Okay, gang. I promised a cover reveal for my first novel, THE FOURTH CHANNEL, and I’m going to deliver. The novel is very close to being finished. All that’s really left to do is wrap up the edits and let you read it.
I’m nervous and excited. I mean, you all know how nervous I get just posting “Ridiculous Fan Fiction” on my site, and that isn’t serious. The novel’s a whole different ball of wax. So, yeah. I’m nervous. Over the last year, I’ve worked hard at creating a “platform” with blogging and social media. I’ve met so many of you who enjoy my goofy articles. It’s because of you and your amazing feedback that I keep writing and thinking of more ways that I can entertain, not just you, but me, too.
But the book release is the moment of truth: are you going to like my novel?
God, I hope so.
And there’s the cover. Pretty damn awesome, right? Many thanks to Amber Shah, who designed it.
As I said before, the story is Anita Blake meets Stephanie Plum with crazy talking sacrificial knives. Hit the jump for the entire first chapter. Please enjoy.
THE FOURTH CHANNEL – CHAPTER ONE
My birthday wish is the same every year: I want to live to see my next one. As I stared down the single candle stuck cockeyed in a chocolate frosted cupcake, I wished it again. The fact that I had survived to see my 30th birthday was an amazing feat, considering I was the first of my kind to do it in 400 years.
Of course, I wasn’t planning on having a horrible, bloody death anytime soon. I deserve to live because I make a conscious effort to be a good person every single day: I donate money to save endangered animals. I recycle religiously. I even adhere to a strict “no killing” policy. And anyone I stab gets a bandage and a lollipop. The last two rules are not popular in my house, but that’s just tough.
My cousin’s voice broke through my thoughts. “Kari, are you going to stare at that candle or blow it out?”
I looked up at the three men standing around my kitchen counter and observed the impromptu birthday celebration they had created for me. I had to admit, my bandmates were terrific. We really didn’t have time to celebrate but they insisted on squeezing it into the schedule. That’s why we were standing around my kitchen wearing our evening best.
My cousin, Brad, was standing to my right. Our blood ties weren’t obvious, but he was the closest thing I had to a brother. He was a younger version of his dad, tall and muscular with a body sculpted by diligent workouts and an expensive personal trainer. He was wearing new designer jeans and a snug light blue t-shirt, chosen explicitly to bring out the color in his eyes. He had been born a first channel magic user, and my family made sure he had started training his craft as soon as he could speak. Since he was always with me, Brad was one of my first lines of defense against an attack.
Standing across from me was Nicolas. He was rail-thin but muscular, with spiked hair that had been newly dyed black. I could still smell the dye. Nicolas was a second channel magic user and, despite being human, was fairly adept. Even my grandfather had said so. To date, Nicolas was the only person outside of my family who knew what I was.
To my left was Ryan, a short, stocky guy with coarse brown hair and deep set brown eyes. His beard had been expertly trimmed, probably by a professional, forming a thin band that wrapped around his chin from one ear to the other. His navy blue satin shirt had a few buttons undone, revealing a smooth, pale chest that was a little too pink. I would bet he had it waxed right before he got here. Though he and Brad had been best friends since college, we’ve never told him my secret. He wasn’t a magic user, so hiding it wasn’t hard at first. But over time, it was harder to make excuses for my idiosyncrasies – staying clothed from head to toe, even during the blistering summer season, and being overly sensitive about physical contact. Most people had dismissed it as a diva attitude, but it was so much more. It was part of my survival.
“Sorry,” I said, “I got lost in thought.”
Ryan smirked. “Yeah, we’re worried about the impacts of you becoming an old lady, too.”
I swatted his arm playfully, then bent down and cupped my hand behind the candle, making sure the wax didn’t land on my granite counter. I made my wish and blew. The flame went out with a trail of gray smoke.
The guys cheered and I reached for the candle. Ryan reached at the same time and our hands touched. Damn! It happened so fast that I couldn’t avoid contact. I jerked my hand back, but it was too late; Ryan had touched my skin. Again. Brad and Nicolas fell silent.
Oblivious, Ryan laughed. “Whenever I touch you, I get the weirdest electric shock. Sometimes I even see lights out of the corners of my eyes.”
I winced inwardly.
Nicolas said, “It’s that huge mane of hair on her head. Collects a bunch of static.”
Ryan tipped his head back and laughed. Brad gave me another look, then subtly nodded in Ryan’s direction. It was time.
I sucked in a deep breath and said, “Ryan, there’s something we need to tell you.”
“About your hair?”
“Kind of.” The reason I had such absurdly long hair was so I could use it to cover any exposed skin. It didn’t always help, but I liked to pretend it did. I took a step toward the hall and beckoned him to follow. “It might be easier if you come with me.”
Brad and Ryan started to follow. Nicolas grabbed the cupcake from the counter.
I stopped in my tracks and pointed at the cupcake. “Isn’t that mine?”
“You can’t eat it,” he retorted. “We have a live TV performance in a few days and the camera adds 40 pounds.”
“It doesn’t add 40 pounds.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “Are you saying I’m fat?”
“No, but cameras add girth so you can’t eat it.”
“If I can’t eat it, why did you buy it?” I demanded.
Nicolas peeled back one side of the paper wrapper and smiled wickedly. “For me.”
“Then do it here where you won’t get crumbs all over my floor. There’s no food allowed in the lab.”
He waltzed toward the doors. “I’ll be down in five minutes.”
Brad apparently changed his mind, too, because he walked back into the kitchen and fished out a fork from my cutlery drawer. “Me, too.”
Ryan frowned. “What room is your lab? Did I miss something?”
I shook my head and smiled sadly. “I’m going to show you.”
He followed me into the wide, wood-paneled hallway. The panels were walnut, cut vertically to conceal my elevator door. We passed by it without a second glance. The hallway branched off to the left, but we kept going straight, down to the family room at the end. The room was dark and cozy. Bookshelves lined three walls and a brown sectional sofa dominated the fourth. A black baby grand piano sat in the corner, near the doors to the back patio doors.
I walked to the second bookcase on the left wall and reached up for a book that had been a gag gift from my godfather, a hardbound copy of “My Life with Liberace”. I tipped it on its bottom corner and heard a click within the wall. The bookcase to my right slowly swung open, revealing a wooden staircase leading down.
Ryan stared into the empty doorway. “How long has this been here?”
“Since I bought the house.”
I started down the stairs, slowly and carefully, listening to Ryan following behind.
“Why haven’t I seen this before?” he asked.
“No one’s allowed in my basement without supervision.”
We fell silent again and walked down the concrete hall toward a closed white door at the end. We passed other doors along the way: a storage room, a bathroom, and an old elevator. Each step felt heavier than the last.
As we passed the laundry room, Ryan laughed. I suspected he was trying to break the tension.
“Better be careful in those stockings,” he said. “If you rip them, you’re going to be in trouble.”
I glanced down at myself through a long cascade of chestnut hair and inspected my legs. The black silk stockings I had on seemed to be intact, despite my being shoeless. When I walked, the garter ribbons peeked out ever so slightly.
Dressing me was always a problem because I was supposed to wear something sexy yet I had to keep my skin covered. My assistant and I had come to a truce with silk stockings and mini dresses that showed a peek of lacy garters. Though the attire has become my signature look, I honestly couldn’t care less what I wore. As long as no one touched my skin I was safe.
I realized I hadn’t responded to his comment when Ryan said, “Kari, we’ve known each other for ten years. Whatever you have to tell me won’t be a surprise.”
I actually wasn’t worried about it being a surprise – I was worried about the anger upon learning that most of my life had been a carefully crafted lie. I was afraid that he would fear me. I was afraid that he would hate me.
Most of all, I was afraid that he would repeat my secret.
Brad had assured me that none of this would happen. I was still the same person with or without my secret.
We reached the white door. The key to unlock the deadbolt was ready in my hand.
“A deadbolt on a basement door?” Ryan asked. “That’s weird.”
I didn’t elaborate. He’d know why soon enough.
I unlocked the door and stepped inside the room. I flipped on the switch.
Bright light flooded the room and reflected off of the stark white surfaces of the room, nearly blinding me. Three of the walls were white, as were the linoleum and drop ceiling. The right wall was lined with white kitchen drawers and a countertop, with additional white cabinets mounted above. Near the left wall there was a white table with chrome legs and four black leather stools. The back wall was an anomaly, covered with square steel panels each measuring three feet by three feet. In each corner of the room were thin, black posts, embossed with a tangle of wicked runes. The posts hummed with an obscene amount of power.
“You can come in,” I said.
As soon as he walked past the boundary of the four black posts, a buzzing went straight to the front of my brain. The buzzing formed mentally projected words that only I could hear.
Who is that? Fresh meat? Stab him before he gets away!
I walked over to the cabinets, reached down toward the source of the voice, and gave the drawer a good whack.
The voice shut up – for now.
I turned around. Ryan was standing in the left corner, tracing a post’s embossed runes while his curious gaze wandered over the rest of the room. I leaned against the drawer that I had just smacked, in case he had an overwhelming urge to open it and pick up what was inside.
“What is this room?” he asked.
“I’ll tell you everything as soon as Brad and Nicolas get down here.”
There’s more? It’s raining sacrifices!
I gave the drawer another whack. Ryan’s brows furrowed at me. I smiled politely, as if I usually went around hitting inanimate objects for no reason.
I heard heavy footsteps clomping down the long, wooden staircase at the far end of the hall. Ryan and I said nothing more. Brad was first, followed by Nicolas, who plopped down onto a stool and propped his feet up on the table. He looked at Ryan, then at me, and then raised his eyebrows expectantly.
Ryan looked at me and folded his arms across his chest. “Let me guess what this is about. You’re sick of the bad press the band has had over the last two years, and you’re leaving to go solo.”
I blinked. “What? No!”
Brad said, “It’s not about that, Ryan. Before we begin, I want you to know that the reason we haven’t told you was for your own safety. The less you knew, the better.”
Ryan’s frowned. “Why does Nicolas know and not me?”
Nicolas said, “Because I’m a magic user.” He flashed his cocky, know-it-all smile. “Second channel. I would have figured it out.”
Brad nodded. “Yeah, it was better that we told him up front.”
Ryan shrugged as if he didn’t care, but I could tell he did.
Brad said, “We’ve been together for ten years and it’s getting harder to keep it from you. It’s about time you knew, as long as you can guard this secret with your life.”
He wasn’t kidding. The secret could very well cost him his life.
“Okay,” Ryan said. “So what is it?”
Brad and Nicolas looked at me. Ryan’s eyebrows lifted expectantly. I took a deep breath and braced myself for his reaction.
“Ryan, I’m a necromancer.”
No one said a word. Ryan’s eyes flicked to each of our faces, apparently checking to see if this were some sort of joke. His gaze returned to mine.
“You’re a necromancer,” he repeated.
The corners of his mouth perked up into a polite smile. He looked around the room at each of us again. No one moved. No one even flinched. My heart was pounding in my chest.
Ryan’s serious expression dissolved into laughter. He shook so hard that he fell back against the wall and clapped one hand over his face. Two mirthful tears even escaped between his fingers and rolled down his cheek.
This wasn’t one of the reactions I expected. Where was the fear? Where was the trembling? I was a danger to the general public, dammit!
He stood up and placed one hand over his stomach. His face was red from laughter. “I thought today was your birthday, not April Fools’ Day.”
“It is!” I said.
“April Fools’ Day?”
“My birthday!” I glared. “And this is serious!”
His laughter subsided a little and his head cocked apologetically to one side. “Kari, you’re the least violent person I know. In college, you protested when they tried cutting down some dumb old tree. You’re manic about recycling and saving the planet.” He was having a difficult time keeping a straight face. “There’s even a fund in your name to save endangered sea turtles. And now you’re telling me you’re a bloodthirsty necromancer?”
“I am not bloodthirsty!” I felt my face flush. “And the tree was very, very old!”
“Right.” He turned to my cousin for help. “Come on, guys. The joke’s over.”
Brad casually stuffed both hands in his pockets. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.”
Nicolas nodded in agreement.
The room fell silent. The only thing I could hear was more excited, telepathic shouting coming from the drawer. I was glad I was the only one who could hear it. A few tense seconds passed and Ryan grinned.
“You guys are too much. Give it a rest already.”
Nicolas pushed out a nearby stool and gestured to it. “Why don’t we sit down and start from the beginning.”
Ryan smiled at me. “Grab a seat, Killer.”
My mouth fell open. I wasn’t sure what to do. I had been prepared to convince him I was harmless, not the other way around. “I’ll prove it!”
I whirled around and opened the drawer. A thick cloud of black smoke littered with tiny glittering particles wafted into the room. I waved away the smoke until I could see inside the drawer. At the bottom were three boxes of bandages, a bag of lollipops, and a short, black knife.
The knife had a soft, leathery handle that fit my grip perfectly. Its glossy onyx blade was short and thick with a razor sharp edge that could easily slice through sinew and bone. Along both sides of the dagger were engraved tangles of wicked-looking runes, similar to the ones on the posts, and the more it shouted into my head, the more black smoke wafted from it, puffing like a tiny chimney.
I grabbed the knife. Static ran over my skin, causing every hair on my body to stand on end, The smoke spiraled up my arm as if I were a natural extension of the weapon. I turned and retreated to the far side of the room and tried to look as menacing as possible. Not an easy feat in a cocktail dress.
“I could kill you from here,” I warned.
Ryan howled in laughter. Even Brad and Nicolas were having a hard time keeping straight faces.
Ryan’s gaze fell to my thin, noodle-like arms. He turned to Brad and Nicolas. “Come on, guys.”
Okay, my knife skills and my aim were unbeatable, but I was a big wimp. I hated exercise and, as a result, usually had to throw my body weight against heavy metal doors to open them.
I walked forward until I was standing in the middle of the room and stopped. I was about six feet away from Ryan. I guessed I could throw the knife that far. It probably wouldn’t be forceful enough stick in him, but I could manage the distance.
Ryan waggled his fingers, beckoning me closer. “A little more.”
“You still don’t believe?”
“That you’re a skilled killer who trades human souls for pure power? The rarest and most powerful of all magical talents?” He smiled. “That’s not you, Kari. That’s anyone but you. The knife is a neat trick, though. How do you get it to smoke like that?”
The knife in my hand sensed my frustration and started yelling louder in my head.
Stab him in the gluteus medius! Poke him in the flexor carpi ulnaris! Stick him, uh, anywhere!
Ryan started laughing hard again. Between him and the knife, I was developing a sizable headache.
Brad knocked on the table, demanding our attention. “Sit down, Ryan. Things are going to change now that you know.”
Ryan rolled his eyes.
“This is a big deal,” I said. “The only other person I’ve told is Nicolas.”
Ryan turned to Nicolas and lifted an eyebrow. “You really believed her?”
I wasn’t sure what look I was giving Ryan, but it made him laugh harder.
That was it. I had had enough. Besides, we didn’t have time to argue — we had a publicity party to get to. I took a half step forward and stretched my free hand toward Ryan. I felt a faint tug in my palm. A black cloud burst around me, swirling like a torrent.
Ryan’s smile faltered.
Brad’s head snapped in my direction. “Wait!”
With the slightest gesture of my fingers, I sent Ryan’s soul away from his body. A shadow slid over his physical shell like a tube. A golden cord sprouted from his chest, wound down around his body, and disappeared into the linoleum. I waited a few seconds; when the cord at his chest flared brightly I knew it was done. Ryan’s soul was on the plane of the dead.
You should have gone with my incredible stabbing plan.
Brad ran a hand through his short, blond hair, causing every strand to stand on end. “I thought we said we weren’t going to do that.”
I returned the knife to the drawer and said, “I’m sorry. He didn’t believe me.”
Nicolas snorted and pointed at Ryan’s shrouded, frozen form. “He definitely believes you now.”
So there you have it, the first chapter of THE FOURTH CHANNEL. Hope you enjoyed it. I’ll let you know as soon as the book is available.