Hello, friends! Today I am thrilled to welcome my friend J. Emery to share an excerpt of their next novel, From The Dark We Came, out March 16 from Ninestar Press!
Belar has made lying into an art form. His neighbors know him as a mild mannered music teacher, but to his fellow monster hunters he’s a senior agent with one of the best track records in the organization. Werewolves, malignant spirits, and other oddities—you name it, he can track it. And kill it if necessary. But when a vampire shows up in Belar’s parlor, his two worlds crash into each other. The vampire is named Cassian, and if he had any sense of decency he would be dead since Belar has already tried to kill him. Twice. Luckily, Cassian isn’t interested in holding a grudge. He wants to hire the hunter. Someone in vampire society wants Cassian dead and they’ve been using Belar to do their dirty work. Finding the culprit will save them both. Their search for answers takes them through a nighttime world of ancient vampires, demon tailors, and monsters of pure shadow. But Belar hasn’t been the only one lying, and enemies and allies are harder to tell apart in the dark. Goodreads
Belar has made lying into an art form. His neighbors know him as a mild mannered music teacher, but to his fellow monster hunters he’s a senior agent with one of the best track records in the organization. Werewolves, malignant spirits, and other oddities—you name it, he can track it. And kill it if necessary.
But when a vampire shows up in Belar’s parlor, his two worlds crash into each other. The vampire is named Cassian, and if he had any sense of decency he would be dead since Belar has already tried to kill him. Twice. Luckily, Cassian isn’t interested in holding a grudge. He wants to hire the hunter. Someone in vampire society wants Cassian dead and they’ve been using Belar to do their dirty work. Finding the culprit will save them both.
Their search for answers takes them through a nighttime world of ancient vampires, demon tailors, and monsters of pure shadow. But Belar hasn’t been the only one lying, and enemies and allies are harder to tell apart in the dark. Goodreads
This book contains explicit sexual material which is only suitable for mature readers, fantasy typical violence and injury, minor character death, beheading, blood, blood drinking, and blood magic.
Now that you know what you are getting into, here’s the excerpt!
Belar tapped his foot to begin the count, body already swaying into the familiar rhythm of the tune as he lifted his flute to his lips. From the piano beside him came a tentative tinkling of notes. Off tempo. And slightly off-key. A flat when there should have been a natural. He did his best to stay with Millicent no matter how she went astray, but before long she’d left the time signature behind and was forging ahead into the weeds. Still, it wasn’t bad for a near beginner student.
Millicent beamed up at him as her little hands slid off the keys and back into her lap. She was one of his newest, and youngest, students. Her feet still didn’t reach the floor when she sat on the piano bench, but her long brown hair fell down her back like a curtain, nearly to the seat when she tipped her head to look at him. Her hair was drawn back with a fat blue bow at the nape today to match her creased blue muslin, and her cheeks were two dimpled apples, rosy from the cool weather and from how pleased she was with herself.
Belar felt a moment of fondness so acute it was like he’d been stabbed. He’d never wanted to have children, but sometimes he thought he might not mind borrowing one for a while. Maybe a pair. He just wanted them long enough to dress up splendidly and go for walks in the park. Play a duet (badly—he might be fond of her, but Millicent was still generally atrocious on the piano even after three months of steady practice). All those little domestic details.
He reached out a hand to pat her hair. It was soft but tangled, and his fingers caught in the snarls. He quickly retracted the touch.
He tried smiling benevolently down at her instead. That was safer.
Millicent scooted sideways on the bench to face him, short legs kicking. “I practiced hard,” she informed him.
“I can tell,” Belar lied. He appreciated her enthusiasm for his lessons if nothing else. “It was very good,” he added when she seemed to want more.
She nodded, still beaming, before swinging around to face the keys and raising her hands to attack the unsuspecting ivory. Then she paused and instead picked out a lullaby with one hand, humming along as she searched for the right keys and going back a few times to redo the parts she had gotten wrong. Her face creased in concentration.
And there was that uncomfortable throb of fondness in his heart again.
She was young yet. She could learn the rest in time.
Belar set his flute beside its case atop a nearby table and stretched the kinks from his back as Millicent continued to run through her not-unimpressive library of nursery songs and lullabies. She really was improving. Not quickly, but the effort warmed his heart all the same.
“Is it time for you to go already?” she asked without looking up.
The clock on the mantel showed ten minutes to the hour. “Not quite. But soon, yes. I’d like to hear you try the last song again before I do, and then I’ll have a new piece for you to work on until next lesson.”
“Mama wanted to invite you to dinner. I wasn’t supposed to tell you.”
His eyes flicked to the window. It wouldn’t be dark for at least another hour, and it wasn’t as if he had any other plans for the evening. Sitting with a book maybe. Resting. Now that autumn was growing darker and colder, he was off hunting rotation until spring. Just as well. He’d thought the vampire would be his last hunt of the season, but then the ghost he had been working all year to clear out of a cemetery had sprung up again and ruined his plans. Stubborn incorporeal shit. It had left him a mass of bruises beneath his high-collared shirt and waistcoat, and beneath that was the bone-deep stiffness left behind from overexertion. The chill in the air only exacerbated it. By the time winter set in he would be wrapped in furs like an ancient king in a lonely court, praying before his fireplace for the warmth to unravel him. But that was months away yet. For now he was just stiff and a little creaky.
Sunset was the bigger problem. He hadn’t been afraid of the dark since he was a child, but that didn’t mean he wanted to be out in it unarmed either. He had good reason to fear. Still, how long could one meal last? And what kind of excuse could he fabricate for leaving that wouldn’t risk upsetting his thus far very generous patron? Millicent’s mother could be very insistent when she wished to be. Belar didn’t know if he had the energy to deflect her or her intended offer of food. Quite good food.He’d only dined with them a few times before, but the memories sat heavy and delicious on his tongue. All that awaited him at home was a bit of cheese and the last fruit from the garden. His hunting wages were late.
Belar fussed with his lace cuffs as he thought. He’d chosen them because he liked the look of the lace but there was no denying how helpful they were for hiding things—like the long scratch across the back of one hand, still a little pink. Fang wounds tended to take forever to heal. This one had been with him for months already.
The full force of Millicent’s large, round brown eyes turned on him. Like a puppy. “You will stay, won’t you?” It didn’t seem possible for her eyes to get bigger and yet they did.
Belar sighed. She was doing it on purpose. He knew she was doing it on purpose. But it was nice to be wanted even if it was only by a small and incredibly manipulative child. “Very well.Just this once.”
Belar didn’t quite walk home. The reality was more of a totter. He had drunk too much and eaten even more, and he was going to pay for all of it. And soon. A hangover might be the least of his troubles given how rubbery his legs felt.
Sometime during dinner the sun had set. It had been in the window, shining pink on his face while Millicent’s mother related the latest gossip about all her nearest neighbors and the stories about Mrs. Hastings’ missing chicken. Then the next moment the sun had gone, leaving nothing but a darkening sky and unease in its place.
He regretted living on the very edge of town.
The house itself was wonderful, a small cottage with a fruitful garden that kept him in vegetables and healing herbs all summer long. The woods curved along its back, creating an additional wall of privacy. Really it was ideal—certainly better than the last town he had lived in—and the distance from the neighbors made it easier to accommodate a life largely spent crawling around ruins and dark woods, decapitating monsters, without inviting any particularly uncomfortable questions.
For instance, “Where is it you disappear to for a week out of every month?”
Or, “Why do you often come back from these trips limping and covered in blood and ichor?”
Not to mention, “Are your enemies likely to track you here and burn down our houses while trying to get at you?”
The last had yet to come up, but it was difficult to forget the uncomfortably close call when some of his previous neighbors had taken him for a demon and attempted to burn him in his own house. Belar didn’t really blame them. Anyone was bound to be suspicious of a person found hooded and chanting strange incantations during the nighttime hours. They hadn’t known it was a protection spell, and he hadn’t had the chance to explain. Assuming the explanation would have helped at all. More than one unwary witch’s spellwork had ended in slavering jaws full of fangs instead of the magical cure they sought. The newspapers were full of those tales all the time.
After the house fire and midnight flight, Belar had taken pains to always meet his new neighbors, maybe even bring them a bottle of wine or the like. Flowers from his garden when they were in season. He socialized. He patted the heads of small children and pets. And he went out of his way to start a number of conflicting rumors about himself so that no one would think to fabricate exploits for him. At the moment, depending on who you asked, he was a traveling musician, a scholar, or the disinherited child of a wealthy and distant fictional family whose name the listener had almost definitely heard before. The last was his favorite. It was just implausible yet fabulous enough that no one would admit to believing it even as they spread the tale like wildfire.
It was effective. Like leading several different lives at once. And no one guessed he was anything other than what he claimed to be.
Belar stumbled toward his house, pausing every so often to listen. Even with his glasses, the dark was like a curtain, the moon barely enough to keep him from wandering off the road. The night air moved around him. He shivered as it played over his bare neck, lifting tendrils from his ponytail. Then he kept on walking. The longer he lingered in the dark, the more tension flared in him, tightening his muscles as he prepared for attacks that never came.
He was hopelessly drunk. People tended to get the wrong idea about him since he spent so many nights (in the summer when the dark held off for hours) losing at cards in the tavern, but in actuality he drank very little. It was easier to lose if he was sober while he did it. Tonight had been a rare miscalculation. Their house had been so warm and inviting, and for a moment he had felt like he belonged there.
Belar shoved open his door and nearly fell over the threshold.
The dark bothered him less inside. In his own territory. He knew where everything was, so he didn’t even need a light to cross the room, stepping around unseen obstacles by muscle memory. He tugged out the ribbon holding his hair back, letting the long dark strands fall about his shoulders, letting Belar the tutor run off him like rain. The tie was next, discarded on a nearby table.
He stretched his shoulders and groaned, twisting until the muscles across his back pulled, the pain spreading all the way down, mixing with the aches in his bones. The pain was better. He’d chosen it. A reminder of the fight. There were rarely ever witnesses—not any who lived anyway. Nothing except for the pain. The bruise over his hip and the long jagged scratch on his shoulders from hitting a tree, those were his keepsakes until they faded. They remembered what he’d done even if no one else would ever know about it. He was going to miss that feeling.
He fell across the sitting room and toward the stairs; tripped his way to his lofted bedroom.
His heart beat like music. Not a slow waltz this time. Something quick. Light. All those sweet little thirty-second notes, like the chirping of birds. It had been a good night for Belar the tutor, a successful recent outing for Belar the hunter. Maybe that was enough.
He saw the shadow out of the corner of his eye, one darknessslipping over another. He was expecting no one.
With one hand he scooped up the glass paperweight from the desk as he turned. It was in midair before he saw the first impression of features of the dark figure emerging from his kitchen. The paperweight shattered where it hit the wall. The figure hadn’t seemed to move aside, but they were utterly unharmed. Still moving toward him in the same languid manner.Shadows striped their face. The long hawk-like nose, wide mouth, cheekbones so stark they could draw blood. But it was the amber eyes he found himself staring at as recognition hit him and turned his body to stone. Those eyes seemed to have an unnatural light of their own. They glowed like a cat’s.
There was a vampire in his house, and Belar had already failed to kill him once.
You can preorder From The Dark We Came on Ninestar Press’s website and add it to your Goodreads TBR now!
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