Just to clarify: I will be at RWA, but not at the literacy signing. I will be at the Berkley signing at 3pm on Friday — which is only, I believe, for conference attendees. I’ll update my main page with the conference room number of the signing as soon as I find it.
First Blood releases in a little over two weeks, on August 5. That night, I’ll be at Borders off Cedar Hills in Beaverton … but not because I’m signing my book. Nope, I’m going to see Teresa Medeiros and Suzanne Enoch, and bother them. Teresa Medeiros I’m just going to fawn over, because I’ve been a fangirl for a way long time (Fairest of Them All started me on the path, and A Breath of Magic sealed the deal). She’s one of those authors that I don’t love love everything they write, but everything is consistently a good read for me, and some are just keepers forever and ever (especially because she was writing paranormal/historicals back when they were hard, hard, hard to find.) And with Enoch, I really, really want to know when Bram’s book is going to be out.
First Blood features Susan Sizemore, Erin McCarthy, and Chris Marie Green. After the cut is the second half of Chapter One of “Thicker Than Blood,” my novella. It follows the excerpt that’s up on the book info page. It is my favorite novella so far (although the current one (hellhounds!) might knock it out of first place … we’ll see.)
An icy blast of air-conditioning welcomed her through the front door. Annie stood for a moment, closing her eyes in relief. The heat didnâ€™t pain her, but the sweat and oppressive humidity left her feeling disgusting, uncomfortable.
Carefully, she replaced her lock-pick tools in their velvet pouch and rolled it closed. The cylinder fit neatly into the pocket sheâ€™d sewn in the lining of her jacket; from another pocket, she withdrew an instant hot pack. Fabric rustled as she slid off the heavy coat, but nothing clinked. The quiet ticking of a clock, the deep sound of breathing from the upstairs bedroom were no louder than the crinkle of plastic when she squeezed the package in her hand.
It was intended for first-aid kitsâ€”the chemical reaction created a temporary heating compressâ€”but Annie held it in her mouth, careful not to pierce the casing with her fangs, and surveyed the room.
He must have just moved inâ€”or was preparing to move out. The sofa faced a blank wall. No TV, no stereo, no coffee table.
Annie piled her jacket and sword on a stack of boxes near the door, but didnâ€™t remove the holster that lay against the small of her back. With light steps, she climbed the stairs, testing the surface temperature of her lips and tongue against the back of her hand. Warm. Their touch probably wouldnâ€™t shock him awake, but they would cool quickly.
Sheâ€™d used a sedative on the others, but this one had been drinking; doping him might be dangerous. With luck, the alcohol would deepen his sleep, and he wouldnâ€™t think her feeding had been anything but a pleasantâ€”very pleasantâ€”dream.
His room was as sparsely furnished as the rest of the house: a large bed covered by a navy fitted sheet, and a dresser heaped with clothes. Although heâ€™d taken time to fold his laundry, he hadnâ€™t put it away. Not a slob, but not obsessively neat, either.Â
His white shirt lay on the floor, the sleeve trailing beneath the bed. He hadnâ€™t made it out of his pants. Annie studied the sprawl of his body, calculating the least disruptive approach, the best location to bite.
Heâ€™d landed on his stomach, his arms wrapped around his pillow and his face buried in the crook of his elbow. The position brought his shoulders up and in toward his neck; itâ€™d be difficult to reach his throat without moving him. The sides of the abdomen and ribs had too many nerve endings. Of all the flesh exposed, his back had the fewest pain receptors.
Her gaze moved down the smooth muscles parallel to his spine, the hollows just above the low waistband of his black trousers. He looked to be of average height, and he wasnâ€™t too bulky or too leanâ€”just a man who kept himself fit and strong. Anticipation began to build its ache in her fangs. The bloodlust wasnâ€™t upon her yet, but arousal sparked softly within her.
Briefly, she wished sheâ€™d warmed her hands. Wished for a connection deeper than her mouth, his blood.
But there wouldnâ€™t be. Couldnâ€™t be. She wound the damp, heavy mass of her hair into a bun and fastened it with an elastic band. A few red strands escaped, and she tucked them behind her ears, leaving nothing to brush or tickle, so that heâ€™d swat at her in his sleep as he would a mosquito.
She leaned over, bracing her palms alongside his waist. The mattress didnâ€™t squeak as she eased her knees onto the bed, straddling his legs without touching him.
Breathing wasnâ€™t an option. An exhalation would be cold against his skin, an inhalation would bring his odor to herâ€”and she didnâ€™t want to be reminded that this was a stranger. Didnâ€™t want harsh reality. Sheâ€™d imagine a clean, lemon-bright scent, instead.
Sheâ€™d never asked him if it was his soap or an aftershave.
Jack, she thought, closing her eyes and gently touching her lips to his shoulder.
Harsh reality caught her wrist, rolled beneath her, and shoved the barrel of a pistol against her throat.
Annie froze. God damn it. Lowering her guard to indulge in a memory and missing his shift from sleep to consciousness could only be called stupid. Inexcusably, tremendously stupid.
But she could berate herself later; right now, she needed to pretend to be weak.
The last thing she wanted to do was scare him. Sheâ€™d had her throat shot out before, by a rogue vampire who hadnâ€™t wanted to give up feeding fromâ€”and killingâ€”humans. It wasnâ€™t the pain that worried her; she couldnâ€™t afford to lose that much blood.
â€œDo you have anything in your hands?â€
His voice was flat, controlled. No, this man wouldnâ€™t spook and pull the trigger. His heartbeat had sped up, but it wasnâ€™t racing.
Daring a movement, Annie opened her eyes. A taut pectoral and the brown disk of a nipple obscured her field of vision; if she lowered her lips even an inch, theyâ€™d meet the crisp, reddish-brown hair that roughened his chest.
â€œNo,â€ she said.
Without a word, he reached up. Light pressure against her back made her grit her teeth, but she didnâ€™t stop him. His fingers unerringly located her weapon, and he eased the revolver from its holster.
Did he expect her to answer truthfully? â€œNo.â€
â€œRight.â€ It only took him a beat to decide a course of action. â€œKeep your hands flat against the mattress, and slowly back off the bed.â€ The push of his gun against her neck emphasized slowly.
Annie could have been across the room in a blink. But feeding from humans to survive was one thing; there wasnâ€™t yet a reason to break the other rule sheâ€™d lived and killed by for six years: preventing humans from discovering the existence of vampires.
So she edged her knees backward, her face down and her posture nonthreatening. Her compliance hadnâ€™t eased his tension; only a marble statue might have matched the rigid cast of his abdomen. A small fold of skin stretched across the upper curve of his navel, and three tiny scars from a laparoscopic appendectomy marredâ€”
Oh, no. Annie stopped moving. Her fingers clenched in the sheet. Please, no.
It had been at her parentsâ€™ dinner table, less than a month before her transformation. When Jack had grabbed at his stomach, pain twisting his features, theyâ€™d thought it was a comment on her motherâ€™s meatloaf.
Fifteen minutes later, Annie had been in an ambulance, helping the paramedics prep him for surgery.
Aside from a single, impersonal handshake when theyâ€™d been introduced, it had been the first time sheâ€™d touched his skin. It had been the night heâ€™d told her his name was Jack, not John Harrington the Third, orâ€”as sheâ€™d thought of him until that momentâ€”simply Harrington.
It had been the night heâ€™d confessed heâ€™d been messed up over her since that handshake. Sheâ€™d waited until his morphine drip was off before confessing the same.
Â â€œWhatever youâ€™re considering doing down there, lady, itâ€™s not smart.â€ Cold steel slid from her neck to the underside of her chin, and he nudged it up. â€œKeep heading on back, and look at the ceiling as you do it.â€
And sheâ€™d heard him speak softly before, but it had never been sharpened by the dangerous tone he was using. She squeezed her eyes shut and averted her face.
Donâ€™t recognize me. Donâ€™t see what Iâ€™ve become.
Maybe he wouldnâ€™t. It had been so many years, and there were a few differences. Her hair color, the makeup. Both were dark now, because roses and cream belonged to the day.
Annie didnâ€™tâ€”not anymore.
â€œYou picked me out as an easy mark the second I left Buddyâ€™s. I expected you to try something when you followed me,â€ he said. â€œBut to actually come into my home, that takes some…kind…of…â€
The anger in his voice faded with his words. The pressure of the gun eased.
And his heart was racing now.
She should run. Should tear away, without looking back.
â€œWho are you? You canâ€™t…it canâ€™t beâ€”â€ Jack dropped her revolver to the mattress, and his fingers tangled in the hair piled atop her head. â€œLook at me, damn it.â€
She did, but only because she wanted to see him, too. To take one glance away with her.
His face was leaner. Time hadnâ€™t dulled his features, but honed themâ€”and he could still trip her breath, skip the beat of her heart.
His brows were heavy and low over eyes darkened by confusion and shock.
â€œAnnie? Oh, Jesus love meâ€”Annie?â€ His gaze hungrily searched hers, hope and disbelief spilling from his psychic scent in a rich, warm tide. His hand opened, began sliding from her hair to her cheek.
Her cold cheek.
Annie pulled away. He probably didnâ€™t see the movement she used to collect her gun. He continued to stare as she stood and forced herself to walkâ€”not run. There was no longer any need to pretend to be weak.
Jack had always been the only one with whom she had to pretend to be strong.