The day is finally here! The third installment of The Hunted has launched. When Lucian finds a video of a comrade’s gruesome death, he fears a mysterious assassin is targeting the Nobil Onorabil. With Olivia’s aid, he hopes to prevent his own death and the Dracal from resurrecting....
I have a contest linked at the bottom, but first let me show off my new cover and give you an excerpt.
Josette ignored the dirt staining her bare feet and the rips in her skirt. She had finally found happiness and did not want the signs of a desperate situation to kill her mood. On a night that had started with a pregnant silence, everything changed. By chance or driven by some instinct, she had moved inland. Even there, the explosion shook the ground.
Josette had run toward the screams. The smoke made it easy to move in the shadows. The metallic stink of blood egged her on. Lumber fell across soldiers and civilians alike. She drained them until she was blood drunk and tripping over her own feet.
Death was in the air, and joy floated in her chest. She had her fill and then some. Why not? The men were dying with or without her. She moved among their broken bodies like an angel of mercy, releasing them from their pain. Some of them were so burned, their blood was half cooked. She pushed past her aversion and brought them release. Some had even thanked her.
The fire leapt high while she danced around it, laughing at the way her shadow contracted and expanded. The contents of her stomach sloshed like the wine in the bottle she carried. If the humans gawking from the shadows wondered at her boisterous behavior or the stains on her chin, the alcohol could explain away much. Their assumptions were partly correct. She was most certainly drunk, but the wine hadn't done it.
Only a few soldiers wandered into the glow, gaping at her merriment. Toulon had been taken, and the buildings still burned. Ships had fled the harbor with their brothers at arms, but they had been left behind. Some muttered angrily. Others only stared.
The brine in the heavy, cool air was overshadowed by the scent of spent gunpowder. Black smoke pushed through the buildings. The sunrise would burn a blood red, and Josette wondered if the haze would be thick enough to protect her from the light. She stood still considering the possibility when a woman stepped into the glow of the fire.
The woman’s eyes narrowed and she raised a finger. “Foul creature.”
“Excuse me?” Josette flounced her curls.
Josette threw her head back and laughed. “You’re mad!”
“You insult us with your celebrations.” A man stepped from the shadows in a torn uniform. Blood stained the meatiest part of his thigh. He had been wounded.
“I celebrate life. As should you!” Josette tipped back the wine bottle and took a drink. “You survived. Is that not worth celebrating?”
The woman stalked closer. “I know what you are.” Her clothes were unremarkable, but something sharp in her gaze gave Josette pause. This was no madwoman.
“If anyone is a witch, it is you.” Josette stared at the men. One squirmed. Another averted his gaze. She was on to something.
“I know what you are. I know what you’ve been doing.” The woman’s hand shot up, her grip too strong, and tipped Josette’s head from side to side. Her thumb swiped the side of her mouth and she drew back, smelling the dark liquid. “Gunpowder and blood.”
“You mad cow. It’s wine.” She squinted at the smoke pushing skyward. “Gunpowder and wine.”
“You’re a revenant.”
“And you’re an old, mad witch.”
Two of the men crossed themselves. One disappeared. Others fidgeted uncomfortably. The man who worried Josette the most was the lone soldier who leaned against a stack of crates and narrowed his eyes, settling in to watch. She knew the type. A know-it-all who would wait to chime in when the most influence could be pressed upon the others. Intelligence carried a subtle but potent danger.
“Revenant. Succubus. Blood sucker. Demon.” The woman’s face burned orange in the firelight, bringing contrast to the grooves in her skin. “You are a stranger, frolicking on the night of our disaster. You rub our noses in our loss. You feed on pain.”
Josette shuddered. “I’m newer to this town than you are, but I’ve been begging and ignored for weeks. Stranded.” She pushed away the fear, remembering who she was. If she wanted, she could rip them all to pieces. She moved close to the woman and spoke in a soft but urgent tone. “You, on the other hand, are not new here. People have suspected what you are for many years. If you push me, I will remind them.”
The woman narrowed her eyes and lowered her own voice. “You underestimate me.”
“Perhaps.” The scent of blood grew stronger when the wind blew past the soldier leaning against the crates, but it carried a note of something else. Something sharp. “Continue and we shall both learn where you stand.”
Josette knew she had said something wrong when a slow smile spread across the woman’s lips. The smile vanished. She spun and raised her arms while she shouted. “She’s a revenant. Throw her into the fire.”
Absurd. “Well, if I’m a revenant, she’s a witch. Burn her!”
A man stepped away from the crowd, pointing his finger at them. “Burn them both!”
To her dismay, the group of men nodded and made noises of assent. Josette spun on the witch. “See what you’ve done? Fool.”
The woman paled and yelled to the crowd, “I’ll put curses on your families.”
Josette pointed and backed away. “She is obviously the problem.”
A child no older than twelve burst from the shadows and yelled, “Burn them!”
The witch backed up as well, a pained expression on her pale face. Josette wanted to throttle her. “So, witch. Now would be a good time to do something powerful.”
“I don’t know. Burn them? Make a dragon out of the fire? Turn them all into toads?”
The creepy smile reappeared. “How about I make you do the fighting for me?”
“What?” Josette’s feet left the ground. She screamed and kicked her legs as she turned in the air. She was certain the old bitch was going to throw her into the fire. Instead, she flew at the group of men. The force of the impact sent them all sprawling. After untangling herself from a sea of limbs, she stood. The unnatural sight before her sent a shudder down her spine.
The witch blew air from her mouth, only it was not clear. Black smoke issued from her lungs. While the smoke was expelled, the woman aged. Grooves etched in her skin and the color leeched from her hair. The smoke wound around three adults before finding its target. The young boy.
His head fell back and his jaw sprang open as though a hinge had been flipped in the center of his skull. The black smoke sped through his mouth. When the smoke disappeared, the boy turned to survey the crowd with solid, black eyes. Gone were the whites and anything human.
A guttural roar, too low for his small throat to issue, rung Josette’s ears. With limbs and fingers stunted by malnourishment, it seemed unlikely he could inflict much harm. What he lacked in size, he made up for in strength. He launched onto the nearest man, latching to his torso like a monkey. With his legs wrapped around the man’s chest, the boy jabbed both thumbs forward into the adult’s eyes. Unhinged laughter of different pitches issued forth from his mouth, as though many beings expressed their mirth.