Thorns and Fangs: Ben

Exciting news — Thorns and Fangs is already available for preorder from NineStar Press! There is an excerpt up on the site, along with more information about the novel.

As you might have guessed, today’s blog post is an introduction to Ben. Nate’s first impression of Ben is not positive — ‘The only interesting thing about him was his mouth, too wide for his thin face, which registered his abrupt discomfiture.’ This is, unfortunately for Ben, a recurring theme! The youngest and newest member of Saltaire’s vampire colony, Ben lacks Hunter looks and charisma and Saltaire’s sheer force of will. He’s slight with a quiet, self-contained personality. Because of this, he’s considered the weakest link in the vampire colony, a prime target for a necromancer out for revenge.

thornsandfangsThere’s much more to Ben than meets the eye. His strict self-control holds in check considerable determination and a passionate nature. The glimpse Nate gets of Ben’s concealed emotions is enough to keep him pursuing Ben, even despite the ever-increasing threats in their way. Ben resists — and for good reason. In order to preserve his self in the night world, Ben must preserve his distance. It’s his safeguard against the necromancer’s attacks, the influence of his fellow vampires and his own inner monster. But Ben’s self-control comes at a cost. Nate believes that by starving himself of the contact he craves, Ben is setting himself up for failure. Ben knows that Nate is dangerous, that he can shatter all Ben’s carefully honed defences, but is as unable to forget Nate as Nate is him.

To introduce Ben, I’ve chosen a moment where Nate finds himself confronted with the reality of Ben’s world.


 

There were three of them, a bearded man and two women with knotted hair and clawlike nails. Their ragged clothing was torn and bloodstained, and their movements were strangely jerky, as if the impulse to move came from outside and not their own movements. They made no sound at all, but they spread out as one to circle the tree.

Their mouths were too hungry, always working. They bared their teeth, licked their lips, and snarled, always creeping closer. The nearest woman smiled, but the invitation of her lips became immediately undone by the sharp edges of the teeth she revealed.

“Stay against the oak,” Ben said. “Remember they can’t cross the circle.”

Nate glanced down. The three revenants stood just before the line drawn by the salt. “It’s working?”

“Be confident in your work,” Ben squeezed Nate’s hand again. “It’s powered by your belief.”

Unbelievably, Nate—the normal one of the family—had done magic. Who knows what else I can do?

The woman stayed where she was, but her companions prowled the edge of the circle. They shot dark looks at Ben, hissing as they did. Occasionally, they made short darts toward them but always stopped at the edge of the circle.

“What are they doing?”

“Probing the circle for weak points,” Ben said. “Failing that, they’re trying to trick you into stepping out of it.”

Nate took his eyes off the staring woman to glance at him. “That a fact?”

“You forget.” Ben looked at the male revenant with a strange expression. “I’ve had practice.”

No amount of practice is going to stop Ben pitying these things. Nate took a deep breath and tried to imagine them as Ben saw them. Not monsters, but as victims of supernatural attack. His gaze followed the dark stains on the woman’s chest to the bloodied patch on the man’s back. Days ago, they’d been ordinary people. And now…

If possible, that was even more terrifying.

“How do you do it?” His voice sounded more abrupt than Nate wanted, and he pressed on, hoping that Ben wouldn’t notice. “Stay so calm, I mean.”

Ben turned a measured gaze on him. “You’ll laugh.”

“Try me.”

“I used to read a lot of comics, loved action movies, TV shows.” Ben took a deep breath, leaning against the tree. “Whenever I was in a situation like this, I imagined a voice-over narrating it for the viewer who’d just tuned in. Break down the threat, go over the stakes, round it off with a throwaway line—somehow, it made things more manageable.”

“I knew it! You’re a closet geek.”

“You asked.” Ben’s shoulders hunched. “Anyway, it’s not like I do that now.”

“You don’t?”

“Used to it.”

The thought gave Nate chills. Ben turning into Saltaire or Hunter—or worse, the creatures circling them with predatory interest—gave him chills in a way the revenants did not.

“See what I mean? Focus.”

“I got this.” The conversation had taken the edge off the circling revenants. They were still there, but a degree removed. “You know, back at the mansion, I felt like I was channeling Attenborough. Undercover, observing the vampires in their natural environment.”

Ben looked at him sharply.

“Not saying you’re anything like these monsters!” Nate waved a hand toward the revenants and then snatched it back hastily. The three creatures had immediately honed in on him.

“You were right the first time.” Ben turned away once more, back toward Nate. “Vampires aren’t anything to be happy about.” He paused. After a long moment, he added in a much quieter tone, “My friends don’t know what happened to me. As far as they know, I just vanished.”

“You’re serious?” Ben had cut himself off from any contact?

“I tell my family I see my friends occasionally, but since they don’t know what I am, I can’t invite them to the house.” Ben’s mouth flickered cynically. “With the lengths Hunter went to arranging the party, I hate to think what he’d do if he knew.”

“I can picture it now. Vampiric playdates. Truly terrifying.”

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