Today Orbit posted the first of my bookcasts discussing the Hunter Kiss series, and it seemed like a perfect time to release an excerpt from A WILD LIGHT (set for release in late July). This book underwent an interesting rewrite before it was done—what was meant to be the climax of the book, I ended up inserting into the middle—which effectively upped all the stakes and invited the revelations about Maxine that I’ve been building to since THE IRON HUNT. You want to know what Maxine is? Who she is? What she’s meant for? You want to know who Zee and the boys are? Well, you’ll find out this summer.
EXCERPT – CHAPTER ONE
It was my birthday, the anniversary of my mother’s murder, and on the way to the party, I made a special point to stop and kill a zombie.
I did it every year. My secret. Only Zee and the boys knew. Our gift to each other.
Sun had been down for only an hour, but this was Seattle, the skies were black as midnight, and the rain pounded the windshield like each drop was trying to break the glass. Cyndi Lauper played on the radio, softly, because I wanted to hear Dek and Mal sing along. “True Colors,” one of my mother’s favorites.
The little demons were coiled around my shoulders, heavy and warm, their breath hot against my ears as they hummed the song in their high, sweet voices. Aaz and Raw sat in the backseat, uncharacteristically quiet, their little legs dangling over the floor as they clutched half-eaten teddy bears against their scaled, muscular chests.
Zee crouched in the passenger seat. Razor-sharp spines of black hair flexed against his chiseled skull, and his eyes glinted red. His claws flexed, in and out, in and out, and every few minutes, he raked his arms in quiet agitation. He was difficult to see, even seated beside me. All of them were. Blending with the shadows, falling into shadows, except for the silver glint of veins and their burning eyes.
“Left,” Zee rasped. I didn’t question his instincts. I turned at the intersection. We were in the south end of Lake Union, near the park. I pulled into the lot near the armory. The boys were gone before I turned off the engine, disappearing into the shadows like ghosts. Only Dek and Mal stayed, heavy and reassuring around my throat. Little bodyguards.
The downpour did not ease. I didn’t worry about it. Less visibility was a good thing.
I only had to wait ten minutes. Zee poked his head out from beneath the dashboard. He didn’t have to say a word. I got out, hunching down, as the rain slammed me. Cold as ice. My gloves were already off. I looked down, once, at the armor hugging my right hand: organic metal, quicksilver as mercury, embedded in the skin of my fingers and wrist, connected by threads that traveled over the back of my pale hand.
Magic. Or close enough not to matter. It certainly didn’t matter tonight.
Zee loped ahead on all fours. We moved amongst trees planted in concrete beds, my bootheels clicking sharp. Rain slid down the back of my neck into my clothes. My hair plastered against my skull. My nose began to run.
Aaz and Raw waited beneath a tree, near the jogging path. A zombie lay between them. A woman. She wore sweatpants and a lightweight rain jacket. Blond, young, possessed by a demonic parasite. Her aura was old, fluttering with a darkness deeper than the night.
She bared her teeth when she saw me, but it was the beginning of a scream, and Zee clamped his small hand over her mouth. She bucked upward, but Raw had a firm hold on her legs, and Aaz had already pulled her arms over her head. All of them, touching her as gently as they could. Hosts were innocent. I always assumed so, anyway.
I crouched. Stared long and hard at the zombie, memorizing her face and the thunder of her aura. I didn’t ask questions, I didn’t care about crimes. I didn’t think too hard about the last two years and how some demons could be reformed, converted. I didn’t think about the possibility of innocence. Tonight, I didn’t accept innocence.
Instead, I thought about my mother carrying my birthday cake across the kitchen, and the window exploding, and her head doing the same. I thought about her blood, and the boys weeping, and my screaming. I thought about the possessed men and women—the zombies—who slaughtered her.
I had lost count of all the demons I’d exorcised over the years, but the ones I took on my birthday were always special.
I was gentle. I pressed my palm against her brow. I said the words, and the demon stretched and stretched, the parasite holding on for dear life. It had been a deep possession. Years, maybe—even decades. Controlling this woman, using her as a puppet to feed on the suffering the demon certainly had caused around her. Growing fat on pain.
The parasite snapped free. Aaz caught it first, and then Raw and Zee took hold. Dek and Mal purred. I looked away, trying not to listen to the high screams of the creature as it was eaten. I focused on the woman. Checked her pulse. Found her ID. She lived nearby. A jogger. Bad night for exercise. Those parasites and their fun.
Zee glided close, running his long black tongue over his teeth. I smelled sulfur and ash.
“Maxine,” he whispered. “Happy birthday.”
I wiped rain from my eyes and walked back to the car.