This is a a snippet from my upcoming book, Solomon’s Choice. If you join the newsletter, you’ll not only get tidbits and freebies like this, you’ll also get the next book in the series: THE SUNDERED.
Terrance raises his glass again, this time at someone behind me.
I spin, expecting monsters, the pillars with eyes, but no: the most magnificent man I’ve ever seen stands in the door.
His shoulders make the entrance look narrow. Black hair, blue eyes, a rogue’s smirk that could charm the Council naked, and a jawline that could cut glass. He wears simple black, trousers and top, a little too tight (very much to my benefit), and magnificent knee-high boots.
“Bran,” says Terrance. He didn’t speak loudly; apparently, he didn’t need to.
This new man, Bran, joins us. He nods at a few other residents of the place, and he – like Terrance – is given a wide berth, and little direct eye-contact.
He can’t be human. He’s too perfect. My guard struggles to put up its fists, though it finds itself weakened by warm, lovely sweet things and a deeply pleasant buzz.
“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, you walk into mine,” he says, and then laughs.
Terrance makes a face. “Really? Again?”
“Some quotes never grow old.” He smacks the bar, and Barry – already prepared – hands him a sleek, blue bottle, which Bran grips about its neck in a way that’s somehow utterly obscene and utterly enchanting.
He upends it, swallows (mesmerizing, that laryngeal prominence), then grins again at Terrance. “Haven’t seen you in an age.”
“Busy.” Terrance isn’t smiling in return.
Apparently deciding he’s no fun, Bran looks at me.
Heat (from the alcohol, surely) creeps up my throat, over my cheeks, steams my glasses. I remove them to wipe them off.
“Well, well,” Bran rumbles, low, a sound I can feel in my toes, though that should not be possible. “What’s this?”
“Notte’s,” says Terrance, who has evidently resorted to single words.
“Notte’s what?” says Bran, making it into something extraordinary. He grins at me (please do that again, I think) and walks around Terrance to stand right before me.
He towers over me. Towers. His smell is amazing, and impossible to place. Smoky. Herby. Unbidden, I get images of fires in dark places, of incense thrown in for mysterious purposes, of sensuality in the dark.
“Hello, little human,” he says. “Don’t be afraid.”
“That is usually the worst thing to tell someone when they are afraid,” I say.
“Not a bad point. What would you like to hear, instead?” he says with a slow smile as syrupy as what I just drank.
“Bran,” warns Terrance.
“What would I like to hear? Are you serious?” I say.
His smile sort of hesitates.
Terrance sighs, puts his glass down, murmurs to Barry. I think he’s paying. I can’t look away from Bran.
Bran’s narrows his eyes; his smile doesn’t change, but I have the oddest feeling that this is the first time he’s actually given me his attention. “Yes. I’m serious. What would you like to hear above all else, little human?”
Maybe drinking on an empty stomach was a bad idea. “’Congratulations, you saved the world.’”
My face burns.
Suddenly, he’s laughing, head back, tendons appealingly protrusive along his throat, his teeth white and his lips full and his voice thrilling.
“For fuck’s sake,” says Terrance, takes my arm, and pulls me toward him. “Bran.”
“Who is he? I like him. Who are you? Oh, of course, we should do this right.” He smiles at me, full wattage on display, and steps back just far enough to do a sweeping bow, one which lowers his head to dangerously near my hips, though he never takes his eyes from mine, and his look through his lashes is knowing and hungry and so very, very bad. “Among the Mythos, I am Lord of Crows, Echelon of Darkness, Heir to the Darkseed, King of Umbra, Shadow’s Breath – called Bran. And you, little human, are intriguing.”
“Shut the fuck up, Bran,” says Terrance, and grips my arm more tightly.
And still bowed, Bran looks over. My sight flickers – a flicker of fire washes over him, dark and maddening, a warning of his own. He overflows with power. “Be nice, knife.”
“I am, ass.”
I don’t know that Terrance could take him.
This king, this Bran, is not afraid of Terrance. Terrance is not afraid, either, but he is cautious, and that scares me.
I can’t let something bad happen here. I cannot. “Crows are fascinating,” I say, too loud. “At least, I think they are. Never met one, myself, but I read about them a lot. Corvids. Brilliant birds.”
Bran turns a slow smile on me like warm blood. “He’s trying to take attention from you, and here you are, taking it back. That’s sweet, little human.”
Terrance is so still. “Yeah, we’re leaving.” He takes a step away from the bar.
Bran’s eyes are narrowed again, his smile aimed at Terrance like a blade. “Running away?”
Terrance’s jaw clenches.
“Not yet, surely,” Bran rumbles, straightening, and there is more threat in it now, something dangerous and ponderous and slow, some sort of authority ready to rumble over Terrance’s rebellion like a tank.
I know, and Terrance knows, that there are at least three beings watching us somehow, waiting for us to slip up. This whole thing has to be interfering.
The best thing I can do is play along, to be boring. As if we weren’t being followed, watched, stalked. That’s what Terrance said to do, right?
The tension in this place hurts, heavy and sharp at the same time, and no one – other than Barry, drying glasses – makes a single sound.
“Don’t answer him,” Terrance says, softly.
“Isn’t it worse if I don’t?” I say, because surely this is rude, and Bran is some kind of bird-king, and everyone is already staring. “We’re being boring, right?”
“Oh, it’s too late for boring, little human.” And Bran turns all that weight, all that gaze, onto me, pushing against me with will and power and curiosity like touches. “Among the Mythos, who are you?”
It is a command.
I have to answer. It’s not like Notte’s, not like Terrance’s taking-away of my will, but it moves me, and I answer without thinking because I can’t not. “Solomon Iskinder.”
A glass breaks behind me. I turn to look, but Bran grabs my face and has me look him in the eye.
No smile now.
That… this… this is a terrifying being, transformed. He still looks human, but his blue eyes are not, they are fire, and too wide, they bore into me with hardness and accusation and a terrible, revealing focus that I cannot even blink to get away from.
Terrance hisses, low. “Thanks. Thanks for that.”
“Why is he here?” Bran murmurs.
“Because they got it wrong. Ask Father. We have to go. Thanks again for making this go so smooth,” Terrance snarls.
Bran has not let me go. His fingertips almost burn, so warm against my cheeks. “You said you wanted to save the world.”
I try to nod; his grip is too tight, so I make a noise of affirmation, not trusting myself to speak.
His eyes narrow. “I’m going to let you go now. Everybody in here heard your name, so I suggest you run with Terrance back home. We will talk there very soon, little human.”
Shit, shit, shit, shit –
“Thanks. SO much. Asshole,” says Terrance, his grip too tight on my arm, and suddenly we go to dust.