Exclusive, Super Advanced Excerpt — and Giveaway!: Keri Arthur's Fireborn
In our minds, the only thing that's better than an excerpt is a super advanced excerpt of a book we're dying to read! So today we're excited to share with you a lengthy snippet from Keri Arthur's upcoming series starter, Fireborn, which won't be hitting stores until July.
Fireborn is the story of Emberley, a phoenix who can take human form — and foresee death. In this action-packed excerpt Emberley is once again trying to cheat death, but there are always consquences. Ready to read? Let's get to it! Just be sure to check out the bottom of the post for our awesome giveaway.
All of us dream.
Some of us even have pleasant dreams.
My dreams might have been few and far between, but they were never, ever pleasant. But worse than that, they always came true.
Over the course of my many lifetimes, I’d tried to interfere, to alter fate’s path and prevent the death I’d seen, but I’d learned the hard way that there were often serious consequences for both the victim and myself.
Which was why the flesh down my spine was twisted and marred. I’d pulled a kid from a burning car, saving her life but leaving us both disfigured. Fire may be mine to control and devour, but there’d been too many witnesses and I’d dared not use my powers. It had taken me months to heal, and I’d sworn—yet again—to stop interfering and simply let fate take her natural course. But here I was, out on the streets in the cold, dead hours of the night, trying to keep warm as I waited in the shadows for the man who was slated to die this night.
Because he wasn’t just a man. He was the man I’d once loved.
I shifted my weight from one foot to the other and tried to keep warm in the confines of the abandoned factory’s doorway. Why anyone would even come out by choice on a night like this was beyond me. Melbourne was a great city, but her winters could be hell, and right now it was cold enough to freeze the balls off a mutt—not that there were any mutts about at this particular hour. They apparently had more sense.
The breeze whisked around the parts of my face not protected by my scarf, freezing my skin and making it feel like I was breathing ice.
Of course, I did have other ways to keep warm. I was a phoenix—a spirit born from the ashes of flame—and fire was both my heritage and my soul. But even if I couldn’t sense anyone close by, I was reluctant to flame. Vampires and werewolves might have outed themselves during the peak of Hollywood’s love affair with all things paranormal, but the rest of us preferred to remain hidden. Humanity on the whole might have taken the existence of weres and vamps better than any of us had expected, but there were still far too many who believed nonhumans provided an unacceptable risk to their existence. Even on crappy nights like this, it wasn’t unusual to have hunting parties roaming the streets, looking for easy paranormal targets. While my kind rarely provided any sort of threat, I wasn’t human, and that made me as much a target for their hate as vamps and weres.
Even the man who’d once claimed to love me was not immune to such hate.
Pain stirred, distant and ghostly, but never, ever forgotten, no matter how hard I tried. Samuel Turner had made it all too clear what he thought of my “type.” Five years might have passed, but I doubted time would have changed his view that the only good monster was a dead one.
And yet here I was, attempting to save his stupid ass.
The roar of a car engine rode across the silence. For a moment the dream raised its head, and I saw again the flashes of metal out of the car window, the red-cloaked faces, the blood and brain matter dripping down brick as Sam’s lifeless body slumped to the wet pavement. My stomach heaved and I closed my eyes, sucking in air and fighting the feeling of inevitability.
Death would not claim his soul tonight.
I wouldn’t let her.
Against the distant roar of that engine came the sound of steady steps from the left of the intersection up ahead. He was walking toward the corner and the death that awaited him there.
I stepped out of the shadows. The glow of the streetlights did little to break up the night, leaving the surrounding buildings to darkness and imagination. The ever-growing rumble of the car approaching from the right didn’t quite drown out the steady sound of footsteps, but perhaps it only seemed that way because I was so attuned to it. To what was about to happen.
I walked forward, avoiding the puddles of light and keeping to the darker shadows. The air was thick with the growing sense of doom and the rising ice of hell.
Death waited on the other side of the street, her dark rags billowing and her face impassive.
The growling of the car’s engine swept closer. Lights broke across the darkness, the twin beams of brightness spotlighting the graffiti that colored an otherwise bleak and unforgiving cityscape.
This area of Brooklyn was Melbourne’s dirty little secret, one definitely not mentioned in the flashy advertising that hailed the city as the “it” holiday destination. It was a mix of heavy industrial and run-down tenements, and it housed the underbelly of society—the dregs, the forgotten, the dangerous. Over the past few years, it had become so bad that the wise avoided it and the newspapers had given up reporting about it. Hell, even the cops feared to tread the streets alone here. These days they did little more than patrol the perimeter in a vague attempt to stop the violence from spilling over into neighboring areas.
So why the hell was Sam right here in the middle of Brooklyn’s dark heart?
I had no idea and, right now, with Death so close, it hardly mattered.
I neared the fatal intersection and time slowed to a crawl. A deadly, dangerous crawl.
The Commodore’s black nose eased into the intersection from the right. Windows slid down smoothly, and the long black barrels of the rifles I’d seen in my dream appeared. Behind them, half-hidden in the darkness of the car’s interior, red hoods billowed.
Be fast, my inner voice whispered, or die.
Death stepped forward, eager to claim her soul. I took a deep, shuddering breath and flexed my fingers.
Sam appeared past the end of the building and stepped toward the place of his death. The air recoiled as the bullets were fired. There was no sound. Silencers.
I lunged forward, grabbed his arm, and yanked him hard enough sideways to unbalance us both. Something sliced across my upper arm, and pain flared as I hit the pavement. My breath whooshed loudly from my lungs, but it didn’t cover the sound of the unworldly scream of anger. Knowing what was coming, I desperately twisted around, flames erupting from my fingertips. They met the sweeping, icy scythe of Death, melting it before it could reach my flesh. Then they melted her, sending her back to the frigid realms of hell.
The car screeched to a halt farther down the street, the sound echoing sharply across the darkness. I scrambled to my feet. The danger wasn’t over yet. He could still die, and we needed to get out of here—fast. I spun, only to find myself facing a gun.
“What the—” Blue eyes met mine and recognition flashed. “Red! What the fuck are you doing here?”
There was no warmth in his voice, despite the use of my nickname.
“In case it has escaped your notice,” I snapped, trying to concentrate on the danger and the need to be gone rather than on how good he damn well looked, “someone just tried to blow your brains out—although it is debatable whether you actually have brains. Now move, because they haven’t finished yet.”
He opened his mouth, as ready as ever to argue, then glanced past me. The weapon shifted fractionally, and he pulled the trigger. As the bullet burned past my ear, I twisted around. A red-cloaked body lay on the ground five feet away, the hood no longer covering his features. His face was gaunt, emaciated, and there was a thick black scar on his right cheek that ended in a hook. It looked like Death’s scythe.
The footsteps coming toward us at rapid speed said there were another four to deal with. Sam’s hand clamped my wrist; then he was pulling me forward.
“We won’t outrun them,” I said, even as we tried to do just that.
“I know.” Sam’s voice was grim. Dark.
I batted the thought away and risked another glance over my shoulder. They’d rounded the corner and were now so close I could see their gaunt features, their scars, and the red of their eyes.
Fear shuddered through me. Whatever these things were, they weren’t human.
“We need somewhere to hide.” I scanned the buildings around us somewhat desperately. Broken windows, shattered brickwork, and rot abounded. Nothing offered the sort of fortress we so desperately needed right now.
“I know.” He yanked me to the right, just about pulling my arm out of the socket in the process. We pounded down a small lane that smelled of piss and decay, our footsteps echoing across the night. It was a sound that spoke of desperation.
The red cloaks were quiet. Eerily quiet.
A metal door appeared out of the shadows. Sam paused long enough to fling it open, then thrust me inside and followed, slamming the door shut and then shoving home several thick bolts.
Just in time.
Something hit the other side of the door, the force of it enough to dent the metal and make me jump back in fright. Fire flicked across my fingertips, an instinctive reaction I quickly doused as Sam turned around.
“That won’t help.” His voice was grim, but it still held echoes of the distaste that had dominated his tone all those years ago. “We need to get upstairs. Now,” he added, as the door shuddered under another impact.
He brushed past me and disappeared into the gloom of the cavernous building. I unraveled the scarf from around my face and hastily followed. “What the hell are those things? And why do they want to kill you?”
“Long story.” He reached a grimy set of stairs and took them two at a time. The metal groaned under his weight, but the sound was smothered by another hit to the door. This time, something broke.
“Hurry,” he added rather unnecessarily.
I galloped after him, my feet barely even hitting the metal. We ran down a corridor, stirring the dust that clung to everything until the air was thick and difficult to breathe. From downstairs came a metallic crash—the door coming off its hinges and smashing to the concrete.
They were in. They were coming.
Fear leapt up my throat, and this time the flames that danced across my fingertips would not be quenched. The red-gold flickers lit the darkness, lending the decay and dirt that surrounded us an odd sort of warmth.
Sam went through another doorway and hit a switch on the way through. Light flooded the space, revealing a long, rectangular room. In the left corner, as far away from the door as possible, was a rudimentary living area. Hanging from the ceiling on thick, metal cables was a ring of lights that bathed the space in surreal, violet light.
“Don’t tell me you live here,” I said as I followed Sam across the room.
He snorted. “No. This is merely a safe house. One of five we have in this area.”
The problems in this area were obviously far worse than anyone was admitting if cops now needed safe houses. Or maybe it was simply a development linked to the appearance of the red cloaks. Certainly I hadn’t come across anything like them before, and I’d been around for centuries. “Will the UV lighting stop those things?”
He glanced at me. “You can see that?”
“Yes.” I said it tartly, my gaze on his, searching for the distaste and the hate. Seeing neither. “I’m not human, remember?”
He grunted and looked away. Hurt stirred again, the embers refusing to die, even five years down the track.
“UV stops them.” He paused, then added, “Most of the time.”
“Oh, that’s a comfort,” I muttered, the flames across my fingers dousing as I thrust a hand through my hair. “What the hell are they, then? Vampires? They’re the only nonhumans I can think of affected by UV.”
And they certainly hadn’t looked like vampires. Most vamps tended to look and act human, except for the necessity to drink blood and avoid sunlight. None that I’d met had red eyes or weird scars on their cheeks—not even the psycho ones who killed for the pure pleasure of it.
“They’re a type of vampire.”
He pulled out a rack filled with crossbows, shotguns, and machine pistols from under the bed, then waved a hand toward it, silently offering me one of the weapons. I hesitated, then shook my head. I had my own weapon, and it was more powerful than any bullet.
“You’ll regret it.”
But he shrugged and began to load shells into a pump-action shotgun. There was little other sound. The red cloaks might be on their way up, but they remained eerily quiet.
I rubbed my arms, felt the sticky warmth, and glanced down. The red cloak’s bullet had done little more than wing me, but it bled profusely. If they were a type of vampire, then the wound—or rather the blood—would call to them.
“That blood might call to more than just those red cloaks,” he added, obviously noticing my actions. “There’re some bandages in the drawer of the table holding the coffeepot. Use them.”
I walked over to the drawer. “I doubt there’s anything worse than those red cloaks out on the streets at the moment.”
He glanced at me, expression unreadable. “Then you’d be wrong.”
I frowned, but opened the drawer and found a tube of antiseptic along with the bandages. As medical kits went, it was pretty basic, but I guess it was better than nothing. I applied both, then moved to stand in the middle of the UV circle, close enough to Sam that his aftershave—a rich mix of woody, earthy scents and musk—teased my nostrils and stirred memories to life. I thrust them away and crossed my arms.
“How can these things be a type of vampire?” I asked, voice a little sharper than necessary. “Either you are or you aren’t. There’s not really an in-between state, unless you’re in the process of turning from human to vamp.”
And those things in the cloaks were neither dead nor turning.
“It’s a long story,” he said. “And one I’d rather not go into right now.”
“Then at least tell me what they’re called.”
“We’ve nicknamed them red cloaks. What they call themselves is anyone’s guess.” His shoulder brushed mine as he turned, and a tremor ran down my body. I hadn’t felt this man’s touch for five years, but my senses remembered it. Remembered the joy it had once given me.
“So why are they after you?”
His short, sharp laugh sent a shiver down my spine. It was the sound of a man who’d seen too much, been through too much, and it made me wonder just what the hell had happened to him in the last five years.
“They hunt me because I’ve vowed to kill as many of the bastards as I can.”
The chance to ask any more questions was temporarily cut off as the red cloaks ran through the door. They were so damn fast that they were halfway across the room before Sam could even get a shot off. I took a step back, my fingers aflame, the yellow-white light flaring oddly against the violet.
The front one ran at Sam with outstretched fingers, revealing nails that were grotesque talons ready to rip and tear. The red cloak hit the UV light, and instantly his skin began to blacken and burn. The stench was horrific, clogging the air and making my stomach churn, but he didn’t seem to notice, let alone care. He just kept on running.
The others were close behind.
Sam fired. The bullet hit the center of the first red cloak’s forehead, and the back of his head exploded, spraying those behind him with flesh and bone and brain matter.
He fell. The others leapt over him, their skin aflame and not caring one damn bit.
Which was obviously why Sam had said my own flame wouldn’t help.
He fired again. Another red cloak went down. He tried to fire a third time, but the creature was too close, too fast. It battered him aside and kept on running
It wanted me, not Sam. As I’d feared, the blood was calling to them.
I backpedaled fast, raised my hands, and released my fire. A maelstrom of heat rose before me, hitting the creature hard, briefly halting his progress and adding to the flames already consuming him.
My backside hit wood. The table. As the creature pushed through the flames, I scrambled over the top of it, then thrust it into the creature’s gut. He screamed, the sound one of frustration rather than pain, and clawed at the air, trying to strike me with arms that dripped flames and flesh onto the surface of the table.
The wooden table.
As another shot boomed across the stinking, burning darkness, I lunged for the nearest table leg. I gripped it tight, then heaved with all my might. I might be only five foot four, but I wasn’t human and I had a whole lot of strength behind me. The leg sheared free—and just in time.
The creature leapt at me. I twisted around and swung the leg with all my might. It smashed into the creature’s head, caving in its side and battering him back across the table.
A final gunshot rang out, and the rest of the creature’s head went spraying across the darkness. His body hit the concrete with a splat and slid past the glow of the UV, burning brightly in the deeper shadows crowding the room beyond.
I scrambled upright and held the leg at the ready. But there were no more fiery forms left to fight. We were safe.
Sounds awesome, right? Well then we've got a giveaway for you! Because in our minds, the only thing better than free books, is free advanced copies of books. That's right! Three lucky winners will win an advanced copy of Fireborn so that they can read the entire series starter right now, while the rest of us wait until July! Enter to win below. Good luck! (U.S. residents only, please)