Wednesday, 26 July 2017


Today's the day, Blood Canticles fans! LICH QUEEN is out! Dawn Hardy's first solo adventure (barring interference from Imani, Caleb, Rowan, and a couple of new friends) is unleashed and I couldn't be more excited.

This book means a lot to me. Not just because I love this series, but because Dawn is a character I'm proud of. If you've followed her since BLOOD WITCH, you know she's had a hell of a ride, from discovering magic, demons, and vampires are real, through experiencing profound loss and grief, to having her whole world turned inside out. Now, in LICH QUEEN, she's at her lowest ebb, depressed and struggling to function.

But she fights. And sometimes she needs some help fighting. I think a lot of us have been there, and while we don't have to deal with demons and ghosts along the way, we still have our battles. Hopefully you're going to love reading Dawn's story and seeing how she handles her battles.

You can pick your copy up right this very second from Evernight (where it's reduced for launch!), Amazon US, Amazon UK, and probably wherever else you buy your ebooks.

And you can read the first chapter right this very second on the blog! Enjoy!


Chapter One

Dawn dreamed of rats. Thousands of them, surging through the streets in a dark mass, red eyes glowing. They swamped everything, pouring from the sewers and out of the walls, consuming the city, leaving bare bones and filth in their wake. Their thick, sour musk poisoned the air. And they whispered as they rampaged on, whispered in shrill little voices that they were hers, that she could stop them if she wanted, if she was willing to learn how.
Dawn stood in the sea of rats and fired wildly, her shots hitting nothing. The bullets just vanished into the seething horde, swallowed up and useless. It was exactly how she felt. Her anger was a bitter, sharp lump in her throat she could never choke up, and it clouded everything. Every waking hour and every precious scrap of sleep.
But you could do something about it, the rats whispered. You could change things.
Dawn shrieked and flung her empty gun into the writhing knot of rats at her feet, her heart thudding painfully. “I can’t!” she screamed. The rats scrambled past her, around her, little bodies pressing against her legs, cold tails whipping at her ankles. It was grotesque, but she couldn’t get away. There were too many of them, carrying her along like driftwood on the tide, forcing her to move with them or fall and be swarmed by them. The thought squeezed the air from her lungs, left her shaking from head to toe as she stumbled along in the thick of the rats, powerless.
But you don’t have to be, they told her. You can change this, Dawn.
One of the rats shot up her back, clinging to her hair and shirt collar, shaking her as if it was a dog and she was the rat. She screamed again, slapping at it but unable to reach it. Panicked dread rocked her.
“Dawn! Wake up!”
She snapped awake, swinging her fists blindly at the figure looming over her. They yelped and grabbed her wrists, pushing her down on the bed. A crushing sense of claustrophobia swept over Dawn, bringing the panic from her dream to a fever-pitch.
“Get off! Get off!” She kicked, but her legs were tangled in the bed sheets, and all she did was tangle them further. But now her too-sensitive eyes were adjusting to the dim, pre-dawn light, and she recognized Imani leaning over her, face etched with concern. “Get off, Imani,” she said, struggling to sound calm.
Maybe she managed it. Or maybe she didn’t but Imani didn’t care either way, because she released her, backing away from the bed. She hugged herself, rubbing her arms. Upset. Fidgety. Not like Imani. Something was wrong.
Some of the fog from Dawn’s nightmare lifted, although the gnawing panic didn’t. “What’s happened?” she asked. “What now?” She sat up, throwing the bed sheets aside. She didn’t actually remember going to bed. Most nights that she slept, she just fell asleep in front of the TV.
“Dawn, I’m really sorry,” Imani said, voice tight and high, reminding Dawn nastily of the rats in her dream. “I thought she was trying to help. I’d never have agreed if I knew…”
“You’re not making sense,” Dawn said. Her heart was fluttering somewhere in her throat, dark anticipation churning her stomach. “Who? What happened?”
“Lola. Lola’s gone. She asked me—” Imani leaned forward and grabbed something from under Dawn’s pillow. “She said it was to help you sleep. Which, I mean, it was, and we all know you need it, but it was just a cover so she could get out without you knowing, right? It had to be, because she’s gone!” Imani threw her hands up and sat down hard on the bed, eyes wide and worried.
Dawn tried to make sense of Imani’s torrent. She scrubbed at her dry eyes, picking through the words and putting a picture together. “She went to meet a client, she said.”
“Yeah, but it’s nearly seven in the morning and she’s not back yet. Her phone just rings through to voicemail.”
“What’re you holding?” Dawn asked, reaching for it.
It was a little velvet bag, tied with pink, blue, and brown ribbons. Dawn sniffed it suspiciously, catching a waft of flowers, and looked questioningly at Imani, who looked uncharacteristically ashamed of herself.
“She said it was to help you,” she repeated. “You don’t sleep enough and we all think…You need more sleep, so when she told me, I just…” She trailed off, toying nervously with her braids.
“You put a spell on me?” Dawn wasn’t sure whether to be outraged or just depressed. This was her life now, a constant pendulum swinging ceaselessly back and forth between the two. Was it a new low that her friends had used magic on her, or was it unsurprising, given who and what they were? She had no idea, so she decided to just feel numb instead.
“A charm. To help you sleep,” Imani said, as if repeating it was a charm in itself, a ward against Dawn’s anger. “But I think that was a cover, to keep you from knowing she’d gone until it was too late.”
“Why? Where would she be going that she’d want to hide it?” A faint sense of understanding itched at Dawn, but it wasn’t quite strong enough to grasp yet. She knew something here, she did, but the knowledge slipped away from her.
“I don’t know!” Imani all but wailed. “I just know she’s not home and she’s not answering her phone, so something’s wrong. Something’s happened, and I let it happen by going along with her stupid fake babysitting scheme!”
Her presence was too much, made it too hard to think. Everything was louder and sharper nowadays, Dawn was finding, and sometimes people were too intense, making her head ache and her eyes water. It was one of the reasons she liked being here, at Lola’s, because Lola would shut herself away all day and not press her presence on Dawn, allowing Dawn to be alone without really being alone. She wasn’t ready to be alone … but she still needed space.
Dawn climbed out of bed and went to the window, pulling the curtains back. Outside gray mist and washed-out sunlight heralded the start of a new day sluggishly beginning. The sight of the sunrise filled Dawn with a quiet despair, as it always did now. She tried to push it away and think like a detective. She still was one, technically, after all. Her boss had refused to accept her resignation and she hadn’t yet found the strength to fight with him about it. She was on leave. Recovering from the shock of Eddie’s death, that was the official line.
She pressed her forehead to the cold window and sighed. “Okay,” she said. “What do we know? What did she tell you?”
She couldn’t believe that Lola was gone. There was a rational explanation, of course. She wouldn’t just go, just disappear. That was unacceptable.
“Just that she had a client to meet and she wanted you to get some decent rest. She asked me to slip the sachet under your pillow once she was gone.”
“Okay. Have you checked her diary?” She glanced at Imani and saw her looking blankly back. “Her work diary? In her office? She lists all her appointments there.”
“Oh!” Imani bounced up, energized. “I didn’t even think. We just kinda freaked out when she didn’t come home. I mean, after everything that’s happened and all, I just … I just assumed the worst.” She headed for the stairs.
Dawn followed, feeling grim. Down in the kitchen, Jonah was nursing a cup of black coffee, looking pale with exhaustion.
“Hey, Dawn,” he said. “Sorry we magically drugged you.”
She waved it off, heading for Lola’s office. It was unlocked, which was unusual. Lola was funny about her office and people weren’t allowed to just come and go. Dawn’s spine prickled as she switched the light on. Lola’s diary sat closed on the desk, a big leather-bound planner that Dawn knew she kept meticulously up-to-date. She had a flashback to their first meeting, when she and Eddie had come investigating the murder at the Red Lotus. How huffily Lola had shown them her diary, thinking it would provide her alibi.
She eased into Lola’s chair, catching a faint trace of incense and the plummy shampoo Lola favored. Lola's pet tarantula watched her from within its tank, unmoving and somehow accusing. Imani hovered behind her, irritatingly close, but Dawn restrained herself from snapping at her. Leafing through the diary, it quickly became clear Lola had no appointments booked in for last night. Dawn closed it with a frown, her mind working away at that picture she’d started to form.
“She’s gone after Tristesse.”
“How?” Jonah asked from the doorway. “We don’t even know … well, anything about where she is.”
Dawn pressed her fingers to her temples, trying to stir her memory. “Right after Tristesse disappeared, Lola was talking about going after her. But she had a concussion, so I didn’t really take any of it seriously. She was talking about finding Isaiah … I don’t know. None of it made sense and I…” Was a mess. Too much of a mess to notice that Lola was a mess. Dawn bit her lip, guilt washing over her.
“She’s barely said a word about Tristesse since then,” Imani said. She wore the same look of guilt Dawn imagined she had herself.
“No, because she’s been waiting for me to go back to my place,” Dawn said. It was a guess, but it felt right. All of them would have rushed to help Lola find her lover if any of them thought it was possible. She knew that for a certainty. But Lola’s horrific story of Tristesse’s abduction had them all convinced the demon was as good as dead. So Lola had stayed quiet and waited for Dawn to go, and when Dawn didn’t go, she pulled this stunt.
Guesses, yes, but dammit, they did feel right. “Can you scry for her?” she asked Imani.
Imani nodded and left the office in silence. Jonah started to follow, but Dawn stopped him.
“Call Rowan. She’ll want to know.”
“Sure. You don’t think…” Jonah ran his hands through his hair, clearly struggling with the words. “She’ll be okay, right? I mean, how far could she get?”
Dawn wished she had something reassuring to say. But the truth was, she didn’t know how far Lola could get because she didn’t know how far Lola was trying to go. “Call Rowan,” she repeated.
The door swung shut behind him and Dawn slumped in the chair, feeling a pressure lift the second she was alone. Her eyes itched. Her throat was dry. Her whole body felt tightly strung, like a guitar string about to snap. And that was normal now, since she’d been attacked by Gwen Craig. She was sure part of it was down to the chronic insomnia, but some of the things she experienced now, like the hypersensitivity to noise and light, she couldn’t explain away so neatly. Even in their worried hush, Jonah and Imani were too loud, too … vital, and they exhausted her. Everyone did. Everything did.
She’d chalk it all up to depression if not for her eyes. Her irises had darkened and she was permanently bloodshot. She could have persuaded herself to dismiss even that if the irises had gone from blue to brown or green, say, but they were black now. So black her pupils were all but lost. Nothing she’d read about heterochromia or any other traumas or disorders that might cause eyes to change color could explain that deep, perfect black.
Even then, even with all that, she could have lied to herself, if not for his voice. It had started in her dreams, but now it crept slowly and surely into her waking hours. Soft and persuasive, he told her that he could help. That she could be powerful if she listened to him, powerful and back in control. That was the thing she couldn’t deny, the thing she couldn’t explain away with grief and depression.
Isaiah whispered to her and she couldn’t tune him out. It wasn't so bad as long as Lola kept the wards in the attic fresh, but now… Now that Lola was gone and her spells were gone with her, she feared he'd only whisper louder.

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