Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Snippet from Silence Fallen (Mercy Thompson #10) by Patricia Briggs


In this chapter, Mercy is escaping from her captors, who have left a werewolf named Lenka to guard her. Lenka lost her sanity years ago, and will kill Mercy if she can.


    “You might as well come out,” I said to Lenka the werewolf. That way I’d know where she was, and I could head for the garden wall in a direction that gave me a head start. “I know you’re there.”
She’d meant for me to scent her. She wanted me afraid. A low growl filled the air soft enough not to be heard in the house. I think it was supposed to be scary, too—which it was, but not because I was afraid of the sound of her voice.
I remembered her crazy eyes and was scared. Fear was good. Fear would make my feet faster.
“I live with werewolves,” I reminded her. “Hiding doesn’t make you more frightening.”
The wolf who rounded the corner of the walled side of the roofed area was too thin, and her fur coat was patchy. But her movement was easy, and the fangs she showed me as she snarled were plenty long.
I’d grown up hearing the old wolves talk about how much more satisfying it was to eat something while its heart pumped frantically from terror. Some of the old wolves who came to live out their last years in the Marrok’s pack were not kind.
“Hi, there,” I told her casually—and then I bolted for the wall surrounding the yard.
I smell mostly human to a werewolf’s nose, especially if I haven’t recently been running around on coyote feet. Human is a smell with enough variability that unless they know what I am, werewolves mostly chalk up the bit of odd in my smell to that. Vampires, I don’t know as well.
I was betting that the vampires here didn’t know what I was. That they thought I was human. I’d very carefully left it out of the mini biography I’d given Bonarata, and it wasn’t widely known. My best-case scenario was that she would think I was a human woman trying to run for her life, penned inside the yard because, outside of a few martial artists and acrobats, the walls were enough to keep most people in.
I don’t get super strength or scary points. But speed is my friend, and I caught her flat-footed because she thought one thing was happening when it was really something else. She thought I was running from her—and I was just trying to get up some speed.
I ran for the wall. I don’t know what she thought I was doing, but she chased me hard for most of the distance. But as I approached the giant stone wall that surrounded the grounds, she slowed, anticipating that I would be stopped by it.
A few months ago, a bunch of the pack had been at Warren’s house watching a Jackie Chan movie, I don’t remember which one because we were having a marathon, and Jackie just ran up a wall like magic. Warren had a wall around his backyard. Someone stopped the movie, and we’d all gone out and tried it. A lot.
The werewolves had gotten moderately proficient, but my light weight and speed had made me the grand champion. The trick is to find a corner and have enough speed to make it to the top.
Instead of stopping at the wall, I Jackie-Channed it up the stone surfaces and leaped over. I caught the werewolf totally by surprise.
I don’t expect Bonarata and she watched old martial arts movies together. It didn’t seem like that kind of relationship.
Her pause meant that the wolf, who could have caught me because as agile as I’d learned to be imitating Jackie Chan, going up was still slower than going forward, had missed her chance. I didn’t intend to give her another.
I changed to coyote as I came off the top of the wall. I’m not a were-anything. It takes them time to change from human to wolf. I could do it—well, in this case I could do it in the time it took me to drop off the wall.
I landed on four feet, running as fast as I could down a narrow road that was walled on both sides. I had no idea where I was, but out was a good direction, and I didn’t hesitate as I headed one way. Nor did I slow or look behind me.
I didn’t need to. My ears told me when she landed on the outside of the wall. I could hear her running behind me, her claws giving her better purchase on the ground than mine did. Werewolves had huge freaking claws, and she was using them to give herself traction like the big cats do.
Experience had taught me that I was faster than most were- wolves. Most, but not all. It was my bad luck that she wasn’t one of the slower ones. She was closing in on me by inches.
I watched for a cross street, a change of some sort that would allow me to use my small size to my advantage, but there were only stone walls and stucco walls and cement walls and tall, solid gates. So I ran as fast as I could and hoped that I had more endurance, that her sprint would slow faster than mine.
I don’t know how long we ran through the night streets. On a moon hunt, the pack would run for four or five hours at a time, for the sheer joy of it—so, outside of a few lingering aches from the wreck, I was in good shape. Better than she was, half-starved as she appeared.
Certainly in better shape than I would have been after being Bonarata’s guest for weeks. I’d have to thank Charles if I made it out of this alive.
Eventually, condition counted. I started to pull away from her, very, very slowly. About that time, the walls on either side of the road fell away, and I found myself running along a country lane with vineyards rising on gentle hills on both sides. There were still fences, but that was okay, I could deal with fences—vineyards were a godsend. There are vineyards all over the Tri-Cities. I know about vineyards and werewolves and coyotes.
I slipped through the bars of the ornate steel gate and ran along the length of the first row of grapes. I think she knew what I was planning—maybe she’d hunted smaller prey in this very vineyard before—because she sped up and closed the distance I’d opened between us. But, once again, she was too late.
I would have hated to face her if she’d been in top condition, if she hadn’t been ­half-crazy. But if she hadn’t been Bonarata’s pet . . . mistress . . . something, she wouldn’t be trying to kill me. Grapes are grown in rows. The path between rows is kept clear, and it is easy to run through the vineyard from that direction. But the grapevines are trained to spread tidily on a wire or rope fence, so running through the vines themselves is difficult—unless you are a coyote. The fence the vines are grown along leaves plenty of space for a coyote to slip through between strands. I turned into the vineyard.
After the second row, I got a feeling for the spacing and didn’t have to slow or shorten my stride as I ran through the gracefully draped vines.
The werewolf was a lot bigger than I was. She had to jump every row. It wasn’t the additional effort that won the race for ­me—it was just that every time she jumped was that much time she wasn’t propelling herself forward. It slowed her down, and it required more energy.
She was moving roughly ten times as much mass as I was, which hopefully would tire her out faster though that didn’t seem to be happening with any appreciable speed, even given her poor condition. I kept waiting for her to break down the row and run on the road beside the vineyard instead, where her speed would be less hampered than mine was. But she just kept following me as if she was incapable of more tactical thinking.
By the time I reached a road again, ducking beneath the tall hedge-and-fence that the werewolf would have to vault over, I’d gained nearly forty yards. This road traveled straight uphill for about a half mile, then, from the sign beside the road, intersected with another road.
The last steep bit I managed by ignoring my tiredness and occupying myself with the very important decision of whether to continue straight or turn left or right. My life hung in the balance, but I had nothing to draw upon to make the decision an informed one. The high hedge lined both sides of the road I was traveling on, and I could not even see the new road.
I hesitated a moment . . . one second and two, right at the intersection. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the satisfaction in her eyes. My indecision had given her the hunt. She was still stronger than I was, and the long uphill stretch had eaten most of the lead that the vineyard had given me.
She was so busy seeing me as her prize, she didn’t pay attention to anything else. So when I bolted across the intersection, she did, too—and the bus that I’d waited for hit her and rolled over the top of her with both sets of wheels.



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Thursday, 15 December 2016

Snippets from Hidden Legacy Novel by Ilona Andrews


Flander’s Steakhouse sat at the top of a twenty-story building on Louisiana Street, just south-west of the Theater District, and it took full advantage of the view.  Floor-to-ceiling windows presented the spectacular expanse of the night sky, below which Houston spread, glowing with warm yellow and orange against the darkness.  Freeways curved among the towers, channeling the current of cars seemingly through mid-air.  The floor, ceiling, and walls offered soothing browns, and the delicate chandeliers, wrought iron supporting upturned triangles of pale glass, softened the décor even further.  I’d gone out on a few business dinners, and most Houston steakhouses catered to male executives with business accounts.  They ran either straight into rustic Texas, with longhorn skulls and pelts on the walls, or they resembled gentlemen clubs, where one had to be a card-carrying member.  This was nice.





“Wine?” Rogan asked me. Why not. “Yes.” “What do you like?” I liked Asti Spumante. It was sweet and bubbly and it cost $5 per bottle.





Zeus stood six inches from me.  His massive head was level with my chest.  Turquoise eyes regarded me with mild curiosity.  He took up the entire width of the hallway.  An enormous tiger-hound from another world with teeth the size of steak knives and a fringe of tentacles at his neck.
It occurred to me that I was covered in dried blood.
I held very still. I could jump back and slam the door shut behind me, but it would cost me a second to open it.  A second would be more than enough for Zeus.
“He’s friendly,” Cornelius called out from the conference room.  “He just wants to say hello.”
“Cornelius…”
“Just treat him as a poodle.”
What was wrong with my life and how did I get to this place?




 

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The first chapter from Phantom Kiss (Chicagoland Vampires #12.5) by Chloe Neill


January 17, 2017
Merit, Ethan, and the rest of Cadogan House crew discover that not all undead creatures are kindred spirits…

Vampires generally aren’t afraid of things that go bump in the night, but Merit and Ethan are extra jumpy after a recent attack by a dark sorcerer. So when they learn that someone is messing with graves in Chicago’s cemeteries, stealing skulls and snatching souls, they fear their powerful foe might be back for even more magical vengeance.

But after a specter begins haunting Cadogan House—and targeting vampires— they realize they’re being taunted by an altogether different sort of monster. A ghoulish villain straight out of the Windy City’s urban legends is on the prowl— and he won’t stop until he’s killed again…

Chapter One

“There is no torture so sweet, no punishment so sublime, as the couple’s wedding shower.”
The tortured vampire, who was tall and chiseled enough to make Apollo weep with jealousy, stood beside me at the threshold of a mansion in Oak Park, Illinois.
The house belonged to my parents. In two months, the vampire would belong to me.
He wore a perfectly fitted dark suit, a crisp white shirt beneath. The top button was undone to reveal the silver drop that rested in the hollow of his throat. His hair was golden and fell to his shoulders, his eyes the green of flawless emeralds.
“You rule a House of vampires,” I reminded Ethan. “You’ve fought monsters, sorcerers, evil politicians. You can handle presents and party games for a couple of hours.”
The look of horror that widened his eyes was priceless. Not that I was thrilled about entering my parents’ house. No matter the occasion, being here felt like being corseted into a body that wasn’t quite my own. On the upside, at least I wasn’t going to be tortured alone. Ethan was my partner in crime.
His gaze narrowed. “You didn’t mention party games.”
“It was understood,” I said. “That’s the nature of a wedding shower. Just be glad it’s the only one you have to attend.”
We’d have a short engagement—only four months from the first ring to the second—and we were now only two months away from the ceremony. Since Ethan insisted on a dazzling wedding that would show off his bride-to-be—and who was I to argue with that?—the brief engagement meant a lot of planning and lead-in activities were compressed into a short time. That was one reason we’d opted for a single couple’s shower instead of the varied bridal variety.
Ethan arched a golden eyebrow, skimmed his hot gaze over the dark, swingy dress I’d paired with low black boots, the pearls at my neck, the dark hair I’d left loose around my shoulders. “You’ll owe me, Sentinel.” He leaned forward, lips at my ear. “And I mean to collect.”
Just as he’d intended, my blood went hot. “You’ll have plenty of time to collect after the party.” I swept past him, opened the door, and grinned back. “We are immortal, after all.”
My parents’ modernist home, a weird cube of concrete among Frank Lloyd Wright look-alikes, had been outfitted with white and silver streamers and paper lanterns that were unusually usual for a wedding shower. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
My mother, Meredith Merit, and my sister, Charlotte Corkburger, had organized the party. I’d given them a list of my friends, and they’d handpicked the rest of the invitees based on some complicated calculus they hadn’t fully explained to me but which had required a whiteboard, markers, and enough symbols to populate a spell book.
“Happy shower!” My mother walked toward us, two tall champagne flutes in hand. Charlotte stood in front of a long table covered with silver dishes and tiered trays of food. We both had our father’s dark hair, although hers were green to my blue. She glanced back and waved, and I did the same.
“Thank you, Mom,” I said, and took the flute, noted the crimson liquid it held did not look like champagne.
“Blood4You cocktail!” my mother said brightly.
Ethan took a sip and nodded, as if pleasantly surprised by the taste. “Very nice,” he said. “And the house looks lovely.” He flashed the Masterly smile that made all manner of human and supernatural folk weak in the knees.
“We had so much fun working with the party planner,” my mother said, hand on her chest.
“Planning a good event is a very satisfying process,” Ethan said, then slid me a glance. “In fact, I requested one of our vampires act as a social coordinator for the House.”
“It wasn’t a request,” I murmured. “It was a punishment.”
“Was it?” His expression was all innocence. “I must remember it differently.”
I just shook my head.
“Well, in any event, you’ll have fun tonight.”
That remained to be seen, but I’d give it my best shot. I looked around, scanning the faces I knew,and didn’t see my brother, Robert, or my father. “Robert and Dad aren’t here?”
My mother tried to hide her sudden wince, but not successfully. She traded it for a light smile that wasn’t any more convincing, and gestured offhandedly. “They’re at a real estate closing in New York. You know how they are.”
Maybe there’d been a closing. Or maybe my father was still my father, and my brother was still my brother. The former didn’t know how to deal with me. The latter was still angry because he believed I’d ruined the possibility of Merit Properties’ future business with Sorcha and Adrien Reed. Sorcha was a sorceress whose plan to control supernaturals we’d recently thwarted; Adrien was her entrepreneurial husband, dead by her own hand. Their own actions had led to their downfall—magically and economically. But since I was a supernatural, Robert blamed me.
“They are who they are,” I said, and tried a smile that wasn’t any better than hers. But I fixed it into place, because this night was about Ethan and love and celebration. It wasn’t about my brother’s petty and misguided tantrum.
When Ethan picked that moment to put a hand at my back, to remind me that he was beside me whatever other drama came our way, I felt better. We were who we were.
My mother slipped an arm into Ethan’s. “I have so many people to introduce you to! They’re dying to meet you, if you’ll excuse the pun.”
“It’s one of my favorite puns,” Ethan said with a smile. “I look forward to meeting more of Merit’s family. They always have such interesting stories to tell.”
I could feel the blood drain from my face. Maybe the couple’s shower hadn’t been such a good idea after all. “Let’s stick to recent history, please.” But Ethan just smiled.
“I know all the recent history,” he said. “It’s the rest I’m interested in.”
“We’ll be back!” my mother said lightly, then whisked him into the arms of her chattering friends.
I wasn’t alone for long.
“Merit!”
I looked back, found my blue-haired best friend—classically pretty, pale, and petite—moving through the crowd. Mallory Bell was escorted by her husband, Catcher. He was taller and buff, with pale skin and close-cropped hair that set off intense green eyes.
“Happy wedding shower,” she said, squeezing me in a hug. “The place looks great—for a concrete box.”
“That sums it up pretty well,” I said.
She snagged a flute of pretty pink juice from a waiter with a silver tray. “These are mango and dragon fruit. You should try one.”
I held up my blood cocktail, grinned at her. “I’ll try yours if you try mine.”
“Been there, done that.”
I tilted my head at her. “You have?”
She lifted a shoulder. “You had those bottles of Blood4You at the house.”
I’d shared Mallory’s Wicker Park home before moving into Cadogan House. I’d left partly because of my obligations as Sentinel and partly to avoid her and Catcher’s any-room-goes style of lovemaking. I’d vastly exceeded my personal quota of naked sorcerer sightings.
“I had a sip one night.” She wrinkled her nose. “It was not delightful.”
I was a vampire and I wouldn’t even call blood delightful. But as much as Blood4You’s marketing team tried to pretend otherwise, it wasn’t about the taste. It was about the need, the comfort, the satisfaction. However unsavory the practice might have been to humans, blood filled a vampire’s belly like nothing else did.
“To each her own,” Catcher said, glancing around. “Where’s your fiancé?”
I gestured across the room to where he chatted with my grandfather, Chicago’s supernatural Ombudsman and Catcher’s employer.
The Ombudsman looked decidedly lived-in, with a slender ring of silver hair, a plaid shirt and trousers, and comfortable shoes. I loved my grandfather for many reasons, not the least of which was because the cop-turned-supernatural-investigator looked perfectly at home in his own skin.
My mother stood with them, a contrast in her sheath dress and Chanel pumps, diamonds glittering in her ears.
“Ethan cuts a fine form in those black suits of his,” Mallory said with a wink, earning a slightly narrowed stare from her husband. “But you’re the only control freak for me,” she said, putting a hand on his chest.
To each her own in love, too.
# # #
We chatted with relatives I hadn’t seen in years—and some I was pretty sure I’d never seen. There were pictures and canapés and handshakes with cousins thrice removed. But there were no party games, thank God. My mother and Charlotte had evidently given up trying to think a game that would have been appropriate for humans and a four-centuries-old vampire.
Ethan and I had made the rounds, talking with Mallory and Catcher, with Margot, the House’s vampiric chef (and our wedding caterer), with Lindsey, my closest vampire friend and a House guard, and with Luc, the House’s guard captain and Lindsey’s beau.
Malik, Ethan’s second-in-command, had volunteered to stay at Cadogan and keep things running while we were gone. We had promised to bring him a slice of cake but weren’t entirely sure if the “cake” my mother had ordered would count. It was less pastry than edible sculpture—a tall and wriggling three- dimensional heart made of a dozen layers of beet-stained gelatin. My mother loved edgy, modern cuisine as much as she loved edgy, modern architecture.
We’ll go by Portillo’s on the way home, Ethan said as we looked it over. That should satisfy Malik.
I wasn’t about to argue with that. Portillo’s had the best cake shakes in Chicago.
We’d requested no gifts and had offered suggestions for charitable donations for the guests who were
determined to give something. But we still received beautifully wrapped presents, including two fancy toasters, a set of expensive towels, and a dozen crystal champagne flutes. Very generous of the thrice- removed cousins, if unnecessary.
I’m certain there are several shelters in town that would be thrilled to have these, Ethan said when I opened Toaster Number Three.
Excellent plan, I said, and I smiled at the small, wizened woman who’d given it to us. She was a great-aunt on my father’s side—my paternal grandmother’s sister—and looked to be nearly immortal herself. “Thank you, Aunt Sarah. What a thoughtful gift,” I said as my mother added the toaster to the growing pile.
When the last gift was distributed and we’d thanked two dozen people for their generosity, Great- Aunt Sarah came forward again.
“There are lazy, no-good vampires living down the street from me,” she pronounced.
We stared at her.
My mother, smile firmly in place, took Sarah’s elbow. “Sarah, I’m certain that’s not an appropriate thing to say at a party.”
Or anywhere else, I silently added. But Sarah intended to have her say.
“Up at all hours of the night, sleeping all day. Taking advantage of the system is what that is. Probably taking plenty of government handouts.”
Since Sarah lived on her late husband’s earnings and hadn’t worked a day in her life, I didn’t think she was in much of a position to judge our work ethic.
“Sarah,” my mother said again, more firmly this time, and tried to tug the woman away. “You’re being a bit rude.”
More than a bit, I thought, and slid my gaze to Ethan, watched him work to bite back the bitter words he undoubtedly wanted to say to this ignorant woman. He’d hold his tongue out of consideration for me, for the circumstances. Fortunately, I didn’t feel the same restriction.
“I’m not sure why you’re here,” I said when Sarah refused to move, her chin lifted in defiance. “You clearly don’t respect us, yet you’ve accepted my mother’s invitation and her hospitality. You’ve come into her house with prejudice and hatred, and you’ve spilled your vitriol in her home. That’s fantastically rude.”
Sarah’s mouth opened, forming a perfect O of shock in the silence that followed my statement. She probably wasn’t used to being challenged. Too bad for her, because I wasn’t done.
“As is common knowledge, which you’re apparently choosing to ignore, vampires are allergic to sunlight. They are nocturnal, and their existence isn’t limited to what you do or don’t see of them. To answer the second accusation, vampires aren’t entitled to government assistance because we aren’t human. So it’s literally impossible that your neighbors are receiving ‘handouts.’”
Splotches of color rose on Sarah’s cheeks. She opened her mouth to respond, but I held up a finger. “You’ve said your piece; I’ll say mine. If you want to be prejudiced and hateful, you might as well own it. Don’t make excuses based on incorrect information.”
“Well,” my mother said a moment later, the word echoing across the quiet room, and looked at Sarah. “I believe it’s time for you to go.” Skilled as an entertainer of guests, my mother sounded perfectly pleasant.
“I am here, and I have been generous, and I am appalled by this treatment. Joshua will hear about what’s gone on here today.”
“He’ll certainly hear about it from me,” my mother said.
Sarah shuffled through the crowd, disappearing toward the front of the house.
There were undoubtedly guests who agreed with me, but they hadn’t spoken up. To my mind, that was as good as condoning her behavior. While it was unlikely she’d change her opinion, I’d still fight the good fight.
Sometimes, that was the best thing—and the only thing—you could do.



 
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