Here is your first look at the upcoming third novel in the Of Cinder and Bone series, Of Dawn and Embers!
Dragons have no darting tongues,
Teeth saw-edged, nor rattling scales;
No fire issues from their lungs,
No black poison from their tails:
For they are creatures of dark air,
Unsubstantial tossing forms,
Thunderclaps of man's despair
In mid-whirl of mental storms.
-"Mermaid Dragon Fiend" by Robert Graves
The sky was on fire.
Jack sipped his coffee and stared at the horizon above the line of trees surrounding the property. An explosion of reds, oranges, and pinks assaulted the heavens, made clearer by the lack of a city skyline or smog. It had been quite a while since he'd seen it. There was some small thing inside him that sighed contently at the sight as a wealth of childhood memories welled up. Stepping out into the crisp air, lacing up his boots, and getting ready for his morning chores. The way the grass and gravel crunched as he walked towards the barn. The cool air sweeping down through the forest and brushing his perpetually messy dark hair off his forehead. Clean living.
"Colder than I thought," Kamala murmured as she stepped out onto the porch and pulled the front door shut after the screen door swung closed. She had one sleeve in her coat already, so he put the coffee down on the railing and helped her into it.
"Yeah, most mornings here are," Jack said. "Even in the summer, it's kind of brisk before the sun wakes up."
She sipped her chamomile tea and settled next to him, her dark honey eyes scanning the sky as a flock of birds took flight nearby. She watched them wheeling about in perfect sync, some part of her envious of them. The wind picked up for a second, brushing her thick, glossy hair away from her neck and making her shiver slightly. They drank in silence for a time.
"That reminds me," Kamala said. "Why don't you have an accent?"
Jack arched an eyebrow. She grinned. "No, I mean it. Greenville, Georgia could definitely be considered the Deep South. I heard some of the locals when we stopped for dinner last night. You don't have a Southern drawl, Jack."
He cleared his throat. "I just never really picked it up. Mom's is pretty mild and she was the one who always read to me as a kid or helped me with my homework. Then by the time I was old enough to watch television and movies, the kind of things I liked didn't have many Southern characters in them."
He smiled faintly. "But if it makes you feel better, I can start dropping 'ain't' and 'y'all' into our conversations occasionally."
She snorted. "What's a y'all?"
"Short for 'you all.' It tends to get overused in movies that don't understand how Southerners act, but we do actually use it. Gone with the Wind really didn't do us any favors for accurate portrayals, but I guess it didn't bug my mom not to name me after Clark Gable's character."
Kamala shook her head. "I still don't understand why you detest your first name so much."
Jack sighed. "It's just...I don't know. You grow up with the name of a guy who some consider to be the quintessential Man's Man character, and I was a skinny little geek all through school. The literal opposite of the guy. Besides, with the benefit of hindsight, the character was pretty problematic and I don't like to invite the comparison."
He paused. "Though to be fair, I am problematic as hell. Just maybe not in the same way."
She watched him from beneath her thick eyelashes, her voice mild as honey. "I've seen worse."
Something in his chest stung. Jack leaned his arms on the railing, holding the mug between his hands to warm them. "Sorry."
"You've apologized a thousand times since it happened, you know."
"Only a thousand?" he said, chuckling bitterly. "I'm behind in my numbers."
Kamala watched him for another long moment and then reached out. She slipped her fingers into his hair and brushed them along his scalp, smoothing the messy locks away from his forehead. He shut his eyes and breathed in the scent of her daffodil perfume. She smelled like home to him.
The front door opened again. An older man roughly the same height and hair color as Jack stepped out, blinking in surprise as he pulled his Braves cap down over his forehead.
"Morning, you two,” Jack’s father, Richard Jackson, said. “You're up early."
Kamala faced him, smiling. "Rhett told me a sunrise down here isn't something to miss."
"He's right about that," Richard agreed. "I was just about to get started feeding the sheep. Care to join me?"
Jack turned and gave his father a look. "Really? You're gonna put your guests to work?"
"Guest," Richard corrected with a smirk. "I was talking to you, young man, not the lady."
Kamala giggled. "Actually, Mr. Jackson, that sounds lovely. I've always been curious about your profession and I'd love to see the process."
Richard nodded. "Be happy to show you. Rhett, since you're a guest, why don't you help your mother cook breakfast?"
"Will do. Play nice, Dad." Jack kissed Kamala's cheek and stepped back inside. Richard offered his arm and Kamala smiled wider as she took it and followed him across the yard.
Jack stepped into the foyer and shut the door. He walked around the corner through the den and the fluffy Maremma lying in front of the fireplace perked his head up and wagged his tail eagerly. A few years ago, D'artagnan would have raced to the door and mobbed his owner with doggy kisses, but he was coming up on fifteen years old. He was no less enthusiastic when Jack got in range of his affections. Jack chuckled and knelt for a moment, scratching the dog's ears and letting it lick his chin. "Calm down, old man, before you break a hip."
Dart barked happily and trailed after Jack as he headed into the kitchen.
Edith Jackson had her back to him as she stood over the island counter, carefully laying strips of bacon into a rectangular metal pan. Jack kissed her cheek and washed his hands, then walked over to the far counter, squatting as he grabbed a large silver pot. He filled it with water and set it on the stove, flicking the gas on to get it boiling. He grabbed the bag of grits from the pantry and sat it next to the stove, then set about finding a pan for the biscuits.
"Where's Kamala?" Edie asked.
"Went out to see the sheep with Dad," Jack replied, pulling the can of biscuits from the fridge. He eyed it warily as he peeled off the outer wrapping and gave the end a cautionary tap. It popped and he jumped a bit, sighing. "That scares the bejeezus out of me every time."
Edie smiled as she went to wash her hands. "Been doing that since you were a kid."
"Can you blame me?" he groused, peeling the dough away from the can. "It's too early in the morning for surprises like that."
He popped the biscuits in the oven. Edie nodded towards the grits. "Is all this going to be filling enough for her? I can make some hash browns too."
"No, she's not a big eater. She's got the cinnamon toast, the grits, the biscuits, and tea. She'll be good to go."
Edie's hazel eyes flashed playfully. "My son, in love with a vegetarian. What is the world coming to?"
"Trust me, it caught me off-guard too."
"You never told me how it went when you told her."
Jack blushed and rubbed the back of his neck. "Uh."
Edie pursed her lips. "Uh-oh. What? Did you pick an inopportune moment?"
He coughed slightly. "You could say that."
Edie shook her head and grabbed a Teflon pan. "My son, the lady killer."
"Hey, we can't all be as smooth as Clark Gable."
"Having good timing isn't the same as being smooth, kiddo. Was it at least a memorable time?"
Jack winced. "You could also say that."
Edie eyed her son. "You did it while you were in mortal peril, didn't you?"
Edie sighed. "Come help me cut the fruit, you hopeless case."
Roughly half an hour later, the four of them sat at the dining room table, their breakfast finished, the conversation light and pleasant as it had always been. Once it lapsed into a natural, comfortable silence, Kamala slipped her hand under the table and gently took Jack's hand, squeezing it. He took a deep breath to stabilize himself before he spoke.
"Thanks for breakfast, guys," Jack said. "And thanks for having us over and welcoming Kamala. I really want her to get to know you two."
"It's no trouble at all," Edie said. "She's absolutely wonderful and we adore having her around."
"Good," Jack said, smiling weakly. "Because we have some news for you."
Kamala also took a deep breath, willing her voice not to waver. "I'm pregnant."
Thick, suffocating, awkward silence fell.
"Holy hell," Richard whispered, his eyes wide. He ran his hand down his face and cupped his chin, glancing between them both in shock.
Edie didn't move for a moment or two. Then she crossed her arms and all emotion wiped itself from her features. "How many months?"
"Almost two," Kamala answered.
Edie flicked her unnervingly blank gaze over at Jack. "Then I take it this wasn't planned?"
"Let's call it a happy accident," Jack said.
"That's one word for it," Richard said, licking his lips. "Well, congratulations. But you both understand what a sucker-punch this is, right?"
Jack snorted. "How do you think we felt?"
"And what's your plan?" Edie asked quietly. "Are you going to get married? Are you going to move in together? Have you started saving for the hospital bills and day care and college?"
"Ma," Jack said, his tone soft. "Don't do this. We didn't come here to start a fight."
"You didn't come here to start a fight?" Edie repeated. She pushed up from the chair and Richard rose with her, murmuring her name and touching her arm. "First, you run off to Tokyo to steal your dragon back from the yakuza. Then you storm off into a haunted forest to bring back a dragon the size of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, nearly getting yourself killed in the process, as well as Kamala. Now you tell me you're about to bring a child into this world when you're unmarried and you've only been dating each other for barely over two months?"
She turned away for a moment, a bitter chuckle in her voice. "Exactly what response did you think you were going to get, Rhett? Please, I'm genuinely interested to know."
"Not far off from what I got," Jack said. "But I love you and Dad and you needed to know. What you do with the information is up to you. I can't stop you from being any angrier than you've already been since this all started."
"I'm not angry," Edie said sharply. "I'm disappointed. I never doubted that you would fall in love and start a family someday, but I didn't think you'd do it in the middle of the most chaotic part of your entire life. There are people out there looking for you, for both of you, who want to hurt you. Now you're bringing my grandchild into that equation."
"Edie," Richard said. "They didn't come here so you could be their judge and jury. You know as well as I do that they're not taking this lightly. Rhett's not a little boy anymore. The best we can do is stand by him."
"Stand by him, huh?" Edie spat. "That's the tune you're playing now, is it, Rick? Like you didn't break my son's arm and lie to my face about it for ten damned years."
Richard clenched his jaw. "Yeah, I did that. I can't take it back. I'm an ass and a shitty father for making him lie to you too. All I can do is try to make up for it by supporting these two when they need me. They need us, Edie. That's the only way we all get through this. Together."
"Yeah," she said. "Because you know what's best for our family."
Edie turned and walked out, the screen porch door slamming shut behind her.
Release date: July 20, 2019
Kyoko M is the Amazon bestselling author of The Black Parade and the Of Cinder and Bone series.