I’m so happy to finally share the cover of SHADES OF WICKED with you! I’m even happier that Entertainment Weekly.com is hosting the reveal, and they were kind enough to do an interview with me, too. I talk about Ian, Veritas, vampires in general, inspirations, what I wanted on the cover that I got plus what I wanted that I didn’t get (side note: I didn’t fight fight with my editor, to be clear. It was more a case of me whining “But whyyyyyyy?” to her over and over, and her being the adult in the room ;)) Thanks so much to Maureen and EW! Go here to check it out.
But wait, there’s more! To celebrate the cover reveal, I’m also posting the entire first chapter below. Note: it’s pre-revisions and pre-copyedits, so you might find spelling and/or grammar errors, plus I might add or delete a line or two between now and the published version. Disclaimers aside, hope you enjoy seeing what happens with Ian and Veritas! As you can imagine, things do NOT start out with a quiet conversation ;).
Copyright, Jeaniene Frost 2018
SHADES OF WICKED
This had better be the right whorehouse.
It didn’t look like the seedier brothels I’d recently been to. This three-story structure could pass as the meeting place for an elite social club. Yet despite its unexpected prettiness, if I had to wade through another flesh-fest only to turn up empty-handed again, I wasn’t responsible for what I did to my quarry when I finally found him.
To vent my aggravation over two weeks of fruitless searching, I kicked the door open. Politeness had been wasted at the last several establishments anyway. No reputable proprietor willingly gave up a well-paying client, and I’ll say one thing for the bordello-loving vampire I was after – he obviously paid well.
To my surprise, I didn’t see anyone in the elegant foyer. Brothels usually had several prostitutes lingering around the entryway to welcome new customers. I was further surprised when I didn’t hear sounds of carnal activity in the upper floors of the house. I pulled out my mobile and checked the GPS pin. Yes, I was at the right place. What’s more, this place certainly smelled like sex, once you got past the choking scents of various perfumes and male colognes.
But if this was the right whorehouse, where was everyone?
Faint vibrations in the floor made me stride toward the hallway. Ah, so the party must be downstairs. I followed the strongest scents of perfume until I found a staircase that went down two floors. It ended at a locked door that I also kicked in. No point in being dainty now.
Noise blasted out. The basement must have been soundproofed for me to miss it before. Now, I wished I couldn’t hear what was going on as a melody assaulted my ears, repeating over and over. Thunder and Blazes, the favorite opening song of the former Barnum and Baileys circuses.
And I had walked into a circus, although one without any real animals. About a dozen naked women and men frolicked on the ground, doing woefully inadequate impressions of the creatures their full body paint represented. No work ethic, I thought when three faux lions appeared to be more interested in petting each other than in more realistic fights for dominance, and don’t get me started on how they ignored the two faux gazelles that walked by them.
The dozen or so prostitutes dressed in clown suits showed more dedication for their roles. They ran out of a fake car in the far corner of the room, some falling forward in rolling somersaults once they exited, some tripping each other with comedic exaggeration, and some blowing up balloons into explicit body parts that they then graphically connected.
An eruption of fireworks yanked my attention to the other side of the room. They went off around what looked like a throne, haloing its occupant in a blaze of sparks, fire and smoke. The mini pyrokinetic display was so bright; I couldn’t make out the enthroned person’s face, but when he called out “Act Eight will now begin!” I heard a distinct English accent.
Then the smoke cleared enough to show a man wearing a blue circus ringleader jacket. The smoke still concealed him from the waist down, but I didn’t need to see more to know I’d finally found my target. The vampire who’d blazed a trail through a dozen whorehouses in only two weeks had a face as beautiful as an angel’s and his fire-and-umber hair was as distinctive as his looks. When he got off the throne, revealing he wore nothing beneath the ringleader jacket, I realized those weren’t Ian’s only notable attributes.
For a moment, I simply stared. What vampire in his right mind would pierce himself with silver there?
I was the only one shocked by the silver piercing through the tip of Ian’s cock. Everyone else stopped what they were doing and rushed toward him. Even the glitter-covered acrobats leapt from their swinging perches near the ceiling, gracefully landing near the pile of limbs that now formed around the red-headed vampire.
It wasn’t enough that I had to be burdened with a vampire so mentally deficient that he’d willingly given himself a case of perpetual cock burn. He also had to be depraved enough to indulge in carnival-themed orgies. I wasn’t about to find out what the rest of Act Eight entailed. I made my way to the growing human flesh pile and began flinging people aside, taking care not to throw them too hard. Their heartbeats meant they were human, so they couldn’t heal the way my kind could.
“What’s this?” Ian asked in an annoyed manner when I reached the bottom of the flesh pile. Then he let out an appreciative noise when I yanked him up with none of the care I’d shown the other people.
“Why, hallo, my strong blonde sweeting.” Now he didn’t sound annoyed at all. “Are you the surprise I was promised?”
Why not let him believe that? “Sure,” I said. “Surprise.” And I grabbed him by the cock. I had one more thing to verify before I went any further.
Ian chuckled. “That’s the spirit, poppet.”
I dropped to my knees, but I wasn’t about to do what he thought. Still, this act allowed me to zero in on my goal with the least amount of resistance from him. Once I got a good look at the smoke-colored brands near the base of Ian’s groin, I released him. Only one demon branded people with these particular markings, and it was the same demon I’d been after for thousands of years.
“Ian,” I said as I rose from my crouched position. “Say goodbye. We’re leaving.”
He laughed outright. “I don’t think so. You might be lovely, but two’s lonely while a few dozen is a party.”
I gave a disparaging look around. “No great loss. The clowns were fine, but none of your faux animals fought each other or even attempted to jump through the fire rings.”
At that, he gave the animal-painted prostitutes an accusing look. “You didn’t, did you?” Then, his eyes suddenly narrowed as he looked back at me. “Wait a moment. I know who you are.”
We’d only officially met once before, so I hadn’t thought he’d remember me. Someone with his tendencies had to have crossed paths with vast numbers blonde women.
“Veritas, Law Guardian for the vampire council,” I confirmed. Then my hands landed on his shoulders. “And as I said, you are coming with me.”
His eyes changed from their natural vivid turquoise into glowing, vampiric emerald. “Leave it to a Law Guardian to try and ruin a perfectly good orgy. Sorry, luv, I’m not going anywhere. Now, take your hands from me before I remove them.”
He couldn’t mean that. Even striking a Law Guardian was enough to garner an instant death sentence. Only the vampire council itself was above us in undead society. That’s why I ignored his threat and tightened my grip.
“There’s no need for empty threats -”
The next thing I knew, I was thrown several meters away. I blinked, more startled by his quickness than by his reckless disregard for the punishment his actions merited.
“No need?” he repeated, contempt edging his tone now. “I remember the last time I saw you. I’d say your complicity in the murder of my friend’s daughter more than qualifies as a need.”
She isn’t dead.
The words rang in my mind, a comfort I drew on whenever I thought back on that awful day. But if Ian didn’t know that the child’s supposed execution had been nothing more than clever ruse…
“That was the council’s decision, not mine,” I said, my voice roughening from the memory. I’d nearly lost my position as Law Guardian arguing against the girl’s death, yet fear and bigotry had made the council unmovable. At least they hadn’t succeeded in taking her life, as they’d intended to.
Ian snorted. “Sleep better telling yourself that, do you? You make my sins look forgivable, and that takes some doing.”
“Enough.” How dare he judge me? “Now, come.”
His brows rose, as if he couldn’t believe I’d spoken to him the same way some people called their dogs. Well, if he insisted on acting like a beast, I’d treat him like one.
“All of you, leave,” Ian said to the prostitutes, who’d been watching with more boredom than interest. They must have thought our exchange was more fantasy role-playing. “My compliments for the day’s entertainment, but now it’s over. Go,” he stressed when some of them hung back instead joining the ones that began to file out the door.
I bit back a laugh. “Are you getting them out of the way because you’re intending to fight me?”
Ian flashed a smile that increased the intensity of his unusual beauty. “You must not have done your research if you thought I’d come willingly.”
The silver from his piercing must have gotten into his bloodstream and damaged his brain. That was the only explanation. “I’m more than four thousand years older than you.”
“Really?” he said with mock surprise. “Here I was thinking you didn’t look a day over twenty, little Guardian.”
He’d guessed my age when I was turned with surprising accuracy, yet I still let out a snort. “Is ‘little guardian’ supposed to be insulting? If so, do better.”
“Not being insulting,” he replied in an easygoing tone. “But if you’re half my weight, I’d be surprised.”
Yes, I looked more delicate than formidable, but that wouldn’t help him. With age came strength, and he wasn’t even three hundred years old yet.
“Stand down, Ian, and I won’t punish you for attacking me.”
“Why don’t you try begging me to stand down?” he suggested. “Make your plea interesting enough, and I might consider it.”
I was done negotiating. I plowed into Ian hard enough to shatter the bones in his upper body. To my surprise, he did nothing to block the blow. Instead, he flung me upward with strength he should never have had. I hit the ceiling with such force, I went all the way through it. For a stunned moment, I stared at him through the hole my body had made in the floor between us.
“Stop now and perhaps you’re the one who won’t get punished,” he said in a pleasant tone.
I suppressed the urge to immediately charge him again. Never underestimate an opponent twice, if you’re lucky enough to survive the first time. My vampire sire, Tenoch, had taught me that. Following Tenoch’s advice had saved my life many times, so I pushed back my urge to recklessly retaliate.
Ian was wrong – I had done my research on him. It hadn’t revealed anything unusual except for a voracious sexual appetite and an open disdain for rules. My previous assault should have left him on the ground, not whistling along to that awful circus tune while looking more bored than concerned.
Maybe his unusual strength came from the demon brands? They did more than act as a leash between Ian and the demon who’d seared them onto him. Over time, those brands would also endow Ian with some of that demon’s strength and power. But Ian had only been branded for a couple weeks. Not nearly long enough for him to manifest parts of the demon’s strength or abilities.
I’d find out his secret later. Right now, I needed to take him down, and thankfully, I had some surprises in store for him, too.
I gave Ian a level look. “My turn.”
His smile grew into a grin. “Come and get me, little Guardian.”