Blood and Magickby James R. Tuck
Deacon Chalk knows the biggest danger in fighting monsters is becoming one. Just another day at the office for your friendly neighborhood occult bounty/i>
Taking out hellish creatures—not a problem. Armed with blessed silver hollow-points and the ability to manipulate magick, he's ready for anything—except betrayal he never saw coming. . .
Deacon Chalk knows the biggest danger in fighting monsters is becoming one. Just another day at the office for your friendly neighborhood occult bounty hunter. If keeping three helpless were-dog children safe means battling a malevolent trio of witches by any means necessary, so be it. If that means partnering with a ruthless government agent to stay one step ahead of the allies and friends he must now suspect, he's not going to cry about it. The only way Deacon can save humans and shape-shifters alike is to embrace a power beyond his imagining, putting his team at stake—and his soul on the line. . .
Praise for Blood and Silver
"This is urban fantasy as men's fiction—Sookie Stackhouse meets the Dresden Files by way of Maxim." –Publishers Weekly
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Blood and Magick
By James R. Tuck
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2013 James R. Tuck
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI should have known.
There were signs. I'm supposed to be the damn expert. I should have caught the warnings.
I should have.
But I was completely clueless until the minute the restaurant exploded in a wave of eldritch flame and burning glass.
"You look absolutely amazing tonight."
She really, really did. It was the God's honest truth. Tiff was wearing a black evening dress that crossed her shoulders and plunged in a scalloped V, baring her back from the base of her neck to the dimples at the bottom of her spine. I had seen that expanse of skin before, but to have it so elegantly displayed was downright damn breathtaking. The dress was a frame on a beautiful piece of art.
She turned, face close to mine, body tilted just so toward me. The front of the dress plunged sharply to below her breastbone in another deep V that was working overtime to display a gentle swell of cleavage. It was impossible for me to keep my eyes off her.
This was nothing new. I had a hard time keeping my eyes off Tiff in general, but in that dress? With her in that dress, you could set me on fire and I wouldn't notice.
Her blue eye twinkled. "You think so?"
"I know so. You are a knockout, little girl."
A tilt of her head made dark chestnut hair fall over the left side of her face. It was an unconscious move, a habitual twitch she had developed. The sweep of hair covered the eye patch she wore. I was used to the movement, but it still sent a sharp pang through my heart.
Six months ago, she stood with me in a battle against an asshole Were-lion named Leonidas. Lives had been on the line and she had gone after him and one of his gang, a Were-great white, by herself.
I got there in time to save her life, but not her eye. Where it once was she had four razor-thin scars, mementos left by Leonidas's claws.
I killed the bastard, but that didn't give Tiff her eye back.
Her hand pulled my face to hers. Soft lips touched mine with an almost electric shock. Just a brief press and then gone. Her smile twitched, voice low and breathy. "Thank you. You clean up pretty well yourself."
It was a nice compliment, but I knew better. I looked like a thug. It was the suit's fault.
Because we were out to a nice dinner with friends, I pulled out a suit I hadn't worn in over six years. It was dark gray and summer-weight. When you're my size, you wear a summer-weight suit no matter the season; winters here in the South are just too mild. Back in the day, it had set me back over five hundred dollars and had been tailored to fit.
Occult bounty hunting had made me a bit leaner in the stomach and broader in the shoulder than I had been the last time I wore it. It still fit with room for my shoulder holster and two big-bore Colt .45's.
I had taken them off a dead Yakuza assassin with a Japanese demon trapped under his skin as a tattoo.
No, I'm not kidding. Why would I make that up? I'm the one who killed him.
They were a matched set. Nickel-plated with ivory grips carved into grinning skulls. Delicate scrollwork swirled and whorled along the slide. They were pretty sweet.
What can I say? I like guns. I'm a gun guy. Go with it, it's okay.
My head was freshly shaved and my goatee slightly managed with some product Tiff had in the bathroom. It smelled like strawberries.
The suit did cover most of my tattoos. Not the ones on the backs of my hands or the ones that crawled out of my buttoned collar to spread under my jawline and across the back of my head, but most of them. Put all that together with my size and I looked like a real leg breaker.
Like I said, a thug.
Tiff began to pull away, turning back to our dinner companions. My hand snaked out, sliding along the smooth skin of her shoulder, coming to rest in the thick hair at the back of her neck. My fingers tensed slightly, pulling her back to my mouth.
Her lips parted, yielding. I pressed in, her tongue warm against mine. The sweet taste of her overwhelmed me. My head spun just a touch, making my fingers tighten in her hair. She made a little sound in her throat that vibrated up through the kiss, igniting me like a match to fuel.
"Okay, okay. You two get a room, the dessert's here."
We broke the kiss. Pulling away, I could still taste her. Dessert was going to be a disappointment now.
One long chestnut hair tangled around my finger. Shaking it off, I picked up my spoon as the waiter sat a small bowl of crème brûlée in front of me.
Looking to the couple on the other side of the table, I pointed the spoon at Larson and Kat. "All right, you two. Spill with the announcements you wanted to make after dinner."
Larson opened his mouth to speak, wavy ginger beard brushing his suit lapel. He was stopped by Kat's hand clamping on his arm.
She cut eyes at him. "Not yet. Not until after dessert."
He looked at me, shrugging in a "What are you going to do?" motion. He had filled out over the last few months, getting back to his normal weight of 140. His hair was still long, blending into a full beard like a redheaded hippie Jesus, but the weight gain had erased the dark hollows that used to rest under his eyes. He looked healthy. He looked happy.
Hell, he looked sane, which was a big improvement.
Kat rubbed his arm, affection shining in her eyes. She still had her corn-fed, midwestern, girl-next-door looks. Straightforward and simple. Even dressed up in a midnight blue evening gown, her impossibly thick honey-blond hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail.
Tiff leaned in, voice low and conspiratorial. "Now you two are just being mean." Her hand fell on my thigh under the table, palm hot through the thin material of my pants. "We're both dying to know what you have to tell us. We're betting it has something to do with a date."
Tiff and I had speculated about Kat and Larson's relationship. It was intense. Both of them had been through bad stuff, some of it together and some of it apart. I hadn't seen the two of them getting together, nobody had, but now that they were, it felt ... inevitable. Like they had always been a couple.
Kat and Larson just grinned.
"After dessert." Kat's voice was firm. "The sooner we start the sooner we finish."
We all picked up our spoons. The crème brûlée in front of me was beautiful: caramel crust a dark roasted honey brown, with tiny bubbles of captured air marking the surface. The edge of my spoon pushed against it. It was thick, resisting the pressure. Tightening my fingers on the slim silver stem, I pushed harder. The crust split with a tiny, audible crack just like it was supposed to.
The dessert breathed out a sour, clotted stink.
It wafted up, crawling into my nose, tickling my gag reflex. The air at the table filled with it as the other desserts belched out the same rotten, sour-milk stench.
"Ugh." Kat's fingers pinched her nose shut, making her voice hum. "That is disgusting."
Larson pushed away from the table. His shoulders bunched, spinning his wheelchair around. "I'll be right back. I'm getting the waiter." His hands jerked harshly on the wheels of his chair, rolling him away.
Larson had lost the use of his legs almost a year ago in a battle against a hell-bitch named Appollonia and her horde of mind-controlled vampires. It was only in the last few months that he had stopped hating the chair and learned to work with it.
"That's weird." Tiff covered her dessert with the thick linen napkin from her lap. "Must have been made with a batch of spoiled cream."
From the corner of my eye, I saw a woman two tables over pull a small mirror from her purse. She held it in front of her, using it to examine a large dark spot on her cheek. Her voice came to me as she spoke to her dinner date. "But where did it come from? I've never had a mole there."
Larson was rolling back, waiter trailing him, apologizing.
The lights blinked, flashing fever bright, flickering off and then back on.
That's when the whole world exploded.
And I had no idea it was coming until it knocked me flat on my ass.
Chapter TwoMy suit was ruined. Spoiled crème brûlée splattered across the front of it, clotting with dust and debris. I could feel dozens of tiny cuts littering my body. A piece of glass stuck deep in my shoulder with a cutting grind. The table had flipped over and was laying on top of me, pressing hard with weight, trying to crush me into the floor. Splinters bit my palm as I clamped on to the edge of it. My jacket ripped as I heaved and shoved, muscling my way out from under.
Scrambling, I whipped my head back and forth, searching for her. Dust and smoke filled the air. People who could move were running away from the blast. One man, bleeding from a gash in his arm that I could see bone through, smacked into me. He bounced off, stumbling away.
I kept searching.
There—laying in a tangle of skirt and wreckage. Crawling, ignoring debris that rammed and cut into my knees, I scrambled to her. She moaned as I reached her.
Dark chestnut hair was tangled across her face. A slender hand came up, sweeping it away from her good eye. "I'm okay. What's going on?"
I looked her over for injury. Please, God, let her be okay.
"I don't know yet. There was an explosion."
Her fingers curled around the lapel of my tattered jacket. Pulling, she sat up. My arm went behind her to help. There was a long, shallow cut on her chest running from between her breasts, across her collarbone, and up her throat. It was ragged, jagging back and forth, probably from some flying piece of debris. Dust had clotted it, there wasn't much blood, but it was already inflamed and angry. We stood up. Tiff was steady on her feet as I let go of her arm.
I raised my voice over the chaos. "I'm going to find Kat and Larson. You find your purse."
Her purse had her gun in it. I didn't know what she was packing, but I had a feeling she would need it. This explosion wasn't a coincidence. My life didn't have coincidences in it, not since I started tangling with the supernatural.
She nodded again and I turned away to find our friends.
The floor was littered with broken furniture and broken people—a handful of them too injured to move and even more dead. We had been seated in the middle of the restaurant, which was one of the things that had saved us. There was a hole in the front of the building that you could drive a semi through. The edges sputtered with unnatural black flame that snapped and popped, sucking in light. The people who could run had gone to the back of the restaurant and out through the kitchen, leaving behind the wounded and the dead.
I spotted the table that had been beside ours. It had flipped over in the blast, tablecloth still hanging across on it. It faced away from the destruction, so the cloth was still gleaming white even though the table was charred and soot covered. Kat lay on the floor in front of it. Larson knelt beside her, feeling along her body for injuries. It looked like the table had shielded her from the worst of the explosion. Her ponytail had fallen and she was filthy, but other than that she looked perfectly normal.
Larson's hair was wild, blown to the side and singed. He had a cut on his left cheek that ran freely with blood, staining his beard dark crimson on one side. His suit jacket was scorched on one side and full of rips. The blast would have hit him from the left, knocking him sideways.
I strode to them, stepping over chunks of table, pieces of busted chairs, and bits that once were the people closer to the blast. Larson was helping Kat to her feet. "Are you two okay?"
"Nothing broken. I can't hear a damn thing out of my left ear, though." He turned his head. Blood was leaking from his ear canal in a thick trickle.
Kat reached up, turning his face back toward her. "Your eardrum is burst. It'll heal."
He nodded, making his hair fall down over the wounded ear. He stepped back and looked around the demolished restaurant.
Wait a fucking minute.
My mind chewed on what I was seeing.
Larson was standing? What. The. Hell?
A rush of something supernatural slammed into me, driving the thought out of my head by yanking the power inside me to the surface. Magick swarmed over my skin with tiny insect legs. It whipcracked across my nerves, lighting them up like a row of matches.
Since my resurrection at the hands of an Angel—yes, a real Angel of The Lord—when I first was hunting the monster that killed my family, I have been not-quite-human. I am faster, stronger, and heal quicker. Not much, but enough to keep me alive. I also have a power that lets me sense supernatural shit. It's from where the Angel gave me a transfusion of her blood, or whatever Angels use for blood. I can feel the weird and otherworldly because of it.
I hate it. It's tied to my other senses, so it comes through in jacked-up ways that are usually more distraction than information.
Right now, my power was a shark in a feeding frenzy on my senses. My mouth dried up, skin itchy with magick. No doubt about it, bad shit was coming.
Both hands went under my jacket and came out full of gun, thumbs brushing the safeties down. The Colt .45 1911 is a piece of gunsmithing genius. It shoots big ass bullets that go in the size of a dime but come out the size of saucer. They will fuck some shit up. It holds seven in a clip, eight if you carry one in the chamber.
I always have one in the chamber. Larson reached under his jacket, pulling out a Glock. The ugly, boxy semiautomatic filled his hand. Kat was removing her pistol from her purse. It was a 9mm. I know because I'm the one who gave it to her.
A touch on my arm whipped my head around. Tiff was there, a Taurus Judge in her hand.
The Judge is a big revolver that holds .410 shotgun shells. It's a bastard of a pistol that does a shit-ton of damage. It is literally a handheld shotgun. Tiff had taken to using it since losing her eye. The leeway in aiming it adjusted for the loss of parallax she suffered.
She leaned in close to me. "What's coming?"
"Don't know." I turned to the hole in the wall. "But it's going to be bad."
The words were barely out of my mouth when a woman stepped through the wreckage and into the restaurant.
She stood, prim and proper, just inside the charred ring of the blast radius. Slowly, she pulled a pair of thin lace gloves off two chubby hands, tucking them into a small purse that hung at her elbow. It snapped shut with a click. Clasping her hands together, she settled herself with a shake of fleshy shoulders, raised her chin, and began to look around the carnage before her.
She was covered head to toe in a dress that would be dour if it wasn't made of a brilliant pthalo green fabric that shimmered in the uncertain light. It was the same iridescent color as the underside of a peacock feather. Full skirts surrounded her legs, concealing them under layers of lace and crinoline. Her top was covered with a matching waistcoat that pinched a generous middle, held together by a row of tiny ebony buttons running waist to throat in a wavy line. The sleeves were tight on her arms, stuffed in like pillows, and went from puffy shoulders to puffy wrists. A silver pentagram the size of a baby's head hung on a braid around her neck, a snarling goat head glaring out from it in satanic glee.
Her hair was pulled back into a severe bun that revealed a severe face. It was a face made for correcting schoolchildren, a face where every feature was a harsh slash on a canvas. The only thing that tilted that face from sour to interesting was a pair of poison green eyes burning with fierceness.
Two figures moved through the settling dust to stand next to her.
One was a thin blade of a man in a black cassock. Wiry hair, dark as coal, hung shaggy around his head, blending into a thick, gnarled beard. His nose hooked out between deep-set eyes. They glittered like black diamonds beneath two wide stripes of eyebrow. His fingers were covered in armor styled jewelry, jutting out wickedly in points and barbs like the claws of a wild animal. A matching pentagram to the one the woman wore, goat head and all, hung under his beard, starkly bright against the black of his overcoat.
He stood next to her, seething, shoulders rising and falling, metal claws clicking at the end of his hands. He stomped the ground with jackbooted feet, shuffling to and fro in feral agitation. His head jerked to the side, watching as the other figure sauntered up to join them.
Excerpted from Blood and Magick by James R. Tuck Copyright © 2013 by James R. Tuck. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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