Great news! The pre order for the fourth novel in the Of Cinder and Bone series, Of Fury and Fangs, is now available. In celebration, here's an exclusive excerpt from the first chapter.
ATOM BOMB BABY
It was one-thirty a.m. when all hell broke loose.
The security alarm shrieked, its panicked cries high and deafening, and nearly catapulted Dr. Rhett "Jack" Jackson off of his comfortable couch where he'd been sprawled in an exhausted, impromptu slumber. Jack let out a startled yip of surprise and leapt to his feet on impulse, blinking hard to clear the sleep from his brown eyes. He winced as the screaming alarm jabbed at his eardrums and hurried over to the alarm pad against the wall not far from the front door. He punched in a code and the alarm fell into blessed silence. He sighed in relief and then swiped to another screen to see what had caused the disturbance.
The security alarm, unfortunately, was a bit overdramatic. Over the past year, Jack had gotten used to it crying wolf every so often due to the system's oversensitivity. Once, it had gone off when his daughter Naila had slapped both palms against the downstairs window facing the backyard. Another time when their German shepherd Brunhilde had been teaching herself to open the sliding door. Its first two weeks of installation had been a nightmare as well, since it often went off and its occupants couldn't even identify the source of the problem. By now, Jack had a lot of reservations about it, and had been considering switching to a new system.
He rubbed his eyes with his palms before he read the alert aloud in a gravelly, sleep-deprived voice. "Upstairs master bedroom. My ass, it's the bedroom window. Unless it's the damn Easter Bunny, I'm going back to sleep."
Jack took two steps towards the couch and then heard his daughter's distressed wails, wincing. "Oh, right. The munchkin."
He instead turned and headed for the stairs, yawning and scratching his messy brown hair, calling out, "Hang on, chubby monkey, Daddy's coming."
Jack reached the top of the stairs.
And stopped dead.
There was a dragon standing in the darkened hallway.
At first, Jack swore he was still asleep. He had to be. He couldn't possibly be seeing correctly.
And yet the icy fear slipping down his spine said differently.
The dragon stood at roughly five feet tall once its head rose upon sighting Jack at the other end of the hallway. It was lean and had dirty brown scales with an off-white belly. Its black, hooked claws kneaded the carpet as its yellow eyes stared out at Jack, its pupils dilating to drink him in from head to toe. Its wings rustled along its back on either side of the sharp spines protruding down its body to the thin, whip-like tail. A single horn glinted sharp and deadly under the small, motion-activated hallway light.
The only thing more noticeable than that were the many long, jagged scars scored across the creature's stomach, limbs, and neck. It had been hunted recently. Judging from the depth and extent of the scars, it had certainly killed a hunter or two to have survived with so many marks.
"Okay," Jack whispered hoarsely. "Five bucks says you're not the Easter Bunny."
The dragon's nostrils flared. It adjusted its body, feet apart, lips sliding away from sharp, gleaming white teeth in a warning hiss. Mercifully, Naila had quieted and no longer drew the creature’s attention. Jack swallowed hard and held out one hand, bending slightly so his six-foot-two-inch frame was less threatening. "Look at me, buddy. Just keep looking at me. It's alright. I'm not going to hurt you. Why don't you just come this way, huh?"
He took a single step down and the creature crept forward towards him, hissing louder. "That's right. This way. Come on."
Jack eased backwards one stair at a time. The dragon let out a warning bark and followed him, its saliva leaving damp patches on the cream-colored carpet. Along the way, Jack had slipped his phone out of his pocket and dialed 9-1-1, hoping he had just enough seconds left in the reptile's waning patience.
"9-1-1, what's your emergency?"
"Listen to me carefully," Jack said, not letting his eyes stray from the dragon as he fumbled behind him for the handle to the sliding glass door. He then quickly gave her his address before continuing. "There is an Appalachian forest dragon in my house. Get someone over here as fast as you can."
"We're contacting a retrieval team now, sir. Please stay calm and try not to make any loud noises or sudden movements--"
Jack had one barefoot on the cool stone of his patio when his daughter Naila cried for him again.
The dragon's head turned towards the direction of upstairs.
Jack dropped his cell phone, grabbed a patio chair, and slammed it down on top of the dragon's head as hard as he could.
Whumpf! The blow flattened the forest dragon onto its belly. Jack hit it a second time, but the wooden chair fractured in half. The forest dragon charged him. He managed to dodge to one side, avoiding its deadly horn, but the creature slammed into him with its full weight. He cried out as it sent him flying across the grass and landed hard in a heap several feet away.
He managed to roll to one side as it swiped at him with its claws, tearing chunks out of the soil where his head had been, and leapt to his feet again. The dragon whirled and snapped its tail at his head, but he ducked and rolled again, landing in the rose bushes. He heard a metallic scrape and felt around under the plant. A small shovel had been left from Kamala's recent gardening. He scooped it up and threw himself into a dive roll as the dragon barreled forward again, snapping its jaws at his head.
Jack lunged onto the dragon's back, wrapping one bicep around its neck to hold on, and jabbed the shovel into the creature's eye. It shrieked in pain. He aimed for the other one, but the dragon flapped its wings, sending them twenty feet into the air, and then it slammed them both into the ground with Jack underneath it.
Jack cried out as its spines gouged his chest. His back, right leg, and right shoulder screamed with pain under the wriggling reptile. The dragon shoved itself onto its feet and tried to chomp into his neck, but he shoved his forearm in the way. The dragon worried him like a dog with a bone, but he aimed a kick at its tender belly that sent it sprawling eight feet away. Jack felt hot blood sliding down his arm, coating his fingers, but he didn't stop to feel the pain; just struggled to his feet again once the dragon righted itself. He held the small shovel in front of him like a small combat knife and narrowed his eyes, panting with exertion.
"You're not going back in my goddamn house," Jack growled. "Over my dead body."
The dragon snorted, as if it understood him somehow.
Then it leapt into the air and flew onto the roof.
Jack froze in disbelief, and then raced back into the house as fast as he could.
He slammed one shoulder into the door to the baby's room, forcing it open so hard the dresser beside it shuddered. His one-year-old daughter, Naila, immediately pushed to her wobbly little feet and grasped her fingers in the direction of her father, tears tumbling down her cheeks. Jack practically flew over to the baby and scooped her out of the crib, tucking her against his uninjured shoulder.
"Hey, shh, it's okay, pumpkin," he whispered, kissing her forehead and dark brown curls. "Daddy's got you. It's okay."
The window across from him shattered as the forest dragon smashed through it and landed in the middle of the baby's room.
Naila let out a hysterical cry and buried her face in her father's neck, screaming, "Dada!"
Jack grabbed one side of her playpen and roared, hurling it at the dragon. It slammed into the creature's side and pinned it against the closet for a few precious seconds.
And seconds were all Jack needed.
He raced down the stairs, grabbed his keys from the dish, and darted into the garage. He shut the door behind him and ripped open the door to Kamala's powder blue Volkswagen Beetle. Blood-soaked hands shaking, he strapped Naila into her car seat and climbed into the car just as the forest dragon rammed the door between them and the house. Jack hammered the garage door button, shouting, "Come on, come on!" in pure frustration as it slowly groaned to life and lifted from the ground.
The door splintered apart. The dragon came tearing at them again, rocking the car as it threw itself against one side. Jack didn't wait for it to get its second wind. He stomped on the gas and the car shot out of the garage, its roof scraping the door on the way, and down the driveway. The tires squealed as Jack made a sharp right onto the street and peeled out.
He glanced in the rearview mirror, expecting to see the dragon give chase, but there it stood in the street. The dragon threw its head back and an eerie, almost alien howl of rage filled the cold night air, raising the hairs on Jack's arms. Its yellow eyes burned into his retinas. He would see them in his nightmares for the rest of his life.
Then, the dragon flapped its wings and darted towards the house next door.
Jack's blood ran dry. "Oh, God. Marci and Tim. The girls."
He'd known his neighbors since before he and Kamala had rented the house. They were both high school teachers, and had happily babysat Naila since the one-year-old got along swimmingly with their six and eight-year-old daughters. If anything happened to them...
Jack gritted his teeth as his daughter's cries brought him back to reality. He had to stay with her. She was so scared and helpless. She was his whole world. He'd bled and fought for her every step of the way.
But he knew exactly what that forest dragon was capable of.
Marci and Tim's family would never stand a chance.
Jack shut his eyes for a second. "God forgive me."
He stomped on the brakes in front of a pretty yellow house on the next street. He got out and picked Naila up again, then ran to the front door. He pounded on it frantically and rang the doorbell until the door opened on a worried black couple in their fifties.
"Felicia, I'm so sorry about this, but there's an emergency," Jack said to the woman. "I need you to watch Naila. I'll be right back."
Jack kissed Naila's forehead. "I love you, baby girl."
He raced back to the car and then gunned it back towards Marci and Tim's house.
When he pulled into their driveway, it was just as he feared.
The front door hung off one of its hinges and had deep furrows in the wood. He shut off the Beetle and hauled open the trunk. There was a large black case inside. He popped it open and retrieved a weapon roughly the same size and dimensions as a small grenade launcher, and strapped it onto his back.
Then he ran for the house as fast as his legs could carry him.
"Marci! Tim!" he bellowed once he made it into the foyer.
"We're in the girls' bedroom," Marci's shaken, high-pitched voice echoed back. "Hurry!"
"Dammit!" Jack took the stairs two at a time. He could hear Tim's grunts of pain and the thud of a struggle. He rounded the corner to see the teacher swatting at the dragon with his daughter's aluminum baseball bat, and the dragon just barely stayed out of its reach. Tim had cuts on both forearms and across his forehead, and Marci had the kids in her arms, shielding them in the corner. The dragon stood between them and the door, with its back to Jack.
Exactly what he needed.
"Hey!" he barked.
The forest dragon whirled to face him instead.
Jack shot the launcher at it.
A huge diamond-wire net wrapped around the reptile and instantly tightened on contact. It hit the floor with a heavy thud that shook the picture frames off the walls and made the little girls scream. The dragon thrashed, but its limbs and wings were pinned inside the net, and it couldn't do more than just flop to and fro. Finally, it went still on its belly, and its yellow eyes fixed upon Jack with a look of pure murder, its tail lashing back and forth.
Jack lowered the launcher and hurried over to Tim. "Hey, you okay?"
Tim shuddered and lowered the baseball bat. "No. You?"
"No," Jack said, giving him a wobbly smile. "Still alive, though."
He offered his hand to Marci. She accepted it and stood, handing one daughter to Tim and holding the other as she cried, and together they carried them safely out of the room.
By now, sirens whooped hysterically and headed in their direction. Jack and Tim stood at the demolished front door and watched the blue-and-red lights creep closer.
"What the hell happened tonight, Jack?" Tim asked quietly, stroking his daughter's curly hair to sooth her as she sobbed into his bloody shirt.
Jack shook his head. "I don't know, man. But I'm sure as hell gonna find out."
Kyoko M is the Amazon bestselling author of The Black Parade and the Of Cinder and Bone series.