In her newest Dirk & Steele novel, Liu introduces fiddle player Kitala Bell, cursed with the ability to foresee people's deaths, and merman M'Cal, slave to a soul-stealing witch. When M'Cal's cruel master orders M'Cal to steal Kitala's soul, he's loathe to carry through with it but can't stop himself-or the witch. Unsuspecting Kit, meanwhile, has gotten herself in dutch with some local criminals while trying to help a girl she's sure will be murdered. By the time M'Cal catches up with Kit, he's forced into the role of rescuer-and, before long, red-hot lover. Though it starts slow-as clueless Kit must become acquainted with the author's paranormal underworld-Liu's latest is a clever, finely constructed take on the "Little Mermaid" story and delivers great paranormal suspense. Though the love story lacks complexity, and the Dirk & Steele detectives play only a peripheral part, all the other elements Liu fans expect-a strong heroine, a damaged hero, sharp dialogue and funny, fanciful details-are well-represented, making this a satisfying return to her universe. (July)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Soul Song (Dirk & Steele Series #6)by Marjorie M. Liu
“If you have yet to add Liu to your must-read list, you’re doing yourself a disservice.”
When it comes to bold originality and pure storytelling skill, few authors of popular fiction can compare with the remarkable Marjorie M. Lui—and in the realm of paranormal romance, no one is better! With Soul Song, the/em>/p>… See more details below
“If you have yet to add Liu to your must-read list, you’re doing yourself a disservice.”
When it comes to bold originality and pure storytelling skill, few authors of popular fiction can compare with the remarkable Marjorie M. Lui—and in the realm of paranormal romance, no one is better! With Soul Song, the sensational New York Times bestselling superstar brings readers another marvelous tale of passion and otherworldly occurrences centered around the mysterious Dirk and Steele Detective Agency—as a tormented young woman with the precognitive power to foresee terrible futures must place her own fate in the hands of a mesmerizing prince of the sea. A master at creating unforgettable love stories featuring shapeshifters, telekinetics, and extraordinary supernatural beings, Lui has earned herself a legion of fans, and Soul Song will merely add to their ranks. Christine Feehan, author of Dark Prince and one of the biggest names in paranormal romance, promises that, “anyone who loves my work should love hers.”
Read an Excerpt
By Marjorie M. Liu
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2007 Marjorie M. Liu
All right reserved.
Chapter OneShe said her name was Elsie, and that she had a gun in her car.
A foolish confession, spoken without promise or bravado. Just the truth, from a woman too frightened for artifice. M'cal tasted her fear in every word, in the brief negotiation of price and time. He knew, without a doubt, that this was her first encounter with the kind of man she believed him to be-a prostitute, a stranger from the street-and though she wanted his services more than she wanted to be safe, M'cal was big and strong, could hurt her with his hands.
M'cal did not care, either way. Taking the human weapon would be easy, if it came to that. He did not think it would. He sat stiffly in the narrow passenger seat of Elsie's little red Jetta, his legs cramped, one shoulder pressed against the cool, rain-spattered window. He was too big for her car. He had to twist so that he would not brush against her body, even by accident. M'cal did not want to touch her. Not ever. Not until he had to.
He expected Elsie to speak to him. Most women did, in her situation. He had become accustomed to the attention, to his position as an object of desire. Had learned to accept it as one more punishment to endure. But Elsie stayed quiet, and her silence madeM'cal more curious than was healthy.
He glanced sideways, taking in her soft face and full mouth unevenly lit by passing streetlights. Pretty, solid, pale. Not a woman who should need to pay for sex. Not the kind of woman who would want to.
And not a woman who should die young.
M'cal's wrist hurt. He rubbed the silver cuff chafing his skin. The metal was warm, and a low, tingling shock radiated up his fingers into his bones, worsening as he stroked the rough engravings.
Elsie made a small noise; more breathless than a hiccup, but just as involuntary. She covered her mouth, glanced at M'cal, and said, "I never asked for your name."
"No," he said quietly. "Most don't."
Her gaze flitted away, back to the road. "What do you call yourself?"
M'cal hesitated. "Michael."
"Michael," she echoed, voice still trembling with fear. "How long have you been doing this?"
Long enough, he thought.
Elsie drove down Georgia Street. Coal Harbor was on the right, the shoreline crowded with apartment high-rises. M'cal peered between the buildings, glimpsing slivers of the opposing shore-the Vancouver city skyline glittering against the choppy water. A wet night, windy. Poor visibility.
"A little over a year," he lied, staring at the sea.
Elsie's knuckles turned white around the steering wheel. "You're older than the other guys. That's why I chose you."
M'cal still watched the water. "Most of the boys on that block are in their teens. The youngest is thirteen."
Elsie said nothing. The car did not slow. Georgia Street curved right, swinging into Stanley Park. They passed the long dock and Tudor style office of the Vancouver Rowing Club, and between the road and rough stone seawall, M'cal observed late-night joggers and bicyclists braving the rain on the paved pedestrian trail. Beyond them, across the harbor, the full expanse of the downtown core perched like a neon gem on the water's edge, trailing light against the waves.
Elsie drove past the first parking lot but edged into the second. Eight totem poles filled the border of a landscaped garden, which was nothing but shadows in the evening dark. Ten o'clock at night, and the parking lot was mostly empty; M'cal saw a few steamy windows.
Elsie parked the car in the most isolated spot, near the totems. M'cal sat quietly, waiting, staring at the sea. The engine ticked. Rain pattered against the windshield.
"I don't know if I can go through with this," Elsie said.
"All right," M'cal replied, though her feelings changed nothing. Elsie let go of the steering wheel and stared at him. He stared back. She could not hold his gaze and ducked her chin, brushing long hair out of her face.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled, and then, softer, "Why do you ... do this?"
Why did you? M'cal wondered, but stayed silent. He did not want to know this woman. He did not want to be her friend. He did not want to understand what kind of pain would drive someone like her to risk life and limb to pick a stranger off the street and pay for sex. A death wish, a kind of suicide watch; only slower, harsher.
"Michael?" Elsie whispered, hesitantly. M'cal closed his eyes. The bracelet burned against his wrist and the sensation clawed up his arm into his throat, stirring the old monster to life. M'cal felt a surge of hate so profound he almost choked on it, struggling against himself, trying to center his heart with memories of his old life, fighting with all his strength to swallow the compulsion rising hard and terrible inside his mouth. He heard a woman laugh, somewhere distant in his mind-a fine, high tinkle of joviality-and he bit back a scream.
Run, he thought at Elsie, pressing his head against the cold window. Run now. Please.
But she was no mind reader. He heard her body shift, listened to cloth rub. Held his breath. A moment later, Elsie touched his shoulder: Light, it was the faintest brush of her fingertips, though to M'cal it felt like a gun blast inside his heart, the crash of some clumsy human fist. Pain. A lot of it. Followed by that terrible compulsion which forced open his jaw, breath pushing hard and ragged from his lungs.
Elsie gasped. M'cal grabbed her wrist. His hand burned, but he did not let go-could not, though he tried. He stared into her startled eyes, her dark and frightened eyes, and leaned so close he could taste the faint edge of her soul on the brim of her lips.
And then he took that soul with nothing but a song.
* * *
Afterward, if he had been close to a knife, he would have tried to cut off his hand. Again. A hard slash to the wrist, right above the bracelet. Futile, a poor man's defiance, but all he had.
Instead, M'cal sat and held Elsie in his arms, suffering through the pain of her touch, because he understood now, though he wished otherwise. He saw, inside her head, years of abuse. A life wasted. Unfulfilled. No muse to build a dream upon, and now, after a short existence, a desire to be more, to feel again. To be a woman, wild and winsome and free. Free to hate herself. Free to build upon extremes. All or nothing. Death or life.
So, the street. A slick, rainy corner full of men and boys. One choice, the start of a new self, running from the path of caution into devil-may-care. Wasting freedom on humiliation.
M'cal wished very much that Elsie had chosen differently.
She did not speak. She sat against him in the car, very still, staring out the windshield at the harbor. Her face was slack, her eyes dark, empty. All her vitality gone; drained away into a wisp, a shell not long for the world. Her worst nightmare, come to pass.
"Go home," M'cal murmured, gently pushing her away. "Go home and forget about me. Forget tonight."
Elsie turned the key in the ignition. M'cal got out of her car. The cool air and drizzling rain felt good on his face. He walked away, across the parking lot, toward the sea. He did not look back, though he was briefly bathed in headlights, in the sound of the Jetta's engine as it hummed away down the curving road.
Inside his head, Elsie wept.
M'cal crossed the wet grass, the pedestrian trail, and stepped onto the seawall ledge. He glanced around, found himself alone. Below, high tide had drawn water over the shore, and the sound of it lapping against the wall was a lullaby of whispers, old riddles, dreams. His dreams, distant as they had become. M'cal could taste stones hidden beneath the shallow waves, sharp and dangerous. He kicked off his shoes and stood for a moment, toes digging into the stone and staring at the city painted on the sea.
M'cal jumped. Headfirst, it was a giant arcing leap that left him, for a moment, almost parallel to the choppy water. He shot beneath the waves, slithering into a soft, cool spot just above the jagged rocks. A breathless impact, followed by a quick, hard stab of joy. For one brief moment M'cal could pretend things were as they had been long ago. He could imagine.
But then the bracelet burned, and with it the sea, and he stopped pretending to be something he was not and propelled himself with long, easy strokes into deeper waters. He tore away his silk shirt, pushed off his jeans; he sank unencumbered like an arrow, toes pointed, arms crossed over his chest. Allowed his body to finally, desperately, change.
M'cal lost his legs. His thighs fused, then his knees and calves and ankles, feet spreading into a thin fan of metallic flesh, long and flat and scaled. Fine ribbons of silver rippled from hip to fin; and against his neck, another change: skin splitting into deep slits.
M'cal stopped holding his breath. Bubbles fled his throat. He tasted metal, chemicals, the etchings of humanity imprinted upon the sea. The scents on his tongue made him cringe, but he inhaled anyway, swallowing long and deep, both savoring and regretting the coarse liquid that spread into his body. The sea burned. Brine was in his lungs like fire, in his eyes and nostrils, needling the webs between his fingers, his groin, the scales of his tail. The bracelet burned worst of all. Not that M'cal needed any reminders.
He fought his instinct to surface, and instead pushed deeper into the harbor; enduring, taking small pleasure in one of the few acts of free will left to him: cleansing his soul with ocean fire, skirting the edges of home to rattle the bars of his prison. Being himself, if only for a short time.
Voices eddied, low murmurs of fish and storm. They were distant, a golden hum carried by the current, a thread that M'cal reached for with his mind. That music disappeared, replaced by a slight vibration that scurried over his skin, mixing with the burn of the sea. He sensed movement on his left; a sleek body. M'cal followed, heart pounding, and met a starry gaze, dark and sad. Brother seal, little spy. The creature melted swiftly into deepwater shadow. M'cal tried to call it back, but his throat closed.
Look, but do not touch, he remembered. See, but do not speak.
The bracelet throbbed. He had ventured too far. He tried to resist, but after a brief struggle his muscles twisted, turning him away from the heart of the harbor toward the city shore. He was a puppet man, pulled by invisible strings.
M'cal swam fast. He had no choice. As he neared shore, he heard the low boom of the city against the water: concrete shuddering through rock and earth, the groan of steel and glass and thousands of bodies tossing and turning and roaming. It was a maze of sound, and above him was another labyrinth as he swam beneath the boats moored to the crisscrossing docks.
His body knew the way, compelled by the bracelet. M'cal did not recognize the path; the boat had moved since morning. That was a frequent occurrence of late: shedding old habits, never staying in the same place twice. M'cal might have called such actions evidence of paranoia, but he was not optimistic enough for that. Still, it was curious.
M'cal found the boat eventually-or rather, it found him-and he poked his head above water, staring at the long, white motor yacht like a sleek floating castle made of pearl. No lights burned. The boat was quiet, with an air of emptiness. M'cal was not fooled.
He drifted close, and only at the last moment did he shift shape, reluctantly giving himself up to humanity. His tail split, his fin receded, toes twitching as his gills faded into flesh-but the sea still burned and Elsie still wept, and he had nothing, nothing to show for himself except that he was still alive, and inside his heart was still fighting.
M'cal heaved himself out of the water, naked and dripping and strong. He climbed the short ladder attached to the stern, but when he reached the deck his legs gave out, knocked from under him by a command. He fell hard on his knees, tried to stand but could not. He was forced to remain on all fours, head bowed, muscles trembling. He heard the click of high heels, smelled perfume: white lily, white rose, white lilac. The scent burned his nostrils.
"Oh," purred a low voice. "Oh, the fallen mighty. Merman, mine."
M'cal stayed silent. Ivory stilettos clicked into view. Slender, creamy ankles, smooth and soft. He closed his eyes and a cool hand slipped through his hair, nails biting deep into his scalp as the seawater dripping from his body continued to burn.
And then there was nothing but air beneath him-nothing to hold on to-and he flipped sideways, slamming hard on his back. The night sky spun, rain drizzling against his body, but above him stood a woman clad in white silk, long hair straight and shimmering like liquid silver, and he could look at nothing else.
The witch planted her feet on either side of his chest. Her skirt was very short, revealing long legs, no underwear. M'cal wanted to vomit.
"You have something for me," she murmured, and sank slowly to her knees. Her thighs squeezed his ribs, the touch of her skin taking away the pain left by the drying seawater. M'cal wished it would not. He preferred discomfort to the alternative. He tried to move, to kick her off. His body refused him. As usual.
The witch smiled, long fingers dancing against his chest and throat. She bent to kiss the corner of his mouth, and he felt the draw of her power tug on Elsie's soul.
"My prince," whispered the witch. "Give me your voice."
M'cal did not speak. The witch reached between their bodies and touched his stomach, lower still, caressing him with deft, long strokes. M'cal willed himself not to respond, but there was magic in her fingers-literally-and his control meant nothing. He grew hard in moments, his human body a betrayal, and the witch slid herself onto his shaft with a sigh.
"Your voice," she said, swaying upon him. "Your voice, and I will stop." A sly smile touched her mouth. "Unless you want me to finish you. Unless you want me."
M'cal tried to look away, but the witch held his gaze and rocked harder, forcing terrible pleasure through his body. The sensation tore at him. Disgusting, thrilling; his defiance was the same as defeat, which was the custom of their dance. Killing him softly, breaking him one impossible choice at a time when all she had to do was command by force what she wanted.
But the witch surprised him. She stopped her movements, gave up her pleasure, his humiliation, for a long, quiet stare that was far more thoughtful than anything she had thus far allowed him to see. It made him uneasy-a feat, given his already desperate circumstances.
M'cal returned her gaze, studying her flawless face, the crystalline perfection of her eyes, cold as some blue belly of arctic ice. He tried to remember why he had loved her, so long ago, and thought it must have been for beauty alone. He could not remember for certain. He did not want to.
From behind the witch a shadow lumbered close-a slow, gray hulk with a fat, pasty face and red spots the size of nickels on his cheeks; silver eyes like shark teeth and a mouth just as sharp. The hulk watched M'cal just as carefully as the witch. Licked his lips, once.
The witch leaned forward, silver hair spilling over M'cal's face. He tried to move his head. No luck. All he could do was watch. He did not close his eyes.
The witch kissed him. Inside his head, Elsie screamed. M'cal almost cried out with her, but he swallowed his voice and held on to the woman's stolen soul with all his strength, fighting and fighting. His fault, his fault-but this time would be different; he would make it different-
The witch inhaled, and it was like being kissed by a hurricane. For one brief moment, everything inside M'cal felt loosened from its anchor: heart, bones, lungs. Essentials, floating in blood. Drifting. Elsie, drifting, torn away from his grasp. Until she was gone, stolen. Again. Just like all the others. So easy. The witch always made it look easy. And him, useless, unable to redeem himself. Nothing but a tool.
The witch leaned back, breathing hard. Shuddering. Her eyes were closed and she touched her mouth, dragging her fingertips over her lips.
"Ivan," she murmured, and the hulking man behind her shuffled close. He held out a soft silver robe, which he helped drape over her narrow shoulders. His hand, a palm the size of a football, came down to rest heavy against the curve of her long, pale neck. M'cal glimpsed a silver band glinting against that thick wrist; smooth and seamless, it was not quite a twin to his own, but close enough.
The witch rose slowly off M'cal's body. Power leaked through her skin; he felt scratchy with it, as though barnacles or steel wool rubbed against him. The sensation did not fade when she stopped touching him. Distance was the only cure, as with most things in his life.
Excerpted from Soul Song by Marjorie M. Liu Copyright © 2007 by Marjorie M. Liu. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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