EXCERPT: The Children of Never by Christian Warren Freed—The Grey Wanderer

The Grey Wanderer

Mist hovered over the near empty fields. Stands of cedar and black pine broke the monotony of what many considered the endless boredom of the grass plains. Pastures and farmlands stretched as far as a man might walk in a day and beyond. Folks here kept to themselves and preferred others to do the same.

Spring was just beginning, and the early bloom of wild flowers peppered the ground beneath the roiling mists. Tombstones and other crude burial markers filled the small field outside of the village of Fent. Generations were buried within the field’s confines, though modernity demanded fresh bodies be burned atop a pyre so that their ashes might get to the next realm quicker than the slow rot the earth offered.

Still, the old ways, however antiquated, remained strong in many of the older generations still toiling. Their reward, that final rest, had yet to come, leaving them in the unenviable position of becoming the stewards of what once was. A gloomy task on the best of days. Not all the dead were given the flame. Many continued to be thrown into the long, cold sleep of the ground.

Dawn was breaking, the first thin tendrils of pale light stretched across the darkened skies. Roosters crowed. Farmers rose and readied for the long day. Had any been in the fields, they might have caught a glimpse of an old man, crooked and dressed in faded grey robes, stalking down the dirt road leading to the cemetery. He carried a small lantern that swung with every step. The Grey Wanderer some named him. Others simply chose a more apt name: The Soul Stealer.

Whistling as he went, the Grey Wanderer sniffed the air for the scent of those freshly dead. Some whispered he was once a king of men. Others suggested he had been a sorcerer of great power who’d made a deal with fell powers. Most didn’t care; they avoided all mention of him. Wherever the Grey Wanderer went, bad things followed.

He paused at the cemetery gates and raised his lantern high. A wash of light fell over the tombstones, showing him what he’d come to find. Fresh earth cast over the recently deceased. His smile was thin and insidious. The Grey Wanderer began to whistle. It was a ghastly sound, unfit for mortal ears. A cry to the ones in the deep beyond whose very existence threatened the sanity of the masses.

Once he finished his task, the Grey Wanderer lowered his lantern and continued walking. He avoided passing through the sleepy village, choosing instead to disappear back into the mists of time and space. His work here was finished.

Read the rest in The Children of Never by Christian Warren Freed.

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

Why Book Bloggers Blog… #Hug/FistBumpABookBloggerToday #SupportYourLocalBookNerd

“There’s a bookstore here somewhere,” Lula said. “I’ve never been in it, but I saw it advertised. Maybe she would like a book.”

“She has four kids,” I said. “She hasn’t got time to read.”

“That’s a shame,” Lula said. “Everyone should read.”

“Do you read?”

“No. But I think about it sometimes. Problem is, I go to a bookstore and there’s so many books I get confused. So, I get coffee. I know what I’m doing when I order a coffee.”

—Janet Evanovich
from Look Alive Twenty-Five

EXCERPT from 46% Better Than Dave by Alastair Puddick

A Sample from Chapter 8

“No offence, mate, but when was the last time you ran further then the end of the street?” said Charlie. “Let alone 10k, jumping over electric fences.”

“Screw you,” I said. “I’ll have you know I used to run all the time. I was pretty good. And I’ve run loads of 10k races in the past. This dirty mother don’t sound too bad!”

“Oh, you haven’t run a 10k in years though, love,” said Catherine, changing tack and trying to bargain with me.

Et tu, you traitorous wife, I thought.

“No, but it’s just like riding a bike, isn’t it? I can quickly get back into it.” My words were really slurring now. “Besides, I’ve been looking to get fit again. This could be exactly the motivation I need to get in shape. When did you say, three months? Piece of piss. I’ll be running 10k, dodging mimes and hopping over eclectic fences before you know it! Then I’ll be round for my hundred quid.”

What the hell was I doing? I had the perfect way to get out of this. I could have blamed it on too much drink. I could have played it off as a big joke, without losing face. But I couldn’t help it. I just dug myself deeper and deeper.

“Come on, Dave, don’t be silly,” said Catherine, her eyes imploring.

“Silly?” I said. “Silly? I’ll show you who’s silly. I will sign up for this race. And I’ll raise loads of money for charity. And I’ll probably fucking even win it, too. That’ll bloody show you, won’t it?”

The mood changed instantly. The gentle mocking ceased. An awkward silence hung between us. People sat uncomfortably looking at their shoes, the stars, the drinks in their hands.

“You know… you move in here,” I slurred, pointing at New Dave, my head swimming and my hand wobbling, “and you’re like the best bloody thing since sliced cheese. Er… bread, I mean. The best thing since cheese bread. And I’m sick of it, actually. Because you’re not better than me. Not really.”

The words were coming thick and fast. I’d tapped into a rich vein of resentment.

“You know… you’re a man,” I continued rambling. “And I’m a man. And you’re a man. And… you know, other men can do equally… And it’s not about how much you’ve got… or the size of your… barbecue… or how nice your hair is… or how many fucking beer fridges you’ve got… What I mean is…” And then the words just stopped, my train of thought derailing violently.

Everyone looked on curiously, wondering if I was going to continue my tirade. But my brain had crashed. My mouth was no longer receiving any signal.

Another very awkward silence.

“Well, if you’re up for it, then I think that’s brilliant,” said New Dave, overenthusiastically. “Hey, we could even train together, if you fancy it?”

“There you go. At least someone believes in me. Thank you, David.” I turned to look at Catherine. I thought I was sneering and delivering menace with my eyes. But I probably just looked drunk and squinteyed.

“Anyway,” I said, standing awkwardly onto wobbly legs, “I need a piss.”

I pushed back my chair, accidentally knocking it over as I stepped away from the table. As I walked off towards the back door of the house, I suddenly felt very unstable.

It came over me like a wave. The world went wildly out of focus. I could barely keep my eyes open. My legs felt weak, like they could barely carry my weight. I swayed, my head swimming, and I wobbled this way and that. The more I tried to keep a straight line, the more my body chose to lurch violently in the opposite direction, like I was fighting a powerful magnet. It was hard enough just staying upright, let alone moving forwards.

Aware that everyone was watching me, I pigeon-stepped across the lawn, trying to stay as straight and upright as I could. I could see the swimming pool in my peripheral vision, and I tried to keep as far from it as possible. I locked in on the light from the door in front of me. All I had to do was walk straight. But the harder I tried, the more I felt myself drifting to the left. Towards the pool.

“Careful of the pool,” I heard someone shout out behind me.

“Yes, thank you,” I shouted back, “I’m perfectly capable of not falling in a swimming pool, thank you.”

Did I say thank you twice? I thought, as I continued to walk, stumbling closer and closer to the pool. And did I really just sign up to run a 10k obstacle course, climbing over electric fences?

I straightened myself again. I walked slowly and steadily, like a drunk driver trying to convince a police officer I was sober. One foot in front of the other. Move towards the light. Just walk in a straight line.

But the swimming pool’s magnetic pull grew stronger. And the more I tried to fight it, the more it pulled me closer.

“Dave, seriously,” I heard Catherine call out behind me.

I threw my hand up in the air, the middle digit extended in an act of childish rebellion. And that was all it took to completely unbalance me. I swerved violently to the left, tripping over my own feet, hopping, lurching and dancing until I tumbled over.

I went into the water sideways.


Read the rest in 46% Better Than Dave by Alastair Puddick .


My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

Love Books Group

EXCERPT from Shattered Bonds by Faith Hunter: “My Eddie is in trouble!”

SHATTERED BONDS by Faith Hunter, copyright Faith Hunter.

My cell chimed. Beast and I followed Eli to my gobag in the mud room, the small bag hanging on the rack with other winter gear. He swiped the screen, tapped in my security code, and started back to the office, saying, “Molly, it’s Eli—”

Angie Baby screamed, “My Eddie is in trouble! My Eddie! No! No!”

Beast growled, showing killing teeth. My/our heart did a fearful, arrhythmic bump-and-pause, and then raced too fast. Again, I searched for the connection to Edmund. Gone. Severed. As if it had been cut out with a knife. It was a strange sensation, as if a part of my own body had been instantly amputated and I kept searching for it, feeling something but … not the missing part. Ed was mine. Ed was gone.

Molly’s voice came over the phone and my attention swept to the cell. “Sorry, Jane. Angie woke up screaming from a bad dream. We’ve been trying to calm her down, but she grabbed my cell and called.” In the background, we heard the sound of Angie Baby’s screams diminish in volume and the crooning of her father’s flute magic, calming her.

“Eli here. Jane’s big-cat at the moment. Angie may not be having a dream.”

“What’s happening with Ed?” Molly asked, a trace of fear in her tone.

“We don’t know, except that Jane heard Ed through the vamp-binding. Alex is searching for him.”

In the background Angie’s screams crescendoed, the pitch so high it hurt Beast’s ears. She turned her ear tabs down against the noise and thought, Kits… Kits in trouble. Ed in trouble.

“Eli, I—. This is … Has Ed been killed? He and Angle have a blood bond. I don’t know what to do if… ?” Molly’s voice trailed away, uncertainly.

I/we nodded Beast’s head up and down, then back and forth, an uncertain yes / no gesture. We stared at Eli, snarling and licking our jaw, hoping he would understand that this was really not right.

“Jane and Beast are upset too,” he said.

“I think we’ll come visit,” Molly said.

“We have the room,” Eli said.

“Yeah. I’ve seen the sales brochures,” she said wryly.

In the background, the screaming stopped. Evan said, “She’s asleep. Pack fast. More snow is coming.”

Into the cell, Molly said, “We’ll probably have to keep her in magically induced sleep but expect us after nine tonight.”

“The county brined the street but the drive is frozen,” Eli said. “Call if you get stuck.”

“Will do.” The call ended.

From the office, I heard the Kid’s voice in quiet conversation with Grégoire, Blondie’s and Alex’s voices barely loud enough to pick out, even with Beast’s ears. Grégoire was in France with Edmund. Good. That meant up-to-date info. I / we trotted to him.

“Send me everything you have,” Alex said.

“Oui. My people do so now. Dieu vous garde en sécurité.”

“You too, dude.”

I heard a connection end and felt a smile tug at my Puma lips. Only Alex would call a royal-born, centuries old, powerful vamp dude.

 

 


Read the rest in Shattered Bonds by Faith Hunter—how can you not?.


My thanks to Let’s Talk! Promotions for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book via NetGalley) they provided.

EXCERPT from The Dead of Winter by A. B. Gibson

PROLOGUE

STILL FOLLOWING. SHE KNEW BECAUSE when she stopped to check a moment or two ago, she could still hear him chasing her. She was hardly making any noise as she raced through the cut paths of the maze, but her predator was barreling directly through the corn and his heavy boots made a loud crunching. The snapping and rattling sound following in his wake as he crashed through the dry, brittle corn stalks was terrifying. And, because it was becoming louder, she could tell he was getting closer.

The woman had rushed into the maze too quickly to even notice what direction she was going. She was paying more attention to the gash in her ribs than anything else, and she didn’t care about finding their so-called exit, anyway. She only wanted one thing—out. The first frost came early, and there had been a few more since, and the icy turns made it hard to go fast. The sun, which was just beginning to rise, barely illuminated the paths. But she couldn’t slow down, and she dared not fall.

A treetop loomed over the field straight ahead, and she used it as a reference point, when the only choice was to go left or right. Without breaking stride, she followed her instinct and turned left this time, thinking if she kept changing directions, maybe she could lose him. Her legs wobbled from speed and exhaustion, and she choked on the biting wind that stirred the corn stalks. By now she had lost a lot of blood from her deep wound and she was feeling faint, so she had to dig in mentally to keep running at full speed.

 

 


Read the rest in The Dead of Winter by A. B. Gibson.


My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

Love Books Group

Opening Lines—System Failure by Joe Zieja

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author—but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. I’m sure we can all relate to it.

Lucinda Hiri was pretty sure taking over the galaxy hadn’t been in the job description when she was offered this intern position six months ago. Then again, it wasn’t impossible. The Snaggardir corporation’s paperwork was notoriously long and detailed, vetted by droves of lawyers at every level of approval to make sure that the language had all the right loopholes in all the right places. Lucinda supposed that somewhere on page 356 there could have been a small asterisk that said “in the event a nascent people rise up after two hundred years of secret collusion, you will be required to take detailed notes at their strategy meetings.”

It had seemed like a dream come true at the time. Sal Snaggardir and his family’s company were arguably the most powerful economic force in the galaxy. The possibilities for her career as a businesswoman were endless. Not liking interning at some space technology company on Urp, where she would likely move laterally for the entirety of her disappointing, coffee-supported life. Snaggardir’s was the place to make it big.

In retrospect, though Lucinda should have noticed that Mr. Snaggardir was trying to conceal just how big his company had gotten. Subsidiary corporations literally thousands of banks all across the galaxy holding funds under different names, and that nondisclosure agreement she signed threatening to eradicate her family line if she ever told anyone anything about the company. The legal department said that was boilerplate, and, really, what did she know? She was just a thirty-year-old unpaid intern with three advanced degrees in business arts.

from System Failure by Joe Zieja

EXCERPT from Appetite for Risk by Jack Leavers: South of Baghdad

From Chapter 10 South of Baghdad

Taken from the start of Chapter 10, this extract sees John Pierce sharing one of my entertaining days in Iraq that occurred exactly as written. It concerned me that editors might want the chapter cut, whereas I think it show in a microcosm the hope, mistrust and deep-rooted anger that permeated Baghdad back then.

‘Look at his face. Can you see his face? He hates you.’ Mr Saleh had suddenly turned from an urbane, confident businessman into an excited Willy Wonka as we’d driven through the gates of his factory to the south of Baghdad. It made a striking change from the recent days spent with the cagey Faris and his crew.

General Imad had introduced the two of us over a phone call from his place the previous day and we’d met up that morning and spent the day together. Instead of focusing on the business set-up, it gave me a chance to spend time with a wealthy businessman and discuss discernible business opportunities.

Lunch had been delicious fish cooked over hot coals in a tented restaurant with an open fire pit by the banks of the Tigris. And Mohammed was right: masgouf was delicious. The place was hired for our exclusive use and his private goon squad sat in a car immediately outside, watching over us and the superbly maintained vintage black Mercedes we’d arrived in.

This wasn’t just for my protection. Local kidnappings were rampant and anyone with money was fair game as were their families. During the war the previous year, most of the prison inmates had ended up free to roam the city and get back to business. With the economy shot to pieces and the scarcity of jobs, crime was about the only sector showing rocketing expansion. Mr Saleh wasn’t taking any chances.

As I checked out the faces of the workers in the compound, I wasn’t feeling the love from any of them. A good job the goon squad were following right behind us or this might have got unpleasant. An especially furious-looking individual with wild hair and wilder eyes stood out. If there was anyone looking angrier than this guy, then I probably needed to be drawing the Makarov.

‘All his family were killed in an American air strike. He hates the Americans. He hates you. If I wasn’t here, he’d try to kill you.’

Why this was said in such an enthusiastic manner I couldn’t quite grasp.

‘Well let’s keep him at a distance. I don’t think it will help productivity if I have to shoot him.’

Mr Saleh’s head turned so fast I thought he had to have done himself an injury. ‘Of course. You have nothing to worry about. I apologise. You are safe here.’

That remained to be seen.

We were about half an hour south of Baghdad at Mr Saleh’s drinks factory. He was giving me the grand tour after I’d explained to him over lunch how I was looking to bring leading Western brands into Iraq and here on the search for suitable local partners.

‘Bring me Coca Cola and all our dreams will be realised,’ he’d told me.

As I inspected the dusty compound, run-down buildings, and forlorn production line, it was difficult to envisage the Coca-Cola quality control people ripping his hand off to sign on the dotted line.

I tried to introduce a diplomatic reality check. ‘Coca-Cola is likely to already have partners here or in Jordan.’ Drinks manufacturing was a sector I knew precious little about and, with no advance warning about the type of business he owned, I’d had zero time to conduct any background research.

Mr Saleh swept my negativity aside. ‘I want you to find me a new production line in the UK or Germany. Send me some details and we can refurbish this factory and make it fit for the big companies. Anyway, we shall expand our water production and become the best brand in Iraq.’

He was thinking big. Provided he had the money, then this could be worth a closer look.

***

‘He’s outraged I brought you here.’

Mr Saleh reverted to being Willy Wonka as we headed back out through the gates. He drove the highly polished Mercedes himself with only me in the car alongside, the goon squad bringing up the rear in the other Merc. Not exactly low profile but the goons bristled with weapons and ammunition, ready for a fight rather than just for show.

The dirt road leading from the factory wound through some undulating terrain on its way to the main road. We rounded a sandy hillock to be confronted by a pickup truck manned by four armed balaclava-clad men bearing down on us. As it slewed to the right, I could see a fifth balaclava behind a large pintle-mounted anti-aircraft gun, a 12.7mm (.50 cal) DShK, or ‘Dushka’. My eyes must have popped out of my head like something from a Looney Tunes cartoon.

I drew the Makarov and hoped they hadn’t spotted me through the tinted windows. Mr Saleh put his arm across.

‘No, Mr John. It’s okay, these are security forces.’

He stopped the car and opened the window to shout a greeting to the vehicle commander as I tried to bring my heart rate back under control. I was going to need a drink tonight.

 


Read the rest in Appetite for Risk by Jack Leavers.

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the opportunity to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.