Authors: M. L. Brennan
Tags: #Vampires, #Fantasy
“I loved M. L. Brennan's
. Engrossing and endearingly quirky, with a creative and original vampire mythos, it's a treat for any urban fantasy lover!”
New York Times
bestselling author Karen Chance
“Full of vivid characters and terrific world building,
is a fun, fast-paced romp of a story that kept me glued to the pages to the very last word. Loved it! Bravo, M. L. Brennan, bravo!”
ânational bestselling author Devon Monk
“A quirky, humorous new urban fantasy seriesÂ .Â .Â . ripe with mystery, suspense, and a cast of eccentric characters that will have you laughing and rolling your eyes at their antics. A clever mix of dark humor and seriousness.”
âSmexy Books Romance Reviews
“A unique, and sometimes very scary, take on the vampire mythosÂ .Â .Â . a delight.”
âMy Bookish Ways
“Brennan's debut blends old-world mystique and the brutality of literature's best vampires to make a sensational coming-of-age story rife with chills and smart one-liners.”
RT Book Reviews
“A wonderful start to an interesting new series. Funny and dark, with a hero you can't help but love.”
“Stellar.Â .Â .Â . The story is amazing, the pacing is perfect, and the characters are superbÂ .Â .Â . one of my favorite reads of the year.”
âYummy Men and Kick Ass Chicks
“Brennan's new, creative take on vampires was a breath of fresh airÂ .Â .Â . a solid debut.”
âAll Things Urban Fantasy
“Enjoyable and well-crafted, and an absolute delight to read.”
“[Brennan] has managed to take an urban fantasy book filled with vampires and shifters, two exhausted tropes, and make it interesting, human, and relatable.
isn't your typical urban fantasy, and that's what makes it so wonderful. It's different, unique, and fresh.”
Also by M. L. Brennan
A Generation V Novel
M. L. BRENNAN
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014
USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China
A Penguin Random House Company
First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Copyright Â© R. L. Murphy, 2014
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
REGISTERED TRADEMARKâMARCA REGISTRADA
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
When I was young, my family had a newspaper subscription. Every morning my brother and I would turn it to the comics page, and we would read our two favorite comicsâ
Calvin and Hobbes
The Far Side
. On most mornings, this would then result in a twenty-minute period where my mother explained what various words meant, and (in the case of more than a few
comics) why something was funny. One I remember in particular (I must've been six or seven at the time) had the punch line: “How entomologists pass away.” This led to a discussion on how a bug curls up its legs when it dies, what an entomologist is, and how those concepts were glued together in a funny way.
Recently this came full circle when I sent my brother a T-shirt that featured a number of sentient cartoon marshmallows roasting one of their unlucky comrades over a bonfire while other marshmallows fiendishly readied the chocolate and graham crackers. The first day that my brother wore the shirt, he got to explain to his young children why cannibalism was (in this instance) funny.
I am extremely grateful to the entire team of people at Roc who made this book possible: the marvelous Anne Sowards with her insightful and wonderful editing, Brad Brownson for his work in publicity, and Robin Catalano for copyediting. Heartfelt thanks as well to my agent, Colleen Mohyde.
Sarah Riley and Karen PelÃ¡ez once again went above and beyond the calls of friendship by reading through my first draft of the book and telling me where things were going off the rails. I am deeply grateful to my family for their continued love and support, from my ninety-one-year-old grandmother for reading what must've seemed like a rather weird book, to my mother's decision to take on the task of selling my debut novel as if the second coming of Girl Scout cookies had just arrived. Writing a sequel was very hard work, and my brother was kind enough to pitch in and give me regular phone calls asking whether I'd hit my target word count for the day. It was appreciated. I'm also grateful to my husband for hobbling my Internet access (at my request) during the last big push on the manuscript.
I also owe a heavy debt to all of the lovely, supportive, and extremely funny people who I have met through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and at conventions. Thank you for the support you showed to a debut novel about a slacker vampire. I am so much richer for having met all of you.
Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia
by Carol Rose and
Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks
by Juliet Eilperin were invaluable in the planning stages of this book.
There are a lot
of things wrong with being awake at four in the morning. I once spent two months working in a bakery, so I'd thought I knew them all.
I'd been so wrong.
“Stop dawdling, Fortitude! We have much to accomplish today!” My brother, Chivalry's, voice blasted in my ear, unnaturally chipper for someone who hadn't even had coffee. I blinked at him through bleary eyes, unwilling to move from my current position of being huddled in the passenger's seat of his Bentley. That part wasn't entirely due to the timeâChivalry's Bentley, with the best springs, ergonomics, built-in ass warmers, and buttery leather seats that money could buy, was actually more comfortable than my bed at home.
Beside me, Chivalry did not look like a guy up and about before the crack of dawn. He was impeccably and expensively dressed as always, with his chestnut hair achieving the level of coif that most men experience only when the subject of a
photo shoot. His face, with chiseled good looks that made Brad Pitt look homely, was freshly shaven, and he had even splashed on some aftershave. He looked like a guy in his early thirties with that most desirable trifecta of traits: money, looks, and taste.
Some people would've assumed that as a vampire, Chivalry's ability to look perfectly turned out on third-shift hours was some kind of inborn trait. However, my very existence put that particular theory to rest.
I'm very aware that the genes that make Chivalry look like he should be posing for magazine covers completely passed me by, but even by my own significantly relaxed sartorial standards, this was a rough morning for me. Because I'd skipped shaving yesterday, I was now sporting a level of stubble that, combined with the rather ragged jeans and sweatshirt that I'd scored at Ocean State Job Lot (where people shopped who couldn't afford Walmart) three years ago, made me look like I made a living Dumpster diving for recyclable bottles. My hair is a few shades darker than Chivalry's, and anyone who glanced at it would clearly be able to discern that last night I'd slept on my left side. I had managed to brush my teeth, though, and I was feeling somewhat proud about that.
No, I definitely wasn't anyone's vision of a vampire. That did make a little sense, of courseâI wasn't entirely a vampire.
I'm closer than I used to be, though. Four months ago I'd started the transition into vampire adulthood, but instead of a cake or some bar mitzvah bonds, I'd gotten an increased role in the family business of keeping a solid chunk of the Eastern seaboard thoroughly under the control of our mother, Madeline Scott. This had resulted in the kind of ride-alongs with my brother that, like this morning, led us to weird and unsavory places to deal with the kinds of creatures that most people are happy to convince themselves are nothing more than fairy tales.
Today, that also involved livestock and the Claiborne Pell Bridge, just a few miles from my mother's mansion in the charming coastal town of Newport, in the mighty state of Rhode Island, best known for our feature of being completely drivable in any direction in less than two hours.
After hauling myself reluctantly out of the comfort of Chivalry's car and into the chill of the early-October predawn morning, which was exacerbated by the icy wind currently whipping in our faces from over Narragansett Bay, I devoted some attention to what I'd been too sleepy to look at when Chivalry had first pushed me into the car. A little animal trailer stuffed with fifteen goats had been attached to the back of Chivalry's immaculate Bentley. It should've looked weirder than it did, but somehow Chivalry had located an animal trailer of such sleek chrome construction that it actually managed to work with his charcoal gray, twice-weekly waxed car.
“Fort, stop petting the goats.”
Chivalry was born just around the time that the Civil War was heating up, and sometimes I think he spent all that time honing his ability to be a bossy big brother. He had a lot of time to do that, since I wasn't born until hair bands were topping music charts. So he has some well-crafted skills of bossiness, which he'd been deploying regularly on my every move all summer.
“Why can't I pet them? They like it.” I gave the little black goat I was currently rubbing an extra scratch around its horns, and it closed its little goaty eyes in bliss. “I think I'm going to name this one Titus,” I said. “Doesn't he look like a Titus Andgoaticus?” At this point I was just yanking Chivalry's chain, but the look on his face as he stood there in a black suit that probably would've cost me six months' worth of rent was too perfect.
“FortÂ .Â .Â .” Chivalry shook his head helplessly. “Don't name the goats.”
I'd let my petting hand go slack, and Titus nudged it impatiently. I was standing on the tailgate of the trailer, and a few more of the goats were getting curious and nudging closer. I could feel a few bumping their heads against my stomach. Clearly I was handing out some grade-A head rubs.
“Did you buy these guys from a petting zoo or something?” I asked.
There was a huge sigh, and I glanced over to see Chivalry rubbing his face with his hands. I could almost hear him mentally counting to ten.
“Fort,” he said, clearly reaching hard for patience. “Please get down from there.”
“Well, for one, the goats are eating your sweatshirt.”
I glanced down at my stomach, and, sure enough, all of Titus's friends who I had thought were going for nuzzles had actually been getting mouthfuls of fabric. I pulled back fast and jumped down, then looked at the damage more closely. In a surprisingly fast amount of time, the goats had managed to make me a belly shirt. I looked up at Chivalry, whose thinned mouth and twitching left jaw muscle were hinting at some displeasure.
“SoÂ .Â .Â . are we meeting up with anyone particularly important today?” I asked, somewhat belatedly.
Chivalry made a very disgusted sound, then whooshed out a deep breath and visibly collected himself. “I'll get you my spare coat,” he muttered, stalking back to the Bentley.
There was a sad little bleating sound from the trailer, and I looked back to see Titus hanging his head over the side.
“Don't try that with me,” I warned. “I see your plan now. You were just distracting me with your soft fur while your buddies got some piranha action on my clothes. Well, I'm not going to fall for it again.”
Titus bleated again, even sadder this time.
I probably would've fallen for it again if Chivalry hadn't come back and shoved a knee-length brown suede coat at me. Only my brother would not just carry a spare coat in the car, but have his spare be something like this. Not that I could really picture him toting around a wadded-up Windbreaker, but it was the principle of the thing.
I slid the coat on. It had probably been made to be put on over silk shirts, but it did cover up my goat-gnawed sweatshirt and at least the upper half of my jeansâwhich had definitely seen better days. Chivalry and I are the same height, both clocking in at six feet, but the coat probably wouldn't have fit as well a few months ago, when I was significantly scrawnier than my brother. Four months of weight lifting, working out, and protein shakes had made it clear that I'd always be built a bit leaner than Chivalry, who, when he went to the beach, actually had men come up to ask him what gym he used. But my body had finally filled out and lost the half-finished look that I'd had since puberty.
Feeling warmer now, I muttered a thank-you, then asked, “So, who are we meeting?”
Chivalry gave me a very deadpan look. “Look at where we are.”
I did. At four in the morning with no moon in autumn, with a lot of fog on the bay, it should've all been a big black blur to me, but my night vision had significantly improved lately. I wasn't as good as Chivalry, who used his car headlights more out of courtesy for fellow drivers than actual need, but I was better than the average human.
We were parked near the base of the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge, the suspension bridge that spanned Narragansett Bay and carried in the majority of the mainland traffic. There are two bridges on the north side of the island, above Portsmouth, but neither of them is as beautiful as this one, the longest suspension bridge in the entirety of New England. It used to be the Newport Bridge, and a lot of the natives still call it that, but it was renamed in 1992 when some of the guys at the state house realized that there was a schmoozing opportunity to be had. We were standing in a dirt turnoff from a side street that gave us a nice view of some of the metal underside and, farther out, the white lights installed along the sides that, against the black of the night and the lapping dark water beneath, gave the bridge itself a glow.
I scuffed my shoe against the dirt. “I think we're in the local make-out spot.” It didn't take much effort to dislodge a few condom wrappers from where they'd been ground in. Chivalry glared at me, silent, until I gave in. “Fine. At the Pell. So what?”
“Look at what we brought.”
I looked back at the trailer. “Sweatshirt-eating goats,” I said.
“Put this one together.” Chivalry sounded like a teacher coaxing the paste-eating kid in the back of the room.
I looked from Titus and his buddies over to the massive metal structure that loomed above us. Unwillingly, my brain stopped thinking the way I preferred, which was like a regular human guy, and the pieces fell together. “Holy shit. You're going to feed Titus to a troll?” I felt appalled.
“This is why we don't name or pet the goats.” Chivalry said blandly.
â¢Â Â Â â¢Â Â Â â¢
We ended up walking a small path that zigzagged down the hill until we were standing on the rocky shore right under the bridge. This close to the bay, with nothing as a windbreak, I was deeply grateful that I was wearing Chivalry's jacket. Icy winds and exposed bellies weren't a good combination.
We stood in the dark for a few long minutes, listening to the sounds of lapping water and the occasional early car driving over the bridge. Once something flapped over my head and I thought that I caught sight of a bat, but that was it.
“Chivalry,” I finally whispered.
“What?” His voice was so low that I almost couldn't hear it.
“Shouldn't you, you know, call the trolls?” I'd never seen a troll before, and I wasn't sure that I wanted to now, but I also didn't really want to keep standing around indefinitely on slippery rocks in the dark. My balance had improved somewhat, but I just knew that every additional minute increased the odds that I would somehow end up in the bay.
“They already know we're here,” he said softly. “They've known since we pulled into the parking lot.”
“Really?” I asked. I glanced around us nervously.
“Oh yes,” he continued, his brown eyes boring into the darkness. “In fact, they're already here.”
I glanced around, still not seeing anything. A low but sharp sound suddenly echoed around us, one that reminded me of being back in Cub Scouts and watching a few of the adults attempt to start a fire using two rocks to strike a spark. Then I finally caught some movement to my left, and I watched as a huge shape, easily nine feet tall and built like a fifties refrigerator, seemed to detach itself from the bridge tower itself and move closer to us. The sharp sound continued as it moved toward us, and I struggled to keep standing right where I was and not look terrified, though I couldn't help glancing over to Chivalry a few times, who managed to look completely nonchalant as it came over.
It took me a minute to realize what I was seeing, but then I realized what my eyes were actually telling me. Whenever the shape moved a step, I'd lose track of it again until it took another, because in the moment when it was still, it blended perfectly into its background. It was like in
, which was not a comforting thought to have.
Eventually it moved until it was just about two feet from us, then came to a halt, disappearing again. I could smell it now that it was closeâstrong, very salty; not necessarily a bad smell but not a good one either. It was like getting close to the seal exhibit at the aquarium.
There was more movement and then something seemed to shift in the upper part of it, and suddenly, as if some kind of hood had been pushed back, two glowing green eyes came into view, each as big as a golf ball. They were set in a long, inhuman gray slab of a face that looked like it had been chipped out of granite, and a mouth suddenly gaped open below that, huge and black, but with big, long teeth that gleamed like pearls.
Beside me, Chivalry nodded once. “Good morning, Brynja.”
The glowing eyes focused on my brother, and, in a voice that was so low and grinding I could feel it rumble in my feet, like a Leonard Cohen CD with the bass turned way up, it said, “
, son of Scott.”
“Has everything gone well this month?” Chivalry was as polite as last week, when the seventy-five-year-old head of the historical society, Mrs. Forbes, had stopped by for a lunch-and-gossip date with my mother.
. My family and I have been very comfortable this month.” Brynja's big eyes almost closed, leaving two long, glowing slits watching us out of the darkness.
“And have those humans who live and travel around you also been comfortable?” Under the extreme politeness in Chivalry's tone was something very sharp, and the troll dropped its mouth open very wide and made that rough rock sound again, which I was starting to guess was its version of laughter. Its eyes rounded out again, the glow as brilliant as what was coming from the bridge.
“You have so little trust in my family, Chivalry,” the troll said, sounding amused. “
, we have not been naughty, as you fear. The little goats keep us quite full, and we are content to watch the birds and the waves and the boats that pass us by.”