We're closing in on launch day, which means I'm buuuuu-sy. But I did manage to get the final draft to my advance readers team, The Certain Cell, which means it's sneak peek time!
Check out Chapter 1 of the newly completed A Brush with Blood (The Clan-Vampire Clash: Book Three) below.
Gabe’s head snapped up. A dark shape surged through the windshield of the nearest van in the Florence junkyard, shattering the glass. Shiny shards rained down.
The creature leapt from the van onto the roof of the broken-down car separating it from Gabe. It jumped into the air again.
Time slowed, though not as much as usual. Six weeks of hunting the Indestructible with the Florence Cell instead of sleeping had their price, even with his unnatural ability to skip sleep.
Even with the Bloodlust pouring through his veins.
But he would pay it to keep those recurring nightmares at bay.
Gabe dug his fingers into the hilt of his sword. He twisted it back and forth, a nervous habit more about settling himself than testing the weight and balance of the familiar blade. Flexing his muscles, he prepared to absorb the impact of the beast.
The beast sailed over Gabe’s head. If fatigue weren’t weighing him down, he could have reached up with his sword and gashed the creature.
But it was and so he didn’t and the monster hurtled past Gabe unharmed. Dropping onto the hood of the car behind him, it scrambled onto the roof. Its black eyes collided with Gabe’s.
Gabe froze. Those visions and memories of her whirled through his mind.
Lila teasing him while he waited for Marina, his sister and Lila’s roommate. Lila checking out her first Pasteur party. Lila smiling up at him on that Ferris wheel. Lila hurting herself on the football field. Lila giggling and spinning around in a green dress.
Lila dying alone in a snowy cornfield.
Gabe’s breath stuck in his chest.
Night after night, he’d avoided that nightmare by keeping himself busy until he was so tired that he passed out into a dreamless sleep for a couple of hours before the visions came for him again. Tonight, he’d joined the Florence Cell to patrol—and tire himself out—as he’d been doing several nights a week.
And tonight, they’d caught the scent of a member of the Indestructible. It had bolted into this junkyard and hidden in the lopsided rows of dead cars, vans, and trucks.
Now the creature stared at him, and he stood there frozen with visions of Lila swirling through his head, distracting him from the danger in front of him.
“If you’re not gonna help, get outta the way!” Tony, one of the Florence Cell Warriors on patrol with Gabe, shoved him to the side.
Despite his Warrior agility and balance, Gabe stumbled in the gravel.
Tony bounded onto the car behind the creature. The beast ran, almost as fast as the fastest Warrior. Tony chased it, vaulting off the hoods, trunks, and roofs of the junkyard’s vehicles.
Falling back, Florence Warrior Stefan cut off the monster’s escape route to the road.
Their leader, Dana, dashed forward on the other side, parallel with Tony and the fleeing creature. Over her shoulder, she yelled, “Gabe, stay back. We’ll take care of this.”
That broke his stupor. He was supposed to help them, not hinder them. One eye on the beast, Gabe jumped on top of the nearest car and charged forward. He traced Dana’s path from above.
Dana’s gaze darted up to him. “I told you to stay back.”
“I want to help,” Gabe managed between frantic breaths. His Bloodlust beat at his fingertips, begging him to attack now, a few moments too late.
Dana’s upper lip curled. “Haven’t you helped enough? Just stay back.” Before Gabe could object, she added, “That’s an order.”
Gabe’s mouth snapped shut. Since Dana wasn’t the First or Second of the Florence Cell, she couldn’t use a magical Command that would force him to comply.
But Gabe wouldn’t disobey her. The hierarchy in their Cells existed for a reason. That, he knew as well as anyone. Besides, he was a guest here. If he wanted to keep on coming here—to keep on avoiding certain things—he had to listen to the older Warriors of the Florence Cell.
Gabe slowed to a trot, maintaining a safe distance between himself and the hunting Warriors. The scents of gas and rancid motor oil, of festering garbage and old urine, coated his nostrils like a layer of Vaseline. They were so strong, he could taste them.
Bounding over the cars, Tony herded the creature to a corner of the junkyard. There, a few trucks less broken-down than the rest bordered an empty, gravel-lined area.
Probably where they get new cars.
Unable to leap straight to the dented trailer across the gap, the beast hopped down. Pebbles crunched beneath its bare feet.
Stefan burst out of the alley between the trucks. He tackled the beast, slamming it into the ground.
With a snarl and swollen fangs, the creature flipped Stefan over. Its knees drove into Stefan’s thighs, pinning them down. Its hands smashed Stefan’s arms into the gravel. Its fangs lowered to Stefan’s throat.
Its thirst erased all thoughts of Tony.
Poof! The creature became nothing but dust around Tony’s stake. It fell onto the prone Stefan.
Springing to his feet, Stefan spat onto the ground. “Next time, gimme some warning, okay? Ugh, I got a whole mouthful of it.”
“Gee, sorry for savin’ your life.” Tony patted Stefan’s brawny back.
Crossing his arms over his chest, Stefan scowled. “That was the plan and you know it.”
Bait? They’d used one of their own as bait?
Dana, now relaxed, joined Stefan and Tony. “You couldn’t wait for me?”
Stefan shrugged. “I saw an opening and I took it. So did Tony.”
“Fair enough. Dead is dead. Except for, y’ know, when it’s not.” Shooting a wry smile at Tony and Stefan, Dana tugged out her phone and typed something on it. After a few minutes—during which Tony and Stefan continued their banter without glancing at Gabe—she tucked it away. Her gaze touched on all three of them. “All right, boss says to meet up back at Rick’s to regroup. Sun should be up soon, so we’re probably done for the night, but she wants to go over a few things first.”
Weaving through the jumble of rickety cars, Stefan and Tony strode to the wooden fence guarding the junkyard. With the creature destroyed, they didn’t worry about stealth or silence. Gabe and Dana trailed after them, side by side.
An icy gust slashed at Gabe’s face. He shuddered. Not one snowflake had yet fallen this winter, but the temperatures had plummeted. The first snowfall couldn’t be far away.
Lila had died in the snow in that vision.
In that dream, Gabe corrected himself.
Sometimes, he didn’t mind the dreams, no matter how exhausted they left him. They were a chance to see her again. During the day, he pretended to ignore Lila laughing with her new friends, not missing him one bit. She’d moved on and forgotten about Gabe and their broken friendship.
He should do the same.
But the visions and memories of Lila wouldn’t let him. Over and over again, they reminded him of what could have been.
No, that wasn’t right. There was no could have been. She’d been impossible from the start. The escalation of the dreams only meant that Lila neared manifestation of her Latent talents, no matter how Marina claimed the opposite.
Lila dying alone in a snowy cornfield.
Gabe squeezed his eyes shut. That last dream tore him apart every time.
Dana’s elbow jabbed into his ribs, making him startle. “Hey, your car’s near here, right?”
“Um, sorta. It’s at Central and Fifteenth.” Gabe’s fingers riffled through his hair, breaking up the clumps of frozen sweat. His stomach tensed for a blow.
“Good.” Dana climbed the junkyard’s fence like a regular human on the off chance anyone was watching despite the early-morning hour. It rattled beneath her.
Gabe followed suit, landing next to a ragged bush on the opposite side. When Dana took off through the empty lot next to the junkyard, he hurried to catch up to her.
“So…” The dry weeds crackled beneath Dana’s feet. “Why don’t you head back to Eversfield?”
Gabe cocked an eyebrow. They never released him early, even if he was a volunteer.
“And you should probably stay there for the near future. Focus on the Eversfield Cell.” A few paces behind Tony and Stefan, Dana trudged through the tangles of dead plants, toward the sidewalk lining Central Ave. Between the distance, the noise of their careless steps, and the low pitch of Dana’s voice, there was no way Tony or Stefan could hear her.
Even so, Gabe frowned. He was being benched.
He shouldn’t be surprised. This wasn’t the first time in the last several weeks that he’d been less than successful during a Florence patrol. Evidently, it was the last.
Gabe’s hands balled into fists. He needed this distraction.
Dana sighed. “Look, don’t feel bad. We operate a bit…faster than your average boarding school Cell. Your buddy Simon is the exception to the rule. Whenever we get new recruits, we sit them out and train them full-time for at least a month before adding them to patrols. Besides, don’t you have exams or something to worry about?”
Or something. Shoving his numb hands into his pockets, Gabe cleared his throat. “Um, yeah, good point.”
“Okay, so why don’t you focus on that for now? In a few months, we can chat again.” At the corner of Central and Twenty-Third, Dana tilted her head to the left. “This is our stop. I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah, see you later.” At least they trusted him enough to walk to his car alone.
A few steps down Twenty-Third, Dana called out over her shoulder, “Gabe, you need one of us to walk you back?”
Gabe waved her off. “No, I’m fine. Have a good night—er, day, I guess.”
And he was fine. So what if he’d sacrificed everything for his supernatural birthright? So what if he sucked at killing the Indestructible? So what if he was such a terrible Warrior that the Florence Cell had kicked him out? It didn’t matter. None of it did.
To be continued...