UNINVITED is released & here’s an excerpt….

…plus I’m giving away copies! A whole bunch of copies! Email me if you want one — justinemusk@yahoo.com — and I’ll put your name in a box — perhaps even a heart-shaped box — and on Friday I’ll draw names and send out the books.

This website was, quite frankly, meant to be revamped by now — or at least updated — and I swear upon my childhood doggie’s* grave that such a revamping is in process. What I didn’t anticipate was how the revision of the BLOODANGEL sequel — now called LORD OF BONES — is kicking my ass. Basically it’s becoming a whole new book, which is a good thing, since I believe in my darkest little heart of hearts that it is now a much better book, but it’s also due in to my editor very soon — past due, actually, if you want to get technical about it — and eating up all the time I meant to devote to this site for UNINVITED’s release.

(* Jake. Silky terrier. Awesome dog. )

But here, at the very least, is an excerpt:

UNINVITED

Prologue

Notes from the Ride (I)

The address turned out to be a plain wooden building set back on Sunset.

The teenager, pale and rangy in ripped jeans and a t-shirt, stood on the sidewalk in a hammerfall of sun and examined the street in both directions.

He saw traffic clotted along the snakelike road. He saw clubs, dark and shut-down and waiting for the night; he saw boutiques and restaurants, music stores and billboards and palm trees, hotels that seemed carved from cubes of sugar. People were lingering around an open-air newsstand, flipping through magazines, sipping iced coffee drinks.

He didn’t see any of the other Riders.

He didn’t see Archie.

Maybe I’ll really get away with this, he thought, and opened the door and stepped inside.

The interior was sterile and air-conditioned, done in white and black, as if part of the store was just a negative of the other part. Glassed-in cases lined either wall and displayed a staggering variety of piercings and tattoo stencils. The stack of books held more work, he knew, but he also knew the designs he sought and needed would not be among them.

“Help you?”

The man who appeared behind the counter was a big, burly guy, his arms sleeved-out with tattoos and his face studded and dangling with jewelry. For all that, his manner was gentle.

The youth said, “I’m looking for Cairo.”

“Sorry?”

“Cairo.” He heard the anxiety in his voice. Couldn’t seem to hide it.

Or maybe seeming stressed-out wasn’t such a bad thing. The man’s expression softened a little, even as his eyes flickered with the slightest hint of distaste. “Oh,” he said, “Okay. You’re one of those.”
“Cairo’s here?”
“You tracked him down, huh? I hear that’s not easy, not these days. How’d you manage it?”
“Long story.”
“Always is.”
He led the youth towards the back of the shop. They passed a black-haired woman reclining in a dentist’s chair, grimacing as the tattoo artist worked the needle along her dusky stomach. The man swept aside a curtain and they stood inside another, smaller room. There were tools and needles of varying lengths laid out on the counter, and a row of oddly glittering paints and dyes and powders. The smell in here was different, smoky and earthy, cut through with the coppery suggestion of blood.
“Wait here,” the man said, and disappeared through another door in the back.
The youth waited. His hands were shaking just a little. His leather jacket was in the rucksack strapped to his motorcycle; if he’d been wearing it, he could have hid his hands in the pockets. He held them in front of his eyes instead and forced them to still.
The door opened again and a different man stepped through. He looked to be in his early thirties, although the youth knew he had to be much, much older than that; he had a shaven head, muscular arms, steel rings lining both earlobes. “So,” he said, his brown eyes narrowing as he looked the youth over from head to toe. “What’s your name?” He spoke with a British accent, which the youth had not expected.
“You don’t look anything like him,” the youth said instead. “Is it true you’re his brother?”
“Half-brother,” Cairo said.
“Your back. You don’t have w–“
“No. You know, I spent a lot of time and effort trying to make him see reason. But he is what he is and he does what he does. So now I help foolish kids like you. Your name?”
“I’ve been—“ The youth took a breath. “I can’t seem to remember it. My name. Not for the last five hours.”
The brown eyes turned to slits, then Cairo shrugged and turned away. “You’re pretty far gone, then, aren’t you?”
“But I—“ Anxiety in his voice again. Verging on panic. He swallowed hard, said, “I made it here, didn’t I?”
But Cairo had said the very thing the youth himself had feared, ever since he opened his eyes to the day and reached for his name and grasped nothing but air.
“If I could make it here, then I must have – I must have some of it left, right? My soul? It’s not gone completely, right?”
Cairo turned his hands into fists and tapped the backs of his knuckles together. “I’d like to help you, kid. I really would. If you could just tell me your name.” He crouched a little and put his hand on the teenager’s shoulder. “Convince me we had something to work with. Why don’t you go somewhere and think on it for a bit? Clear your mind, and relax, and see if you can’t—“
“Jasper.” The name broke from his lips like a trapped bird escaping. “My name is Jasper Ruland.”
Cairo straightened. He turned away, towards the table that held the rows of tools, the inks and paints and powders. “How’d you learn about me?”
“Inigo.”
“Huh. I heard Archie and that animal had a falling out. So it’s not just a rumor.”
Jasper said nothing. Waited.
“That doesn’t mean you can trust him,” Cairo said. “You know that, right?”
“I helped him,” Jasper said.
“You did?”
“Yeah.”
“Huh.” Cairo studied him anew, as if forced to readjust his impressions. “That adds a new wrinkle. Maybe you could tell me about it.”
“Long story.”
“We’ve got the time. You understand this is a long, complicated process? You’ll be here for many hours?”
“Yeah.”
“You understand how much it hurts? And there’s nothing I can give you for the pain, not now, not later?”
“I don’t care.”
Cairo picked up a tool. He held it at arm’s length, set it down again. There was tension in his shoulders, the line of his jaw. In the same mild tone of conversation, Cairo said, as if to distract both of them: “So where will you go when it’s over?”
“Home,” Jasper answered, and the man moved towards him with the needle.

Chapter One

Kelly Ruland didn’t know how long the animal had been watching her.
She was at the edge of the road, studying the memorial that she and her friend Nick had been working on for the past few months. After countless designs they had decided on a tall wooden obelisk, which they had cut and hammered together in Nick’s stepfather’s workshop. On two sides of the triangle, Kelly had painted a portrait of each of the high school students who had died. The third side she had sponge-painted black.
Black for mourning. For the night of the car accident which had stolen so much.
Black for the abyss.
The thought came to her, unexpected and unexplained, and she jerked her head. It was then she saw the coyote.
At least, she thought it was a coyote. It looked a bit like a medium-sized German Shepard, sitting on its haunches at the edge of the treeline. His fur — she was suddenly certain that the animal was male — was dark tan washed through with black. His narrow head was pointed towards her, ears sharp and alert, as if there was something he needed to communicate. As if they were on the verge of a conversation.
She listened to the wind in the branches, breathed in the smell of green earth.
The coyote lowered his head, as if bowing to her.
Then he slipped into the woods.
“Nick,” Kelly said.
“Yeah?” Lanky Nick Hollinghurst was loping up the side of the ravine, twigs snapping beneath his hiking boots, digital camera in hand. He’d been taking shots of the memorial from different perspectives. The sunlight was the lazy, melted-butter kind, but the sun was dropping into the horizon now and it was time to go home.
“I just saw a coyote. I think.”
“Really?”
“It was awesome.” She turned to look at him. “Are there even coyotes around here? Aren’t they only in the wilder places?”
Nick shrugged. His sandy-colored hair was cropped close against his skull, emphasizing his dramatic widow’s peak. She had known him for over two years now, ever since his family had moved here from the city, and he seemed to have grown when she wasn’t looking: transforming from a boy of average height and weight into this long-limbed high school senior who was taller than her father. His new haircut, and the way it emphasized his eyes, which were dark and intense in a way she wasn’t sure she’d truly noticed before, further disturbed her sense of familiarity. Some moments it was almost as if her good buddy Nick had disappeared, to be replaced by this attractive imposter. This stranger. But then she blinked, and saw her buddy again. “Good food sources for them, close to humans.”
“For the…what?”
“Coyotes.” He glanced at her oddly.
“Sorry. Distracted.”
He grinned, and for a moment seemed to know she’d been distracted by him, his own face and body.
But no, she realized. Nick was still kind of clueless that way.
He said, “What do you think of the memorial? Happy with it?”
“’Happy’ doesn’t feel like the word.”
“I guess not.” His expression sobered, and for a moment there was silence between them. “Are you satisfied with it?”
“I guess.”
She wanted to say something more. Something about how empty she felt, now that the project was done. How it seemed in some ways like it had been only a few weeks, instead of just over a year, since a car accident killed Ronnie Patel and Kira Thatcher. They had had both been friends of her older brother Jasper.
He had had a lot of friends, once.
Her brother. Kelly wanted to say something about him. How much she missed him. He had walked clear of the accident, trudging up the sloping leaf-littered side of the ravine just as Nick had a few moments ago. His car, a secondhand Honda Civic he’d bought from their father with money earned working in their father’s restaurant, had flown off the road and crashed into the trees below. Ronnie had been thrown from the car and broken his neck and spine, Kira had died from internal bleeding en route to Selridge General. Jasper was unharmed. Not even a bruise. He refused to answer any questions. He appeared to be in shock. There was some question that night if he could even remember anything; Ronnie appeared to have been in the driver’s seat, but Jasper refused to confirm even that.
But then he was gone.
He’d passed a breathalyzer test and shown no signs of alcohol in his system – Kelly had never known her brother to drink – but rumor had it there’d been drugs floating around the rave. Ecstasy, ketamine, marijuana, GHB. Maybe he’d been tempted. Kelly doubted it. Her brother had been against all that stuff. But he disappeared from the hospital before agreeing to be tested for drugs of any kind.
He had left a single message on the family voicemail:
Don’t try to find me. You can’t.
— Obviously he was guilty and ashamed, people whispered. Or sometimes they didn’t whisper it behind Kelly’s back, said it straight to her face, even yelled it at her once, after a high school football game, Kira’s best friends still in their cheerleader uniforms, one of them picking up a rock and throwing at it Kelly. She ducked it in shock. Then and now, Kelly didn’t see how that rumor could be true. Ronnie had been in the driver’s seat, and everyone in contact with Jasper that night had described her brother as sober and coherent. But he had gone from the boy with everything going for him – including early entrance to Harvard — to notorious runaway in just a handful of hours, and Kelly suspected that even his friends had taken his absence for an admission of guilt.
So had she. She still didn’t think he was guilty of the accident – didn’t see how that could be possible. If his actions were those of a guilty man – and she had to admit they sure seemed like it – then he had to be guilty of other things. She just didn’t what they were.
Except for: not a single letter, postcard, phone call, email, instant message. She had idolized him all her life, and he knew that, and now there was only this fat dark nothing where her brother had been. This space marked Missing Person. And he had done that to them, to her.
She often dreamed they were in a room together and she was yelling at him.
His face wasn’t on the memorial, but, for Kelly, his presence was all around it, all through it. She had made it, she realized suddenly, for him.

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