January through March, I’m posting an excerpt each month from my upcoming release RISING DARKNESS (Berkley, April 2).
*** Cliff hanger alert! ***
RISING DARKNESS is the first of two Game of Shadows novels. The second one is entitled FALLING LIGHT, and it has a scheduled release date of February 2014. These stories are very different from my Elder Races series. They have a strong urban fantasy feeling to them. (In fact RT Book Reviews will be posting their review in the Urban Fantasy section of their magazine.) They are based on an alternative Earth, and they have four points of view, including the antagonist. Also unlike the Elder Races series RISING DARKNESS does have a cliff hanger – the storyline will be concluded in the second novel FALLING LIGHT.
For February’s excerpt, here is a section with the heroine, Mary, who talks with a psychic. In RISING DARKNESS, Mary goes through a journey of self discovery to discover her own identity and power.
I’m giving away 3 ARCS (Advanced Reader Copy) of RISING DARKNESS! Be sure to check below for details of the contest and how to enter.
While she waited at a red light she noticed a wooden sign in front of a charming ramshackle Victorian house: Psychic Consultations. Tarot Readings. Walk-ins welcome. The sign looked hand-painted. The ghost of beautiful detail lurked in the curvature of the lettering, which matched the house’s deep pink gingerbread trim. Now the sign was old and battered.
The spring wind, still erratic, blew sharp and hard into her open window. It tugged an unruly lock of hair loose from her braid. Reaching up, she tucked the lock behind her ear.
A little voice whispered, Stop and see.
Her tongue came between her teeth as she considered. She’d never had a tarot reading before. Aside from any amusement factor, if science didn’t have an acceptable cure for her, what might superstition offer?
By the time the stoplight had changed she had made up her mind. She pulled into the small parking lot beside the house, walked up the narrow sidewalk to the front door, checked the hours posted and stepped inside to the sound of a tinkle from an old-fashioned bell.
The breeze gusted in with her, and she had to struggle to shut the door behind her. Then she turned and took in a shabby, spacious foyer and a large open front room decorated with an eclectic mix of modern and antique furniture. To her left a massive staircase curved up to a second floor. A dusty but otherwise magnificent antique chandelier hung from the high ceiling. She gawked at it.
At her entrance a woman rose from the couch in the front room and set aside a book. The woman smiled and walked toward Mary, who blinked and readjusted her expectations. She had expected something that was either exotic or tacky, or an unfortunate combination of both, but this woman was plump, comfortable-looking and middle-aged.
“Good afternoon,” the woman said, offering a freckled hand that sparkled with QVC bling.
Mary shook the other woman’s hand, with an instinctive liking for her direct friendly gaze. “Hi, I just saw your sign and decided to stop,” Mary said. “I was wondering if you had time for a consultation or a tarot reading or whatever it is you do, but of course I understand if you don’t since I don’t have an appointment. Really, this was just an impulse thing—”
Stupid, she meant to say. Off-the-wall, loose-cannon, embarrassing, about-to-do-something-you’ll-regret stupid.
Before she could talk herself out the door, the woman interrupted with a cheerful smile. “I certainly do have time. Business is slow today. This is the first nice afternoon we’ve had in weeks and everybody’s gone outside. My name’s Gretchen.”
Gretchen the psychic. A hiccup of laughter exploded in Mary’s nose.
She clapped a hand over her mouth and turned it into a barking cough. What the hell’s the matter with you, she thought. Be a grown-up.
She managed to say, “I’m Mary.”
“Please come in and have a seat. Make yourself comfortable.” Gretchen gestured to the living room area.
Mary chose an overstuffed armchair. The soft-cushioned chair tried to swallow her. Good thing it didn’t have teeth or it could have done some major damage. Nervousness kept her perched on the edge of the seat. She noted Gretchen’s quick glance at her erect posture, and she tried to relax.
She explained, “I’ve never done this before. I don’t know why I’m nervous.”
Gretchen grinned and shrugged. “Blind date jitters. I think it’s a typical reaction. We don’t know each other, and you have no idea how this is going to go. Would you like a drink? I’ve got Diet Coke, or I could make tea or coffee.”
Mary forced herself to smile back. The muscles in her face felt stiff, the smile false, and she rubbed the back of her neck. Apparently she had left her social skills in the hall closet along with her winter coat. Her headache wouldn’t budge no matter how she ODed on caffeine, but never call her a quitter. “A Diet Coke would be nice, thank you.”
“My pleasure. I’ll be right back.”
The older woman was as good as her word. She left Mary just enough time to shrug out of her jacket before returning with two cans of Diet Coke and glasses filled with ice. Gretchen didn’t want to lose her unexpected fee. Mary’s smile turned wry. She accepted the drink with a murmured thanks.
“So,” Gretchen said. “You have never done this before.” Mary shook her head, pouring soda into her glass. “Well, perhaps you can tell me what you’re looking for and we can figure out where to go from there.”
“I’m . . . not sure.” Mary sipped at her fizzy drink. She bet she knew what was coming in this next part. This was where Gretchen pumped her for information then regurgitated it back for money. She suggested, “Why don’t you tell me what your, er, specialty is. Perhaps we should try that. Is it tarot readings?”
The older woman frowned. Strong sunshine fell through the window on the back of her head and on one round shoulder, throwing most of Gretchen’s face into shadow. The unforgiving light showed a thin strip of gray- and mouse-colored hair at the roots of a vivacious butterscotch rinse from L’Oréal. “Actually, I tend to pick the medium from instinct depending on the client and what questions he or she might have.”
This was supposed to be for entertainment purposes only, but they hadn’t reached the entertaining part yet. Mary looked at the front door, already half regretting her impulse to stop. She was a fool.
“Usually,” Gretchen continued in a quiet voice, “people come in with some kind of question on their minds, even if they’re skeptics and it’s just a frivolous question. Do you have a question, or are you one of those rare people that doesn’t?”
Keeping her gaze fixed on the front door, Mary asked, “What do you think dreams are?”
A pause. Then Gretchen said, “I believe dreams are our minds freed from the definitions placed upon us by our physical bodies.”
Mary’s gaze turned to the other woman. She leaned forward. “What do you mean?”
She heard a rustle of clothing as the other woman shifted. “I mean that when we dream, we are able to use our minds while being free of our bodies. We could dream of something we imagine, dream to relieve stress, or we could dream of our past. We could dream of our past lives and we could dream of our futures, or of other worlds, other realities. We can travel and speak to people we know who are alive, or those who are dead. Or maybe we can speak to people who were never alive in any sense that you and I understand that word. Maybe we can even sometimes speak to those creatures that aren’t people.”
The other woman fell silent, and Mary laughed. “That covers a lot of ground.”
Gretchen smiled. “Yes. That’s what the dream world allows us to do.”
“You believe we can dream of the future.”
“How can that be when it hasn’t happened yet?”
“Well I’m no genius scientist, but I do think we perceive reality through the limitations of our human senses and brains. Our actual reality is a lot bigger than we are. In our dreams we aren’t subject to a linear existence, which is how we experience time in our physical bodies. Why not dream of the future, or of the past? All times are now.”
Mary looked into her dark bubbling drink and struggled with that concept. She had never been all that good at understanding quantum physics either. She muttered, “Sometimes I have dreams that come true.”
“Do you? I do too,” said the other woman. “I always wished I could turn it into something useful, but usually for me it’s nothing more than my hairdresser getting sick, or my cat running away. Once I did dream what my tax return was going to be. This was before all the fancy software programs that calculate what your return will be before you file. In my dream, my return was more than I thought it would be, so I kept rereading the check in disbelief. Turns out I was correct, right down to the penny, but of course you can’t gamble on things like that, in case you’re wrong and you just had a dream of imagination or wishful thinking.”
Mary stared and then chuckled. She had made one of the hardest confessions she’d ever made to another person, but it was clear Gretchen was not very impressed. “How mystical and yet pragmatic.”
“I think you just described my cultural heritage,” said Gretchen with a twinkle. “I am part German and part Yugoslavian.”
Mary was still processing what Gretchen had said earlier. She said, “You mentioned past lives, so you believe in reincarnation.”
“Yes, I do,” Gretchen replied, sipping her drink. “At least I believe that some form of it exists. A more Greek version of reincarnation is to ‘transmigrate,’ or to pass from one body at death, drink forgetfulness from the river Lethe and then pass into another body. Or something like that, anyway. My memory is a bit fuzzy on the details.”
Mary had heard of the river Lethe, but she had never heard of transmigration before. “You said something about spirits.”
“Yes, I believe in spirits. We are spirits inhabiting bodies, and everything alive has a spirit. And there are spirits who have never had a body that we could conceive of, or understand, like, for instance, the Wakean.”
“The Wakean are the American Indian thunder beings. I always smile when a good thunderstorm rolls in, and I hear them crashing around up in the sky.”
Mary watched the older woman in fascination. Gretchen sat not fifteen feet away but lived in an entirely different world from hers. She said in a doubtful voice, “What it all boils down to is that you think your dreams can either be real or not.”
“Oh no,” Gretchen said. “I believe every dream is real. I just think it takes a dexterous and sophisticated mind to determine which level of reality a dream belongs in. That’s the difficult part.”
Mary sighed. Disappointment crept in. After this whole conversation, she didn’t have much more than what she had walked in with, aside from an odd thought or two that carried a bit of Gretchen’s QVC sparkle. She had been ridiculous to hope for more. “Well, thank you for your time. How much do I owe you?”
“That’s it?” Gretchen asked. “Are you sure you don’t want something else?”
“No, I think that’s it for today. You’ve given me a lot to think about,” she said, keeping her tone polite. She drew out her checkbook. “How much do you charge?”
“Nothing.” Gretchen smiled as she looked up and began to protest. “No, I’m serious, please forget it. I wasn’t busy, I enjoyed the visit and you didn’t ask hardly anything of me. I wouldn’t feel right taking your money. If you want to change your mind and come back sometime, though, I’ll sock you with a bill then.”
No matter what Mary said, the older woman wouldn’t be moved. After a few minutes she gave up. Gretchen saw her to the front door and pressed a card into her hand. “Call me,” she said.
Mary smiled at her. “Thank you.”
Gretchen gripped her hand. “You have blood on your hands.”
Ice slithered down Mary’s spine. “Excuse me?”
“You have blood on your hands. A lot of it. And I don’t know why the color red is so important to you, but it is. I didn’t want to say it earlier, because you were nervous enough, and I didn’t want to frighten you.” Gretchen looked at her searchingly. “Yesterday the blood was all down your front. Are you an EMT?”
“I’m a doctor,” she whispered. “I work in an ER.”
“Someone died yesterday.”
“Yes.” Her lips felt numb.
“I thought I felt someone hovering around you. Maybe even a couple of someones. I’m sure she’s grateful for everything you tried to do for her.” Gretchen smiled and squeezed her hand. “You’re a good healer. A lot of people are thankful for what you do.”
The Congo drums were back, playing an encore in Mary’s chest. Boy howdy. No more caffeine for her today. And this conversation had turned far too Ghost Whisperer for her. She swallowed, pulled her hand away and forced herself to say, “Thank you.”
After she walked to her car, she stood for a few moments, looking around and breathing hard. Okay, that last bit rattled her. Why was she so upset? She was a fool. For entertainment purposes only, remember? How could she have allowed herself to hope for something else—from a psychic consultant, of all people? She was tired, that’s all. She was strung out from feeling this pressure building up inside of her, and if she didn’t work hard to avoid it, she was going to . . .
What was she going to do? Explode? Crash?
Readers, do you read urban fantasy? If so, who are your favorite authors?
Leave your answer in a comment below for a chance to win one of three signed ARCs of RISING DARKNESS! Also, please show your interest in the new series by LIKEing the Amazon pages for RISING DARKNESS – kindle and paperback.
I’ll announce the winners on Wednesday February 13th at 12 noon Mountain Daylight Time (2 pm EST). This contest is international!