Lord of Bones excerpt

So here are the opening pages from LORD OF BONES, the sequel to BLOODANGEL, which I know a few of you have been awaiting for a rather long time (and I promise, assuming the gods of publishing are kind to me, I won’t do that to you again). In the new year I’ll be working on my website for real, extending it to include the BLOODANGEL novels as well as UNINVITED, and I’ll post the first 50 pages from BONES (which comes out July 1 from Roc/Penguin).

In the meantime, here we go:

Chapter One

The woman and the youth had been on the road for eight months, although it seemed longer. In the beginning there was a man who traveled with them: very tall, broad-shouldered, with dark cropped hair and vivid, changing eyes.
But then he would leave, and they were alone.

The youth’s name was Ramsey. He had just turned seventeen. He was thinner and smaller than he’d like to be, and yet he had no problem in bars. Sometimes, like tonight, the bartender would hitch in a breath to ask for I.D. and Ramsey would tilt his head and look at him. Just look at him. The bartender would stand there and stare, and a moment would pass in which neither said anything. It wasn’t like Ramsey possessed any real supernatural power – not like some people he knew – but there was something about his eyes, Ramsey had learned, his eyes and his scars, that made people like this bartender always step back and say, “Okay. So what’ll it be?”
“Scotch,” Ramsey said. “Neat.”
He rarely drank it. He just liked to order it.

They had come south through the Canadian/American border and tonight they found themselves in wine country. Ramsey had spent the afternoon kicking around the town, enjoying the sweeping vistas and clear, lemon-colored sunlight after all those days of northwest rain. Maybe, when this business of theirs was finished and the world was set right again – at least, set back to what it was before Asha’s demons found their way into it – they could move here, live here, the three of them, Jess and Kai and Ramsey. Be like an actual family. Have a horse ranch or something. Ramsey knew nothing about either horses or ranches, but he liked the idea. A lot.
The town seemed a mix of stylish yuppies who drove up from the Bay Area for the weekends and aging long-haired hippie types in sandals and tie-dyed t-shirts.
The girl at the bar didn’t seem to be either.
She was brown-haired, brown-eyed, and she caught Ramsey’s eye for several reasons. One was because she reminded him of someone he had known not so very long ago – his first love, you could say, if you were inclined to say it – and whom he still had trouble believing was actually, and most unfairly, dead.
The other reasons were things that clawed his spine.
The girl noticed him – people did, although never in the ways that Ramsey preferred – but her gaze went flat with disinterest. She was talking to a couple at the bar. The man and woman were both tall and fair-colored, looked like siblings, although earlier they’d been engaging in some serious public affection involving tongue. Ramsey had to hope that brother-sister wasn’t the case.
The brown-haired girl tossed her head back, displaying a pale sweep of throat. The man and woman exchanged glances and the man gestured for the bartender to serve the girl another drink.
Beyond the windows, the sun finished setting. Darkness gathered deep and close and silent, that darkness of the country which still unnerved him.
The couple was getting up from the bar. The dark-haired girl spun round on her black leather stool, stumbled as she got off it, and laughed. The couple was quick to close in on her. She clutched both their arms for support, muttered, “It’s these frigging heels,” and laughed again.
They left the bar, the girl’s heels tripping across the polished hardwood. Then they were heading out the double doors and down the wide porch steps, and Ramsey touched the knives, strapped flat and cool along his forearms beneath the sleeves of his sheepskin-lined denim jacket, felt the presence of the Rugers that had been spell-modified just for him: the .45 Auto holstered at his hip, the 9 mm at his ankle. There was a small bone amulet on a black leather cord around his neck. He touched it for luck. Jess would be furious, he knew, but there was no other option.
You saw what you saw and you couldn’t unsee it.
You had to do the right thing.
He left money on the bar and followed them, the couple and the girl.

The motel was a crumbling Spanish-style affair that had once been charming and romantic. But that was a long time ago.
The air held the scents of jasmine and citrus; the shadows were layered and lush. The couple, the girl sandwiched firmly between them, was passing through an archway draped with dead ivy and into the overgrown courtyard when the tall fair-haired man lifted his head and took notice of Ramsey. Behind him, water pooled in a broken stone fountain. The only light came from the stars overhead.
“Hey,” the man said. “Kid. You following us?”
“The girl,” Ramsey said. “Get away from her.”
The woman looked across the girl’s head to her partner. “Taylor, who is this freak?”
Taylor said, “And there’s some reason you think I should know this?”
The girl looked through the shadows to Ramsey.
“Maybe you should go home,” she said quietly.
And she shook herself free of the arms around her shoulders and came forward, one step, two steps, her face and body edging into enough starlight for Ramsey to see the way her eyes widened. “You,” she breathed. “I know you. From the desert.”
The woman said, “You know this freak?”
“I tasted him,” the girl said. And grinned. “We talk about you. There are lots of rumors. But you’re ordinary now, aren’t you? You’re like any other stupid kid.”
Ramsey clicked off the safety and aimed the .38 at her face. “Get away from her,” he told the couple. “She’s not what she seems.”
“Hey,” the man said. “Hey. Wait a sec. You don’t have to do this—“
“Get away from her.”
“You want money? We’ll give you money—“
“She’s not what she seems.”
“I’m not,” the girl agreed.
Her mouth opened wide, and then wider, and her tongue snapped like a whip across the fifteen feet that separated her from Ramsey. The end of the tongue lashed round the barrel of the pistol and he had a moment to see the wet pulsing texture, the wine-red color laced with black, before the gun ripped from his hand and flew across the courtyard. Someone was screaming. The woman was screaming while the man’s face went loose with shock. “Get,” Ramsey yelled, which was the only thing he had time to yell before the girl was coming at him, her face twisted, her hands up in the air and curled into claws. She had not Altered but he could glimpse the demon in her anyway, as if her human skin had turned transparent and her demon face was there for the whole world to see, and wouldn’t that be a traffic-stopping sight on Main Street –
He punched her in the throat. It was a good, well-aimed blow, the way Kai had taught him, and the force was enough to put her on pause, stagger her back a few steps. They held eyes for a moment, then she grinned and darted into shadow. A bullet slipped past his cheek, the crack of it wild in his ear. He threw himself behind the stone fountain, the smell of wet rotting plants in his nostrils. Shadowy figures were moving along the second-floor walkways. One of the doors slammed open, then shut again. Then came the sound of a deep, throaty chittering. They were talking to each other. How many of them were there? The blonde woman was running out through the archway, into the parking lot. The man was right behind her but as he stepped beneath the arch, shadows moved in from either side and swallowed him from view; there was a wet, terrible crunching sound, and then the screaming turned high-pitched and liquid…and ceased.
A bullet buried itself in the stone fountain. Chips flew against his face. Ramsey ducked and moved round. His palms were slick with sweat and he wiped them quickly on his jeans before grabbing the second pistol from the ankle-holster and switching off the safety. The gun warmed quickly in his hand, not just because of his touch but the spellcasting Kai had worked over it just before he’d left them. Ramsey took aim at one of the shadows on the walkway and fired. He could see the glints the bullet made in the air as it shimmered apart into stronger faster versions of itself. One of the chittering shadows crumpled against the wall; another slumped over the railing. Ramsey waited for – wanted – it to fall, craved the sound of impact, but it remained there like a busted toy.
Usually the hybrids didn’t bother with guns, barely knew how to use them. They wanted to bite and claw and rip. They craved the intimacy. The taste.
The chittering grew more frantic; filled the air; there was laughter, shouts of “Boyo, boyo!” and someone made a crack about fresh tender boy-meat. Ramsey was in overdrive now; firing at the shadows, at the faces that came looming out at him. And then there was nothing left in the gun and he tossed it aside and slipped out a knife and hurled it at the thing that was coming at him from his left, a kid near his own age with a pockmarked face and eyes that weren’t eyes but sockets filled with blood. The knife went deep into his chest and the kid who wasn’t really a kid hit the ground and went into convulsions. Then he pulled the knife from his chest and laughed and started chopping off his own fingers. Crazy, Ramsey thought, not for the first time and not the last, god, they’re so fucking crazy –
And a thought behind that, even as he slipped the other knife from its sheath: I am outnumbered. Doors were opening, shadows coming out into the courtyard, onto the walkways. Nobody was firing anything at him anymore. They weren’t running towards him, either; they were taking their time, watching him, enjoying this. “Hey,” one whispered, “hey chick-chick. You’re a tough little chick-chick.”
“A cute little chick-chick,” said a female voice from the other side of him.
“Cute on the inside too, I bet,” said someone else. “Let’s find out.”
And there was a new shadow in the doorway.
A woman. Tall, slender, with long dark hair hanging down her back, dressed in jeans and a black hooded cardigan. She looked younger than her twenty-nine years, until you got close-up, saw her eyes: then she looked older. “Ramsey,” she yelled, “take cover.”
Ramsey felt the pulse in the air as unseen power swept the courtyard. The doors to the motel rooms all slammed shut. The hybrids were trapped in the open.
Take cover. She didn’t mean it in the usual sense. What she meant was for him to grab the amulet around his neck and fold himself into as small a ball as possible. The amulet burned against his palm, which hurt, but he knew better than to let go. He felt a strange, shivery sensation, as the spell encoded in the amulet kicked into life and sent threads of what looked like something electric weaving round him, knitting into his own personal force field.
The air was raining fire.

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