I was wrong. I don't think it's going to matter how many times I do this. I think I will always be sick with nerves the days leading up to publication. It's strange - once it's out there I am less worried. I guess because once it reaches that point there's nothing more I can do.
Before I give this final teaser, I wanted to say something.
So you see, when I first picked the date of release for this book it was kind of random. The middle of the month seemed like a good option, and it was two weeks short of a year since I first published The Last Knight.
But the date has come to mean so much more.
Anyone who has read this blog knows that I lost my father this year. It was a horrible, sad, painful time, but deciding to publish this book gave me something to focus on - something to look forward to. So it was inevitable that I would dedicate this book to my Dad, a man who loved to read, and for some reason (despite it being primarily aimed at YA and girls to boot) loved The Last Knight, and read it 3 times over the course of the last year. It makes me incredibly sad that he won't get the chance to read this book. It's silly really because I kept thinking I would email him all my manuscripts and get his feedback, but I kept putting it off. Until suddenly it was too late.
So it was a little bit of a surprise when I realised that the date I had randomly picked was not only Father's Day, but also the day after the four month mark of his passing. It just seems incredibly fitting. He was never a fan of Father's Day - just like Valentines Day he didn't believe there needed to be a special day to show someone you love them - but I am pleased to give him this final Father's Day gift.
This one's for you, Dad!
A scream shattered his thoughts. The plate Victoria had just picked up slipped out of her fingers, falling back into the water and soaking them both with a wave of water.
A second scream reached them as they turned to look at each other. There was a split second hesitation before they both ran for the door. Chase moved faster and he reached the door into the entrance hall first, throwing it open. He slammed to a stop so suddenly that Victoria thudded into the back of him and he had to catch the door frame to stop them both falling.
A girl lay in the middle of the entrance hall, her face frozen in pain as she screamed again. Her clothes were drenched in blood and Maladict crouched over her, his own hands covered in it.
For a tiny instant Chase suspected the worst, that after years Maladict had fallen off the wagon, but he knew that a vampire would never waste that much blood.
He glanced at Maladict’s face and saw the tendons standing out in his neck as he clenched his teeth, his nose flaring.
“Get Peter,” Chase said to Victoria, even as he raced the length of the room. He shoved Maladict backwards. “Get out of here, go change, get the blood off your hands.”
Maladict’s eyes had changed colour, the pale blue was ringed with red and as Chase looked up at him he could see the hunger burning in the depths of them. Nostrils flaring again, Maladict suddenly blinked and looked at Chase as though seeing him for the first time.
“I’m all right. Now you’re here.”
Chase frowned, but he didn’t have time to try and understand why.
“What happened?” Peter came barrelling down the stairs with Victoria in tow. “What’s going on? Who is she?”
The same questions were running through Chase’s mind and they both looked towards Maladict for an answer.
“She’s a Shifter,” he said through still gritted teeth. “Her father contacted me a few days ago. Told me she’d left home and he thought she might be in trouble –“
Even as Maladict spoke Peter checked the girl over, but the expression on his face was bleak.
“I tracked her down in Oxford, but the Department were after her as well. She was panicked and frightened. They cornered her and I tried to step in. She didn’t know me. She tried to run. They chased her. There was a road. She didn’t even stop to look. The truck hit her head on…”
Peter swore under his breath. “You should have taken her to a hospital, Maladict. She’s lost too much blood. I don’t know if I can save her.”
“I couldn’t. She kept losing control of her Shifting. Her body kept trying to change shape.”
Chase looked down at the girl sprawled on the cold stone floor. She was just a kid, ten or eleven at the most. Her dark hair was matted with blood and her skin looked too pale. Yet even with her eyes rolled back in her head something about her reminded him of Victoria.
He felt a rush of violent hatred towards the Department. What kind of people would drive a girl like this into terrified flight and then leave her there to die? He’d given up asking about the Department because no one seemed to want to talk about it, and the threat they posed seemed distant, like it couldn’t reach them there at West Haven, but suddenly it felt very real again. Save for a few lucky chances it could have been him lying, bleeding on the floor, or Kat, or Victoria.
The girl took a shuddering, laboured breath and Chase felt his stomach clench. She was going to die. He couldn’t say why he felt so certain, but he knew it was true.
His eyes met Maladict’s and the vampire gave a tiny nod. He got to his feet, swiping his bloody hands down the front of his jeans, and left the room on silent feet.
Chase turned back towards Peter and the girl, but Peter started slowing in his ministrations.
“Help me get her to the medical room, Chase.” The older man’s voice sounded defeated. “Let’s at least make her comfortable.”
“I’ll come with you.”
Chase glanced round at Victoria’s voice; he’d almost forgotten she was there. “Is that a good idea?”
“She shouldn’t have to die alone.”
Chase stood with his back against the wall, his fists balled so tightly he could feel his nails cutting into his palms.
He’d carried the girl up from the hall, horrified by how tiny she felt in his arms, and laid her on the bed. He’d stepped back quickly, but couldn’t seem to find the strength to leave the room, even though he couldn’t stand to stay.
After a few moments Peter stepped back.
“I’ve dosed her up with morphine, but I don’t think she’ll survive the night. I simply don’t have the equipment to save her.”
“Could we get her to a hospital?” Chase asked quickly.
“No. We don’t have the means to take her, and the trip would likely kill her.”
“We could call an ambulance,” Chase insisted. He couldn’t believe they were just going to let her die.
Victoria shook her head. “No, we can’t. The Department track all emergency calls, and we can’t have an ambulance turn up here, it would raise too many questions.”
“So we’re just going to let her die?”
“She’s going to die anyway,” Peter said softly. “Even if we did get her to a hospital I don’t think she’d survive.” He patted Chase’s shoulder. “I’ll leave her with you, Victoria. Call for me if she needs anything.”
The door swung closed behind the older man and Chase lifted his eyes to Victoria.
She gave him a weary smile as she tugged a sheet over the girl’s shoulders and started to comb out her hair. He watched for a moment as Victoria began carefully cleaning the blood from the unconscious girl’s face and hands.
“This isn’t the first time, is it?”
Victoria shook her head slowly. “No. I wish it was, but it isn’t. It’s a part of our way of life, unfortunately.”
Chase shuddered. “So are you going to stay with her all night?”
“That’s the plan. But you should go if you want. You don’t have to stay.”
It was a long time before Chase replied. Part of him desperately wanted to leave. He wanted to escape the stench of death filling the room, but he couldn’t leave Victoria to sit alone with a dying girl.
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