Thoughts on the wild, the weird, and the romantic from author Joy Nash

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Joy Nash is a USA Today Bestselling Author and RITA Award Finalist applauded by Booklist for her "tart wit, superbly crafted characters, and sexy, magic-steeped plots."

» Friday, September 02, 2016

Who am I and WTF am I doing here? TNEFA Chapter 2, Excerpt 2



THE NEPHILIM: BOOK ONE



The Night Everything Fell Apart


From Chapter Two...

Arthur had found his mother’s touchstone.
He took a quick step backward, as if needing to distance himself from the immensity of his achievement. His foot slipped on the moss; he only just managed not to fall. He staggered to the center of the garden and dropped heavily onto a stone bench. Long moments passed before his breathing slowed and his stomach settled.
He examined the stone with shaking hands. A three-rayed star shone within a translucent blue moonstone. The carved apple wood setting resembled an intricate tangle of vines. An unbroken silver chain passed through the carving. A distant memory called—Arthur’s own this time. He was in his mum’s arms, swatting at the stone. He’d wanted it for himself. His mum had laughed and said it was not yet time.
Well, it was past time now. He dropped the chain over his head. He might have searched for a new touchstone for his magic, but this one, passed down through generations of his line, was the best tool to focus his magic. Now that he’d found it, he would...
He frowned. His goal was...what, precisely? The image of a woman—blond, tall, eyes like jade—appeared in his head. She was waiting for him.
But who was she? Where was she? Why did it matter so damn much? Sod it all, he couldn’t remember. His ancestors’ memories were murky rubbish. Memories of his childhood, however, were unfortunately clear. His gaze darted to the house. Leave, screamed the voice of his terrified younger self. Leave.
He was halfway to the door before he even realized he was in motion. He was on the front step before his brain registered a protest. He flung open the door and stepped into a narrow hall. Parlor and dining room to the right, library to the left. He strode straight ahead into the kitchen.
The shock of it hit him like a slap across the face. The room was in shambles—furniture overturned, floor strewn with shattered glass. Cabinets hung open. The calendar above the icebox, stuck to the wall with a tack, hung askew. His mother’s valise, the one with the embroidered roses, stood upright by the door.
Dark splatters covered it all. Floor, walls, furniture, even the ceiling.
Blood.
He didn’t know what he’d expected, but it wasn’t this. Nothing had changed, except that his parents’ corpses no longer lay in a heap on the floor. Mab must have disposed of the bodies. Maybe she’d returned to search for his mother’s moonstone. Luckily, she hadn’t found it.
Mab hadn’t killed his parents, but she’d shown up soon afterward. She’d claimed Tristan’s diamond touchstone right off his dead body. It had become a decoration on her whip handle. For seven years, each time Arthur had seen his father’s gem, each time he’d felt the lash of the whip’s hellfire, his hatred of his clan’s new alpha had burned hotter. Maybe that was why, while the rest of his brain seemed to have turned to muck, his memory of Mab remained clear.
The farmhouse table lay on its side, a rusty smear slashing across the spot where Arthur had eaten his daily porridge. On the floor nearby, a larger stain marked the place where his parents’ bodies had fallen. Their blood, dead and dry, was all that was left of them.
Anger and grief, helplessness and hopelessness, rushed in on him. A high-pitched tone rang in his ears. The shriek escalated with each labored breath. It twisted inside his skull, scraped through his brain. He pressed shaking hands to his ears. No good. The noise was inside his head.
His stomach turned. Wave after wave of unreality assaulted him. Everything around him turned...strange. Unreal. Where was he? He looked wildly about the room. Enamel sink, copper counter, oak table. Stained floor. Suddenly, none of it looked familiar.
Sweat broke out on his forehead. Where was he? How had he gotten here? Why had he come? Acid panic burned in his veins.
Get out. Get out now.
And go where? He couldn’t think of a place. He didn’t, he realized with lurching dread, even know his own name.
Who the hell was he? What was he?
Air. He needed air.
He crossed to a window. The glass was muddy. He grasped the sash and shoved. It didn’t budge. He looked closer. What he’d thought was mud was blood. A thousand droplets of dried blood.
He balled his fist and smashed the glass. A jagged edge sliced his thumb. He staggered back, staring at the crimson trail running down his forearm. His heart banged. His lungs worked like a bellows. The blood ran to his elbow. Dripped to the floor.
Crouching in the garden, peering in the window. A tall man, a Nephil. Pale and gaunt. The hem of his black cape brushed his knees, the edges of its crimson lining like streaks of blood. A ring on his left middle finger bore a golden face as its signet. It looked like its wearer... Lips pursing, eyes blinking...
Dark gold hellfire, whipping from the Nephil’s hands, sharp as a blade. Slicing through Father’s neck. Blood spurting. Spattering the window. Father’s body, crumpling. Falling, falling...
The murderer and his ring, both smiling...
The scream began in Arthur’s gut. It pummeled a path from his diaphragm, to his ribs, to his throat. His lungs sucked air. His mouth opened, but his cry emerged in silence. Living, shaking silence, vibrating so fiercely his tendons threatened to separate from his bones.
Power streamed through his body. It blasted from his hands. Pure white light, consuming everything in its path. The kitchen, its contents, its memories. For an eternity, or perhaps only for an instant, there was nothing but brilliance.
And then there was only nothing.
He fell as if dropped by an unseen hand from a great height. His hip struck something solid and pain shot down his leg. He lurched to his feet. His knees buckled. He grabbed the edge of the sink.
Long moments later, he righted a fallen chair and lowered himself into it, rubbing the lingering pain in this thigh. When his breathing had slowed and his heart was no longer pounding like a drum, he stood. He looked—really looked—at the room around him. And froze.
His brain struggled to make sense of what his eyes saw—or, more accurately, what they didn’t see. His parents’ blood—on the floor, on the table, on the window—had vanished. The squealing echo in his skull was gone, too. Silence—pure and ominous—remained.
He passed his hand down his face. What the fuck was going on? He’d done magic again, without planning, without knowing, without even being aware of it until it was over. Once again, his memory had failed, reducing his life to dark, ragged gaps.
It wasn’t the first time he’d blacked out since his Ordeal. Far from it. His time as a Nephil adept could be described as a few islands of lucidity engulfed by a sea of darkness. Simple exhaustion? A natural learning curve? Insanity? With no guide to teach him, he couldn’t know.
His fingers closed on the moonstone. He’d pinned all his hopes on the gem. While he could use any stone as a focus to his magic, a gem handed down through one’s own ancestral line offered the greatest advantage. He’d hoped his mother’s stone would end his blackouts. But here it was, in his possession, and he was no better off than before.
Coming so abruptly back to himself, to the aftermath of magic he couldn’t remember calling, left him on the edge of panic. And there was something else...or, rather, someone else, wavering indistinctly in the back his mind. His own memory? A fragment of a long-dead ancestor’s past? Whichever it was, the jade-eyed woman never wandered far from his awareness.
He heaved the table upright. It teetered, then thudded into place. Roaming the kitchen, he set chairs on their legs and retrieved fallen cookware. He swept up shattered crockery and emptied it into the rubbish bin. He would remember, he told himself. He had to.
He stacked two chairs, broken beyond repair, in a corner of the room. He placed his mother’s valise, unopened, beside them.
His head jerked up. Fine hairs lifted on the back of his neck. The noise was slight. Nothing more than a faint creak on the back stair. Every muscle tensed. His palms tingled. He shifted onto the balls of his feet, listening.
Footsteps, descending. Pausing. Someone—or something—was in the house. A cold drip of sweat trickled down the side of his face. Mab? No. The Druid alpha would never sneak. But who else could have gotten through her wardings?
The back stair gave out in a corner of the kitchen. Arthur moved toward it on silent feet, mentally tracing the intruder’s path. Nine steps down from the upper hall to the landing. A tight turn then another ten steps down to the kitchen. Once on that lower stretch, his descending quarry would be effectively trapped.
He inhaled. Druid magic, cast with any measure of control, felt impossible. Magic common to all Nephil clans, however, seemed much more doable. Shifting into demon form, even that first, harrowing time, had been instinctive. Casting hellfire also came fairly easily. He only had to think of it to have it spring, burning, to his fingertips. Actually aiming it at a target was more of a challenge.
A creak sounded in the stairwell. The intruder had resumed his descent, with a cautious footstep on the landing. Another pause. Another squeaking tread. A figure appeared...
Arthur surged up the steps. With a snap of his wrists, hissing fire streaked into the narrow passage. His aim was pitiful. One white streak hit the ceiling. The other struck the wall. The recoils bounced, whip-like, to wind about his adversary’s neck. Arthur leaped back, stumbling down the stair, pulling the firelashes with him.
His captive bounced down the last three steps and landed hard at his feet.
It was a woman. A blond woman, dressed in blue jeans and a flowery, flowing blouse. She gagged, clawing at the hellfire wrapped around her throat. Her eyes—wide and jade green—met his. Her lips parted.
“Arthuuuuuuur—”
Recognition slammed into his brain. Followed by pure, primal terror.
“Fuck!”
He dropped to his knees. He hauled Cybele into his arms even before he’d managed to banish the last sputter of his hellfire. Her body sagged across his thighs. Her eyes rolled up, and her head lolled to one side. She went limp.
“No,” he rasped. “No.”
He ran a shaking hand over her head, her shoulder. He flattened his palm against her chest. Her heart was beating. He clung to the sensation. The rhythm was rapid and none too steady. His own heart stuttered.
Was she breathing? His firelash had left an angry red welt across her throat. It didn’t look like he’d crushed her windpipe. But her chest...it wasn’t moving.
“Damn it. Damn it. Fucking damn it.” He grasped her shoulder and shook. Nothing.
He tried again, harder. Her head snapped forward. A rasping sound—her lungs abruptly sucked air. Her spine arched with the force of it.
Arthur’s rush of relief was so intense, it caused black spots to dance before his eyes. Cybele’s exhale shuddered out of her lungs. He froze, waiting. An eternity passed before the next breath came.
“That’s it.” He held her tightly and rocked her back and forth on his lap. If he’d had a soul, he might’ve even uttered a prayer.
“Breathe, damn it. Breathe.
Perhaps Heaven was watching. If so, he was sure it was laughing. Cybele’s third breath was a choking gasp. Fear closed Arthur’s throat. His arms were banded around her ribs. Too tightly? He forced himself to loosen his hold.
He lowered her onto the floor. Her lips parted. With trembling hands, he cupped her face.
“Come on,” he muttered. “Come on...”
She sucked in a breath, and then expelled it in a bout of fierce coughing. He rolled her onto her side and pounded between her shoulder blades. When at last the hacking subsided, he eased her onto her back. She was definitely breathing. But her chest rose and fell in an erratic rhythm.
“Cybele.” She gave no indication she’d heard. “God damn it, Cybele! Wake up.”
This time, her eyelids fluttered. He tensed, willing them to open. They didn’t. Her complexion was deathly pale, her lips a faint shade of blue. Fuck. Her hands were like ice. The red stripe across her neck might as well have been a lash against his own back.
He couldn’t bear to look at what he’d done to her. He gathered her into his lap and cradled her head against his chest. She shivered. His ran his hands up and down her arms, generating friction. If he could have brought her right inside him and given her all his heat, he would have done it.
A sick feeling settled in his chest. He’d remembered Mab, that bloody bitch, but somehow, he’d forgotten Cybele. How the hell could she have left his mind, even for an instant? She meant everything to him.
“Don’t you dare die,” he muttered. “Don’t you dare.
He didn’t know how to heal with his magic. He tried anyway, pouring all the life energy he could muster into her body. His effort seemed to help. Her shuddering abated. The blue tinge of her lips yielded to a pale pink.
Her next inhale was less of a gasp and more of a wheeze. Her lips parted.
“Not...dying.” Her eyelids fluttered open. Their gazes locked. “Not even...close.”
He swallowed. “Are you sure?”
“Harder...to kill...than tha—” Another coughing fit took her.
“Bollocks,” he muttered. “Not again.” He urged her to sit up and lean forward, his hand on her nape.
She held up one finger. “Just...give me...a sec.”
The coughing abated. Her hand fluttered downward, as if it weighed too much for her arm to support.
“Take your time,” he said. “Take all the time you need.”
She nodded. Several long moments passed. Finally, she raised her head. “Better,” she said. “I think.”
He examined her more closely. When his gaze fell on her neck, he tasted bile. He might have killed her with his blind strike. If he had proper control of his magic, she wouldn’t have stood a chance. His mind started to run with the scenario. Ruthlessly, he choked it off.
She’s not dead, he told himself. Not. Dead. Not dead, not dead, not dead. Color had flooded her cheeks. Her breathing was still uneven, though. He grabbed her wrist and pressed the pulse point. Weak. He frowned into her eyes. Her pupils were dilated.
She blinked up at him. “Dang it, Arthur. Quit looking at me like that.”
His chest eased a fraction. If she had enough energy to tell him off, she wasn’t dying quite yet.  
“Don’t look at you like what? Like you’re bloody lucky to be alive? Sweet Lucifer, Cybele, what were you doing, sneaking down those steps? You scared the piss out of me!”
I scared you? What about me? Next time try looking before you attack.”
“Rubbish. You should’ve let me know it was you.”
Her green eyes flashed. “Give me some credit. I’d have to be dumber’n a bag of rocks to call out before I knew...” She sucked in a breath. “...before I knew—it was y—” She dissolved into another round of coughing.
“Fuck. I’m sorry. You’re right. It’s my fault.” When she started to reply, he shook his head. “Quiet. Don’t talk. Just breathe.”
She pressed a fist to her chest and nodded. When the coughing finally stopped, she looked up and offered a wry smile. “You know, I think that’s the first time you ever apologized to me.”
He snorted. “Don’t accustom yourself.”
“No chance of that,” she said.



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