Today, I have a little something different for you all, an excerpt of J.L. Gribble’s latest, Steel Blood! Vampires! Alternate history! Intrigue!
About the book:
As her children begin lives of their own, Victory struggles with the loneliness of an empty nest. Just when the city of Limani could not seem smaller, an old friend requests that she come out of retirement for one final mercenary contract—to bodyguard his granddaughter, a princess of the Qin Empire.
For the first time in a century, the Qin and British Empires are reopening diplomatic relations. Alongside the British delegation, Victory and her daywalker Mikelos arrive in the Qin colony city of Jiang Yi Yue. As the Qin weredragons and British werewolves take careful steps toward a lasting peace between their people, a connection between the Qin princess and a British nobleman throw everyone’s plans in disarray.
Meanwhile, a third faction stalks the city under the cover of darkness.
This is not a typical romance. It’s a good thing Victory is not a typical vampire.
The following scene takes place near the beginning of Steel Blood, when Victory and Mikelos have arrived in the Qin Empire’s colonial city of Jiang Yi Yue. As a vampire, Victory was prepared to wait on the ship until night fell to safely transfer to the palace and begin her mercenary contract as a bodyguard to the Qin princess. But the British delegation would have none of that, and arranged for alternative transportation.
When the elevator finished its descent, the doors opened to reveal a spacious lobby. She flinched out of habit, but like at the top of the tower, shutters blocked all of the windows. A stretch limousine, similar to those Victory had seen on the streets of Roma two years ago, sat in the center of the large room. The cavernous space was otherwise empty except for the small cluster of uniformed Qin gawking behind one of the ticket counters. No one in Limani owned such an outrageous town-car. The amount of electricity it took to run must be astronomical.
“The governor has sent his personal vehicle,” Tan said with calm inflection, as if refusing to acknowledge how ridiculous this entire adventure had become. “The tint on the windows is adequate protection against the sun for you.” He gave Victory a short bow.
“Not to be crass,” Mikelos said, approaching the ostentatious town-car and running a finger over a rear window, “but how sure are you of that?” Victory followed him and opened the back door, examining the glass from both sides.
Still unruffled, Tan said, “Last month there was an emergency in the mountains that would have caught a priest out during the day. The governor sent this vehicle then as well, and Brother Shi was retrieved without incident.”
If Governor Yu sent his own transportation to rescue wayward vampires on a regular basis, that was good enough for Victory. She nodded at Mikelos, who handed her into the town-car. She slid down the bench seat toward the front of the vehicle, and Mikelos and the Brits joined her. Tan sat in the front passenger seat.
They all gave a startled twitch as the engine rumbled to life. In Limani, the colonies, and most of Europa, only larger trucks used precious gasoline and diesel. Personal vehicles had all been electric for going on fifty years now, once the families and corporations controlling the desert oil fields in southeastern Europa choked their exports to a trickle after the Last War.
Rob’s nostrils flared. “Ethanol,” he said. “I’d almost forgotten.”
“I’m sorry?” Victory said.
“This engine is running on sugar cane,” Rob said, exchanging smug grins with Guy.
Reynolds straightened with pride. “That’s right. Ethanol is one of the exports for which we hope to establish more rights.”
Victory tucked this tidbit in the back of her mind to bring to Limani’s city council when she got home. But before she could ask about the cost of shipping the ethanol versus continuing research into developing effective electric engines for larger vehicles, the town-car pulled out of the docking tower and into the sun.
A hiss of pain escaped Mikelos, and Victory eased the grip she had on his thigh. She leaned closer to the window and pressed the palm of her hand against the glass. The town-car fell silent, and she knew the three Brits must be staring at her odd reaction, but she ignored them.
This part of the city was unremarkable, cast in late-afternoon shadow and indistinguishable from any other major port she’d been in except for the Qin lettering on signs and the people traveling the streets. But her attention trailed up the side of the mountain to the shanty neighborhoods perching above the city. Light dappled the buildings painted a myriad of bright colors from whatever materials the occupants could scrounge. Then the trees and plants farther up the cliffs, shimmering in hues of green she’d never seen outside of a television screen. Green the color of emeralds and the shadow of her foster son’s earth magic.
Perched upon the mountain sat a carved dragon, overlooking the city with diamond eyes that glinted in the sunlight. It sat proud on its haunches, with one clawed hand raised in welcome and fantastical stone wings outstretched, embracing the city in its shelter. Though it appeared tiny from this distance, she knew it was over a hundred feet tall, even without counting the base.
“That is a hell of a sculpture,” Rob said. He and Guy had been sucked into the sights as well, though probably for much different reasons.
“Jiushizhu Statue,” Reynolds said, naming the famous landmark. “Cement and soapstone.”
“Ben knows everything, as usual,” Guy said, but his voice lacked malice as he also pressed his face to the town-car’s window.
The vehicle shifted direction, aiming for the palace nestled on the smaller mountain between the city’s two main beaches. And Victory was enraptured again by something else she’d never expected to see in person, despite the protective glass.
The ocean, shimmering light blue in the sun. To her, water was always black, perhaps with sparkling reflections of the moon and stars. Not this blinding expanse of turquoise, highlighted gold by the early evening sun.
A thumb touched her cheek, and Victory turned her face into Mikelos’ hand as he wiped away the tear she hadn’t noticed trailing down her face. He sucked the smear of blood from his finger. Instead of watching the city, he’d been watching her, and the expression on his face almost made her tear up again. This might wreck her badass vampire mercenary image for Rob and Guy, but she didn’t much care at the moment.
“I’d forgotten,” Mikelos said. His breath tickled her ear as he leaned close.
Unlike most vampires, her first death hadn’t been a choice. Asaron had brought her back from the brink after she’d experienced a traumatic brain injury at the hands of the bandits he’d been contracted to hunt. While most of her had healed in the transformation to vampire, she had no memories of her human life.
This was the first time she had seen the sun outside of a movie or television screen in over eight hundred years. Rob would never know how precious a gift he’d given her as a result of his reckless whim.
About the author:
By day, J. L. Gribble is a professional medical editor. By night, she does freelance fiction editing in all genres, along with reading, playing video games, and occasionally even writing. She is currently working on the Steel Empires series for Dog Star Books, the science-fiction/adventure imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press. Previously, she was an editor for the Far Worlds anthology.
Gribble studied English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She received her Master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where her debut novel Steel Victory was her thesis for the program.
She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats. Find her online (www.jlgribble.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jlgribblewriter), and on Twitter and Instagram (@hannaedits).