I am excited to welcome author Jenna Black, who will be releasing a new urban fantasy series with The Gifted Dead on September 23rd. To whet your appetite, Jenna is sharing with us a fabulous piece from her new novel, The Gifted Dead.
Politics and magic make dangerous bedfellows.
Deep within the Order, the seeds of corruption have taken root. While younger generations of the Gifted have embraced modern democratic values, a secret society of old-guard zealots seek a return to the past, when only European men of distinguished bloodlines held power.
Now, three venerable European families and a maverick American each plot to seize control of the Order and shape it to their will. A cutthroat game of political intrigue will decide the winner; and the stakes couldn’t be higher, for ruling the Order carries with it the power to grant—or deny—an afterlife.
What begins as a battle of wills could turn into an all-out war. And magic could prove deadlier than any missile.
Make sure you stick around to the end. We’ll be giving away 10 eCopies of The Gifted Dead as well as one grand prize package including a $100 gift card from either Amazon, iTunes or B&N.
Exclusive Excerpt: Melanie Burns, Scene 2, from The Gifted Dead
It was well after nine by the time Mel pulled into the gravel driveway of the cozy little house she and David were renting while they saved up for a down payment on a home of their own. Her mother had termed the place “cramped” instead of “cozy,” and Mel guiltily agreed that was probably a more accurate word. Refusing to accept any money from her father led to a lot of scrimping and saving, but Mel and David both agreed it was better this way. Not that her father had been making a whole lot of offers of financial support since she and David had eloped.
The lights were off on the second floor, of course. It was well past little Davy’s bedtime. Mel turned off the car and heaved a heavy sigh. So much for getting off work early. David had taken it in stride when she’d called to tell him she’d be late after all, but that didn’t stop her from feeling guilty. Yet another night when she hadn’t been there to tuck her son into bed. If there were a World’s Worst Mother competition, Mel was sure she’d be in the running for the title.
Getting out of the car, Mel scolded herself for her own melodrama. She and David had talked everything over before they’d gotten married, had decided that they would ignore the Old World family values that the Gifted typically clung to. They’d agreed that he would quit his job as soon as they had kids, and he would be a stay-at-home dad. His job had never been important to him—he’d thought of it as a job, not a career—and he’d known from the moment they’d met that Mel had ambitions. There weren’t a whole lot of Gifted men out there who’d be willing to sacrifice their own careers for their wives, and that made David just about the perfect husband for her.
David must have heard her drive up, because he opened the front door before she reached it. He stood in the doorway, silhouetted by the lights of the house, barefoot and wearing nothing but a pair of jeans that rode enticingly low on his hips. A little more than three years of marriage had done nothing to lessen the appeal of his nicely toned body, and if Mel weren’t so tired and dispirited, she’d have been tempted to jump his bones right there in the foyer. Especially when she saw the glass of chardonnay he held in his right hand.
“Is that for me?” she asked hopefully as she approached. She hadn’t gotten around to eating dinner yet, and that single glass would probably bowl her over on her empty stomach, but she wanted it anyway.
“The wine?” David asked with a crooked smile. “Or this?” He ran his hand down his chest in a way that would have looked unbearably egotistical if it weren’t for the twinkle in his eyes.
Mel laughed, glad to find she was still able to after her grim evening. “The wine,” she replied as she stepped close to him. She touched one finger to his bare chest just above the small gold cross he always wore. The cross that marked him as one of those rare Gifted who believed in a power greater than the Anima. Once upon a time, practicing a religion was considered a crime by the Order, and David could very well have been sundered for it—hauled off by the now-defunct Knights of the Order to face the Patriarch, who would use his unique power to cut David’s connection to the Anima. These days, David’s Christianity merely pushed him to the fringes of Gifted society.
Mel had found that cross off-putting at first, but she had come to accept it—and David’s insistence upon going to church—as an integral part of who he was. Her finger traced slowly down his chest to his abs—and below. “This had better be for me, or we’re going to have issues.”
“Believe me, baby, it’s all for you.” He hooked his arm around her waist and drew her against him, expertly balancing the wine so it didn’t spill.
Mel made an appreciative sound in the back of her throat, but her heart wasn’t in it. Not when she’d just spent the last hour and a half trying to comfort Roberta Quinn’s distraught family. They had already been notified about what had happened, of course, but the grief and pain had still been raw. Mel had stopped by to talk to Roberta’s husband and her two daughters, partially to express her condolences, and partly so she could ask a few questions. No, she wasn’t an investigator, and she should leave it all to the police. But after fighting so hard to win Roberta’s consecration, she’d be damned if she didn’t do some poking around of her own, even if there was nothing she could do to make it right.
The Quinns knew of no one who hated or objected to Roberta enough to desecrate her grave. Perhaps unwisely, Mel had promised them that she would do everything in her power to see that justice was served, and that she would report back to them whatever she learned.
David sensed her lack of enthusiasm but showed no signs of being hurt or irritated by it. “Come in before the moths do,” he said, giving her a little tug.
She obliged, and he closed and locked the door behind them. Then he put his arms around her from behind, offering the wine as well as his warm and comforting presence.
“I know you’ve had a rough night,” he said. “So drink your wine, kick off your shoes, and I’ll fix you something to eat.”
She closed her eyes and savored the feel of his body against hers, savored the feeling of being loved and supported. Her parents had both been dead-set against her marrying David, and not just because he was a Christian (though that hadn’t helped). If she was serious about her desire for a career in the Order, they’d argued, she should marry for political advantage. An alliance with one of the more powerful and connected bloodlines might have gone a long way toward advancing her career, and marrying a Christian of undistinguished heritage served as a strike against her. But she wanted more from life than a loveless arrangement like her parents’. There was a lot she was prepared to sacrifice for her career, for the chance of advocating for women in the patriarchal society of the Gifted, but from the first moment she’d met David, she’d known that he wasn’t one of those things.
“Marrying you was the best decision I ever made,” she murmured.
“Your parents might disagree.” There was no hint of bitterness in his voice, no indication that his less-than-loving in-laws got to him.
“My mom’s warming to you,” she said. Juliana Almeida-Landry might never be happy that Mel had chosen to marry a “nobody,” but she’d have to be blind not to see how happy David made her daughter. Too bad her father apparently was blind. Or at least too focused on self-interest to bother looking around. He always claimed he worried about the effect Mel’s choice of husband would have on her career, but she wondered if he wasn’t secretly more worried about his own.
“In my experience,” David said, “mothers tend to warm to sons-in-law right about when they start providing grandchildren. Maybe if we give her another, she might actually start to like me.”
Mel made a sound between a laugh and a snort. They both knew she couldn’t afford to get pregnant anytime soon. The Board was required to give her maternity leave like any other employer, but no law could stop them from thinking it was just more evidence that women were unfit to hold positions of power within the Order. There was a reason they’d had Davy so early in their marriage, before Mel began her campaign to be elected to the Board.
“I guess you’ll have to get used to merely being tolerated,” she said, hoping he’d just been kidding. He’d said he was fine with waiting a few years before trying for another baby, but maybe he was already feeling the urge. Maybe he was beginning to rethink some of their decisions now that he had more of an insight into what life would be like with her working for the Order. Maybe—
“Relax, Mellie,” he said, giving her another squeeze. “I was joking.”
Only David could call her “Mellie” and get away with it. She let out her breath slowly, surprised to find how tense her muscles had become without her noticing. A happily married modern woman she might be, but she was well aware of how far from the Gifted ideal she was straying, and there was a part of her that always worried it was all going to blow up in her face. Worried that David might decide he wanted a more traditional Gifted wife after all.
David planted a kiss on the side of her neck. “I shouldn’t have teased you. I know you’re hurting.”
Mel closed her eyes and swallowed hard, trying not to picture Roberta’s crying daughters or her devastated husband. “It’s just so awful,” she said hoarsely. “Bad enough that Roberta died so young, but then to have this happen, to have her soul destroyed …”
Roberta had been only forty-two when a three-car pileup had ended her life. What might the remarkable woman have accomplished in the sixty or seventy more years she should have lived?
“Maybe she can’t be part of the Anima anymore, or be a spirit guide, but her soul has not been destroyed.”
Mel shook her head. She had accepted David’s beliefs to the best of her ability, but she couldn’t say she really understood them. “You believe Roberta’s soul is in heaven?”
“I do. The soul is … ineffable. It can’t be destroyed, and everyone is bound for heaven or hell eventually. The Anima is a way station, not a final destination.”
According to the so-called WorldSoul Christians, when the End of Days came, the Anima would release all its souls to their final reward and cease to exist. But then, most of the WorldSoul Christians were unGifted and did not understand how their beliefs unsettled the Gifted who did not share them.
“Maybe you’d consider coming to church with me on Sunday?” David said tentatively. It wasn’t the first time he’d made the suggestion, though he was never pushy about it. “Pastor John could explain it all a lot more clearly than I can, and it might make you feel better.”
Mel forced a smile, imagining what her fellow Board members—or, worse, her parents—would say if they found out she’d gone to church. “I’m sorry, David. I’m just … not open to that now.” And she probably never would be, though she didn’t feel it necessary to put that thought into words.
“All right,” he sighed. “It was worth a shot. If you ever change your mind …”
“You’ll be the first to know.”
He nodded, looking a little sad. He’d always been good about not pushing his beliefs on her, and he’d agreed that he would not take Davy to church unless and until Davy was old enough to understand the consequences and wanted to go. But she knew he wished he could share that part of his life with his wife and his son.
“So if I can’t make you feel better by taking you to church, what say I feed you instead?”
Somehow, he always knew the perfect way to dispel a somber mood. She grinned at him, not having to force it. “As long as you eventually get around to feeding me some serious chocolate, that sounds like a great idea.”
David made a silly saluting motion. “One chocolate-laden dinner, coming right up.”
Meet Jenna Black!
Jenna Black is your typical writer. Which means she’s an “experience junkie.” She got her BA in physical anthropology and French from Duke University.
Once upon a time, she dreamed she would be the next Jane Goodall, camping in the bush making fabulous discoveries about primate behavior. Then, during her senior year at Duke, she did some actual research in the field and made this shocking discovery: primates spend something like eighty percent of their time doing such exciting things as sleeping and eating.
Concluding that this discovery was her life’s work in the field of primatology, she then moved on to such varied pastimes as grooming dogs and writing technical documentation. She is now a full-time author of fantasy, young adult, and romance novels.
Thank you Jenna for taking the time to stop by Literary Escapism!
Jenna is generously offering up 10 eCopies of THE GIFTED DEAD as well as one grand prize package including a $100 gift card from either Amazon, iTunes or B&N. Please enter via the Rafflecopter form. Giveaway is open internationally.