Have you read Half-Shell Prophecies or The Christmas Dragon? Well, Bran makes an appearance in this, and it is quite a splash.
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.
“Cocktail, it is.” Barry shrugs, turns away, clinks bottles together and pours things, and then puts a small glass in front of me.
It’s about two fingers’ width of something bright green. “Is that color safe?” I blurt.
“More sugar than booze, practically,” says Terrance cheerfully. “Enjoy.” He toasts me.
I take a sip.
Yes, there is the punch of alcohol, the broadness of that flavor and its effect, but it is carried in a wonderful sweetness with some kind of fruity acid that brings my whole mouth to life and makes my tongue want to dance. I stare at it, eyes huge and take another sip. “What is this magic?”
Barry shrugs. “Vodka, rum, Laraha orange liqueur, cara cara orange, pineapple, and lemon juices.”
I have never had any of these things in my life. I sip again.
I feel quite warm.
“Sweet, right?” says Terrance.
“Good gods,” I say, finishing the glass.
He grins, the expression of a man who thinks, job well done. Then he stiffens.
His grin fades as he turns, casually leans his elbows on the bar, and and faces the room. Then he raises his glass again, this time at someone behind me.
The most magnificent man I’ve ever seen stands in the door.
His shoulders make the doorway look narrow. Black hair, a rogue’s smile, a 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, and magnificent knee-high boots, but the way it hugs his form, it’s somehow worse than if he’d marched in here naked.
“Bran,” says Terrance. He didn’t speak up; apparently, he didn’t need to.
This new man, Bran, joins us. He nods at a few other residents of the place, and – like with Terrance – he 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, my eyes so wide they burn.
“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?”
His smile sort of hesitates. “About?”
“What I would like to hear?”
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. “Sure. What would you like to hear, seriously and honestly?”
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 revealed 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. “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 Ever-Dying, 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. “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. “Thinking of 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.
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.
“Oh, he’s right. It’s too late to run.” And Bran turns all that weight, all that gaze, onto me, pushing against me with will and power and curiosity like touches. “Little human, among the Mythos, who are you?”
It’s 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 need to avoid his anger. “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,” he 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.