So, I received my final edits for Cranberry Blood at the end of last week. Breezed through them. Formatting is also complete on Book One in the Blood Series, and today I started the final read through.
My editor is looking over the formatted - as in ready to publish version of - She-Wolf one last time, and once I have read through Cranberry Blood for the final time I will be sending it back to her for its final check.
Needless to say that by the end of next week - give or take some days - review copies will go out, and I will be uploading the e-book for pre-order and hounding my lovely co-blogger with questions about print formatting. Yes, I do intend to put the Blood Series out in paperback. Firstly, because a lot of people don't like ereaders/kindles and they want to actually hold a book in their hands. Understandable, nothing beats the feeling of actually holding a book. Secondly, because the covers are too beautiful to be left as an image on a screen, and thirdly - and I will admit this is somewhat selfish - after three years of being a published author I would really like to hold a book I have written in my hands, and to see it sitting on my bookshelf.
As crazy as it may sound, I am fully aware that I am an author and as I have said above have been a published one for three years, but it has never fully sank in. Personally, I think that holding something you have created would be an amazing feeling, and I can't wait for that moment.
So yes, needless to say everything is on schedule - *knocks on wood to not jinx everything* - and since I teased you with an excerpt from She-Wolf last week, and since I am working on Book One at the moment, I think it would be only fair to let you have a peek at Cranberry Blood. And since this book is about 30k longer than its prequel, you get a longer excerpt. Enjoy! ; )
~ * ~
Lights spluttered above me, fighting with some relentless attempt to come back on, even though the battle appeared hopeless.
It is hopeless. I’m trapped.
Fresh waves of pain rippled around my skull and down my spine as I fought to see everything around me, but thick grey smoke flooded the corridors. It crawled down my throat; the taste and feel of ash coated my tongue, making me gag. The need to cough kept grabbing me while ash blocked my nose and stung my watering eyes. My head throbbed, pressure in my skull tightened, as I fought hard to keep my eyes open.
There has to be a way out.
My eyesight had clouded from the smoke; my nostrils burned with it.
The awareness under my skin burned as hot as the fire that currently threatened to bring the entire structure down on my head, but I had to walk down here; every impulse in my body forced me forward. I had no idea what I hoped to find, but I knew in my gut that I could get out.
My right hand hit the uneven wall before me; my heart sank as I stood before the dead end.
My lungs burned as the smoke continued to consume my body.
I wasn’t supposed to die down here.
~ * ~
Air scorched my throat as my body jerked into consciousness. Eyes wide and unfocused, I shot into a sitting position, fisting my hands against my chest as I fought to breathe. My heart hammered, each beat loud and clear as it thumped in my ears. My gaze darted around the room. Relief settled over me like a gentle summer’s breeze as each small familiarity of my bedroom filtered into my jumbled mind: the tall, old mahogany wardrobe to the right side; the window, where light desperately tried to seep through the blinds; and lastly, across from the foot of my bed, the vanity table in the same dark shade of wood. Everything exactly where it should be, including me, in my bed, exactly where I should be.
I inhaled, the simple motion causing a stitch to run up my sides, but I ignored it. Sinking against my pillows, I rested my head against the wooden bed frame and closed my eyes. One breath, two, three; my heart steadied back into its usual rhythm. I rubbed my hands across my face, wiping away the sheen of sweat that had broken over my skin. On my exhale, the quietness of the room embraced me. The usual knots in my stomach started to tighten as the confusion of the recurring dream faded. I forced my mind to reach out and grab the escaping images, but, as always, reality quickly settled in and made my vision nothing more than a blank canvas.
Dull throbbing picked up at my temples. Shit. A sigh escaped me. Not again.
I threw back the covers and stumbled out of bed, suddenly aware of something gripping the skin of my stomach and back.
“What the—?” The raised hem of my black vest allowed a glimpse at the white bandage strapped around my torso. “How the hell did that get there?”
Shuffling steps took me over to the mirror on the vanity table where I studied the clean dressing that clung to my washed-out skin.
Brow furrowed, I stared at the white patch. “Okay. I really don’t remember hurting myself, let alone bandaging myself up.” My focus snapped to a smaller bandage, taped on the left side of my forehead. I studied my half-naked reflection with confusion. My already pale, peach skin looked pasty white, my golden curls nothing more than flat frizz. The throb in my temples increased as I forced my mind to conjure some memory of what had happened last night.
Blurred snippets of my most recent trip to London skipped through my brain. Standing on the roof across the way from some club . . . . Then nothing but blank.
I grabbed my comb and sat down on the edge of the bed, a hiss escaping my lips as pain shot up my left side. I took a deep breath and began to pull the comb through my matted hair, clenching my teeth as agony bit at my skull with each sharp tug. My mind continued to sift through snips of the night: going out to look for Carlson, finding him with Antonio. They had followed three drunken women from a club and dragged them into a loading bay behind one of the larger shops. Me following them and helping the three women get away . . . . At least, I think I did.
But what happened after that? More blankness. Damn.
Hair pulled over one shoulder; I plaited the limp mass and then placed the comb on the vanity table. My forehead began to tighten, and the painful awareness of the familiar thirst that started to crawl up my dry throat assailed my system. My stomach gurgled.
God, I feel rough. I needed food and my mixture, followed by a long, hot shower.
Rolling my head in a circle, I listened to the small pops of tense muscles as I walked to the head of the bed and reached behind the pillows for my sword. My hand met the mattress. My heart stopped. I threw the pillow aside.
Where the hell is my sword?
A strange reckoning tickled below the surface of my skin as my gaze tripped over the room. Something isn’t right.
I walked around my bed to my wardrobe and pulled out a pair of black jogging pants. My focus landed on my sheathed sword, which leant against the white wall behind the bedside table. I slipped into the garment and grabbed my sword, unsheathing the blade as I tiptoed to my bedroom door.
The leather sheath got tossed on my messy bed and the door eased open. Daylight flooded through the slim stairwell window, lighting up the narrow, cream-coloured hallway.
I walked over to the next door and opened it gently; the familiar smell of my Grandmother’s musky perfume hit me as I stepped into the room. I lowered my sword since no one stood there, but my feet refused to move. Her furniture sat where the pieces always had been. The purple bedding laid neatly, not a crease in sight. A layer of dust covered her bedside table. The faintest trace of her scent still lingered. A ball of grief swelled in my chest, lodging tightly between my throat and heart.
I hadn’t taken a single step in here for over a month. She would have wanted me to clean, to open the window and air out the room, but I honestly couldn’t bear the thought of dusting her away just yet.
I backed out of the room and shut the door, letting out a breath I didn’t even realize I’d been holding.
I’m finally going crazy. Somehow, I got myself home; it doesn’t really matter how. Maybe I came in, sorted myself out, and then passed out in bed? I must have. What other explanation could there be?
With a sigh, I walked across the landing to the bathroom door. The throb in my temples increased. My muscles felt tighter than a bowstring. A shower and something to eat and drink; these should do the trick. Then maybe my brain would decide to start working, and I could fill in the blanks.
The scent of wet dog flew into my face once across the bathroom threshold. My clothes from last night sat in a shredded pile on the black marble floor, along with my set of daggers. The first aid kit lay open in the sink.
A deep inhale revealed more; combined with the smell of dog, the bathroom held traces of blood. My blood.
I stepped into the room and peered into the waste-bin to see a large amount of dried, red cotton wool.
“I don’t remember doing this.” My eyes bugged at the mess.
Surely, I would remember doing this? Why the hell do I smell dog? Another inhale. And pine?
Something really didn’t feel right. I had never been so bad that I couldn’t remember what had happened on a hunt, and by the looks of things, I’d been in real bad shape.
Back into the hall and to creep quietly down the stairs. The odour of dog grew with each step, the smell of coffee and bacon gradually joining in. My stomach clenched at the familiarity of walking down these stairs every morning to find my grandmother happily cooking breakfast in our kitchen. Minus the smell of animal, though.
I couldn’t believe she’d died almost six weeks ago. God, I miss her.
As I stepped into the lower hall, a glance out of the side window showed my black Range Rover sitting in front of the house, between the front door/porch and the closed, wrought iron security gate. A long, silver scratch marred the paintwork on the bonnet. Antonio’s face flashed through my mind.
I remembered stumbling back to the car to find him there, waiting for me. The bastard had dragged his filthy claw along my Rover. That son-of-a-bitch!
I killed him, though. I think. He lunged and . . . . I looked down at my left arm. Two pale lines slashed across my skin. He’d stumbled and caught me on the arm, but I got him in the neck . . . .
The sudden sound of rustling paper snapped me from my thoughts. Tension grabbed me, the awareness crackling beneath the surface of my skin.
Someone is in my house.
Stepping through the open living room door, a new scent invaded my nostrils. Tangy, manufactured, like expensive cologne. An unfamiliar, black travel bag sat tucked away between the red leather sofa and the TV stand. The papers rustled again. I moved lightly toward the archway that lead into the dining room, my sword still gripped comfortably in my right hand.
“Your breakfast is getting cold, Heather. I suggest you stop trying to sneak in here and just come in so that we can get this over and done with,” said the deep male voice of whoever was in my kitchen.
What the hell is going on? Who is he? Why is he in my house? How does he know my name? And why the hell has he cooked me breakfast?
“Are you going to come into the room or stand there drooling all day?” He turned a page of his newspaper.
I inhaled again; nothing new amongst the scent of dog, pine, bacon, and coffee, which meant he wasn’t a Vampire. Leeches smelled like mouldy, wet earth; not an overpowering smell, but hidden underneath the products they wore. Not that a Vampire could get in here, anyway. They could only come in with a personal invite, and since they all wanted me dead . . . . No matter what state I’d been in last night, I wouldn’t have invited one in. So, who the hell is this guy?
I walked toward him, my sword glinting in the sunlight, the hilt gripped firmly in both hands. “Who the hell are you, and what are you doing in my house?” I stopped three feet behind him.
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Wrong answer.” The tip of my sword found the firm space between his shoulder blades. “I said, who the hell are you and what—”
“Killing me isn’t going to help.” He turned another page of his paper.
“I disagree. I think killing the stranger who broke into my house is a very good idea.”
“I did not break in,” he replied calmly. “My name is Brendan Daniels and I’m actually here to help you.”
I snorted. “Like I believe that.”
“It’s the truth. Besides, if I really wanted to hurt you, I would have. I also wouldn’t have left your weapons with you.”
“Well, you’re obviously an eejit.”
He laughed. “You have serious trust issues.”
“Trust issues? Says the complete stranger who broke into my house and—”
“I used your house keys. They were in your jacket pocket,” he said. “And yes, trust issues, says the stranger. The stranger who promises he isn’t here to hurt you.”
“Just because you say you’re not here to hurt me doesn’t mean it’s the truth.”
“True. But why go to the trouble of killing you when I could have left you lying in the car park the other night and let the seven greedy Leeches looking for you find you and bleed you dry?”
My stomach turned as memories of my outing slammed clearly into my brain. I had walked into a trap, so set on finding Carlson that the need to kill the bastard once and for all had blocked all sense and reason. Twelve lower generation Vampires had been waiting on the rooftops surrounding the loading bay. Carlson and Antonio wouldn’t stop talking, so I backed out of the area, and that’s when I saw them all. Their blood-red eyes watched my every move as their mouths hung wide, displaying their fangs.
“I have waited so long for this moment,” Carlson had said.
So had I.
My grandmother never told me where to find him. She wouldn’t let me kill him even though he deserved my sword through his neck more than any other Vampire.
They obviously found out Gran had died and simply waited for me to come out and play. I went, and they had been waiting for me, and like some amateur, I walked right into their trap. I killed two Vampires in order to get out of the loading bay, and then I had the other ten, along with Carlson and Antonio, chasing me through the dark and empty back streets of London. I tried to lead them somewhere humans wouldn’t find us; much good it did me.
But none of that explained who this guy was or why the hell he’d made himself at home in my kitchen.
“So you were there?”
“That much is obvious. Who do you think brought you home?”
“How did you even know where I live?”
“You have sat-nav in your Rover. And, like I said, I’m here to help.” He slid off the stool; the tip of my sword grazed his green T-shirt.
I clenched my teeth. “Why help me? You don’t even know me.”
He finally turned to face me. He’d pulled back his copper-blond hair, allowing me to see his face fully. A broad nose accompanied by high cheekbones and a tall forehead set off the deepest green eyes I’d ever seen. A fine layer of copper stubble outlined his square jaw and surrounded thick, peach lips.
His emerald eyes sparkled as I met his gaze.
“True, but I helped you because I thought it would be in your best interest to get you back to the safety of your own house.”
He thought it would be in my best interest? Who the hell does this guy think he is, a knight in shining armour? He looks like a friggin’ Ken doll, for Christ’s sake, and . . . . Wait a damn minute. “Seven Vampires?”
He arched an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“Before, you said seven Vampires? There were twelve left.”
“Well, you eventually killed the Italian one before collapsing in front of your car, leaving eleven. The blond one who couldn’t decide whether he wanted to eat you or screw you—”
“Carlson.” I shuddered at the memory of him pinning my body to the rough concrete road. His thighs clamped my legs shut as he lapped at the blood trickling down my forehead . . . .
“Well, turns out he, as well as three of the others, actually needed their heads to fight back, but the rest of them ran off, and since my priority is you—”
“You’re the one who knocked Carlson off me?”
Memories exploded and rolled around my mind like storm clouds. Carlson had slid his talons into my waist, knocking me to the pavement and causing me to cut my forehead. He had pinned me between the ground and his growing erection while he demanded I beg him to change me. A few cheap insults and shoving some silver in his ribcage was enough to piss him off—as if I would want to be blood-bonded to the bastard who’d helped destroy my mother and father. On my refusal, he’d bared his fangs; about to feed from me...then the next thing I knew, he was gone. Once I got to my feet, I saw four decomposing bodies on the ground, only yards away from where I, myself, had almost bled to death.
“Yes.” He picked up a glass of orange juice and took a mouthful.
“Carlson is dead?”
He gulped. “Well, last time I checked, decapitation usually does the trick. So, yeah.”
A strange relief flooded me. My hands began to tremble. I tightened my grip, trying to keep a firm hold on my sword. “Are you a hundred and ten percent sure he’s dead?”
“A hundred and forty-six percent sure.”
I couldn’t believe it. Carlson, dead. Well, in the sense that he wouldn’t be prowling the streets or feeding ever again. He was actually gone. I suddenly didn’t know whether to hug this strange man, or kill him for taking away my opportunity to kill the monster that’d infected my mother. “Why did you kill him?”
He laughed. “Well, I was considering letting him and the rest of his friends eat you, but then that wouldn’t have made me a very good guardian, now, would it?”
Cranberry Blood © Elizabeth Morgan 2014
Releasing August 25th!