Thursday, August 21, 2014

Preview New Book, Dangerous Creatures

Hi Everyone,

Here's the first ten pages of my new novel, Dangerous Creatures (Book #3, Pure Series):

Dangerous Creatures


Chapter 1.


The dead travel fast.

            The words were written on a sheet of paper that had been wrapped around a rock.

            I looked up and down the street in the gathering gloom.  Not only was the street completely deserted, but the neighborhood itself was quiet and still as if no one had stirred in a long time.

            I'd been sitting in the living room, staring out the window, watching the sun sinking behind the houses across the street and waiting for William.  I'd felt a strange softness in the evening, and a sense of peace settled over me that I hadn't felt in a long time.  I felt as if I had no need to be afraid.

            Though the stars had not yet come out, I'd seemed to see them before my eyes—both above me and below me.  I'd felt myself sinking pleasantly into darkness.

            There had been a sudden, sharp crack at the window, and I'd hurried out to see what it was.

            As I looked around, a sensation stole over me that I had felt once before. I felt as if the silence around me was watchful—as if the very air were holding its breath, waiting to see what I would do.  I hadn't known what the feeling had meant back then, but I knew what it meant now.

            I shivered.

            I looked at the note again.  Of course, it was likely just a prank.  Tonight was a night that was known for pranks, so there was really no reason for me to read any great significance into the words.  I probably hadn't even been targeted particularly.  I imagined that someone had simply thrown the rock at the closest house and then run off.  There was no need for me to be worried.  Things had been quiet.

            But whoever had thrown the rock had disappeared quickly.

            I was just turning to go back into the house, when a familiar car turned onto my street.  I quickly folded up the note and pushed it into the pocket of my jeans.

            The car slotted into place behind my grandmother's red sports car, and William got out.  He was tall and lean and dark-haired, and any outside observer would have guessed him to be about eighteen or nineteen years old—but that guess would have been off by quite a bit.

            As William walked up to me, he gave me the crooked half-smile that I loved so well.

            "We're you waiting out here for me?"

            I smiled and tried to push my uneasiness away.  "Of course I was."  I glanced down the street.  "You didn't happen to see anyone walking—or maybe running—through the neighborhood on your way over here, did you?"

            William glanced at me sharply.  "No.  Is something wrong?"

            "No—I just—no.  Someone threw a rock at our window, and it startled me.  That's all."

            I didn't see any point in mentioning the note—I was sure it was nothing.  It had to be nothing.

            William glanced toward the house.  "Are you ready to go?  Or should we stop in and say hello to your grandmother?"

            "We'd better tell her we're going," I said.  "Otherwise, she'll think I've been kidnapped by you."

            "That's a joke, right?"

            "Sort of."

            William looked at me closely.  "Are you sure nothing's wrong?  You look rattled."

            "No—nothing's wrong.  It's just that—I left the front door open.  I really should have closed it."

            I turned quickly and went into the house with William following me.

            GM met us in the hall—a tall slim figure with folded arms.  Her long silver hair was tied back in a braid, and the silver cross she always wore stood out starkly against her black sweater.

            "So, you're here now, are you?"  GM somehow always seemed to grow more formidable whenever William was around.

            "Yes, Mrs. Rost."  William, who could look quite formidable himself at times, often seemed less so when confronted by GM.

            GM sighed.  "Well, I hope the two of you will have a good time at the carnival."

            "Thank you, Mrs. Rost."

            "And don't be out too late.  I will be waiting for Katie's return."

            "Yes, Mrs. Rost," William said.

            "Well, you may go now.  And don't do anything I wouldn't do."

            "Yes, Mrs. Rost.  Of course not."

            "GM, please," I said.  "This is starting to feel like an interrogation."

            GM waved a hand.  "I already said you may go."

            "We'll see you later," I said, giving GM a kiss on the cheek.  "And you don't need to worry.  Nothing awful is going to happen.  Really."

            GM gave me a wry look, and then walked with us to the door.  As we went out, she closed it firmly behind us.

            "Sorry about that," I said.  "I always feel bad subjecting you to GM's—I don't even know what you'd call it.  She just always seems to be in a bad mood whenever you're around."

            "It's all right.  She isn't entirely to blame for her attitude toward me."

            "I know," I said.  "I just wish things could be different."

            William gave me a smile.  "I learned long ago that there was no point in dwelling on wishes."

            He turned toward his car.

            "William, wait," I said.  "Do you mind if we walk instead of driving?"

            William looked surprised.  "You want to walk?  It'll be dark soon, and the way over there isn't exactly well lit."

            "I know," I said.  "I just don't feel as if I can sit still right now.  And you can see in the dark, can't you?"

            "Okay," William said.  "If that's what you want, that's what we'll do."

            As we walked down the street, William kept glancing over at me, but he said nothing.

Before long we had plunged into the neighboring woods on our way to Hywel's Plaza.  In the winter months, the plaza was largely taken up by an outdoor skating rink, but in the warmer months, the plaza was used for public gatherings—concerts, farmers' markets, art fairs.  In this particular case, the plaza was hosting the Black Moon Carnival—which was actually a fundraiser for Elspeth's Grove High School.  There would be food and games and music, and I'd heard that the mayor was going to dedicate a new statue.  There would probably be quite a few people in costume, too.  Black Moon Night was also a local festival apart from the school fundraiser—it was like our own personal Halloween.

            As William and I walked through the trees, I was reminded unpleasantly of the day back in November when we had met two unexpected—and unwelcome—visitors in these very woods.  Those visitors had come with a warning for me.

            Though I tried to suppress it, a shiver ran through me.

            William reached out to take my hand, and I was comforted by the warmth and strength of his grasp.  But even though William was by my side, I was still uneasy, and I was deeply relieved when we finally spotted the lights of the carnival up ahead.

            We broke free of the trees.

            As I looked out over the carnival, my mood was lightened by just how bright and cheerful everything was.  Strings of lights crisscrossed the entire plaza, creating what looked like a canopy of stars.  Under the canopy, a small maze of booths crowded up against a larger-than-life straw figure of a witch, a colorful carousel, and a stage.  A large object sat by the stage under an enormous canvas tarp, and I figured that that was the new statue, ready for its unveiling.  I could see a crowd of people milling around—some of them in masks and costumes—and music and laughter floated up to me.

            I felt myself relax even further—this was just an ordinary Sunday night in a small town.  I very genuinely had nothing to worry about.

            As William and I walked into the maze of the carnival, I heard a splash, and I turned to look.  One of the booths was actually a dunk tank, and the hapless man on the stool had just been dropped into the water by a good shot.

            William gave my hand a gentle squeeze.  "What do you want to do first?"

            "Let's just walk around," I said.  "Maybe something fun will jump out at us."

            The aisles between the booths were narrow, and with the crowd of people, the flow of traffic was slow.  As we passed a booth that sold candy apples, William and I crossed paths with a brown-skinned girl with curly black hair, and a tall, pale boy with brown hair that was falling in his eyes—my best friend, Charisse, and her boyfriend, Branden.  The two of them were headed the opposite way, and though Charisse saw me and smiled, and Branden nodded at me, neither of them made any effort to stop and talk—nor did they acknowledge William.

            Charisse turned her face resolutely forward, and Branden took his cue from her.  The crowd eased and they both moved on.

            I looked up at William.  "They don't mean anything by it."

            William appeared unruffled.  "I know.  They aren't to be blamed for the way they react any more than your grandmother is.  They really can't help it."

            I was glad that William understood, but at the same time, I wished he didn't have to.  I wished we could be like any of the normal couples that had come to the carnival tonight.  I wished we actually were what we appeared to be—two ordinary high school students out having a good time.

            We continued on through the carnival, and I spotted Irina Neverov, who was out with her new boyfriend, Terrence.  Terrance was new in more ways than one—he had just transferred to our school, and he was already a standout on the track team—even though it was the tail end of the season.  There were rumors that he was a shoo-in for a starting position on the football team in the fall, too.  He'd just arrived, and he was already a star.

            Irina and Terrence didn't stop to talk to us, but that wasn't so unusual.  Irina and I had been friends once long ago.  But the passing years and her love for Simon Krstic—who had also had a crush on me—had driven a wedge between us.  There was nothing between Simon and me, and Irina herself had clearly moved on, but even so some constraint still remained between us.

            Irina's friends Bryony and Annamaria tagged along behind Irina and Terrence.  Bryony gave me a long look and seemed to be on the verge of speaking to me, but ultimately, she too decided not to stop to talk.

            William and I continued on our way, and we were just passing through an area that was full of game booths, when I heard someone call my name.

            "Katie!  Katie Wickliff!  Katie, over here!"

            I turned to see the familiar blond figure of Simon Krstic—he was manning one of the games.  He smiled when he realized that I'd noticed him, and he waved me toward his booth.

            I glanced up at William.  "Do you want to go over?"

            "Why not?  At least someone wants to talk to us."

            Simon broke into a grin as we reached his booth.

            "Hey, Katie."

            He gave William a brief nod.

            I looked around the booth.  There were several rows of multicolored balloons affixed to the far wall, and there was a row of stuffed animals and other trinkets sitting on a shelf above the balloons.  Simon appeared to be running one of those games in which the player threw a dart at a balloon to win a prize.

            "So how about it, Katie?" Simon asked.  "Would you like to give it a try?  It's for a good cause."

            "What are the rules exactly?"

            "You get three darts for a dollar.  If you break a balloon, you get a prize."

            "That doesn't sound too hard," I said.  "Set me up."

            But three dollars later, I still hadn't been able to successfully make contact with any of the balloons.

            William seemed amused.  "Would you like me to try?"

            "Katie doesn't need your help," Simon said, his tone unexpectedly sharp.  "She's doing just fine on her own."

            "I know Katie doesn't need my help," William replied mildly.  "I didn't mean anything by it."

            "Of course you didn't," I said.  "And I'm not offended.  Thanks, Simon, for letting me play.  I think this game just isn't for me."  I glanced up at William.  "Maybe we should move on to the next game."

            I began to move away.

            "You know, I think I would like to give it a try."

            I turned back.  William was staring fixedly at something on the prize shelf.

            "Katie said she's not interested in the game anymore, pal," Simon said.  "So why don't you just move along?"

            "If you want the truth," William said, "it's not for Katie.  It's for me."

            Simon smirked.  "I get it.  You're into stuffed animals.  I bet you have a whole collection of them at home."

            "Something like that.  Can I get my darts now?"

            "Anything you want, pal."

            Simon placed three darts on the counter, and William threw each one in quick succession, breaking three balloons.

            "Oh, very impressive," Simon said, clapping slowly.  "So what do you want?  It's the pink bunny holding the big red heart, isn't it?  I bet you had your eye on that the whole time."

            "Actually," William said, "I'd like that green stone on that long chain."

            Simon raised his eyebrows.  "So you're into jewelry?  I should have guessed."

            He reached over the shelf and pulled a necklace off of a nail.

            "I'd like to say you have good taste," Simon said, holding the chain up, "but this has to be one of the ugliest things I've ever seen.  I suppose you've got just the outfit to wear it with."

            "Thanks," William said shortly as he accepted the necklace.

            "Would you like to try again?" Simon asked.  "We've got a lovely pair of blue plastic earrings here.  I'm sure they'd bring out the color in your eyes."

            "Simon, stop," I said.  "That's enough."

            Simon shrugged.  "I'm just trying to give the man what he wants."

            "Let's go, William," I said.

            William was turning the necklace over in his fingers abstractedly, and he didn't even look up when I pulled him away from Simon's booth.

            A few stalls away, there was a gap just big enough for the two of us to fit into, and I guided William out of the walkway into it.

            "So what's going on?" I asked.  "Why did you want that necklace so much?"

            William handed his prize to me.  "Do you know what this is?  By that I mean, do you know what this is made out of?"

            I looked the necklace over.  The stone was thick and green and slightly cloudy in color.  It was suspended from a black metal chain, and it was set into an intricately worked piece of the same black metal.

            "I don't know what this is," I replied.  "But I'm afraid I have to agree with Simon—this necklace isn't especially attractive.  The stone looks like it's seen better days."

            "That unattractive stone is actually an emerald," William said.

            "An emerald?" I said.  "I thought they were—shinier—than this."

            "They are if they're taken care of properly.  And one this size would be worth quite a lot.  The chain and the setting are both silver—they're just tarnished.  This is an antique piece of jewelry that's been moldering somewhere for quite a long time."

            "But you aren't interested in this as an antique, are you?"  I handed the necklace back to William.  "There's another reason this necklace attracted your attention."

            "Yes, there's another reason," William said, turning the stone over in his fingers again.  "I can't understand what this is doing here."

            "So what's so special about it?"

            William looked up at me.  "Are you sure nothing was troubling you earlier?  Did anything strange happen to you today?  Anything at all?"

            I thought about the note, but I still hesitated to mention it.

            "Why are you worried?  Is the necklace something dangerous?"

            William looked back down at the necklace and didn't reply.

            Just then, I heard a brass band strike up, and William turned to look.

            "Sounds like they're getting ready to dedicate the statue," he said.  "Do you want to go over and watch?"

            "William," I said, "what about the necklace?"

            William shook his head.  "To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what this is, but I think I've seen something like it before.  There's no cause for alarm yet."