Enough of this,> the demon snarled.

Heat poured into Mira’s fists. Tendrils of flame licked over her fingers.

Are you crazy? Panic flared through Mira, along with the memory of her mother’s eyes, wide and accusing. She flapped her hands until the flames vanished. You’ll burn this whole building down.

The rifter’s fist connected with Mira’s cheek while her guard was down, and she stumbled back into the metal frame of a scaffold. A hammer clattered to the plywood floor. There was a familiar hiss. The white cat who’d found her in the bushes earlier was crouched beneath the scaffolding, hair raised like the bristles of a toilet brush.

The rifter grabbed one side of the scaffold. His arms strained. The frame tipped. The materials on top shifted and started to slide.

Mira tensed, preparing to jump clear of the collapse, but the cat was still crouched, eyes wide, fur up, claws dug into the plywood subfloor at the base of the scaffold.

With a noise somewhere between a grunt and a curse, Mira changed directions.

She dropped over the cat like a net and stiffened the energy above her into a hardened dome.

The poles of the scaffold bucked and bent. Boards snapped. Sheets of drywall waiting to be hung crushed and crumbled around her. Beneath her, the cat clawed and slashed in a panic to get away, but Mira held on tight, wincing as burning cuts opened on her face and arms. Protecting the fierce little maniac was like hugging a blender.

As soon as the scaffold and its contents settled, Mira sat up with a gasp, shaking debris off her back. Freed, the cat sprang to the nearest windowsill and vanished.

Mira pushed to her feet.

"Ungrateful little—” The splintered end of a two-by-four slammed into her upper arm, smashing her into the wall. She bounced with the impact, cratering a piece of freshly mounted drywall. The two-by-four swung back for a second strike, but this time she got her arm up to block.

She took the impact and grabbed the board with her left hand, holding it in place. With her right hand, she created a gravity sink that brought a section of ceiling down on the rifter’s head. Beams split. Planks splintered. Drywall dust sifted down like powdered sugar, turning the room into a snow globe of suffocating particles.

<I thought we were trying notto bring the building down.> The demon’s voice rolled through her with a chuckle.

Ignoring the gibe, Mira stepped toward the rifter. His lower half was trapped beneath the collapsed ceiling.

He twisted and pushed, but Mira had her fingers around his throat before he could wiggle free.

"Who was that man you were talking to?”

[DD1]The italicization pulled everything onto one line instead of two.

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