He hasn't met a monster yet that could give him a scare. With ice in his veins, silver hollow-points in his chambers, and an innate ability to rise from the dead, what's to fear? The answer may be something he doesn't want to face. . .
Deacon Chalk normally has no trouble telling innocent victims from real monsters. So protecting an abused pregnant were-dog is a no-brainer. . .until a vicious lycanthrope leader and his brotherhood target Deacon, other shape-shifters, and any humans in their way. Suddenly, Deacon is outnumbered, outgunned, and unsure who--or what--to trust. The only edge he has left is a weapon hungry for his soul and his most savage impulses. And using it will exact a price even this hell-raising hunter fears to pay. . .
Praise for Blood and Bullets
"Deacon Chalk kicks monster ass!" --Faith Hunter, author of Raven Cursed
"James R. Tuck's debut novel delivers a fast-paced, action-filled story that kicks off his new series with a bang. If Dirty Harry and Anita Blake had a love child, he would be Deacon Chalk." --Jenna Maclaine, author of Bound by Sin
Don't Miss Deacon Chalk's Debut! Blood And Bullets
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August 07, 2012
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Excerpt from Blood and Silver by James R Tuck
Good days don't last. Not for me they don't. Not for the last five years. Since the deaths of my family, good days are like pet rattlesnakes. I may not know when they will bite, but I damn sure ought to know that they will. Suddenly and sharply. With great venom and without mercy. But I was having a good day. Scratch that, I was having a great day. My friend Tiff had dragged me downtown to a little carnival that had set up in a parking lot. It took some persuasion on her part; after all, I am a big badass occult bounty hunter. We had ridden rides and filled our bellies with greasy carnival food, laughing in the sunshine and making fools of ourselves. We were surrounded by normal humans, families enjoying themselves. There were no monsters. No bloodshed. So far the only thing that had threatened my life was a rickety Tilt-A-Whirl and some sketchy-looking hot dogs.
And I'd had a good time. Leaving the carnival, I was happy to simply walk down the street, the warm sun on my back, and a good-looking woman at my side.
I was at peace with God, nature, and my fellow man.
And I should have known some asshole was going to come along and screw it up.
"Are you working tonight?"
My eyes cut over to the small brunette walking beside me. Well, I say brunette, her hair was dyed black and had bubblegum pink cut through it in streaks. Tiff matched me stride for stride, even though at 5'2" she was more than a foot shorter than me. The quick pace flipped her short skirt back and forth, flashing a nice length of leg from hem to calf-high boots.
"Nothing's on the books, but you know that doesn't mean anything." I stepped close to her as we walked. "Don't you have to work the club tonight?"
"Nope, I got Kat to cover so that I'm free." She moved close and her arm slid around my waist. Fingernails painted to match her hair lightly scratched through my T-shirt. A pleasant shiver chased up my spine. Her arm rested above the snub-nosed .44 revolver she knew was at the small of my back. I had a lightweight button-up shirt over it and the big .45 semiautomatic that hung under my arm.
"Maybe we could do Indian food tonight then." Her free hand rubbed her stomach. "I don't know how you can think of food right now. I am completely stuffed."
"I always think about food when I'm not working." I was comfortable walking beside Tiff. Spring was in the air. Warm but not oppressive, like the South gets in the middle months of the year.
Things had been quiet for a bit, which is why there was time to do things like go to the carnival. Normally I am eyebrow deep in monsters. Work had been pretty tame since last year when I had gone up against Appollonia, an insane hell-bitch of a vampire who had gotten hold of the Spear of Destiny. Of course, that job had nearly killed me, but I was still standing at the end of it.
I had survived and managed to kill off a good part of the vampire population in the Southeast. All in all, not a bad day at the office. That was also the time I had first gotten to know Tiff. The break in action had given me a chance to get to know her better and we had grown pretty close.
We were not dating. I wasn't ready for that. She understood. Hell, she had to. She knew about my family, about what had happened to them. How I had lost them five years ago at the hands of a Nephilim serial killer named Slaine. I hunted him down and found that monsters are real. I found that every nightmare you ever had, every story you ever heard that made you lie awake at night and sweat even though you were cold with fear, every damned thing in the dark that made your heart skip a beat . . . it's all real. My thirst for revenge was so great I hunted Slaine anyway, monsters be damned. I chased him even after learning what a Nephilim is.
Nephilim are the offspring ofAngels and humans. While tracking Slaine, I came across an Angel. Yes, an honest-to-God Angel of the Lord. Slaine's people were raping her, trying to impregnate her and make more Nephilim, filming it to sell as Angel porn. I killed those sons of bitches and set her free.
After that, I found the bastard who killed my family. Being just human, I was outmatched. He killed me.
When I died, the Angel showed up to return the rescue. She infused me with her blood, or whatever Angels have that passes for blood. It brought me back . . . Made me more than human.
I am faster, stronger, and tougher than normal. I heal fast, not like a superhero, but a lot faster than humans. Although it all still hurts like a bitch until I do. I can see almost perfectly in the dark, and I can sense supernatural crap. I killed that evil son of a bitch, and I have been
killing every evil son of a bitch I can find ever since.
Oh yeah, I'm Deacon Chalk, Occult Bounty Hunter.
I hunt monsters for a living.
To this day, the deaths of my family sit like stones where my heart was. Sometimes the pain of their memory is crippling. It breaks my bones and grinds my soul. It crushes me. All I want to do is go be where they are. I can't buy that ticket myself, that's a mortal sin according to the Pope. Kill yourself and go straight to hell. Do not pass Go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. So I move on and I keep hunting, waiting for the day I run up on something monster enough to take me out, to send me on my way to be with them. To give me the peace that was ripped away from me with their deaths.
The loss of my family is why I strap up and hunt. I carry the pain and rage of their loss every day. It's always there. Always waiting to crawl from the shadows. Always looking to explode and shatter into shards that cut and tear. I miss them every day.
And there hadn't been anyone since my wife died.
She came along last year in the middle of that shit-storm with Appollonia and the crazy bitch's plan to enslave humanity. Once that was settled, Tiff stayed and made a place in my messed-up life. Somehow, she found a way to make her intentions clear and yet not put any pressure on the situation at all. She knew about my family and what had happened to them. Not the full story, because I still can't talk about it. It's too painful, too sharp. Even without knowing, Tiff still understood. And that was enough for now.
So understand that I was happy when we walked toward the parking lot to leave. All was good and right in this shitty old world, better than it had been in years.
Until we turned the corner and came across a man beating a dog. The man was large. Dark chocolate skin bulged, thick with muscle. Not quite as big as I am, but a big son of a bitch nonetheless. Fat dreads hung around his head like dirty snakes. They shook as his arm rose and fell and rose again. One hand snarled around a heavy chain connected to a wide leather collar around the dog's neck. The rest of the chain flailed from his other hand, thud?ding against the dog's sides and haunches.
The dog was curled into a ball, trying to be as small as possible, hiding from the chain as much as it could. Pitiful whimpers mewled with each blow. Blood-slicked shaggy fur picked up dirt and debris from the gravel lot they were in, sticking in layers of brown and gray grit. It was so covered in blood and dirt I couldn't tell what kind of dog it was. The man stopped beating the dog but was still holding the chain. I could hear his breathing from across the lot, bellowing in and out, short from exertion.
Tiff drew to a stop beside me as I went still. She took a small step away, giving me room to move. Her arm was still behind me and I could feel her hand on the grip of the .44 at my lower back. She had her own in her bag, a CZ-75 9mm, but mine was closer to her hand. She was following the training I had been giving her over the past few months.
The keys to my car were already in my hand since we were close to the parking lot. I handed them off to her. Tilting my head, I spoke from the side of my mouth without taking my eyes off the scene in front of me. "Get the car. Pull it back here and stay in it. Keep the motor running and be ready to go."
I caught her nod from the corner of my eye as she took the keys and moved away. I looked around the lot before I moved. It was at the end of a building on the corner of two streets. The back of the building was a brick wall. Some artist had painted a mural of a girl with a butterfly on her outstretched palm. It was pretty well done. The street side of the lot had a chain-link fence clogged with kudzu that was trying to take over, using the fence as a trellis. Kudzu will grow anywhere. It's like a disease here in the South. Give it a crack in the asphalt to plant itself and it will latch on, getting bigger as each day passes, growing and spreading in little increments like vegetable Ebola. A row of cars lined the fence, leaning on their wheels.
I looked back. No one was coming down the sidewalk. There were a lot of people at the carnival, but they were all far enough away that they looked tiny and indistinct. The coast was fairly clear as long as this stayed quiet.
I took a step, walking toward the man. I rolled my shoulders to loosen them, and flexed my hands open and closed to warm them up. Adrenaline coursed through my arteries, making my heart beat harder. Not faster, the rate stayed the same, but each beat thudded inside my ribcage like a bat to a bell. Each beat slammed an echo inside me and anger rose, pushing more blood through my veins.
People who abuse animals are cowards, especially ones who hurt dogs. Dogs are God's way of showing He still loves us. They only exist to be devoted to us. So when some jackass has to abuse a dog to make himself feel better, it really, really pisses me off.
I am not someone you want pissed off at you. My whistle cut across the lot, making the guy jerk his head up. Deep amber eyes flashed out under a thick brow.
The scowl he gave wrinkled a wide nose and curled his lips into a snarl. His voice rumbled from a deep chest. "Go away, redneck. This is none of your concern."
"When I go away, I will be taking that animal with me, asshole." I stopped just a few feet from him, finger pointed toward his face. "Walk away now and save me the trouble of kicking the shit out of you before I do."
The man dropped the chain on top of the dog with a run of clinks and a thud. The dog didn't move or run away, just lay shaking as the chain slithered off its huddled form. Turning to face me fully, the man flexed his fingers against each other. The knuckles popped loudly. A shudder ran through him. His chest and shoulder muscles compressed under his black T-shirt, tensing for a fight. He raised his face up to look at me. The bones underneath his skin shifted.
It was subtle, but I saw it. The bones thickened and slipped just ever so slightly, squaring up his skull and widening his mandible. A warm power slid over my skin, rubbing like velvet against the grain. The hairs on my arms stood up. The spring breeze pushed from behind him. The moist smell of cat made my nose wrinkle.
Damn. A lycanthrope in broad daylight.
This changed everything.
My eyes cast around for a weapon to even the odds. Weres are fast as hell and stronger than a motherfucker. I had guns, I always have guns. I even had silver bullets in them, but we were in the middle of downtown on a spring day. There were people around, families just around the corner from where we stood. Hell, we were only three blocks from the local police precinct. Gunshots would bring lawmen a-runnin'. That wouldn't be good. Cops don't have silver bullets. Some of them know about the things I fight, but most are completely in the dark. I try to keep it that way. The lot was flat and mostly empty, nothing but gravel under my boots. No weapons I could see. I squared my shoulders and started walking toward him again.
"What did you just say to me?" His voice was deeper, the edge of a growl rumbling out into the air.
"I said . . ." and with that I closed the space between us, looping my right hand from behind and driving it into the side of his head. My fist slammed into his temple where the skull is its thinnest. It drove his head to the side and pushed him down into a crouch. Fingers closing on a handful of dreads, I jerked his face into my knee, smashing his cheek. Pain made him roar. The volume of it shook me, vibrating through my bones. Velvet power exploded from him, rushing along my body, stinging my skin.
Faster than I could put my foot down, he threw his body back, shaking me off and flinging me backward through the air. My stomach lurched as I sailed above the gravel. One second was all I had to see golden fur erupt from dark skin and his face pull into the shape of a snarling beast. Lion sprang to my mind. Then I was crashing into a row of trash cans, spilling garbage everywhere, thinking about nothing but pain.
Something hard rammed into my back just above my kidneys with a grinding crush. Air whooshed from my lungs as my diaphragm spasmed and jerked. I was blind, vision dark from lack of oxygen. The pile of garbage I was in didn't help as it spilled over me. Something wet and sticky smeared across my arm. Dust and debris flew in my face. Scrambling, I got my feet under me. Heaving lungfuls of air, I shook my head to clear my sight. A pile of old cinderblocks lay on the ground, scattered from where I had slammed into them. As my eyes cleared, I saw the man who had thrown me was now a full-fledged man-beast. Half man, half lion, he stood like a special effect in a big-budget movie. Sand-colored fur covered him and he had grown in size, more muscular than before, bigger than me. Thick black talons flexed in and out at the end of his fingertips. His body shook. Dreads colored like dirty honey bounced around his leonine face. They had grown out into a thick mat of a mane.
Back turned to me, he had the dog's chain again. His arm lifted, making the dog dangle. Pawing at the air, it struggled to breathe through the choking collar. Blood dripped from its fur, spattering the ground at his feet in a crazy pattern of swirls. High-pitched yelps of pain were choked by the collar and still cut over the low growl that was thrumming from the Were-lion.
Violence coiled inside me like a spring, tension tight, waiting to be unleashed. Anger coursed through my body. My old friend rage washed away the pain in my back with a tide of adrenaline. Eyes squinted, my vision nar?rowed to a laser?fine focus; only the Were?lion was in my sight. The skin on my fingers scraped as they closed on two of the cinderblocks next to me. They weighed noth?ing in my anger.
One in each hand, I charged, closing the space be?tween us in the blink of an eye. Fury tore from my throat in a scream as I slammed the two cinderblocks together against his skull.
They shattered into shards of concrete and dust from the impact, falling apart in my hands.
The dog fell from the lion?man's grasp, yelping as it hit the ground and immediately curling into a ball of blood?slicked fur. The lycanthrope dropped to his knees, bonelessly slumping to the side. I was on top of him in a second, fists pounding against the side of his face. Anger drove my fist again and again, trying to batter my way through bone. He was still conscious. He stayed half man and half beast, even though his face was slack and his eyes were closed. If he had passed out, he would have shifted back into a human. I kept beating on him, not giving him a chance to recover. Not even one damn second. One second would be too much. Give him even one second of respite and he would recover, and I would lose the slim advantage I had.
There was a flash of motion to my left. I jerked toward it. Something struck me in the side; then I was tumbling across the ground with a wolf trying to eat my face.
Two?inch?long curved yellow fangs snapped viciously at me. Fetid canine breath left the skin on my cheeks moist, and hot spittle flew as I fought to keep that mouth away from me. Everywhere my hands fell on the wolf to hold it back found muscle vibrating with power. Coarse fur rubbed along my arms, feeling like cotton candy made of steel. I was on my back with the wolf on top of me. My mind registered its size because we were pressed against each other. It weighed a ton as it pressed over me, the wolf was damn near as big as I was.
My hands scrabbled, trying to find a weak spot to ex?ploit. Digging, I found the wolf's trachea under a thick ruff of fur. It felt like a softball in my palm. Squeezing with all the strength I had, I clawed my fingers under it, trying to crush it. My arm was burning with effort when I felt it give and pop in my grip with the wet, hollow sound of dislocating a joint.
With a yelp that strangled out in a gurgle, the wolf pushed off, leaping away. It swung its head from side to side, coarse fur ruffling around its neck. It shook from snout to tail, gagging on its own blood. Black nails had dug long red furrows across my thighs and chest. The denim of my jeans gapped open atop the slashes. Thin, hot streaks cut across where the skin was broken, blood soaking out to the edges of the cut jeans. It hurt like a bitch.
I didn't try to get up. In a fight, you are at your most vulnerable when trying to stand up. Instead, my hand closed on the gun under my left arm and pulled it out. The grip filled my hand with a comfort. My heartbeat slowed and my nerves stopped jangling. I always feel better with my gun in hand. It slid out of the holster like a nickel?plated messenger of death, glinting in the afternoon sun. Colt .45 model 1911, made by John Moses Browning and standard issue for our troops for near a hundred years. The 1911 is as reliable and intuitive as a semiautomatic hand?gun can be. This one was covered with swirls of engrav?ing. The ivory grips were carved into the face of a skull. It was one of a matched set that I had taken off a Yakuza assassin a few months back. The other was at home. One big?bore semiautomatic and a backup gun should have been enough for a day out to a street fair.
Should have been.
The safety was thumbed off the second I pulled it free of the holster. I had it pointed at the group of men who now stood surrounding me. They had been closing around me in a half circle. They stopped midstep when the gun flashed out. It's hard to feel anything but helpless when you are flat on your back, but having a big?ass gun helps. The 1911 holds seven rounds of silver?jacketed death. Eight if you carry one in the chamber.
I always carry one in the chamber.
"Everybody stay right where you are." I swung the gun back and forth from one to the other in a smooth arc, red laser sight bouncing from chest to chest. "Next person to take even one step toward me eats a bullet." The five men were all different but dressed like the Were?lion was--black military BDU pants, boots, and a black shirt. Each had small touches of individuality, but they still looked like they were wearing some sort of paramilitary uniform.
And they were all lycanthropes. I could feel their power pressing against my skin in a mishmash of sensation. Flashes of fur short and thick, fur coarse and greasy, rub?bery skin wet and rough, thick pyramids of horn, and the oil?slick feel of snakeskin. The impressions slithered and crawled over me until they took hold of my mind. Pres?sure built in my skull as I drew in my power to sense the supernatural, closing it like a fist. I tamped the impres?sions down in my mind. Pulling my power close inside made the sensations fade. It's a bitch to concentrate when all of that is going on and I was a little occupied.
The lycanthropes around me were all different sizes and shape; the only thing similar about them was the clothes they wore. The one on the left crouched, ready to spring. Yellow eyes gleamed in the sunlight, and they had the same feline cast as the Were?lion's. He wasn't nearly as large as the lion--smaller, sleeker, but similar in build and feel.
Next to him stood a long, thin man with black eyes set in a wide face. His dusky skin was hairless and slick. Even holding his position, he swayed gently back and forth. A bloodless, forked tongue flickered over thin lips. I knew from the feel of him I was looking at some kind of snake. I would bet money he was venomous.
His neighbor was short and stocky, standing on squatty, bowed legs. His skull had shifted, elongating his face into a reptilian snout. Matching black eyes blinked slowly at me, and hard, pebbled skin formed across his brows and cheeks.
A small, greasy man with a wide chest was helping the Were-lion to his feet. Small, sharp teeth flashed in a wide grin, too many teeth for just human, and dark brown hair shot coarse from his head.
The fifth one was a giant of a man. He would have towered over me, and I am not short. Hell, normally I am the biggest man in any given situation, but this one stood an easy seven feet tall. His head was shaved like mine and gleamed in the springtime sunshine. Everywhere his skin showed it was fish-belly pale. Thick and rubbery, it covered massive limbs. Arms like slabs of beef hung loose by his side. Webbing stretched between his knuckles, skin solid to the first full joint of each finger.
The greasy Were hopped from one foot to the other, tugging on the Were-lion's arm. His voice was a raspy bark. "Leonidas, he is down on the ground, showing his belly." A finger shot in my direction. The arm and hand it was on covered in a thick layer of wiry brown hair. "We can take him."
The Were-lion shook him off with a growl and stepped in, closing the circle around me. Blood matted dreadlocked hair, and his face was twisted with anger. The wound from the cinderblocks was closed up already. Damn lycanthropes. They heal like magick.
"He is right, human. Put the gun away, you are out-matched." A taloned finger flicked a dread from across his eyes. "Put it away. Take your beating like a human and we will let you live."
I didn't move from the dirt and gravel. Sharp rocks dug into my back and shoulders. Liquid heat was build?ing in the muscles of my arms from holding my gun up while lying on my back, but they weren't trembling. Yet.
"I don't know. I see seven assholes and I have eight silver bullets. I'd say I was matched pretty damn good."
The tension in the group cranked up to eleven. They all began to cast eyes at Leonidas, the Were-lion. I had gotten their attention by saying the magic words: silver and bullets.