Exclusive Excerpt of "Valentine" from Unsafe Words by Loren Rhoads
Alondra had never done this kind of magic before. It felt awful, dirty. Her head ached from the concentration it took. Still, she sat in the quaint cafÃ©, drinking peppermint tea. Teeth gritted, she traced sigils for summoning in the moisture her glass left on the birch tabletop.
Sheâd never been to Oslo before, spoke almost no Norwegian, but that hadnât posed a problem. The Scandinavians sheâd met all spoke lovely English. It shamed her to not have more vocabulary. Sheâd scarcely prepared for the trip and didnât know how long before her quarry moved on.
And he traveled a lot. Alondra wasnât sure if he fled something or searched for something. Not that it mattered. She didnât want to know more about him than his regular habits in this place. She needed to know enough to find him. Meet him. Get him alone and kill him.
Cold sweat slicked her hands on the glass of tea. Murder was so out of character that she could barely hold the thought long enough to plan. Still, she had no other option. Victor needed a new heart and she would bring him one. It was the least she could do.
How would she live with the deed? She wouldnât be able to tell Victor what sheâd done. She probably wouldnât even be able to face him. She vowed to do this thing, get it over with, save Victorâs life, and run. Sheâd find somewhere deep and dark in which to hide. Then she would never, ever return home. It would be enough to know that Victor survived.
She drained the glass of tea and signaled for another, then resumed drawing sigils on the tabletop.
She stared into space, focus lost, when something called her back to the low-ceilinged room. Nearby, hunched over a tall pint of Ringnes, sat Simon Lebranche. Her target.
Hers werenât the only eyes drawn to him. He didnât make a spectacle of himself, but he also didnât blend in. Heâd shed his big fur coat: beaver? otter? Something lush and dark, anyway. Beside his beer glass sat a black silk cavalierâs hat, complete with ostrich plume. He wore a black sweater soft as cashmere, over black leather jeans heavy enough to block the cold. All the black clothing set off his creamy skin, his chartreuse eyes, his tousled hair and beard like spun gold.
Alondra didnât know how old Lebranche was. Sheâd read that heâd fired his musket at the Battle of Marsten Moor, fought on horseback at Jasna GÃ³ra and later at Waterloo. Never on the winning side, but always surviving to fight again. After Napoleonâs defeat, Lebranche had taken an interest in the arts, befriending Dante Gabriel Rossetti, even posing for him. Now all that seemed gone: friends, war, art. Maybe he searched for someone to end his wandering.
Alondra didnât have to resort to her second sight to see the energy coursing around himâSaint Elmoâs fireâsparking and spitting in the dark cafÃ©. The wonder was that no one else saw it. That kind of life force was perfect for her needs, as long as she didnât panic and fuck it up.
Lebranche caught her looking and swiveled the chair next to him invitingly.
Alondra swept her hand across the liquid on the tabletop and collected her things. She slipped into the vacant chair while Lebranche gazed out the window at the Museum of Contemporary Artâs sculpture garden across the street.
âDo you know me?â His accent was vaguely French and half a hundred other things.
âIâd like to,â she purred, then wondered if sheâd overdone it. She watched the path his hand took to lift his beer.
âYou can see it, then?â
He didnât mean his hand. Alondra nodded. âI see it. Like a corona around the sun.â
âLike a moth to a flame?â he asked. He seemed too weary to threaten her.
âLike used to surround my boyfriend, only his energy was red. He was a vampire.â
âWas?â Lebranche echoed.
âMay still be.â She shrugged. âHe left me when I refused to become a vampire, too.â
Alondra had considered tracking Jordan down, even though she didnât bear a grudge. An immortal she knew would have been easier to trap, if not to kill. Sheâd decided that she didnât want to infect Victor with vampirism. She didnât know if such a thing could be transmitted via organ transplant, but didnât assume thereâd been much research on the topic.
âWhy didnât you join him?â Lebranche asked. âDoesnât everyone crave immortality?â
He amused himself at her expense, but rather than let on that she understood his subtext, Alondra took the question at face value. âI couldnât stand the intimacy drinking blood requires. Youâre not a vampire, are you?â
Lebranche laughed. âI didnât know there was such a thing.â
He was lying. He must have seen them during his centuries at war, feeding on the fallen.
To be continued in Unsafe Words.
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction,
Dark Fantasy Short Stories
Publisher: Automatism Press
Date of Publication: September 20, 2020
Number of pages: 174
Word Count: 55K
Cover Artist: Lynne Hansen
Tagline: Once youâve done the most unforgivable thing, what will you do next?
In the first full-length collection of her edgy, award-winning short stories, Loren Rhoads punctures the boundaries between horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction in a maelstrom of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.
Ghosts, succubi, naiads, vampires, the Wild Hunt, and the worst predator in the woods stalk these pages, alongside human monsters who follow their cravings past sanity or sense.
About the Author:
Loren Rhoads is the author of the In the Wake of the Templars space opera trilogy, co-author of a succubus/angel duology called As Above, So Below, and editor of Tales for the Camp Fire: An Anthology Benefiting Wildfire Relief. She's also the author of a nonfiction travel guide called 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die. Unsafe Words is the first full-length collection of her short stories.
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