Before we get to the latest Night Rebel snippet, I wanted to talk about Arcs (advance reading copies) of SHADES OF WICKED. Last week, my publisher shipped a bunch out to their list of reviewers. I know this because (1) they told me, and (2) people started Tweeting me pics of the book after they’d received it. A couple days ago, I Tweeted this in response, and I’m reposting it here because it’s still 100% true:
“I’m seeing reviewers post about receiving their Arc of SHADES OF WICKED. Over 17 books later, it still warms my heart to see people say they’re excited to read one of my books. It also still makes me nervous enough to puke, so if there’s a happy/warmhearted-but-puking emoji, that’s me ;).”
A little more about Arcs: they’re not the final copy of a book. They’re the copy before the final copy, so they still contain some missing and/or additional words, some spelling/grammar errors, some duplicate sentences and/or missing sentences, and sometimes, at least one plot-point screw up. Now, with every book, I strive to make sure that all the above is kept to a minimum. And, with every single book, I miss things because I know what the text is SUPPOSED to say, so my brain literally skips over errors without processing them. Sigh.
However, with Shades, I was pretty confident after read my galley pages (the things Arcs are made from) that I’d at least avoided the dreaded plot-point screw up. Sure, there were some of the other errors listed above, but THIS time, there wouldn’t be something that made me smack my head and say “D’oh!” in a Homer Simpson roar. In fact, I was so confident of this…well, here’s my Tweet from July 25:
“Me yesterday to myself: Just turned in the galley pages for Shades of Wicked & there wasn’t a single plot error that needed fixing. I rule!”
*grins* And here is the rest of the Tweet, when I realized I had patted myself on the back WAY too early:
“Me to my editor today: ‘STOP! I suck! I need to add these sentences to the galley pages or I have majorly screwed up *censored* plot point!'”
Thankfully, the sentences were added in time to be included in the published copy, but, they’re not in the Arcs. So, if you received an Arc, it’s missing these two very important sentences on page 285 that are plot-pertinent. I’m posting them here because they’re not spoiler-y on their own. They only make sense when you read them in context. This is Ian speaking to Veritas in the middle of a Big Reveal, and the missing sentences are: “I had every intention of getting away from you when you ambushed me at the bordello, too, though I was curious to see what you intended with your ‘surprise prostitute’ act. Yes, I recognized you straightaway, not that I let on until you arrogantly announced that we were leaving.”
Why is it plot-pertinent that Ian immediately recognized Veritas when he saw her in Chapter One? I can’t tell you or that would spoiler. But, Arc recipients, please bear the above in mind while you’re reading. Speaking of Arcs, I will be doing the first of a few contests giving some away on my blog next week. So, if you’re interested in a chance at winning one, don’t forget to check my blog for details.
All of the above aside, let’s get to the new scene from SHADES OF WICKED! Because you’ve waited for a while, I’m giving you the entire second chapter. If you missed the first one, or if you just want to refresh your memory of it, go here. (link: https://jeanienefrost.com/night-rebel-series/shades-of-wicked/). And now, let’s get to the chapter!
I didn’t jump down through the hole above him, which was what he would have expected. Instead, I made a new hole in the floor on the other side of the room. Ian leapt back to avoid my instant grab, then kicked me during the split second my back was turned. I sprawled forward, but even as he pounced, I spun away, leaving him to hit the floor instead of me. Then I jumped onto his back and clamped my legs around him to hold on.
He began to buck at once. I tightened my grip until his ribs broke. He didn’t slow. I began to whack the back of his head, using strength I normally kept dormant.
His head rocked from the blows, though he still bucked hard enough to throw us both around the room. Those demon brands might not be the source of his bewildering strength, but they must be causing him to heal even faster than a vampire’s normal swift regeneration. Soon, I was gripping him just to keep from being thrown off. Then he began to fly, smashing me against the walls, the ceiling, and the floor, all while bucking like a crazed, rabid bronco.
My bones began to break and my head rang after being repeatedly bashed against various hard surfaces. If he were anyone else, I would kill him, but I needed Ian alive. And cooperative. Maybe his brains hitting the floor would help with that last part.
I whacked his skull even harder to force him to the ground and hold him there. It took a lot of effort, which was why I kept punching his head while shoving his body against the carpet. I couldn’t allow him to get enough leverage to start flying again. If he did, I might have to reveal powers I’d rather he not know about and . . . wait. What was that sound?
I stopped hitting Ian to listen more closely. It almost sounded like . . . no. He couldn’t be.
“Are you laughing at me?”
He was, and now his chuckles sounded louder since they were no longer competing with the noise from our fight. I also realized that the long, hard object I’d felt near my foot was not a concealed weapon. He wasn’t just amused by my attempts to beat his skull open—he was aroused by them!
“Your bouncing up and down on my back plus all this rough chafing is really doing the trick,” Ian said, still chuckling. “Soon, I’ll have to pay you along with the rest of the whores. In fact, if you take requests, a bit more effort on your downstroke, luv—”
I threw a punch that should have sent my fist all the way through his head. His neck bent at the last second while the back of his body surged up. Too late, I realized the trap. My fist ended up flying past his head while the rest of me was catapulted off him.
Before I could regroup, he leapt on top of me. In the next instant, he was holding me down, and I felt the distinct burn of silver stabbing me between the ribs.
Damn him! He’d managed to goad me into recklessly acting without thinking again. If my legs hadn’t been pinned by his, I might have kicked myself for being so stupid.
“Don’t move,” Ian said in a conversational tone. “I don’t want to kill you, but I will if you force me.”
“Where did you get that knife?” I hadn’t been so distracted before that I’d forgotten to frisk him.
“From my jacket.”
“Liar. I felt you for weapons when I was on top of you.”
“Was that what you were doing?” His lips twitched. “Thought you were feeling around for something more interesting.”
At my contemptuous look, he shrugged and said, “You didn’t feel the knife before because it was only a small silver ball a few moments ago.”
My eyes widened. “You’re admitting to a Law Guardian that you used magic to transform a silver ball into a knife?”
“Did I forget that using magic is a death sentence for vampires?” Ian used his free hand to mime clutching a strand of pearls. “And so is striking a Law Guardian. Dear me, I’ve condemned myself twice! Please, have mercy!”
“Now you’re begging?” I let out a soft snort. “Don’t bother. I’m still going to punish you for what you’ve done.”
He laughed. “I have a knife in your heart and you’re still threatening me? I don’t know whether to keep laughing at you for your delusion or applaud you for your optimism.”
“If you’d listen instead, you could learn how to prevent Dagon from taking possession of your soul in two years.”
Nothing in his expression changed, though suddenly, I felt as if I were staring at a different person. A hard, dangerous one that I’d vastly underestimated. Then Ian flashed another carefree smile at me – and shoved that silver knife deeper.
I gasped when it pierced my heart. Ian tutted as if I was a child who’d merely stubbed my toe. “I warned you not to test me. Now, tell me what you know about my deal with Dagon.”
Silver twisting through the heart was one of the few ways to kill a vampire. It felt as if hot lava was being poured into me. Ian hadn’t twisted the blade, but the majority of my physical strength left me. Despite that, I kept my reply steady.
“I know I’m your only chance of escaping the deal you made with Dagon. If he’s dead, he can’t collect your soul.”
Ian let out a scoff. “If Dagon could be killed, I’d have done it myself decades ago.”
“I can kill him,” I replied, and though it might be a long shot, it was still the truth.
He rolled his eyes. “Hate to be rude—actually, that’s not true, I love being rude—but I’m far less powerful than Dagon and I bested you inside of five minutes.”
“You didn’t best me. I stopped beating on you when I realized you liked it.”
“Most enjoyable part of our time together,” he agreed. “But now I’m bored, so let me simplify things. I’m going to bash your brains in. Try to stop me, and I’ll twist this knife. Cooperate, and by the time your head heals, I’ll be gone and you can go back to scaring young vampires into obeying the ridiculous restrictions you call laws.”
Bashing my brains in would indeed work to incapacitate me. It was the same thing I’d been intending to do with him. His fist clenched. Before it could connect, I released an ability only one other person in the world knew I had.
Power flashed out, filling the basement in a blink. Ian’s expression showed the beginnings of disbelief before it, his fist, and everything else suddenly froze. Even the countless dust particles in the air now hung in suspended animation instead of floating in lazy, aimless circles.
I was the only one unaffected as time itself paused within the confines of the basement. That was the upside. The downside was the power that kept boomeranging back into me, hitting my body with invisible, painful waves before arcing out to fill the room again. Between that and the silver in my heart, my nerve endings felt like they were being hit with a blow torch. I couldn’t maintain this for long, so I had to make it count.
With Ian frozen, I used his hand to pull the knife free from my heart. Then I uncurled his fingers from its hilt and tucked the blade into my back pocket. Finally, I shoved him off me.
“That’s better,” I muttered once I felt my heart heal. Then I flipped Ian over and got to my feet. When I unfroze him from this moment, I wanted my face to be the first thing he saw.
It was tricky unfreezing a person from time without dropping my hold over the entire room. That’s why I started slow and only released Ian’s head. His eyes widened when he realized he was now in a completely different position than he’d been before, then narrowed when he tried to move the rest of his body and couldn’t. When he glanced around and saw the whole basement trapped in a state of suspended animation, they widened again.
“Bugger me blind,” he said softly. “Aren’t you full of surprises?”
He had no idea. “As I said, I’m your only hope of keeping your soul. Dagon might be able to freeze time, but I have that ability, too. That means his power won’t work on me, and I can also use my power to free anyone he’s caught in his time web.”
I left out the part where Dagon’s abilities were far more advanced than mine. I could freeze time in small spaces, but I couldn’t hold it for very long. Dagon could freeze time for days, and I’d heard he had once done it to an entire town.
Ian didn’t have to know that. All he had to know was that he needed me. I could imagine the wheels in his mind turning as he processed that. Once again, he didn’t let his real emotions show. They were hidden behind his half smile. The most real emotion I’d gotten out of him was his eyes widening. And his erection, I supposed.
“If I release the rest of you, will you listen, or attempt to fight me again?” I continued.
“Listen,” he said, with a new, impish smile, as if he found the prospect amusing.
“As I was saying, we have something in common, Ian . . . what is your last name?” I hadn’t been able to discover it, and I normally had extensive dossiers on the people I hunted.
“No need for formalities. They’re only for people impressed by the superficial and that’s neither of us.”
He was right, which surprised me. I hadn’t expected us to have anything in common except a hatred for Dagon.
“Then as I was saying, you want Dagon dead because that’s the only way out of your deal with him. I want Dagon dead for reasons that don’t concern you. I propose a temporary alliance so both of us can achieve our goal, but let me be clear: You would have to follow my lead and my rules. Do you agree?”
His impish smile never slipped. “Before I answer, tell me, how did you get this amazing ability? I searched for decades looking for someone of our kind with a hint of it, yet found nothing.”
You don’t want to know how I can do this, I thought grimly. And if you ever find out, I’ll have to kill you.
“That’s not important. What is important is that I can use it to counter Dagon’s time-freezing on both of us, and that means we can kill him. Do we have an agreement or not?”
“Of course,” Ian replied, as if there was never any doubt.
His tone was sincere and his bright turquoise gaze never wavered, but all my instincts told me he was lying. Even if I didn’t have those, everything I’d learned about Ian said he’d never give another person this much control over him. He must be intending to double-cross me the first chance he got.
Well, I had plans I wasn’t telling him about, too.
“Good,” I said, and released the power, which felt like it had been frying my every nerve ending. At once, heat blew from the vents again, dust particles swirled, and that oppressive pain left me.
Ian stood up and stretched as if relieving a kink. The motion almost concealed him taking in a deep breath, but I noticed because I’d been expecting him to do that.
I hid my smile. No, you don’t smell sulfur or anything else that would indicate another demon’s presence. I really am the one who stopped time the same way that Dagon can.
When he turned back to me, his cocky half smile had returned. “Now that we have an accord, where do you want to begin?”
“By leaving,” I said promptly.
Ian swept out both arms, drawing the jacket back to fully display his naked body. “Fine by me, but most people prefer that I wear trousers out in public.”
I found my gaze drawn downward, then quickly diverted it back to his face. He was smirking, which was the same as saying, Ha! Made you look.
It was nothing to look at a naked man. To do so and then glance away guiltily? What was the matter with me?
Maybe it was my circumstances. The brands Ian carried were my ticket to trapping Dagon—a feat that had eluded me for millennia. Now that it was within my grasp, I was feeling emotions I hadn’t allowed myself to feel for a long time. That must be it. In any event, I needed to get them back under control.
That’s why I crossed my arms and gave Ian a deliberate look from the top of his head down to his toes. Then, I met his eyes so that he could see he had no effect on me this time.
“By all means, get dressed, but only after you take a shower. I don’t need to tell you what you smell like.”
“Over two dozen whores?” he supplied.
“Exactly, so use plenty of soap.”
He winked. “Looking for an excuse to watch? Just ask, and I might let you.”
I was about to tell him I’d rather watch paint dry. Then, I caught myself. Clever. I’d been about to insist that Ian shower as far away from me as possible, giving him an excellent opportunity to escape or to conjure up more magic against me.
“In fact, I would like to watch,” I said, arching my brow. “Unless you’re going to claim that you’re suddenly shy?”
His gaze narrowed. Icy fingers skittered up my spine. In all my years, I’d never felt that unless I was in the presence of someone truly dangerous. Everything on paper said that Ian shouldn’t be, yet right then, I knew I could never drop my guard around him. If I did, I might not live long enough to regret it.
Then Ian smiled. It was so flirtatious and relaxed, I almost believed I’d imagined his hidden dangerousness. Almost.
“Shyness is a virtue, and you’ll be glad to know I have none of those.”
With that, he swept me a bow that managed to look elegant despite his being clothed only in a circus ringleader jacket. We might both be pretending that this was a real agreement instead of a race to see who could use the other person first, but I knew better. For now, though, I’d keep up the pretense.
And since I was currently pretending that I wanted to watch Ian shower . . . “After you,” I said, and followed him up the stairs.