A few of you expressed an interest in a teaser/excerpt, so I thought I’d take a quick break to share something.
As always, it was extremely difficult to select a spoiler-free passage. Crest, in particular, is an intricate installment with a lot of moving parts so it was hard to find something that wouldn’t give away a larger portion of the story.
I finally decided on a chunk from the middle of the first chapter that involves a few new characters. This will probably be the longest thing I’ll share prior to Crest’s release.
A few other things I wanted to mention. You don’t have to read Chevalier or Warrior Prince to understand Crest. Sufficient info is provided to gain a basic understanding of what happened to Julian and Kendra during the beginning of their month in New York.
But if you were planning on reading Chevalier and don’t want to be spoiled, you should probably hold off on reading the following excerpt.
Other usual notices: Unedited, may still change in revisions, blah, blah, etc. Also, obviously, huge spoilers for Billow if you haven’t read it yet.
“Why do you want to know?” Edmundo’s voice turned silky, a snake ready to strike.
Warning bells went off in my head and I rushed back to the stairs. Before Julian could respond, Renee strode to the bar and wedged herself between them.
My pulse went into overdrive.
“What are you doing?” I muttered. “This is not the plan.”
Her voice came through loud and clear over the earpiece.
“Hey,” she purred. “Can I have some of that water?”
The bait was too obvious, too soon. Keeping the trio in sight, I pushed my way through the mass of inebriated dancers.
“Help yourself.” Edmundo handed over his bottle, watching with interest as she gulped the liquid down.
“Thanks.” She leaned in and lightly rubbed against his arm. His eyes dropped to the front of her gaping top and her flushed, exposed skin. “It’s so hot in here.”
Closing her eyes, she moved sinuously, back arching, body inching closer until she was practically crawling on top of him. Inheriting her mother’s acting skills came in handy. She really looked like she was on X.
“That it is,” Edmundo murmured.
She took his hand, her voice low and seductive. “Maybe we should go somewhere cooler.”
He chuckled. “Lead the way, gorgeous.”
“Renee,” I whispered. “Knock it off!”
No indication she heard me. By the time I got to the bar, she and Edmundo were six feet away, heading toward the stairs located in the southwest corner.
Julian was already in motion. I followed his back as he expertly wound through the sea of grinding bodies while my Virtue kept a tight lock on the other two.
“Where are you guys?” Oriel’s worried voice came through the earpiece. “I lost you.”
”Renee’s heading downstairs with the target,” Julian said calmly.
A creative stream of cursing blistered my ear. Being an officer in the New York Police Department supplied her with a rather colorful vocabulary.
I waited until she paused to take a breath. “Meet us there. We’re going dark.”
Julian waited for me on the corner of the dance floor, gently pulling the tiny plastic mold we used for wireless communication out of his ear. I did the same.
“LeVeq, remove the magic.”
“No.” He headed for the stairs.
I resisted the urge to slap the back of his stubborn head. “I need your full concentration —”
“And I need both of you to remain hidden in case more of them show up.”
We descended. With each step, the music’s intense pounding lessened and the club’s chaotic lights faded.
“What are we looking at?” Julian said under his breath.
“First room on the right.” I’d scoped the entire venue out hours ago. Edmundo and Renee were in the women’s bathroom. “Floor is clear. No other humans.”
Two hanging bulbs dimly illuminated the narrow basement hallway. Emptiness echoed off shadowy corners and the grime-darkened ceiling. The scent of stale cigarettes and danger perfumed the air.
Julian’s kouperet and my dagger were already out, blades softly glowing with Essence. Magic flowed through my veins in a steady stream, its energy ready for use.
We paused in front of the first entrance. A dingy, lopsided “Women” sign hung on the stained door.
He lifted three fingers.
Sweat coated my palms.
The metallic taste of adrenaline flooded my tongue.
He kicked open the door and I entered first. Air shifted, magic lashing against my skin.
I ducked just in time.
The toilet lid flew out of a grungy stall, through the space my head occupied a moment ago, straight into Edmundo’s chest. He grunted, body smashing against the tiled wall to my left.
Renee stood beside the sink with hands on her hips, wearing a look of profound satisfaction.
Kinetics were such show-offs.
Edmundo recovered fast. He pushed off the wall, leg whipping out. The impact sent Julian toppling back into the stall.
He was good. Balanced, precise movements displayed training and technique. He evaded my fist and countered with a swift, reverse roundhouse that missed my chest by a millimeter.
Raised fists gave me an opening. Dagger slashed above the rib cage, just under his arm. I pivoted, angling the blade toward his neck.
Anticipating the move, his hand shot out, grabbed my forearm, and blocked the strike. A sharp crack cut through the air and a large curved pipe crashed into his wrist.
Edmundo flinched. Fingers tightened and he yanked me forward. I slammed onto the floor, taking the brunt of the fall on my right knee.
“Sorry,” Renee called out cheerfully. “I was aiming for his shoulder.”
Beneath the sink, water gushed out of a hole left in the wall by the missing pipe.
“Not. Helping,” I said though my teeth.
Feet slid on the floor, knee screamed in protest. I grabbed the sink and pulled myself up.
Edmundo lunged. Shards of pain ricocheted up my spine as I landed hard on my back. Iron hands gripped my arms, keeping my dagger away from his body.
“Need a little help, sweet iris?” Julian said.
I strained against Edmundo’s weight. “Shut up and watch the door.”
The last thing we needed was an innocent bystander walking into this mess. Water soaked my clothes and sloshed over my face. My back couldn’t gain traction against the slippery floor.
With an oomph, I managed to lift him enough to free my right leg. I kneed him in the groin and flipped him onto his back.
Dagger pressed tight against his neck. Blade pricked his skin and a thin trickle of black blood oozed out.
“Tell me who you report to.”
Edmundo let out a harsh breath. “Network’s too deep —”
Arm weight increased on the blade. Pain flashed across his face.
“How do we find your Lieutenant?”
Hatred blazed in creepy eyes the color of washed out asphalt. “The Shadow’s two moves ahead. Everywhere and nowhere. You’ll never win.”
Yeah, yeah. “You telling me or not?”
Blade pierced his Origin, blood spurting over my hands. Wincing at the throbbing pain in my knee, I pushed off him and stood.
I wiped the stained blade clean with the edge of my shirt. “You’re welcome.”
Renee tilted her head. “For what?”
“For saving your ass.”
“Who said it needed saving?”
“What’s your problem?” I leaned toward her, keeping a leash on my temper. Unfortunately, she was a few inches taller than me so I had to look up.
Water dripped off my hair and into my eyes. Damn it.
She examined her nails. “Get out of my face.”
“You jumped early.” At least the bite in my tone made up for the height difference. “You put everyone at risk.”
Her nose wrinkled in distaste. “I saw an opportunity and took it.”
“You two are giving me all sorts of new fantasies.”
Julian’s amused voice temporarily broke the tension, but it didn’t ease my irritation. I was tired of cleaning up after Renee. She’d placed all of us, including Julian and innocent humans, in serious danger tonight.
This is not over.
She winked. Anytime.
The sound of pounding feet preceded Oriel’s arrival. Her golden skin appeared unnaturally pale under the harsh lights.
Sharp tawny eyes flickered over the several inches of water covering the floor, the broken toilet stall, the water trickling from the hole in the wall, the discarded toilet lid and metal pipe, and the inky splotches of black blood floating around the corpse.
She took it pretty well.
“Is everyone okay?”
“Fine.” Julian crouched and examined the body. “But we didn’t get the info we were looking for.”
“I wouldn’t have had to kill him if a certain someone stuck with the plan,” I pointed out.
Renee sauntered over to the body. “I wasn’t the one who staked him.”
I shot daggers at her back and Julian quickly changed the subject. “What do you think, Oriel? Robbery gone bad? Gang fight?”
She shook her head. “Better if we set it up as an OD. Much more believable, especially with the amount of drugs running through this place.”
As she and Julian discussed details, Renee lifted Edmundo’s left arm and studied his wrist. Her finger dabbed at a small spot of color smudged along the edge of his shirt cuff.
Curious, I moved in to get a closer look. “What is it?”
“Oil paint.” She rubbed the dark violet color between her fingers. It was still slightly wet and sticky. “I think I recognize the brand, Old France. I just used it for a painting a few weeks ago. High pigment, not too much filler. Expensive, very distinctive.”
“Not something he could easily come into contact with.”
She nodded. “This is very fine grade. Few places carry it in the city. In Manhattan, you can only get it at two supply stores.”
That narrowed the field of possibilities. Tracking down recent sales of the product might lead us to whatever activities Edmundo was involved with. Maybe even to the Manhattan Lieutenant.
As an investment banker, Edmundo was as far removed from the art scene as you could get. Three weeks ago, we’d also spotted Barry, the first Aquidae we tracked in Manhattan, at the Metropolitan Museum.
What were violent demons doing with art?