First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new urban fantasy Dead Man Stalking. This is the first book in the Blood and Bone series and I am thrilled to put it out there into the world. I was meant to be writing an entirely different book, but then Took and Madoc took up residence in my head and I had to give in and let them have their say.
I had a blast creating this world and these characters, and I hope you enjoy them too. I’ve included a chapter of a prequel short story that you can follow through the blog tour.
“Call me Nina.”
It wasn’t a request. Nina Kares perched on the edge of her black leather couch in her bright clothes and looked like a woman who didn’t make many requests. Her entire appearance was a fierce attack on the blandness that would have sentenced her to death if not for her father’s connections. Red painted lips and a stark cropped hairstyle–not much she could do with the colour, the undead didn’t take dye well–clashed with her elegant, intricately embroidered silk lounge-wear. None of it helped.
It wasn’t so much the way she looked. That could be embraced or countered. Nina had grown up as a beautiful man’s plain daughter in a court that would have been kinder if she’d been ugly, and had been left to die because she wasn’t interesting enough to save.
That hadn’t left her in the two hundred years since she’d been made. It probably never would. Psychology, in general, didn’t take any better than dye for the undead.
Luke altered the strategy he’d agreed with Kit on the way over. It was true Nina craved attention, but she didn’t trust it. If Luke slathered on the honey it would put her on edge, he needed to make her chase it.
He sat back against the sticky leather and gave the handsome young man Nina had called in an appreciative smile. “Actually, I’ll have a coffee. Thank you.”
The man nodded. The motion made his collar shift and flashed the raw edges of a bite mark on his throat. The Kiss had started to heal over, the bruises shrunk back down under the skin, and that blurred the details. It looked like more than one person had their teeth in him, although Luke would have had to measure the injury to be sure.
Or stare, and he didn’t want Nina to think she had anything he wanted. The point was just to take sex off the table as one of the ways she could win his approval.
“So?” Nina said expectantly. “What does VINE want with a simple cloth merchant like myself?”
Her accent was thick. After all these years it was also more an affectation than anything else. Luke ignored it.
“Jamie,” he said and waited.
He usually tried not to expect a reaction. The key to a good interrogation was to shift with the suspect and follow their direction. If they thought they were leading, then they usually took you right past what they wanted you to miss.
Still, he wouldn’t have been surprised by guilt or anger. The amount of money that Nina had deposited into Jamie’s account was significant. Not enough to be worth killing for–not for a woman whose family still had the Tsar’s favour back home–but still enough to sting.
The shifty embarrassment that made Nina fidget with her cuffs and a bit of fluff on her knee wasn’t the direction he thought she’d take.
“Oh for–” she blurted out, then reached up to fiddle with her hair. Her fingers flustered around her jaw for a second when she found it gone and finally hooked into her earrings to mess with. The thick accept dropped to a burr on the edge of her words. “Did that silly boy report Darren to you? I admit things went too far, but it was hardly worth a report to VINE?”
Luke glanced after Darren. “It’s illegal for more than one vampire to Kiss a human. That’s how ghouls happen.”
Nina looked truly offended for a moment. It cut through the miasma of plain she clung to and gave her face a fierce cast.
“I lost my mother to a ghoul infestation,” she spat out. “My little sister. My leg.”
She reached down and yanked the loose leg of her trousers up to expose a jointed porcelain prosthetic. If it had happened before she was Kissed, it might have grown back. Probably. Maybe. Significant tissue loss like that could go either way. Since she’d been reborn with it already amputated, she’d spend her undeath without it.
Luke didn’t let his surprise, or his irritation with Kip for not bringing this up, show on his face.
“I work for VINE,” he reminded her. “Every glutted vampire we’ve dragged out of their nest with sixteen mindless concubines in tow would have sworn they’d never. Until they did.”
Nina spat at him. The gobbet of frothy spit landed on Luke’s sleeve. He grimaced and reached into his jacket for a handkerchief to wipe the fabric clean.
“Never.” She pushed the leg of her trousers down and stood up. Two hundred years of practice and undeath had erased any hesitation from her stride, but now Luke knew he could hear the faint difference as her feet hit the floor. “I nearly died from this. My father he wept to the Tsar, he begged for me to survive. His only child. But I was plain and the taint was in my blood now. Who knew what biting me would do. So the Tsar, in his kindness sent me away to die where my father would not have to watch, and my father found an American who loved money enough to take the risk.” She grabbed a bottle of vodka from the dresser and poured herself a shot with careless, practiced haste. Threads of blood hung in the vodka like pink veins. “I have never sired a child. Never given the Kiss. If that’s the lie that Jamie told, then it’s easily disproved. None of my lovers can take the Kiss, they’re all mules or they’re already Anakim.”
She tossed the vodka back and wiped her mouth.
“He’s dead,” Luke said to watch her reaction.
If she’d been human she’d have choked on the vodka. As it she spluttered, slammed her glass down, and looked as disoriented as a two hundred undead could muster.
“Dead? No, you have the wrong boy,” she said. “He was here last night. That’s when he–”
She caught herself and pressed her bright red lips together.
“Over you?” Luke asked.
Her eyes dilated and shifted position. Her porcelain foot scraped against the floor and she went for him.
Luke threw himself off the couch. He hit the ground hard with his shoulder and grabbed his gun. Nina slapped it out of his hand and it went sliding under the table. She grabbed his throat and dug her fingers in until he couldn’t scrape a breath past the constriction. The blood trapped in his head thumped against his ears and pulsed against his temple.
Red lipstick smeared Nina’s teeth as she peeled her lips back. She hadn’t shared her lovers with another Anakim. Two sets of fangs jutted from her blanched gums, oversized and oddly spaced. Drool strung between them as she bent down toward him.
“VINE agents die,” she muttered, blood flicked onto Luke’s face as her fangs shredded her tongue. “Or disappear. Especially human ones. I still have friends who can make that happen.”
Luke twisted his fingers in her jacket, the embroidery rough against his fingers, and twisted his mouth as he scraped words through his crushed throat.
Shame made Nina flinch and fold her lips back down over her teeth. She masked it quickly with anger and lashed at him, a crack of her palm across his face.
“Don’t worry,” she spat out. “I won’t bite you. Just kill you.”
Luke swallowed blood and bared his teeth at her. “Not what…I said,” he forced out. “BITER.”
Her hand loosened slightly.
Luke drove the heel of his hand up into her jaw. Her mouth snapped shut and her fangs sheared through her lips. She squalled in shocked pain and reeled back. Luke pulled his knees up and hammered both feet into her chest to get her off him. If she’d been braced the move would have just ruined his knees, but she was still preoccupied with her bloody face. She lurched back and fell onto the couch. Luke grabbed her prosthetic leg by the ankle, porcelain cold under his fingers and snapped it with a hard kick.
For some reason that made guilt pinch at him. He rolled away and grabbed the gun. Nina scrambled toward him on her hands and knee, her shattered prosthetic dragged behind her.
“BITER rounds,” Luke said as he snapped the gun up and aimed at her head. The weight of it was familiar and reassuring against his palms. “Hollow point and silver. I’m a good shot.”
Nina hunched back in on herself. She looked feral, trapped. “They’ll send me to the Salt.”
“I’ll send you to hell.”
She smiled with torn, terrible lips. “I’ve been there.”
She coiled in herself and lunged for him. The hollowpoint took her in the chest and then, because Luke had been trained well, in the head.
Her body flopped to the ground.
From the doorway Darren wailed, bereft, and dropped the coffee he’d finally brewed.
Tomorrow’s installment on Reading Reality! All the blog tour posts will also be linked here: http://tamoorewrites.com/deadmanstalking/
TA Moore –
TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sectors before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.
Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.