Williams snapped a cuff around Mira’s right wrist. “Promise me no one will get hurt.” He looked up and met her gaze.

She stared into those dark eyes. Shadows of doubt danced in their depths, but also a steely resolution that made her breath catch. He believed her. Against all odds, he was going to help her.

She gripped his fingers and squeezed, promising with her eyes and her touch as she whispered, “I promise.”

He squeezed back, then snapped the second cuff in place around her left wrist and tucked something into her jacket pocket. When he straightened he shifted so his body blocked her entirely from the view of the guard by the door. Metal scraped her neck as he slipped something between the control collar and her skin. Whatever it was, it circled half the collar around the back of her neck, further constricting the already tight choker.

“One large jolt, as much power as you can manage, and it’s gonna hurt like hell.” His breath shivered across her skin as he whispered the words in her ear. “Wait till we’re away from the building, and take the evidence with you.” He pulled her to her feet, and again she could feel herself sinking into the depth of his earnest eyes. “Don’t make me regret this.”

She nodded, giddy anticipation tying her tongue. She wouldn’t end up in a PTF cell after all. She was getting out. She was going to be free.


Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.

Williams hauled her out of the cell, one hand wrapped around her upper arm. Her chains jingled and scraped as she shuffled along, but even their weight couldn’t counter the lightness in her step. The guard by the door followed them out, the tranquilizer gun at Mira’s back. 

They stopped in front of the scuffed chrome doors of an elevator. Williams glanced at the nearby stairwell, sighed, and pressed the call button. The door opened with a ding to a wood-paneled interior. The skin around Williams’s eyes and mouth tightened. He stuffed his free hand in his pocket, then hauled Mira inside. The guard stepped in beside them. The doors closed. The grip on Mira’s arm tightened, and Williams’s breath came faster.

The guard cast Williams a concerned look. “You all right?”

“I’m not a fan of small spaces.”

As soon as the elevator doors opened, he tugged Mira into the concrete parking garage.

Orange overhead lights created an artificial twilight in the man-made cavern—an illusion heightened by the chill, damp air. Their footsteps echoed off the close ceiling and thick pillars that supported the station above. Another officer, an older man with graying hair and a paunch that strained his uniform, stood beside Detective LaRosa in front of the open back of a police van. Bench seats lined the sides with an aisle in the middle. The front seats were blocked off by a wall of metal mesh.

LaRosa patted the van. “Last chance. Anything you want to tell me?”

Mira met LaRosa’s gaze. “Nothing you’ll listen to.”

LaRosa pursed her lips and jerked her head toward the windowless interior in silent command. Williams and the holding cell guard supported Mira as she climbed in. The guard sat down across from her, tranquilizer gun pointed at her chest.

Mira smiled at him. “Keep your finger off the trigger, will you? I don’t want to get shot accidentally if we hit a pothole.”

The second uniformed officer climbed in, attached the chain between her ankles to a steel ring in the floor, and sat down beside her. The back doors closed. A lock clicked into place. Muffled conversation drifted into the van, but Mira couldn’t make out the words.

The doors to the front cab opened a moment later. LaRosa climbed into the driver’s seat. Williams settled on the passenger side and strapped on his seat belt. He held another tranquilizer gun, currently pointed at the floor mat between his feet. Guess they’d been arguing about who was the better shot.

LaRosa turned over the engine and shifted the van into gear. The vehicle lurched. Mira bumped shoulders with the officer beside her, but his solid mass absorbed the impact without moving. Maybe he was there for the sole purpose of making sure she didn’t roll around the back seat. The younger cop swayed with the van, the barrel of the tranquilizer gun swinging.

That would be Mira’s opening. She’d wait for the van to make a turn and strike while the Boy Scout was off balance.

“Demon Riding Shotgun”


Where to find it:

SunLit present new excerpts from some of the best Colorado authors that not only spin engaging narratives but also illuminate who we are as a community. Read more.

The van’s shocks squeaked under its passengers’ weight as they crossed a drainage dip at the garage entrance. Weak daylight filtered through the windshield, making Mira blink after the dim lights of the garage. She wasn’t entirely sure what time it was. Her stint in the holding cell had been like a timeless limbo under artificial lights.

LaRosa pulled into traffic.

Mira wasn’t sure which PTF facility they were taking her to, or how long it would take to get there, but she wanted some distance between the van and the police station before she made her move.

A handful of intersections later, LaRosa took a sharp right that pressed Mira’s back against the van wall and made the guy across from her lean into the aisle. The tranquilizer gun was pointed at the floor.

Taking a deep breath, Mira said a prayer and yanked at the ambient energy around her like an imploding star. Electricity surged through her, lighting up her nervous system, and a ribbon of burning agony seared the back of her neck. She tried to gasp, but her lungs froze in place as her muscles seized. The man beside her stiffened, noticing the change in her, but she couldn’t deal with him . . . not while the collar was still active.

She continued to draw power despite the pain. Her limbs shook. Her neck was on fire. The collar was overheating. There was a crackle, like the static pop of a radio, then the electric currents surging through her body cut off. Mira sagged. Her eyelids fluttered open, but she didn’t have the energy to move. Her muscles were toast. Her heart raced like the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings. Sweat cooled against her back, making her shiver.

The man beside her grabbed her arm. The one across from her raised his gun.

She blinked and exhaled. The world was moving in slow motion.

When she breathed in, a familiar presence filled her, following the lines of power she’d opened and hadn’t yet closed. Energy surged through her, breathing new life into her abused muscles and fading thoughts.


Mira choked on a sob as relief washed through her along with the demon’s presence.

Her consciousness drifted into the background as the demon took control, shoving Mira to the side. They weren’t equals right now. Mira was tired, weak, and totally vulnerable.

A new wave of pain enveloped her. Not the electrical jolt of the collar or the burn of Williams’s short-circuit device, but the agony of unraveling as every cell in her body was pulled apart.

Mira knew this sensation, though it had been years since she’d felt it this bad. This was the fate of a possessed body—a mortal being used as a human battery to fuel its demon rider. This was what happened when Mira and her demon were out of balance with the demon in the driver’s seat. This was how she felt right before her world exploded and the people around her turned to ash.

Mira could feel the lines of darkness seeping from her eyes and fingernails, cracking her skin, tracing her veins like rivers of decay spreading through her body. The energy draining from her physical body collected and was released in a single moment, like a pebble dropped in the center of a pond. By the time she refocused on the world outside her body, the two officers in the back with her were on the floor.

Are they . . .?

<Just sleeping.> Mira grabbed the collar around her neck and, with a burst of magically enhanced strength, tore it free. The two halves fell to the floor with a metallic clang.

LaRosa slammed on the brakes. Tires screeched. Horns blared. The smell of seared rubber on asphalt filled the air. Mira’s shoulder, followed quickly by her head, slammed against the mesh grate that separated her from the front. Blood trickled into her eye, warm and sticky, gumming up her lashes.

“Shoot her!” LaRosa screamed the words.

Williams raised the tranquilizer gun, lining the narrow barrel up with a gap in the mesh.

Their gazes locked.

His dark eyes were screaming a message as loud as LaRosa’s command. Take me out.

Mira hesitated. The demon didn’t.

A wave of compressed air rippled out from Mira’s body. The mesh warped, twisting and tearing. Williams slammed against the dashboard. The gun fell, unfired. LaRosa’s forehead connected with the steering wheel. The windshield and side windows blew out.

For a moment, there was no sound in the world. Then Mira’s senses came rushing back. Horns and voices took the place of road noises as traffic stalled in both directions—the vehicles behind the van because there was no safe way around, the cross traffic because people were people and couldn’t resist staring.

Mira wiped blood from her eye.

Williams’s chest rose and fell, as did LaRosa’s.

She knelt and pressed two fingers against the neck of the nearest officer, then the other. Both had steady pulses. She exhaled.

Were you with me the whole time?

<I couldn’t access the anchors within you, but I could follow them from within the Rift. I’ve been watching.>

Good. We need to—She shot out a hand to steady herself against the van wall as her vision swam.

<We’re out of whack. We need energy.>

Mira shook her head. I’m not a vampire. We don’t feed on the innocent.

<We do today.> Energy flowed through the hand still pressed to the young officer’s neck.

No. Mira tried to pull her hand away but failed. I promised no one would get hurt.

<A little late for that.> Mira’s gaze darted toward the front, where LaRosa was draped on the steering wheel and Williams was slumped across the center console.

<Don’t worry. I won’t do any permanent damage.>

The dizziness receded. The cracked skin on her hands sealed, and the dark veins faded. Mira moved to the second officer and repeated the process, drawing energy from him the same way she drew demons from rifters, except in this case she was tapping directly into his life force—the energy that kept his mortal machinery running.

Mira’s stomach churned. This wasn’t the first time she’d had to resort to feeding from mortals. . . . Her mind flashed to an old woman in an alley back in Detroit—or maybe she’d just seemed old to Mira’s child eyes with her hunched back, matted hair, and layers of tattered clothing. They’d both hunkered among trash bins in an effort to hide from the bitter cold of the wind and the freezing temperatures of the winter night. Mira had been exhausted, starving, and scared. She didn’t have the magic or the mass to stay warm.

When the morning sun crept down the opening of that alley the next day, Mira walked out. The woman was found much later—a vagrant who’d frozen to death on the winter streets. But Mira knew it wasn’t the cold that had killed her. She’d sworn then and there, never again.

<That was a foolish promise born of guilt and regret, and I never agreed to any such limitation. My priority was, and is, to keep you alive.>

She lifted her hand off the second man’s neck. He was pale, and sweat slicked his skin.

<A few days of flu-like symptoms. Nothing they can’t survive.>

She glanced toward the front.

We have enough. Let’s get out of here.


Mira rose and teetered unsteadily for a moment. She was healed enough to function, and to pass for human, but their internal balance was still off. She could feel the push and pull of power inside her as her own energy and that of the demon struggled for dominance in their shared body.

If her demon had been like the others of its kind, Mira wouldn’t have been able to maintain even a fraction of control in her present condition. She would have been a walking meat puppet like the rifters she put down. Even with the demon doing its level best not to overwhelm Mira, they’d have to take some time to reset their anchors and find their equilibrium, or they were going to self-destruct like every other rifter she’d come across.

L.R. Braden is the bestselling author of the Magicsmith urban fantasy series, the spin-off novel “Demon Riding Shotgun” and several works of short fiction. She was a finalist for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2021 Writer of the Year award. She and her family live in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. Connect with her online at https://www.lrbraden.com.