Today we conclude our week long celebration for the release of Hunting In Bruges, the first novel in the Hunters’ Guild urban fantasy series by E.J. Stevens, with a chance to read the first chapter! I really enjoyed this book and I hope you’ll enjoy the except as well 🙂
Also, the huge prize pack giveaway is still open for a chance to win a Hunting In Bruges *signed* trade paperback, t-shirt, sticker, *signed* postcard, and poster, so don’t forget to enter 😉
Now, without further ado:
Hunting in Bruges
I’ve been seeing ghosts for as long as I can remember. Most ghosts are simply annoying; just clueless dead people who don’t realize that they’ve died. The weakest of these manifest as flimsy apparitions, without the ability for speech or higher thought. They’re like a recording of someone’s life projected not onto a screen, but onto the place where they died. Most people can walk through one of these ghosts without so much as a goosebump.
Poltergeists are more powerful, but just as single-minded. These pesky spirits are like angry toddlers. They stomp around, shaking their proverbial chains, moaning and wailing about how something (the accident, their murder, or the murder they committed) was someone else’s fault, and how everyone must pay for their misfortune. Poltergeists are a nuisance; they’re noisy and can throw around objects for short periods of time, but it’s only the strong ones that are dangerous.
Thankfully, there aren’t many ghosts out there strong enough to do more than knock a pen off your desk or cause a cold spot. From what I’ve discovered while training with the Hunters’ Guild, ghosts get their power from two things—how long they’ve been haunting and strength of purpose. If someone as obsessed with killing as Jack the Ripper manifests beside you on a London street, I recommend you run. If someone as old and unhinged as Vlad the Impaler appears beside you in Targoviste Romania, you better hope you have a Hunter at your side, or a guardian angel.
The dead get a bad rap, and for good reason, but some ghosts can be helpful. There was a woman with a kind face who used to appear when I was in foster care. Linda wasn’t just a loop of psychic recording stuck on repeat; this ghost had free will and independent thought—and thankfully, she wasn’t a sociopath consumed with bloodshed. Linda manifested in faded jeans and dark turtleneck and smelled like home, which was the other thing that was unusual about her. Most ghosts are tied to one spot, the place where they lived or died. But Linda’s familiar face followed me from one foster home to another. And it was a good thing that she did. Linda the ghost saved my life more than once.
Foster care was an excellent training ground for self defense, which is probably why the Hunters’ Guild uses it as a place for recruitment. Being cast adrift in the child welfare system gave me plenty of opportunities to hone my survival instincts. By the time the Hunters came along, I was a force to be reckoned with, or so I thought.
The Hunters’ Guild provides exceptional training and I soon learned that my attempts at both offense and defense were child’s play when compared to our senior members. I didn’t berate myself over that fact; I was only thirteen when the Hunters swooped in and welcomed me into their fold. But learning my limitations did make me painfully aware of one thing. If it hadn’t been for Linda the ghost, I probably wouldn’t have survived my childhood.
The worst case of honing my survival skills had been at my last foster home, just before the Hunters’ Guild intervened. I don’t remember the house mother. She wasn’t around much. She was just a small figure in a cheap, polyester fast food uniform with a stooped posture and downcast eyes. But I remember her husband Frank.
Frank was a bully who wore white, ketchup and mustard stained, wife-beater t-shirts. He had perpetual French fry breath and a nasty grin. It took me a few weeks to realize that Frank’s grin was more of a leer. I’d caught his gaze in the bathroom mirror when I was changing and his eyes said it all; Frank was a perv.
Linda slammed the door in his face, but that didn’t stop Frank. Frank would brush up against me in the kitchen and Linda would set the faucet spraying across the tiles…and slide a knife into my hand. My time in that house ended when Frank ended up in the hospital.
I’d been creeping back to the bedroom I shared with three other kids, when I saw Frank waiting for me in the shadows. I pulled the steak knife I kept hidden in the pocket of my robe, but I never got a chance to use it. Now that I know a thing or two about fighting with a blade, I’m aware that Frank probably would have won that fight.
I tried to run toward the stairs, but Frank met me at the top landing. Frank reached for me while his bulk effectively blocked my escape. That was when Linda the ghost pushed him down the stairs. I remember him tumbling in slow motion, his eyes going wide and the leering grin sliding from his face.
Linda the ghost had once again saved me, but it seemed that this visit was her last. I don’t know if she used up her quota of psychic power, or if she just felt like her job here was finally done. It wasn’t until years later that I realized she was my mother.
I guess I should have realized sooner that I was related to the ghost who followed me around. We both have hair the same shade of shocking red. But where mine is straight and cropped into a short bob, Linda’s was wavy and curled down around her shoulders. We also share a dimple in our left cheek and a propensity for protecting the weak and innocent from evil.
Linda the ghost disappeared, a wailing ambulance drove Frank to the hospital, police arrived at my foster house, and the Hunters swooped in and cleaned up the aftermath. It was from my first Guild master that I learned of my parents’ fate and put two and two together about my ghostly protector.
As a kid I often wondered why Linda the ghost always wore a dark turtleneck; now I knew. Young, rogue vamps had torn out her neck and proceeded to rip my father to pieces like meat confetti. My parents were on vacation in Belize, celebrating their wedding anniversary when it happened. I’d been staying with a friend of my mother’s, otherwise I’d be dead too.
I don’t remember my parents, I’d only been three when I was put into the foster care system, but I do find some peace in knowing that doing my duty as a Hunter gives me the power to police and destroy rogue vamps like the ones who killed my mother and father. When I become exhausted by my work, I think of Linda’s sad face and push myself to train harder. And when I find creeps who are abusive to women and children, I think of Frank.
That’s how I ended up here, standing in a Brussels airport, trying to decipher the Dutch and French signs with eyes that were gritty from the twelve hour flight. It all started when my friend Ivy called to inform me that a fellow Hunter had hit our mutual friend Jinx. Ivy didn’t know how that information would push all my buttons, she didn’t know about Frank or my time in the foster system, but we both agreed that striking a girl was unacceptable. She was letting me, and the Hunters’ Guild, deal with it, for now.
I went to master Janus, the head of the Harborsmouth Hunters’ Guild, and reported Hans’ transgressions. It didn’t help his case that he had a reputation as a berserker in battle. The fact that he’d hit a human, the very people we were sworn to defend against the monsters, was the nail in the coffin of Hans’ career.
I was assured that Hans would be shipped off to the equivalent of a desk job in Siberia. I should have left it at that, and let my superiors take care of the problem. But Jinx was my friend. Ivy’s rockabilly business partner may have had bad luck and even worse taste in men, but that didn’t mean she deserved to spend her life fending off the attacks of the Franks in the world.
Hans continued his Guild duties while the higher ups shuffled papers and prepared to send him away. Hans should have skipped our training sessions, but then again, he didn’t know who had ratted him out—and the guy had a lot of rage to vent. I stormed onto the practice mat and saluted Hans with my sword. It wasn’t long before the man started to bleed.
We were supposed to be using practice swords, but I’d accidentally grabbed the sharp blade I used on hunting runs. I didn’t leave any lasting injuries, but the shallow cuts made a mess of his precious tattoos. I just hoped the scars were a constant reminder of what happens when you attack the innocent.
One week later, I received a plane ticket and orders to meet with one of our contacts in Belgium. I wasn’t sure if this assignment was intended as a punishment or a promotion, but I was eager to prove myself to the Guild leadership. Master Janus’ parting words whispered in my head, distracting me from the voice on the overhead intercom echoing throughout the cavernous airport.
“Do your duty, Jenna,” he said. Master Janus placed a large, sword-calloused hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eye. I swallowed hard, but I managed to keep my hands from shaking. “Make us proud.”
“I will, sir,” I said.
We are giving away a HUGE Hunting in Bruges prize pack. One winner will receive a Hunting in Bruges *signed* Trade Paperback, t-shirt, sticker, *signed* postcard, and poster!
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