UNEDITED – AND COVER REVEAL! (Already appeared on the Facebook page – follow to get them first!)
Restaurant in Old Manhattan
Valerie breathed deep to take in the scent of lilacs and spring drifting over from the indoor waterfall, and she wondered if such a place as this had ever really existed in the outside world. Too much of the world was barren, too much of her life full of darkness and misery.
Sitting here, feeling the high life some had at their fingertips, while others struggled to avoid starvation or to get a roof over their heads, she was reminded why she had to change all that. Why she had taken a stand to see that justice had its day.
A small part of her mind reached into distant memories, a youth long gone, when a scent like this meant a visit to a mountain cottage. Memories of long days spent swimming in a lake and evenings wearing a flowing, flowery dress spinning as she danced with her mother.
But those days were long gone, barely memories at all. She’d reach for them in the dark hours of night, but during the day remembered the futility of trying to grasp a complete picture of what life had been like before she had become a vampire.
So she blinked the thoughts away, focusing instead on the meal before her, and this beautiful setting.
The restaurant had been set up to please the CEOs when they were in town, before Valerie had scared them off and then executed their attack dog, Commander Strake. She could certainly understand why they loved it here—the wall was set up to look like slick rocks interspersed with tropical flowers and the roof overhead was painted orange and purple to feel like a sunset.
“You haven’t touched your food,” Jackson said. He sat across from her with a half-eaten grilled lamb in front of him and a glass of amber ale in his hand, watching as she took in the scene.
She smiled. “I’ll taste it, but…” She glanced around at several other couples eating, noticing more than one set of eyes darting her way. “Is all this extravagance necessary?”
“Is this what you wanted?” he asked. “Had it, what, fed the flames, as you put it?”
She nodded, but her mind was on the nearest couple, the ones between her and the door. As an old woman glanced over and smiled, a sensation swept over Valerie–one that burned of hatred, even nearly made her shake, she felt it so strongly. And one word, murderer.
Jackson noticed the change in her expression, so she put on a mask of ease and cut into her steak. When she lifted the tender, overly red meat to her mouth and bit into it, she moaned. He was right, it was delicious. Almost enough to make her forget her problems.
The thought of a hungry child pulled at her gut, telling her that this wasn’t enough. Too many people in this city were struggling to survive, and she’d had enough of it. It was time to make a change.
In the week since defeating Strake, all she could think about was how they could rebuild the city. How to get food to those in need, and roofs over their heads for all the people. They needed medical supplies and so much more just to keep them alive.
And of course, they needed security in case the CEOs made a return.
So far, at least, there had been peace.
Speaking with the former Enforcers that they held in the prisons back at HQ, she gathered that most of the military work had been conducted by Commander Strake, though it was financed by the CEOs. That meant that, while they’d be able to build up a force again, it would take time.
While they were able to relax for the moment, she wanted to build up the city as much as possible, and that included knowing where the city stood. Who were the elites of the city, and what allowed them to continue their existence as such? Had they been part of the CEOs’ network? Were they still part of that network?
Jackson was watching her again with that worried expression, but she gave him her best attempt at a smile and took a sip of the beer. Compared to blood, a taste she’d grown to love, it was like muddy water.
A sudden dizziness came over her, followed by what could only be described as a tingling that ran up her body as emotions swept over her and words and thoughts that she couldn’t quite place were coming from outside of her head.
She shook her head and looked around the room, realizing the thoughts were somehow coming from the other people there, though trying to understand them was like walking through a dense fog.
“Something’s bothering you?” Jackson asked, and she wanted to say yeah, no shit, but instead she clutched his hand and grimaced, blocking out the strange sensation.
“Let’s get out of here.” She stood, and was glad to see him following. They could feel the eyes of many on them as they left, and again the sensation hit her, like she could feel annoyance coming from one place, hatred from another, confusion from the majority. Was this what Akio meant by reading minds, or did it become clearer as she became accustomed to it?
“You don’t look well,” Jackson said, and she felt her head spinning. He wrapped an arm around her waist and pressed the button at the elevator.
When the doors dinged open, she nearly collapsed, but he had her and his muscles tensed as he pulled her close.
“What exactly…?” but then he was stepping back, face pale in shock. Shrieks sounded from inside the restaurant, and Valerie felt her energy returning, her mind clearing. The doors closed and they stood there, Jackson looking at her with terror and confusion.
She was doing it again, she realized. Breathing out, she focused on releasing any negativity stored in her mind, and was relieved to see Jackson’s color returned.
He stood, wobbly on his feet, and pressed “L” on the elevator panel, to head to the lobby.
“Well, damn.” He shook his head again, glanced her way, and then looked down at his pants. “At least I didn’t piss myself, or worse.”
She laughed, then covered her mouth. “I’m—I’m sorry. That’s only happened once before, when I was fighting Strake.”
“Judging by the shrieks we heard, I’m guessing this is some sort of fright power you can push out to those around you?”
With a shrug she said, “Your bet’s as good as mine.” But it wasn’t, not really. She knew that. As close as they’d become over the last week, going on dates and seeing the city, both the high life of it and the low, she hadn’t told him about Michael, or about how the ancient vampire’s blood had apparently given her extra energy. And more, she thought with a glance down at her cleavage.
Before meeting Michael, she was pretty damn sure those things were only half the size—nothing to scoff at, but nothing so eye-grabbing either. Part of her wasn’t sure she liked it, but the part that enjoyed Jackson’s lustful accidental glances in that direction loved it.
But as for the ability to scare others, she’d only ever seen that from Akio. Now she wondered where she ranked with these others. What powers did she have, exactly? A vampire that could walk in the sun, cause fear to strike at the people in the vicinity and, apparently, sense their emotions or something? That last one was still throwing her for a loop, so she decided to ignore it for now, or at least try.
“You know I’d never hurt you, right?” She took him by the hand and then pulled him close, putting her body up against his. The thought of what he’d said hit her, and she too was glad that the fear hadn’t caused him to piss his pants, considering the fact that she was so tightly pressed against them.
“Then how do you explain my sore back?” he asked with a wink. “I’m pretty sure that was you.”
“I’m pretty sure that was you being stupid.” She pinched his butt and smiled at the way he lurched forward and snuggled up even closer against her.
The elevator door dinged open and they heard someone clearing their throat. They turned to see an old lady and two teens waiting.
“Excuse us,” Valerie said, separating herself form Jackson before squeezing past them.
One of the teens didn’t move, so that her breast brushed against his arm. The little shit did it on purpose, she thought as she turned, considering whether she should teach him a lesson. Jackson had noticed, however, and shook his head.
“The city has bigger problems than a horny teen,” he said, bringing her sense of humor back.
“But that doesn’t mean I won’t knock him on his ass if I see him again. And don’t try to stop me.”
“Me?” He scoffed. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
He took her hand and moved to lead her away from the towering building with the blue stripe up its side, that was Enforcer HQ.
“Date’s not over,” he said. “Just because you got all emotional or something.”
“Watch it.” She pulled him back, noticing someone watching behind a dumpster at the next street down. When they darted away, she was certain. “One of yours?”
He looked to see what she had noticed, but frowned to see nobody there.
“Can all this last?” she said. “I mean, to me it all feels like it isn’t real, you know?”
“You’ve just never been able to relax and enjoy a normal life.” He glanced back at the alley, and then pulled her in a different direction than he’d originally intended, but still away from HQ. “In your mind, it’s too good to be true.”
“With the CEOs still out there… it is.”
He bit his lip. Nothing to say to that, apparently. She followed him around the corner and past Capital Square. Then they turned down a different road and came out at a street that she knew led to one of the subway entrances they’d hidden, because it was a doorway to Cammie’s old underground hideout.
“Don’t tell me you’re taking me underground.” Valerie was about to crack a joke about having plenty of privacy back in her office, when she saw him glance behind them suspiciously.
Then they saw her framed in one of the nearby windows—the teenage girl Valerie had met once before, in battle, the one she had spared. The girl stood right at the edge of the window, just barely enough for them to see her but hopefully not enough for anyone else to catch sight of her. She lifted a hand and gestured with what looked like a four and then drew a “Z” in the air, before ducking away.
“We got trouble,” he said.
“What kind of trouble?”
“The kind I’d rather we don’t meet with violence… My people.”
But he was already pulling her along, and she wasn’t resisting. This time the wave of emotion came from him—pulsing, a mixture of cool with piercing heat. Confident, but worried?
Then she pieced it together. “They know what happened at Enforcer HQ, when you attacked. That my people were responsible for the deaths of many of yours.”
He led her along a curving road with tall buildings on each side, then motioned to someone in a window watching, then another from the other side.
“Turn around.” He put a hand on her back and they moved into the shadow of doorway. “Just go back to HQ, I’ll deal with them.”
“You don’t think I can handle myself?”
“I know you can, and that’s what worries me.” He glanced back up the street, to where three men and two women had appeared from a building and were approaching. “I don’t want more of my people hurt.”
“Then come with me, at least. I don’t want to see you hurt either.”
He shook his head. “As much as they might be out for blood, it won’t be mine. There are still enough loyal to me that I don’t have to worry… I hope.”
“You eating with the devil again, Jackson?” one of the women called out, an older one with thick glasses and a heavy red jacket. Even from here, Valerie could see the glimmer of sunshine as she spat on the ground.
“Go!” Jackson hissed, then pushed himself forward so that she was out of their line of site. “Allore, this isn’t the time or the place.”
“You’re walking a thin line here,” the woman, Allore, said. “Hand her over.”
Valerie thought about staying and confronting this woman, but Jackson had a good point. If they pulled out weapons and tried to attack, Valerie was likely to hurt them, or worse. That wasn’t her intention here, so she quickly stepped over the stairwell, back into the narrow gap between apartment buildings, and made her way out of there.
She found a fire escape and did a push kick off of the brick wall to reach it, and then pulled herself up. Soon she was clear, but doubled back to one of the nearby rooftops, where she knelt at the edge and peered over.
If they were hurting Jackson in any way, she’d leap down without a second thought and end them all.
But they were still talking and, it seemed, he was winning them over. They were still standing around with arms crossed, but none of them had hands on hidden guns, that she could tell.
She sighed and turned back, sitting against the edge of the roof and watching the rays of light shooting down through the billowing clouds. It was a beautiful sight, but one she realized she might have to see less and less of.
If she was going to enforce justice and keep this city in check, she was beginning to realize, being out in the open might not be for the best. It was too divisive.
It was time she returned to the shadows.
FROM JUSTIN >>> It’s a cover reveal, so I’m giving you an extra long snippet. Thoughts? I hope you’re ready for some insanity with this book! I’m just going to keep this first post nice and simple, let you digest that.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for some fun reading, one of my favorites is PT Hylton’s…
The fate of a kingdom rests in the hands of an assassin.
Zane and his apprentice Lily Rhodes can eliminate any target…if the price is right. But when a series of seemly unrelated jobs pull Zane and Lily into a conflict between nations, Zane is forced to confront secrets from his past. Secrets that could bring about a war.
Welcome to a morally ambiguous world of magic, mystery, and political intrigue. It’s an epic sword and sorcery tale told in six installments and collected here in one edition for the first time.
This omnibus edition includes Thorns and Tangles, Swords and Shadows, Lightning and Thrones, Flames and Water, Lies and Crossroads, and Crowns and Dead Men.