Here's an exclusive sneak peek at a scene from the upcoming second installment in my Brethren series from Kensington/Zebra Books, "Dark Hunger." Please keep in mind, this is a very rough version, unedited, and may not represent the actual, final version.
Please also keep in mind that for whatever reason, my quote marks and italics didn't transfer over from MS Word to the forum -- argh! -- and so Brandon's signed dialogue and all thoughts should be italicized, but aren't. And if I missed a quote mark when I went through to re-add 'em just now, I'm sorry. You'll get the jist of things anyway, I guess, LOL.
Let me know what you think!
The following scene is a flashback to when Brandon and Tessa Noble are teen-agers, around seventeen years old...
Brandon had been teaching Tessa to drive using his tutor, Jackson's car, an old, muddy-brown Nissan Sentra with threadbare seats, manual transmission and a bumper sticker that proclaimed: "Honk all you want -- I can't hear you!"
Like Jackson, Brandon was deaf. He was also mute, both conditions the result of injuries hed suffered as a young child during a botched robbery at the great house. Three farm workers had snuck inside in the wee hours of the night and tried to burglarize the Nobles. Brandon had stumbled upon them unexpectedly, and they'd assaulted him.
It's alright. Brandon flapped a note in her face, one hed written on a page from the spiral-bound notebook he carried in a brass case around his neck. He could lip-read and, like all of the Brethren, could communicate through telepathic ability -- although unlike the other Brethren, Brandon's was severely limited, again thanks to his childhood injuries. The twins weren't using it at the moment, however, out of fear someone -- like their father or the Grandfather -- might overhear.
Jackson had also taught Brandon sign language, and Brandon, in turn, had taught Tessa, but at the moment, her eyes were on the road in front of her as she released the clutch too quickly and killed the engine with a shuddering wheeze.
"Damn it," she muttered, slapping the steering wheel and turning to her brother in wide-eyed exasperation. "I did it again."
It's alright, he signed. Youre letting out the clutch too fast, that's all.
They had driven out to the farms back acreage, near where the Noble's property abutted the neighboring Giscard horse farm. The road in front of Tessa, so to speak, was in actuality an open sea of tall grass and wildflowers, broken occasionally by dense islands of trees. This wasn't one of the Grandfather's pristine rolling fields of lush, tended bluegrass where his prized Thoroughbreds grazed; here was a forgotten corner of land, an abandoned expanse where few among the Brethren ever tread with any frequency, and a place where Brandon had thought Tessa could practice driving undiscovered. Neither of the twins was supposed to know how to drive, but Brandon at least could probably get away with having learned. As a female among the Brethren, Tessa wasnt allowed such luxuries, and even though her father, Sebastian probably wouldn't have minded, the Grandfather certainly would have.
Try again, Brandon signed from the passenger seat, with a glance in the side-view mirror, then over his shoulder, his dark eyes somewhat anxious. He'd been doing this off and on for the last several minutes, and Tessa frowned, pivoting in her seat to follow his gaze.
"What is it?" she asked.
He shook his head. Nothing, he signed. Never mind.
"Do you sense something?" It seemed impossible that anyone might discover them out there in the middle of nowhere, but then again, one never knew. The Brethren employed a staff of more than forty humans called the Kinsfolk. The Brethren weren't allowed to feed on these humans, and the Kinsfolk in turn, helped keep the farms stocked with migrant workers upon whom the Brethren sated their bloodlust. They also managed the primary, day-to-day responsibilities of the Brethrens combined 1,750-acre properties, so there was always that remote possibility that their duties had taken one or more Kinsfolk that far out. "Is someone there, Brandon?"
His telepathy had been damaged during his attack, like his ears and voice, but Tessa had come to notice over the years that he was often more aware of things than she was, nonetheless. She supposed it was because he had less to distract him, no noises or voices to compete for his attention.
He shook his head again, then smiled as he moved his hands in the air: It's nothing. Never mind. He nodded at the steering wheel once in encouragement. Try again.
Tessa put the Sentra in gear and turned the key in the ignition. She wondered what Jackson would think if hed known that Brandon had taken her off the main roads twining through the farm. True, Jackson had said they could borrow the car, but he hadn't said anything about taking it bumping and jostling through fields. Not to mention letting me grind his transmission all to hell along the way, she thought.
They continued along, bouncing across the rolling hillocks as the grass, blanched from the late-summer sun and nearly as tall as the car's wheel wells, whispered and slapped against the Nissan's doors. She did better this time, making it at least another quarter of a mile before the car died once more.
Tessa uttered a little cry of disgust, clasping the steering wheel between her hands and giving it a frustrated little shake. "I'm never going to get this!"
Yes, you will, Brandon signed. It just takes time, that's --
There was more, but she cut her eyes away and missed it. Ahead of them, peeking and protruding out of the grass, were what looked like the remnants of walls, crumbling heaps of blood-red bricks and blackened timbers, all nearly buried beneath an overgrowth of weeds.
Brandon, she thought, forgetting herself in sudden, surprised wonder and opening her mind. Look at that.
Brandon followed her gaze and the two of them sat there, silent, for a moment. What is it? she thought to him at length, and when he didn't immediately answer, she turned and tapped his shoulder to draw his gaze. "What is it?"
He shook his head. I don't know, he signed.
She reached for her seat belt, unbuckling it, and he caught her arm as she opened her door. What are you doing? he asked, his eyes wide, his expression inexplicably alarmed.
I'm going to get out for a minute, she said. I want to take a closer look.
Tessa, wait -- he began, but she ignored him, stepping out into the bright, warm sunlight, being immediately enveloped in the thick humidity of early September. The air buzzed and thrummed with the overlapping symphonies of crickets and cicadas; she watched grasshoppers the size of her little finger dart away on the wing as she began to wade through the grass.
Tessa, don't, Brandon thought, opening his car door and standing. We need to get the car back to Jackson. And anyway, Ive got a bad feeling about this place. Come on.
What do you mean? she thought. She kept walking, undeterred despite the obvious apprehension in his words. She felt drawn to the site somehow, a strange and persistent whispering in her mind, pulling her along.
I think these are walls, Brandon, she thought. There was a building here or something.
Which didn't make any sense. The farms the Brethren called home had belonged to them for well over three hundred years, chartered in 1790. The only structures that had ever stood there had been built or sanctioned by the Brethren, and Tessa didn't know of any that had ever been constructed -- much less torn down -- there.
"What the hell is this place?" she murmured to no one in particular as she drew the blade of her hand to her brow, shielding her eyes from the suns glare.
(c) 2008 Sara Reinke