Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hexen Cover

Apologies for my absence these past couple of weeks. Real life interfered, and all that. But here's the cover for Hexen, which should (if all goes well) hit Amazon and Smashwords early next week. Yay!

There's a lot of tea-drinking going on in this book (actually, a lot of food seems to appear in all of my books). And yes, more fox women!

In other news, I have a new series starting to form in my brain. I'm trying not to think about it too much, since I still have at least three more to write in this series (one more in Su and Evgeny's trilogy, one closely related, and one the follows the short story "Cara"). I also thought about making this new thing related to the Others, but the magical beings in it are more, well, magical, so I think it needs to be in its own world, so to speak. But that's a ways off, anyway.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Vixen, Chapter One

Curious about Vixen, but not sure if you want to buy it? You can get a free sample from Amazon or Smashwords, or you can read chapter one right here. If you're a book blogger or reviewer and you'd like a review copy, drop me a line (email is in my Blogger profile).

Chapter One

ALL I WANT is to sit in the darkest corner of the bar, sip my drink, and people-watch. I have a double of twelve-year-old Scotch on the table in front of me. No soda. No ice. Neat.

Every now and then I lift it to my lips and sip. Feel the heat fill my mouth, seep between my teeth, and slowly burn down my throat. I drink it slow because if I don’t, I’ll have another. And another. And in the morning there’ll be a hangover. I don’t get hangovers like other people. I get hangovers that literally make death seem like the better option. And that’s actually literally, not hyperbolically literally, the way most people use it. I get a hangover, and suicide seems like a happy choice. So I do my damnedest not to get hangovers.

And I sip. If a waitress or a bartender gives me hell for taking up space, I buy coffee and say I’m waiting for a friend. But tonight they seem to sense I’m on edge and they leave me alone. And hell, a double of good single malt costs enough they damn well should leave me alone.

After the evening I’ve had, I’m liable to rip someone’s head off. Not literally, but not far enough from it for comfort.

I sit alone and nurse my drink, and watch the people, and wonder if I was ever like them. Carefree, happy, normal. Human.

Someone bangs the door coming in and I turn to look. It’s a boy—okay, man, but I still think of myself as a girl at 26 and he’s got to be a couple years younger than me. He looks like he’s had a rougher night than I have, but boy is he nice to gawk at. Dark hair falling in his eyes, nice build. He almost trips over a woman perched on a stool at a table near the door and turns to catch his balance and I get a nice view of his backside. It’s a very fine ass, indeed.

Yeah, hi, I’m Su and I haven’t had sex in way too long.

The woman on the stool glares at the cute boy and he bends over her for a moment and says, “You smell good.”

And, dammit, just as my muscles were beginning to relax and I’m feeling better about how my evening went earlier and those three words throw me right back into the feeling of crap.

I had cut across the park on my way home, even though it can be a bad idea for a girl to be there after dark. Well, for anyone to be there after dark, really. But I’m not an ordinary girl.

I knew the vamp was tracking me from the moment I stepped in under the trees, but I wasn’t too worried. Vampires are a little leery of being discovered to be more than folktale boogie monsters, so they tend not to attack people unless they’re really sure the person won’t be missed, or they’re desperate, or stupid. And there aren’t many stupid vamps. They don’t last long. They get eaten by their own kind. And there are a lot easier—and safer—ways to get blood.

This one seemed too clever to be desperate, the way he was stalking me, but then I’m not exactly human. Whatever I am, it seems to be uncommonly attractive to vamps.

So when I hit the thickest part of the forest, I was prepared. He dropped out of a tree in front of me, and I met him with a kick in the crotch. Then I ran. Better to avoid a fight, if I could. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. The kick slowed the vampire, but not enough. He was in front of me again before I got more than a few steps.

I moved into a fighting stance. He thought I was human, so I might be able to catch him off guard again. And somewhere, I couldn’t remember where, or when, someone had taught me kung fu, and I was good at it.

I blocked his first strike and got in a hit, but not enough to do any damage. This vamp was old, and canny, and fast. Before I could strike again, he had me pinned against a tree, one of my hands trapped behind my back. He held my other wrist in his right hand, ragged nails digging into my skin, and with his other hand he held my hair, yanking my head to the side until it hurt. My body he kept pinned with his own.

He pressed his nose into my neck and I twitched, anticipating a bite. Instead he inhaled deeply.
“You smell good,” he said and licked my neck, tracing a straining tendon with his tongue. He smelled like dirt and unwashed male body. Most vamps keep up some semblance of hygeine to blend in better. Some are naturally fastidious, and a few are even vain. This one, it seemed, liked the smell of the grave.

I twisted my body to see how much he would let me move. Not much. The hand pinned behind me hurt, but I didn’t really mind. It was right next to the silver-tipped stake I keep in a leather sheath strapped to my belt. If I have to be unusually attractive to vampires, at least I can carry protection. I flexed my wrist, scraping it against tree bark and the studs on my belt, but I could almost reach the stake.

The vamp inhaled again. “No, I am wrong. You smell divine.”

If it had been a human threatening me, I’d have said something cheeky, but I’m not stupid. Not that stupid, anyway. Of course, if it had been a human, he’d still be rolling on the ground, clutching his pulped testicles.

“My progeny will so enjoy you,” he said.

Great. A vampire papa, looking for a special snack for his offspring.

He pressed closer to me, and I gagged on the heavy smell of male armpit. He ground his pelvis against mine and I heard his breathing quicken. I have really good senses, so I could even feel his pulse speed up and faint warmth spread under his skin. I didn’t need superhuman senses to feel his cock hardening against me.

Contrary to common belief and most folklore, vampires aren’t actually dead. They die—sort of, I think—in the process of being made a vampire, but then they are reborn. They have a much slower metabolism after, but it doesn’t stop. They breathe, their blood flows, their digestive juices gurgle away—they probably even fart—and their hearts beat. They even age. It just all happens much, much more slowly.

Except at two times, when their pulses pound just as much as a human’s does: when they feed, and when they fuck. A lot of vamps like to do both at once.

This vampire licked my neck again and I finally couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer. “I thought you bloodsuckers got smart and stopped killing people. So, you know, you could keep pretending you don’t exist.”

He lifted his head from my neck and looked at my face—I think it was the first time he looked me in the eye the whole time. He frowned.

“You know we exist, and you are not afraid.”

“Oh, I’m afraid,” I said. And I was. But I was also pissed, and my temper had a tendency to override my other emotions. It gets me in trouble, and loses me lovers.

“Perhaps you are very stupid,” the vamp said, pushing against me with his cock again. I guess stupidity wasn’t a turn-off for him. “Or you are more than you seem, which will make you an even better meal for my son.”

I bit back the urge to ask what sort of “more than I seemed” he thought I might be and concentrated on wriggling my pinned hand closer to my stake.

“My progeny will grow strong on your blood. He will grow so much stronger than cold blood could make him. So much more quickly. And he will make me stronger. And soon the Reborn won’t have to hide in the shadows.”

Great. A vampire with delusions of grandeur, who planned to make vamp children, feed them up, and eat them himself. Vampires are not above cannibalism. Not at all. Vamp blood makes them stronger, satiates them faster. And, I’m told, tastes better.

“Now shut your pretty mouth and spread your legs. I haven’t had a good fuck in ages.”

Neither had I, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it with him. He let go of my hair to yank my skirt up around my waist, which let me relax my upper body into a more natural position. And he had to lean his body away from mine to get his cock out of his pants. That was all I needed to get the stake in my hand and my hand from behind my back.

I wasn’t fast enough for a clean kill, not quite, but I was desperate enough not to get fucked or eaten by a vamp to jam the stake in far enough to hurt him, to make him stumble back, his incongruously pale penis flopping out of his pants. And I was mad enough to execute a perfect spinning kick and drive the stake the rest of the way into his chest to impale his heart. My skirt being hiked up actually helped—it wasn’t in my way at all.

For a moment, the vamp stared at me, blood leaking from the corner of his mouth, cock slowly deflating like an old party balloon. Then he seemed to crumple up, to fold in on himself. He collapsed.

I tugged my skirt back down into place and bent over the vamp to retrieve my stake. His blood was already congealing in thick, stringy clots. Death seems to speed some processes up for vamps, as if their physiology is suddenly trying to make up for lost time. His face was looking older, too, and in an hour or so he’d be bloated as if his corpse had been a week in the heat. Unfortunately, the pop culture lore about vampires disintegrating into dust when staked is as true as the lore about them being dead. Which is to say, not true at all. Sunlight, though—sunlight will burn a vamp, even a dead vamp. So as soon as I made sure he was good and dead, I grabbed him by the lapels of his coat and dragged him up a short, steep hill to a spot I liked to sit on nice days. It was a shame to soil a good sitting-and-thinking spot, but it was away from any likely foot traffic, and it was open to the morning sun.

Come sunrise, the vamp’s flesh—and any identifying clothing along with it—would burn to ash and even his bones would not survive. There would be only enough fragments to puzzle a forensic specialist, should anyone come across it before those fragments succumbed to the weather and returned to dirt.

Before I left, I rifled his pockets. Two hundred in cash, a handful of change, and a credit card. I looked longingly at the plastic, but eventually put it back. That was far more trouble than it was worth. I pocketed the cash.

He had no jewellery but a nice brass pocketwatch with an attractive interlace design and gears visible through cutouts in the face. That, I kept. It might identify him to the right people (or for me, the wrong people), but I liked it, and I could sell it later if I needed some money. Who could say I didn’t find it in the park, dropped by its unlucky owner?

I looked down at the dead vamp. He looked smaller, and not so dangerous at all, now. That wasn’t the first time I’d killed a vamp, though I hoped—even as I knew it was unlikely—that it would be the last. The last time I’d staked a bloodsucker I’d almost died first.

Lucky for me, just getting bit by a vamp wasn’t enough to make you one, so even if I had died, I wouldn’t have been re-born. There was some arcane ritual for that—how much was symbolic and how much was real magic, I had no idea. Though vampires rarely kill these days (or rarely kill anyone noticeable), and attack the unwary only now and then, something about me seems to attract them. They seem to know I’m not quite human, but they don’t seem to know what I am any more than I do.

Looking at the dead vampire, I was suddenly overwhelmed with anger. I kicked him in the face as hard as I could with my right steel-toed boot and felt it cave in like an overripe watermelon. I was quietly sick behind a bush, trying to puke and wipe brain off my boot at the same time.

“I need a drink,” I said to the empty air. I was starting to shake, and it wasn’t the growing autumn chill that was causing it. So instead of going home for the good night’s sleep I had intended to get when I first headed across the park, I turned my steps toward the nearest bar.

One Scotch—one double Scotch—and then I’d go home and sleep.

So I’m in the bar enjoying my Scotch and almost unclenched enough to go home and sleep, and a pretty boy has to walk in and remind me that I could very easily have been raped and eaten not an hour before.

Because the young man is a vamp—I can just smell the dirt and blood on him from where I sit, though it’s almost overwhelmed by old fear and new confusion.

“Crap,” I mumble into my drink. “What is this, Su’s night of vampire fun?” It looks like the boy might cause trouble and then I might feel obliged to help. But then woman the boy tripped over tells him to fuck off and shoves him in the chest and he stumbles away from her to sit slumped on a stool at the bar.

He looks around, his blue eyes too bright—and how did I not notice that the moment he walked into the bar? He’s just a baby vamp, I think. Hell, he looks practically newborn. There’s still a trail of dried blood down the side of his neck where his parent vamp was sloppy. The way he smells of confusion, I’d guess he hasn’t figured out what he is yet. He’s so new, he might not even have begun to remember his previous life, his human life, yet. He certainly doesn’t know how to act like a vampire, let alone a vampire blending in with humans.

I look around, wondering if his parent is already here and that’s why he stumbled in. At the very least his maker should be looking after him. But if he’s as new as I think he is, he should be kept safe in some mommy-or-daddy’s lair until he learns a thing or two about how to survive.
A new vamp is not only a danger to humans, and therefore a threat to vampire hidden-ness—because they don’t know any better than to attack whatever’s closest when they’re hungry and they don’t have the control to stop feeding before their prey is dead—but a newborn is a danger to himself. Stumbling around without a clue about how to act or how to protect himself is going to draw the attention of other vamps.

The boy looks up as the bartender bends over to ask, “What can I get you?” For a moment he just stares, and then he smiles—a smile so sweet and innocent is has no place on a vampire’s face.

“You smell good,” the boy says.

The bartender scowls but then his attention is drawn away by a yahoo at the other end of the bar wanting a refill.

The boy looks around again. His eyes don’t seem able to focus on anything.

“Jesus,” I say into the last sip of my Scotch. He must have been born in the last day or two, he’s so clueless. And then I catch his dirt scent, his blood scent, again, and I know why he’s stumbling around with no parent. I killed Papa Vamp barely an hour ago.

“My progeny will enjoy you,” the whiffy old vamp had said. So this is the progeny whose dinner he had intended I be.

The boy is unprotected because of me.

Not that I regret killing the old bloodsucker, mind. Not a bit. But this poor, beautiful infant was going to become lunch to fuel the strength of some older vamp, and he probably hadn’t even had the chance to do anything nasty himself yet.

What I really ought to do is take him out in the alley and put him out of his misery before he learns that his kind are cannibals that prefer to eat their own kind for the rush, and because they’re tastier.

The boy’s gaze finally fixes on me and his mind seems to clear a little. Yeah, I’m Su, the vampire magnet. He smiles his angelic smile at me and I feel my resolve to not care vanish. He probably hadn’t asked to be reborn as a vampire—vamps are rarely interested in anyone who wants to be one of them. And just because they feed on human blood doesn’t make all vamps evil. I know a few who are pretty decent people. For criminals. Most of the people I know in this town are criminals, because I am one myself. Just a pickpocket, but it’s not exactly an honest living.

So there I am, feeling sorry for a fucking vampire so soon after nearly becoming lunch for another one. Well, the same one, really, but it was the other one that was going to do the feeding to. Hell, now I was confused.

So maybe if this boy had been a decent human being, he might turn out to be a decent vampire, too. I sigh and drain the last drop of golden, burning nectar from my glass and stand up.
And yeah, I have to admit, hormones are probably a big part of it. Vamps aren’t the only ones who like to fuck. Apparently whatever I am likes sex an awful lot, too (consensual sex, that is), because I looked at that pretty young man and the first thing I thought about was how to get him out of his clothes. Well, after getting rid of the dirt-and-blood smell.

“Fuck,” I say, then I cross the bar and hook my arm into the vampire boy’s. He smiles wider and I feel hot between the legs. He has killer cheekbones and crazy sexy lips.

“There you are,” I say, and pull him off the stool and towards the door. “Looks like you’ve had a few already. I’d better get you home or you’ll never make it to work tomorrow.” I smile dazzlingly at the people nearest the door as I manoeuvre the boy through.

“I can’t let him go anywhere alone,” I say, and give a tinkling laugh of the sort I most loathe as I let the door fall shut behind us.

“You smell good,” says the boy.

“I’m sure I do,” I say. “But I am not your meal. We’ll get you some takeout.”

The boy smiles again and seems content to walk beside me for now.

One advantage of being a thief, not quite human, and a supernatural vampire magnet is that I know all the dealers in not-strictly-legal goods in town. And I know exactly who to talk to to score some black-market bloodbags in the middle of the night.

It will mean spending more of the old vamp’s cash than I like—I’d rather have added that to my stash for next month’s rent—but I guess it was money that should have been vampire boy’s inheritance, in a way. Not that I intend to hand any of it over.

And if I’m going to help him, he needs blood and soon, and there’s no way I’ll feed him on my own blood. Even if I liked the idea of playing blood donor—and I don’t—he’s newborn and there’s no way he’ll have the self-control to stop sucking before he kills me.

So stolen medical supplies it is. Well, stolen by someone. I’m not stupid enough to steal from vamps (unless I’ve just killed them), or from those who steal to supply vamps.

I’ll feed him, and teach him how to be a vampire, and hopefully keep him alive long enough to start to regain his memories and learn to fend for himself.

And since I don’t keep a pet—dogs and cats get nervous around me and birds are even worse. Hell, even fish in a bowl just make me hungry when I look at them—the boy will give me something to talk to besides the spider that built a web in the corner of my living room window that doesn’t close right.

He bumps his hip against mine as we walk and I can’t stop myself from thinking, And maybe once he’s recovered from the newborn stupids, I can get laid.

If you want to read the rest, you'll find the e-book available on all the Amazons (US link here), and Smashwords. You can also get the paperback from Amazon (and soon from other bookshops).