Today’s post is going to be a long one but you’ll have to forgive me because — it’s my birthday! Happy birthday me!
Being a New Year’s baby has a lot of advantages, the best of which is that I never have to plan a party — there’s already one going on! The other advantage is that I, like many other people, do a yearly stock take on my birthday and December 31st is ideally timed for that.
I have a personal superstition that however I spent my birthday is emblematic of the year ahead, a belief brought about by one year in which I got food poisoning on my birthday, and proceeded to get sick three times the following year. Last year, I made a point of spending time on my birthday working on writing, specifically, Thorns and Fangs. A year later, Thorns and Fangs has been edited, proofed and is now available for preorder. So that worked out amazingly! This year, I am spending my birthday in my parents caravan in remote, coastal New Zealand — no electricity, no internet, no people, possible dolphins. It will be great!
It’s been a milestone year writing-wise. My two DRitC stories, Deep Magic and The Biggest Scoop are both nominated in the 2015 M/M Romance Group’s Reader’s Choice awards (voting begins January 1st). I made new friends, Achim and Arielle. With Sam and Raevyn’s encouragement, I submitted Thorns and Fangs to NineStar Press, and was accepted. And December 14th, The Ugliest Sweater came out.
2015 was an eventful year away from the keyboard, too. I became an Aunt in May! After only seeing my super-cute niece in photos, getting to meet her at last was amazing! I had my first solo babysitting experience a few days ago, and that went fantastically. I also went to Washington DC in June for a wedding, and just last week attended a second wedding — my mother’s! After 20 years, she and my stepdad decided it was time. I couldn’t be happier. Stepdad is an amazing man, and although he has been part of our family for many, many years, it felt great to celebrate that fact and make it official at last.
In less positive news, I’ve been struggling with burn out at work. I’ve been an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan for just over ten years now, and while I still love interacting with the students, Japanese culture and my town, I think the time is right to try something new. I will be moving back to New Zealand sometime in 2016. Saying goodbye will be hard. I’ve lived in my current town longer than I have lived anywhere in my life! I am going to miss my kids something awful. On the other hand, it does feel like the time is right to be back in New Zealand, spending time with my family. My goals for 2016 include starting a garden of my own and acquiring a shelter dog, both of which I can’t do in Japan! I am also toying with dying my hair, but as I will be job-hunting, may have to hold off.
Anyway! Now that I’ve rambled, time for today’s teaser. Continuing my introduction to the Thorns and Fangs cast, today I’m giving myself the gift that is Hunter.
What we see of Hunter in Thorns and Fangs is only the tip of the iceberg. Nate and Ben are young enough to be idealistic. Hunter has outlived not just his contemporaries, but his country. He’s lost friends, lovers, family, and enemies, and each of those experiences has shaped him, with the result that there is always more going on with him. Even as he strives to live in the moment, Hunter cannot distance himself from the weight of centuries of existence. He no longer thinks of himself as human and has no qualms about using his powers of compulsion.
One of the ways Hunter copes with his hundreds of years of life is by reinventing himself. Emeric Hunter is not his real name, or even his first adopted identity. It’s simply convenient. There’s a lot I don’t know about Hunter yet. There are glimpses in the second Thorns and Fangs book and in Aki’s story, but as of now, Hunter is still a mystery — which means that as I write, he often throws me for a loop. Here is a moment in Thorns and Fangs when Hunter went entirely off-script.
“Service and then some.” Hunter’s voice was startlingly loud in the dark. “Did I pick too well or not well enough?”
The crucifix Gunn had given him. Nate had been wearing it ever since, and it was now—
—on the table back in the booth. The businessman was catholic and had objected to it.
Hunter’s hand stayed put on Nate’s shoulder. He could feel the coldness of the vampire’s touch even through the shirt he wore. “It was not my intent to see this go so far.” He shrugged, stepping into the streetlamp’s light. In sharp contrast to Ben and Saltaire, he flaunted his immunity to the night air, scarf draped loosely around his shoulders and his blazer open. Hunter’s eyes, as they turned back to fix on Nate, were clear as ice. “But if it was my mistake, it’s my responsibility to fix it.”
“By wiping my memory?” Hunter’s face was impassive. Nate tried anyway. “That’s your answer to everything! It didn’t work last time, what makes you think it’ll work now?”
“This time you’re not in the vicinity of a standing rowan.”
Nate’s mouth worked soundlessly.
Hunter showed his teeth in quick amusement at Nate’s shock. “Godfrey and I worked it out together. He thinks that with proper direction, you might make a decent witch. Provided, of course, our necromancer doesn’t kill you first.”
“Godfrey said that?”
“Coming to the house was a bold move, but it seems to have won you a supporter.”
“For all the good that does me now.” Nate caught himself too late. Self-pity never looked good on anyone. He took a deep breath and tried again. “I’m not sorry it happened.”
“I hope you remain of that opinion.”
Nate glanced up, startled out of his attempt at cool. “You sound like you’re not going to wipe my memory.”
Hunter bowed to him, a theatrical gesture performed with aplomb. “Saltaire does his best to ensure that we have as much free will as we can, even as his scions. It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t do my part and occasionally rebel.”
“Scions?” Something in the emphasis he’d laid on the word—
Hunter had stepped back into the shadow. Nate couldn’t see his eyes. “Saltaire’s reluctance to use his power is great—but the power itself is greater. It was many centuries before I felt myself in his presence, longer still before I understood his choices. Ben is young. He feels his lost freedom keenly. In time those memories will fade, and he will begin to understand.”
Definitely a frost in the air. Nate wrapped his arms around himself. “There’s really no other way?”
Hunter laughed. “The only way to free oneself from the sire’s compulsion is to kill the sire—and Ben owes him too much to want to contemplate Saltaire’s second death—or feed until he consumes power equivalent to Saltaire’s centuries.”
Nate couldn’t imagine Ben choosing either of those options. “Being a vampire sucks.”
“Possibly just as well.” Hunter shrugged. “The power of compulsion is so easily abused that it is only right that attaining it should come at such a high cost.”
Says the guy who compelled two people to sign off on his party! Nate frowned at Hunter. “That didn’t stop you from using it.”
Hunter’s shrug was unrepentant. “Ben needed to see that his fear of endangering others did not need to extend to such radical self-deprivation. I think we did quite well on that front.” He leered, but Nate wasn’t distracted.
“What you say he does,” Nate finished slowly. “Is that why—”
“Any relationship where one party does not have the right of choice inevitably sours.” Hunter looked up at the night sky. “I am too fond of Ben to want to lose him.”
He doesn’t—he can’t mean that? “Even if it means starving him of the affection he so clearly needs?”
“In a few centuries, he will thank me for this.”
Nate felt like the weight of Saltaire’s presence pressed down on him again. “If he survives that long.”
“Speaking of survival, let’s talk about yours.”
For the second time in three nights, a vampire held Nate up by his neck.
“Ever since the party” —Hunter casually raised his voice to be heard over the sound of Nate choking— “my brother has been distracted, moody, and secretive. In short, he’s been acting more like himself than in the entire year he’s been dead.”
Nate’s lungs burned with trapped air. He struggled to pry Hunter’s icy fingers from his throat.
“Your influence seems to be good for him. Which is why I am not going to erase your memory or kill you.”
Is this a vampire handshake? Nate shut his eyes. His chest felt like it was going to burst—
“Pay attention. This concerns you after all.” With that advice, Hunter let him go.
Nate’s hand caught in the ivy, the only thing preventing him from falling. “Was that really necessary?” He rubbed his throat. “A simple ‘be careful’—”
“We’re dealing with a necromancer,” Hunter said. “Reflexes that poor are not going to save you. From now until we apprehend the necromancer, you will not leave Century unless in the company of someone you know. Understood?”
Knowing he was being compelled did not enable Nate to resist at all. “Yes.”
“Good. Now, let’s get you back inside. You’re shivering.”