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FIRST DROP OF CRIMSON

At last, I have permission to share the cover and description for FIRST DROP OF CRIMSON, which is the first "spin off" novel from the Night Huntress series. In an amusing note, originally, the stepback was supposed to be the cover, and the cover the stepback, but me and several book buyers who saw the two liked the stepback more as the cover (and uh, when book retailers have an opinion, my publisher listens ;). I also think the used-to-be-the-stepback-but-is-now-the-cover image works better for the story, too, since FIRST DROP is sexier and a bit more romantic than my Cat and Bones books, which only feature my heroine on the cover.

But enough jabbering from me! Here's the cover:




And here's the stepback:




And here's the back cover description:

The night is not safe for mortals. Denise MacGregor knows all too well what lurks in the shadows - her best friend is half-vampire Cat Crawfield - and she has already lost more than the average human could bear. But her family's dark past is wrapped in secrets and shrouded in darkness - and a demon shapeshifter has marked Denise as prey. Now her survival depends on an immortal who craves a taste of her.
 
He is Spade, a powerful, mysterious vampire who has walked the earth for centuries and is now duty-bound to protect this endangered, alluring human - even if it means destroying his own kind. Denise may arouse his deepest hungers, but Spade knows he must fight his urge to have her as they face the demon nightmare together...
 
Because once the first drop of crimson falls, they will both be lost.


And here, if you're interested, is the first chapter (hope the LJ cut works):

Read more


 

Prologue

New Years Eve, one year ago

Even though they were in the basement, Denise could still hear the sounds of battle outside. She didn’t know what had attacked them, but they couldn’t be human, not for Cat to look so scared when she’d ordered them downstairs. If she was frightened, then they should all be afraid.

Crashing noises above made Denise gasp. Randy’s arm tightened around her. “It’ll be okay.”

His face said he believed otherwise. So did Denise. But she smiled, trying to convince her husband she believed the lie, if only to make him feel better.

His arm eased off her. “I’m going upstairs to help look for it.”

It was the object that had drawn these creatures, whatever they were, to this house in the middle of icy nowhere. If it could be found and destroyed, the attack would stop.

Five years ago, Denise wouldn’t have believed in vampires, ghouls, or objects possessing supernatural powers. Now because she’d chosen to spend the New Year with her half-vampire best friend in a house filled with things the average person didn’t believe in, she and Randy would probably die.

“You can’t go up there, it’s too dangerous,” Denise protested.

“I won’t go outside, but I can help look in the house.”

Denise knew finding it was the only chance any of them had. “I’ll go with you.”

“Stay here. The kids are scared.”

Denise looked to the faces huddled in the far corner of the basement room, eyes wide with fear. Former runaways or homeless kids who lived with the vampires, their rent paid in blood donations. The only other adult in the room was Justina, and even her normally imperious expression was tremulous.

“I’ll stay,” Denise said at last. “Be careful. Come right back if those things get any closer.”

Randy gave her a quick kiss. “I will. Promise.”

“I love you,” she called out as he flung open the door.

He smiled. “Love you too.”

He went out the door and Denise locked it behind him. It was the last time she saw Randy alive.


Chapter One


“I think Amber was murdered.”

Denise gaped at her cousin. She was into her third margarita, but she couldn’t have misheard him. Maybe we shouldn’t have gone to a bar after the funeral. Still, Paul had said he wasn’t up to sitting another shiva. His mother and sister just died within a month of each other. If getting a drink made Paul feel better, who cared what they were supposed to do?

“But the doctors said it was her heart.”

“I know what they said,” Paul growled. “The police didn’t believe me, either. But the day before she died, Amber told me she thought she was being followed. She was twenty-three, Denise. Who has a heart attack at twenty-three?”

“Your mother just died of a heart attack,” Denise reminded him softly. “Heart disease can be hereditary. It’s rare for someone as young as Amber to have heart problems, true, but your sister was under a lot of stress –”

“No more than me now,” Paul cut her off bitterly. “You saying I might be next?”

The thought was so awful Denise didn’t even want to contemplate it. “I’m sure you’re fine, but it wouldn’t hurt to get checked out.”

Paul leaned forward, glancing around before he spoke. “I think I’m being followed, too.” His voice was barely a whisper.

Denise paused. For months after Randy’s death, she’d thought every shadow was something sinister waiting to pounce on her. Even over a year later, she still hadn’t totally managed to shake that feeling. Now her aunt and her cousin had died within a month of each other, and Paul also seemed to think death loomed right behind him. Was that a normal part of the grieving process? To feel that when death took someone close to you, it was coming after you next?

“Do you want to stay at my house for a few days?” she asked. “I could use the company.”

Actually Denise preferred being alone, but Paul didn’t know that. The careful investing Randy had done disappeared in the stock market crash, leaving her with just enough to bury him and to put a down payment on a new home, away from most of her family. Her parents meant well, but in their concern, they’d tried to take over her life. At work, Denise kept herself distant from her coworkers, and the seclusion had helped this past long, hard year as she dealt with Randy’s death.

Still, if staying with her helped Paul through the initial shock of his double loss, she’d gladly give up her solitude.

Her cousin looked relieved. “Yeah. If that’s okay.”

Denise signaled for the bartender. “Of course. Let’s head to my house before I have any more drinks. You’ve already had too many, so we’ll take my car and pick up yours in the morning.”

“I can drive,” Paul argued.

Denise glared at him. “Not tonight.”

Paul shrugged. Denise was glad he didn’t fight it. She’d hate herself if Paul got in an accident after going out drinking with her. Aside from her parents, he was the closest family she had left.

She took care of the check over Paul’s objections and they went out into the parking lot. After that incident three months ago, Denise made sure to park in a well-lit area as close to the bar’s entrance as possible. As a further precaution, even though Paul walked with her, she kept her hand on the repellent spray dangling from her keychain. She had two of those; one filled with pepper spray, the other with silver nitrate. Humans weren’t the only ones who liked to attack at night.

“The guest room is small, but there’s a TV in it,” Denise said as they reached her car. “You want to –”

Her voice cut off in a scream as Paul was jerked back, a man appearing out of nowhere behind him. Paul tried to scream, too, but an arm tight across his throat prevented him. The stranger’s eyes seemed to burn as they looked from Denise to her cousin.

“Another one,” he hissed, placing his fist across Paul’s chest.

Denise screamed as loud as she could, raising her pepper spray and sending a burst of liquid in the man’s face. He didn’t even blink, but Paul’s eyes swelled shut as some of it hit him.

“Somebody, help!” Denise shouted again, spraying until the container was empty. The man didn’t even budge while Paul’s face began to turn blue.

She grabbed the silver nitrate next, unloading its contents in four frantic bursts. The man did blink at that, but in apparent surprise. Then he laughed.

“Silver? How interesting.”

Denise was out of weapons and the man hadn’t loosened his hold by a fraction. Panicked, she balled her fists and flung herself at them – only to fall to the ground a moment later on top of her cousin.

“What’s going on out there?” someone from the bar called out.

Denise glanced up. The stranger was gone. A large German Shepard sat a few feet off, its mouth open in a doggy grin. It turned around and ran when a handful of people from the bar came over to them.

“Someone call 911!” Denise exclaimed, noting with horror that Paul wasn’t breathing. She placed her mouth over his, blowing hard – and began to choke as she tasted pepper spray.

Coughing and gasping, Denise saw a young man try CPR on Paul and then fall back, choking as well. She pressed her fingers to Paul’s throat. Nothing.

Almost a dozen people stood over her, but none of them seemed to be reaching for their cell phones.

“Call a goddamn ambulance,” she got out, pounding on Paul’s chest and trying to blow into his mouth even though she could hardly breathe herself. “Come on, Paul! Don’t do this!”

Through her blurred vision, she saw her cousin’s face turning a darker shade of blue. His mouth was slack, his chest motionless under her hands. Denise continued to pound on his chest, cupping her hands around his mouth to blow into it without her lips coming into contact with more pepper spray.

She didn’t stop until the paramedics arrived, seemingly an eternity later. When they pulled her off, Paul still wasn’t breathing.

***

“You’re saying the man just…disappeared?”

The police officer couldn’t quite keep the disbelief out of his tone. Denise fought the urge to slap him. She didn’t know how much more she could take. She’d already had to call her family and tell them this unthinkable news, then grieved with them as they arrived at the hospital, then gave her report to the police. The one they seemed to have such trouble believing.

“As I said, when I looked up, the killer was gone.”

“No one at the bar saw anyone out there, ma’am,” the officer said for the third time.

Denise’s temper snapped. “That’s because they were inside when we were attacked. Look, the guy choked my cousin; doesn’t Paul have bruises around his neck?”

The officer glanced away. “No, ma’am. The medical examiner hasn’t looked at him yet, but the paramedics didn’t see any signs of strangulation. They did say they found evidence of cardiac arrest…”

“He’s only twenty-five years old!” Denise burst, then stopped. Ice slid up her spine. Who has a heart attack at twenty-three? Paul had asked just hours ago, followed up with a statement she’d summarily dismissed. I think I’m being followed, too.

Now Paul was dead - of an apparent heart attack. Just like Amber and Aunt Rose. Denise knew she hadn’t imagined the man who’d been immune to both pepper spray and silver nitrate. The one who’d disappeared in a blink - and the big dog that had come out of nowhere.

Of course, she could relay none of this to the officer. He already looked at her like she was teetering on the crazy end of distraught. It hadn’t escaped Denise’s notice that when she’d been treated for pepper spray, her blood had also been taken, presumably to check her alcohol levels. She’d already been asked multiple times how much she’d drank before leaving the bar. It was clear nothing she said, even leaving out mention of the supernatural, would be taken seriously if the medical examiner ruled that Paul had died of a heart attack.

Well, she knew people who’d believe her enough to investigate.

“Can I go home now?” Denise asked.

A flash of relief crossed the officer’s face. It only made Denise want to smack him more. “Sure. I can arrange for a squad car to take you.”

“I’ll call a cab.”

He stood, bobbing his head. “Here’s my card if you remember anything else.”

Denise took it only because wadding it up and throwing it at him would look questionable. “Thank you.”

She waited until she was inside her house before she made the call. No need to have the taxi driver talk about how his latest fare had babbled on about a murder by a man who might have turned into a dog. If the police found out she’d said that, she could forget them following up on any leads she gave them, even if they did figure out this was a murder.

On the third ring, however, an automated voice intoned that the number she’d dialed had been disconnected. Denise hung up. That’s right, Cat had been moving from place to place because some crazy vampire was stalking her. She obviously changed her number, too. Was Cat still overseas? How long had it been since Denise last spoke to her? Weeks, maybe.

Next Denise tried the number she had for Bones, Cat’s husband, but it, too, was disconnected. Denise dug around her house until she found an address book with the number for Cat’s mother. The number was from over a year ago, so no surprise when that was also out of service.

Frustrated, Denise flung the address book on her couch. She’d been avoiding contact with the undead world, but now when she needed someone plugged into it, she didn’t have anyone’s current number.

There had to be someone she could reach. Denise scrolled through the entries in her cell phone, looking for anyone who had connections to Cat. When she was almost at the end, one name leapt out at her.

Spade. She’d saved Spade’s number in her phone a few months ago, because he’d been the one to pick her up the last time she saw Cat.

Denise hesitated. Spade’s sculpted features, pale skin, and penetrating stare flashed in her mind. Put Spade in a Calvin Klein ad and women would be tempted to lick the page, but Denise’s memory of Spade was irrevocably tied to blood. Especially since the last time she’d seen him, he’d been splattered in it.

She shoved that aside. Someone had murdered Paul, and Spade might be her only link to reaching Cat. Denise pressed “call”, praying she didn’t hear that chipper monotone telling her the number was no longer in service. Three rings, four…

“Hallo?”

Denise felt light-headed with relief at hearing Spade’s distinctive English accent. “Spade, it’s Denise. Cat’s friend,” she added, thinking of how many Denise’s a centuries-old vampire probably knew. “I don’t seem to have Cat’s number and…I’m pretty sure some thing murdered my cousin. Maybe both cousins and my aunt, too.”

It came out in a babble that sounded nuts even to her. She waited, hearing nothing but her breathing during the pause on the other line.

“This is Spade, isn’t it?” she asked, wary. What if she’d hit the wrong number somehow?

His voice flowed back immediately. “Yes, apologies for that. Why don’t you tell me what you believe you saw?”

Denise noticed his phrasing, but she was too wired to argue about it. “I saw my cousin murdered by a man who didn’t even twitch when I maced him with pepper spray and silver nitrate. Then the next thing I saw, a big damn dog was standing where the man had been, but it ran off, and the police think my twenty-five year old cousin died of a heart attack instead of being strangled.”

Another silence filled the line. Denise could almost picture Spade frowning as he listened. He scared her, but right now, she was more afraid of whatever had killed Paul.

“Are you still in Fort Worth?” he asked at last.

“Yes. Same house as…as before.” When he’d dropped her off after murdering a man in cold blood.

“Right. I’m sorry to inform you that Cat is in New Zealand. I can ring her or give you her number, but it would take a day at least for her to get to you, if not more.”

Her friend and expert on all things inhuman was halfway around the world. Great.

“…but I happen to be in the States,” Spade went on. “In fact, I’m in St. Louis. I could be there later today, have a look at your cousin’s body.”

Denise sucked in her breath, torn between wanting to find out what had killed Paul in the quickest way possible, and feeling edgy about it being Spade doing the investigating. Then she berated herself. Paul, Amber, and her aunt’s death meant more than her being uncomfortable about who was helping her.

“I’d appreciate that. My address is -”

“I remember where you live,” Spade cut her off. “Expect me ‘round noon.”

She looked at her watch. Just over six hours. She couldn’t get from St. Louis to Ft. Worth that fast if her life depended on it, but if Spade said he’d be there around noon, she believed him.

“Thanks. Can you tell Cat, um, that…”

“Perhaps it’s best if we don’t involve Cat or Crispin just yet,” Spade said, calling Bones by his human name as he always did. “They’ve had an awful time of it recently. No need to fret them if it’s something I can handle.”

Denise bit back her scoff. She knew what that translated to. Or if she’d just imagined all of this.

“I’ll see you at noon,” she replied, and hung up.

The house seemed eerily quiet. Denise glanced out the windows with a shiver, telling herself the foreboding she felt was a normal reaction to her violent night. Just to be sure, however, she went through each room checking the windows and doors. All locked. Then she forced herself to shower, trying to block the images of Paul’s blue-tinged face from her mind. It didn’t work. Denise put on a robe and began restlessly prowling through her home once more.

If only she hadn’t agreed to go out drinking with Paul, he might still be alive now. Or what if she’d immediately run into the bar for help, instead of staying in the parking lot? Could she have saved Paul, if she’d come out with a bunch of people to scare the attacker off? He’d left as soon as people responded to her screams; maybe she could have saved Paul, if she hadn’t stood there uselessly macing his killer.

Denise was so caught up in her thoughts that she ignored the tapping sounds until they happened a third time. Then she froze. They were coming from her front door.

She left the kitchen and ran quietly to her bedroom, pulling a Glock out of her nightstand. It was filled with silver bullets, which might only slow down a vampire, but would kill anything human. Denise walked down the stairs, straining her ears for each sound. Yes, still there. Such an odd noise, like whimpering and scratching.

What if it was someone trying to pick the lock? Should she call the police, or try to see what it was first? If it was just a raccoon nosing around and she called the cops, they’d really discount anything she said in the future.

Denise kept the gun pointed toward the sounds as she edged around to the front windows. If she angled her body just so, she could see her front door…

“What?” Denise gasped out loud.

On her porch was a little girl, something red on her outfit. She was tapping on the door in a way that looked hurt or exhausted or both. Now Denise could make out the word, “Help…” coming from her.

Denise set down the gun and yanked open the door. The little girl’s face was streaked with tears and her whole frame trembled.

“Can I come in? Daddy’s hurt,” the child lisped.

She picked her up, looking around for a car or any other indicator of how the little girl had gotten here.

“Come in, sweetie. What happened? Where’s your daddy?” Denise crooned as she took the child inside.

The little girl smiled. “Daddy’s dead,” she said, her voice changing to something low and deep.

Denise’s arms fell at the instant deluge of weight, horror filling her as she saw the little girl morph into the same man who’d murdered Paul. He grabbed her when she tried to run, shutting the door behind him.

“Thanks for inviting me in,” he said, his hand clapping over Denise’s mouth just in time to cut off her scream.

***

Spade closed his mobile phone, mulling the conversation he’d just had. Denise MacGregor. He certainly hadn’t expected to hear from her again. Now she fancied her cousin had been murdered by some sort of weredog – except weredogs or were-anything didn’t exist.

There could be another explanation. Denise said she’d maced the attacker with pepper spray and silver. She could have missed him, true, but then again, perhaps she hadn’t. If a vampire murdered her cousin, he could have tranced Denise into thinking she’d seen him transform into a dog – and that he hadn’t been affected by the liquid silver spray. Humans’ memories were so easy to alter. But if Denise had witnessed a vampire attack, the murderer would wonder how she’d known to use silver. He might decide to use more than glamour to make sure Denise didn’t retell the tale. That was risk Spade wasn’t willing to take.

He cast a look at his bed with regret. Thought he’d long ago mastered the crippling lethargy that came with sunrise, that didn’t mean he relished driving to Texas now. Ah, well. It was the least he could do to ensure Crispin and Cat didn’t rush back from New Zealand for what was, in all likelihood, just the emotional breakdown of a human who’d snapped from too much grief and stress.

He remembered the look Denise gave him the last time he’d seen her. Specks of blood dotted her clothes, her face had been as pale as Spade’s own ivory skin, and her hazel eyes held a mixture of revulsion and fear.

“Why did you have to kill him?” she’d whispered.

“Because of what he intended to do,” Spade replied. “No one deserves to live after that.”


She hadn’t understood. Spade did, though. All too well. Humans might be more forgiving with their punishments, but Spade knew better than to show a rapist, even a potential one, any naïve mercy.

He also remembered the last thing Denise said when he’d dropped her off at her house later that night. I’m so sick of the violence in your world. He’d seen that look on many humans’ faces, heard the same flat resonance in their voices. If Crispin weren’t so busy with everything that had happened lately, he’d explain to Cat how the kindest thing to do was to erase Denise’s memory of all things undead. Perhaps Spade would do that himself, if Denise had become delusional. Kindness aside, if her grasp on reality had slipped, it would also eliminate a liability if everything Denise knew about them was erased from her recall.

Spade filled his satchel with enough clothes for a few days and went downstairs to the garage. Once settled behind the wheel of his Porsche, he put on dark shades and then clicked open the garage door. Bloody sun was already up. Spade gave it a baleful glare as he pulled out into the dawn.

Humans. Aside from tasting delicious, they were usually more trouble than they were worth.

***

 

Comments

( 56 comments — Leave a comment )
Page 1 of 4
<<[1] [2] [3] [4] >>
crayolaab
Oct. 13th, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC)
I can't wait for this book. I'm really excited. Great cover & stepback, too, although man does his left eye look creepy!
anaquana
Oct. 13th, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC)
Oh yummy!

Damn, I think I'd pick this one up just for the cover.
katiebabs
Oct. 13th, 2009 09:13 pm (UTC)
hee hee his hand is touching her bum.
denisetwin
Oct. 13th, 2009 09:27 pm (UTC)
oh wow, that is one scary looking man! Love the snippet and cannot wait for the book to come out!
oneminutemonkey
Oct. 13th, 2009 09:30 pm (UTC)
Whoa. Nice.
I can has? (P.S. Check your LJ private messages, got a question for you...)
mandyhubbard
Oct. 13th, 2009 09:34 pm (UTC)
awesome! YAY! totally love it.

Also love how your name is getting bigger. ;-)
wildchild1954
Oct. 13th, 2009 09:43 pm (UTC)
Love this!!
You are killing us Jeaniene!! I'm going into withdrawal already and it hasn't even come out yet!
mooncalled19
Oct. 13th, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
I can't wait! I'm so excited!
ailishsmom
Oct. 13th, 2009 10:22 pm (UTC)
I declare! I may swoon! ;)
scape_graces
Oct. 13th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
Awesome! I can't wait for this to come out.
coffeeisgod
Oct. 13th, 2009 10:35 pm (UTC)
That is beautiful!! Was it difficult writing in third person after writing five books in the first person?
frost_light
Oct. 16th, 2009 01:01 am (UTC)
I've had three short stories in third person, so those helped get me used to the difference. I still love writing in first person, but some stories are just impossible to tell through only one point of view.
boromirslover
Oct. 13th, 2009 11:18 pm (UTC)
I am so excited for this book. XD
eeherndon
Oct. 13th, 2009 11:23 pm (UTC)
so quick question: if i read this book before catching up on night huntress, will i be totally confused?
frost_light
Oct. 16th, 2009 01:01 am (UTC)
No. I wrote this to be a stand-alone so that readers who've never tried the Cat and Bones books could still pick this up.
facere323
Oct. 13th, 2009 11:41 pm (UTC)
That guy kinda reminds me of a young Peter Steele! ::wipes drool:: ?Yeah...I think me likey!
facere323
Oct. 13th, 2009 11:59 pm (UTC)
Oh..and..it gets sexier than Cat and Bones? How is that POSSIBLE?
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( 56 comments — Leave a comment )