Read an Excerpt
By Jocelyn Adams, Tracy Montoya
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Jocelyn Adams
All rights reserved.
I hunt the dead for a living. Not the kind of dead most of us grow up worrying about, like B-movie zombies or vampires or Great-Aunt Thelma who looks like a walking skeleton. Nope, the dead that lurk beyond the stars don't go bump in the night; they go bump inside your skull.
My eyelids drooped with exhaustion as I hunkered down in a dark alley, having fantasies about my bed instead of concentrating on the hunt for wraiths. It was the third one I'd been on in twenty-four hours, and my tank was running on empty. My stomach rolled as the rotten stench of dumpsters in the summer heat crawled up my nose and died. Gak.
"What do they eat in Nebraska, fish guts and Limburger cheese?" I asked Remy, one of the few sentinels — wraith hunters — who didn't treat me like Satan's half sister. "I'm not sure which is worse, the smell or the hillbilly rap music coming out of the Whip and Saddle over there. Who names a bar that, anyway?" I snorted. "Kat will fit right in." She was also a sentinel, and the two of us got along about as well as a hair- trigger detonator and a truckload of C-4.
Remy, the gentle giant I'd nicknamed King Kong, chuckled. Tribal tattoos covered one side of him from the top of his shaved head all the way down to his toes. In his black hunting gear, he looked like a Hawaiian ninja. "Yeah, stink real bad," he said in his funky creole mix of Hawaiian and French-Canadian English, "but we finally get the wraith-infected construction worker to sit still in the bar after tracking him all over this redneck town, so we wait for Kat to work him over, get him to come outside."
The wraiths, half-humanoid, half-bug people, had died in a parallel reality and found a way through to this one. They liked to crawl into human beings, eat their souls, and take over their bodies, and it was the job of those of us who belonged to the Mortal Machine to destroy them, using abilities that set us apart as badass guardians of the world.
The Mortal Machine wasn't a literal machine, but a secret society that fought to keep the dead bugs on their own side of the thin veil that separated us. In the decades before I'd arrived, only a few managed to get through, but lately they seemed to be pouring in like roaches.
Movement in the shadows at the end of the alley opposite the bar caught my eye. Just by his broad-shouldered shape and aggressive stance, I knew Asher Green had arrived. A thrill shot up my spine. I hadn't seen my former sensei in days. Now that I was holding my own, we'd gone our separate ways. Although he treated me like the proverbial redheaded stepchild of the Machine, I couldn't shake my insane fascination with him.
Returning my attention to the bar, I slapped my cheeks to wake up. "What the hell's taking Kat so long?" I asked Remy, stroking my hair to soothe myself. I'd always been a tactile junkie, using texture and soft things as my own personal Valium. "Her whoring skills are stellar, so she should have been able to get the infected guy to leave the bar with her by now." Something had to be wrong, and we needed to get this done. "Screw this, I'm going in." Before I pass out in dumpster juice.
"Addy, may you should wait here with me, yeah?" Remy called, but I marched on. Because we needed to get the show on the road, and not because I felt a need to prove myself to Asher. Halfway to the bar's door, I glanced over my shoulder.
Asher had come to the edge of the shadows, the brightness of his vivid eyes — ice blue with the star of jade green that set a fully realized sentinel apart from the rest of humanity — cutting across the distance to brand me like an invisible kiss. The eyes, according to our book of knowledge, were a marker of our status. The brighter they were, the stronger the sentinel. Asher had the most dazzling eyes of us all.
Was he worried about me? Or afraid I'd screw up the hunt?
I reached for the rusting handle that would get me into the bar, but before I made contact, it burst open, nearly peeling me out of my skin. Twangy music spilled out, along with the ginormous guy in dusty overalls we'd been tracking for hours. Wow, he was big, standing at least a foot and a half taller than me. A white film clouded his eyes, which always happened when a wraith had consumed enough of a person's energy to rise up from the mind and take control of the body. He smiled.
Overalls lunged at me. In my exhausted state, my reflexes were slow, so I dived sideways, landing hard on my side. The big guy stumbled by me and shook his head, probably disoriented in his drunk person costume. When he came at me again, I scrambled up to my feet. A short scream tore out of me when someone whipped me around. He shoved me against the brick wall by the scruff of my black tank top, almost knocking the wind out of me.
"Are you trying to get yourself killed?" Asher glared at me, his face only inches away from mine.
I breathed in his sweet whiskey scent, my mind quieting with his presence even though tension had my every muscle coiled like a spring.
Before I shook off my confusion over having Asher so close, Kat emerged from the bar with a bloody lip. The wraith inside Overalls must have pegged her as a sentinel and popped her one. That was a shame. Her tight pink halter top strained over her perky boobs as she hauled off and flattened him with a fist to his scruffy jaw. He went down like a sack of shit as the Colonel and Taka rushed out of the door. Took them long enough.
While the other sentinels wrangled Overalls, Asher let me go, glaring at the ground. "You shouldn't even be out here. You're walking like you're drunk and liable to get us all killed."
"Gee, thanks." I scowled at him. "You didn't even say one civil word before the insults came out. Is that a new record for you?"
Our eyes met briefly before he looked away, as if even the sight of me pissed him off. He wore dirty khaki fatigues and a black muscle shirt that had several tears across the chest. My inner fangirl wanted to climb him like a jungle gym made of bronzed flesh and steel, but I sent her to sit in a mental corner for being completely off her rocker.
Worry crept in as I took in his shadow beard that had grown in when he normally kept it immaculately shaven, and his usually spiffy clothes appeared slept in and battle-worn. His Middle Eastern complexion had paled against his night-black hair. Jesus, what had happened to well-pressed Asher? Was he sick?
He moved toward the scuffle as Remy pinned Overalls's legs to the grungy ground. Taka had one of the construction worker's hairy arms locked in his fists, and the Colonel had the other. Kat posed behind them, hands gripping her slender hips, offering a nasty smile that turned her ugly faster than a dent ruined a shiny Corvette.
"Look boys, our fearless leader is limping to our rescue yet again," she said in her Eastern European accent. When I'd arrived at the facility six months ago, it had become clear that I was the Architect, or the person who was supposed to assemble the Machine, helping others in the group find their true roles. Some sentinels, Asher among them, thought my destiny was to lead us out of this messy war with the wraiths. Others, like Kat, the Colonel, and Taka, thought I was a liar and an idiot.
"Shut it, powder puff," I said, trying to keep my voice from slurring with exhaustion. "When you can show me you can kill a wraith without a gun, then you can throw around all of the insults you want. Until then, close your mouth and pay attention."
I knelt by Overalls, who was out cold. "So, who's going to help me?" I asked. Since Asher had dragged me into the Machine three months ago, I'd been able to use my abilities as the Architect to discover it took two sentinels combining their power to push out a wraith without killing the host body — and killing the human host along with the wraith was what they used to do before I'd come along.
"Helping" me meant touching me, so everyone but Remy stared as if I'd asked them to pluck out their own eyes with a toothpick. They'd spent the last sixty-five years thinking touch between sentinels would kill them, so convincing them what was a lie and what I knew instinctively was truth when it came to our abilities had been challenging, to say the least.
When nobody stepped up, I turned to Remy. "I guess it's you and me again."
He shook his head, huffing from the exertion. "Sorry, Addy. Got nothin' left." Our power needed time to recharge, and we'd barely caught a few winks lately. Plus, certain combinations of sentinels were more powerful than others, and Remy and I didn't generate a lot of juice together.
"Get out of the way," Asher barked. Taka jumped up and moved back. Asher knelt down across Overalls from me without saying another word, dark lashes rimming eyes that remained stubbornly focused on the man between us. Aside from his rigid posture, he appeared deflated, as if someone had pulled out all his stuffing and left him an empty sack of bones. I had a silly thought that I'd like to hug him. Yeah, that'd go over about as well as a kick to the nuts.
I'd been searching for my conduit for weeks without success. Our Machine power needed to connect with another sentinel's to reach its full potential. My guess was that there was only one match for each of us who could best conduct our energy, causing an intimate, somewhat sensual connection of mind, body, and soul. I'd been waiting for a chance to touch Asher, sure he would be my ideal conduit. I didn't know why I was so certain — probably just because the physical connection was off the charts, at least for me. Plus, there were only a few guys left in the Machine I hadn't shared my storm with yet, and none of the ones I had touched lit me up the way a true conduit should. But usually when I needed help booting a wraith, Asher seemed to disappear.
I held my breath when he placed one palm on Overalls's forehead and the other on his chest, where most people's strongest chakra points were located. Asher finally raised his chin and stared at me with a sneer, as if daring me to have the nerve to lay a finger on him.
My hands shook as I reached forward and hovered them over his, and I was suddenly terrified of what might happen after having imagined this moment for so long. Even though he'd been my sensei, I couldn't remember ever touching him skin to skin, so why did I even want the guy? I guessed I'd always been a little south of crazy, which would explain my odd fascination with him.
"What are you waiting for?" he snapped. "Get this done before you keel over. You look like shit."
I curled up my lip in annoyance, some of my worry over his appearance evaporating. He definitely sounded like the Asher I knew. "You're one to talk," I said. "You look like you've been sleeping under a bus." I clamped my hands over his, bracing for the intense reaction that should come with a match. I shifted the lid on the metaphysical box in my soul where I kept my Machine energy. It rushed out of me like a summer wind, bringing such sweet relief it tore a sigh from my throat.
"Your turn," I said.
He closed his eyes, his face growing slack and calm, inviting my fingers to trace the ridge of his eyebrows. Scrolling blue designs crawled up his arms like living tattoos, as they did for all of us when we let our power go.
I felt nothing from him. Only his warmth and the tendons in his hands that flexed beneath mine. If we were compatible conduits, we'd have both gone nuclear with those patterns. Not even a faint hint of change showed in my own blue designs, powered only by my own mojo.
My ribs seemed to shrink as realization set in. Most of the other sentinels I touched lit me up at least a little, but it was like he was a regular mortal, completely invisible to my Machine senses. We couldn't share power — not even a trickle, like I could with Remy. Asher wasn't my match. It repeated in my head like a sick joke, over and over until the echoes hurt my ears. Tears sprang to my eyes. I jumped up and hastily drew my arm across my cheeks to get them away. I should have been cheering, having averted the land mine of Asher Green, so why did I feel like someone stabbed me in the chest?
He hated my guts. I'd probably have had a happier eternity trapped in a pit of pissed-off vipers than him. I'd touched almost everyone else, and no kaboom. Maybe I was just worried that I didn't have a match. Which was stupid. The Architect had to have a powerful conduit, right?
"Aw, better luck next time," Kat cooed. "Did you seriously think a simple daddy's girl like you could handle the force of Asher?"
I wanted to scream at her that I had no daddy and that she was a nasty effing hag, but I didn't want to give her the satisfaction of knowing her barbs had hit home.
Overalls sprang to consciousness again, struggling enough that Asher, Remy, and the Colonel had to work to hold him. After a few seconds, Overalls stopped and stared at me with his white wraith eyes.
"He's coming for you, Darkside Sun," he sang, and then burst into hair-raising laughter.
Oh crap, oh hell, oh damn. What was he talking about? The wraiths called me that, so he had to have meant me. Their reality was dark and cold, and for some reason, they could sense my Architect energy from beyond the veil, like their own personal sun. According to what we'd figured out so far, I might be the key to sending them back to their hell dimension permanently. But if any of them crawled into me, they could also use me to open a doorway between our world and theirs, and they could use my power to regrow their bodies here on Earth. If that ever happened, they'd become immortal, and humanity would be screwed.
The Colonel cranked his head around while pressing his knee into Overalls's chest, his jade-star sentinel eyes pointing razor blades at me. Although he appeared twenty-something, he always talked like an old Russian politician.
"What is he talking about, woman?" the Colonel asked. He still believed he was the highest ranking of us, but that had been another lie that wouldn't die.
He refused to use my title or my name, and I'd given up correcting him. As the person who could reassemble the Machine when it was broken, the Architect was a type of leader, but otherwise, there wasn't supposed to be a ranking or caste system among the sentinels — we were all equals.
"No idea," I said, "but my itching spine thinks we need to haul ass and get this done just in case the dead bugman in him isn't just screwing with our heads."
Remy stared at me as if considering how fast he could throw me over his shoulder and dash me out of there, so I wasn't the only one freaked right the hell out.
"Someone help me," Asher said. His eyes had opened wide, and he had a frantic air about him as he waved the sentinels closer. "Now, hurry."
"I'll do it with you," Kat piped up with a little too much cheerleader pizzazz.
I couldn't contain my scowl, and if I'd had an ounce of energy, I'd have marched over there and slapped her. "Yeah, I just bet you will," I mumbled.
Kat knelt in my place, across Overalls's chest from Asher. Leaning over as far as she could get, no doubt giving him an eyeful of tits, she slid her hands over his while I wrestled with my rising need to knock her head in. Her markings began to glow.
Feeling useless and unwanted, I stumbled to the side for a better view and leaned my back against the wall of the bar. Thankfully, everyone else in the Podunk town stayed inside, their drunken chatter a hum against my ears.
Asher released his sentinel energy again, his inner storm. Wind curled out from his body and stirred up tiny dust devils on the pavement, lifting his hair to expose every exquisite line of his face. The scrolling designs lit under his skin again, only far brighter than they'd been just with his own power. So beautiful. I should have known Kat would have been compatible with him, but it still killed me to watch them together.
"Now you," he said, his eyes locked onto the blond beyotch. "Push your energy through me, mix with mine, and then into the guy. Once the wraith has nowhere to go, it'll spill out around our hands. Then you have to wield our storm, fold it around the wraith's true form like a fist, and crush it."
Excerpted from Midnight Dawn by Jocelyn Adams, Tracy Montoya. Copyright © 2014 Jocelyn Adams. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.