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Monday, September 28, 2020

Morrigan’s Blood by Laura Bickle






Morrigan’s Blood
Crow’s Curse
Book One
Laura Bickle

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Syrenka Publishing LLC
Date of Publication: Sept. 25, 2020
ASIN: B08B9TJ4V9
Number of pages: 188
Word Count: 57000

Cover Artist: Danielle Fine

Tagline: Garnet has the blood of the legendary Morrigan – and legions of vampires and witches will go to war to possess that power.

Book Description:

Garnet has the blood of the legendary Morrigan – and legions of vampires and witches will go to war to possess that power.

As a trauma surgeon, Garnet Conners has seen more than her fair share of blood. But when one of her patients walks off the operating table and disappears into the night, she finds herself caught in a war between legions of vampires and witches in her city.

Garnet has dreamed of bloody battlefields for years – and a mysterious lover who controls a kingdom. In her waking life, Garnet is shocked to meet that man in a club. Merrel knows her from another life, a life in which she was the legendary Morrigan, goddess of death and war.

Garnet rejects the notion of magical incarnations altogether. But she falls in with Sorin, a handsome warlock who’s determined to protect the former bootlegger city of Riverpointe from a secret society of vampires. Haunted by crows and faced with undeniable proof of magic, Garnet scrambles to protect her career and loved ones from magical violence.

Abducted by vampires who seek to turn her into a vampire against her will, can Garnet seize the power of the legendary Morrigan to forge her own path in her embattled city? Or will she be forced to serve as a fearsome weapon in a deadly nocturnal war?




Excerpt:

          “What have you
got for me tonight, folks?” I asked.
            I
backed through the doors of the operating theater, butt-first, gloved hands
lifted before me to keep them clean. I took small steps, mindful not to lose
traction. Those thin booties were slick, and I’d fallen on my ass on more than
one occasion when I made sudden moves. Tonight, I was determined to get through
surgery in an upright position and not have to scrub in twice.
            One
of the nurses read from notes on a computer terminal. “This guy was found in
the parking lot of a closed bowling alley. Speculation is that he took a trip or
two through the pin setting machine and got badly torn up.”
            “Well,
that’s a first.” I turned toward the operating room table. The light was so
bright that hardly any shadows were cast in the room. They focused on the
unholy mess on the middle of my table.
            This.
I’m supposed to fix this.
            A
man lay, unconscious, on the table. His chest was torn open, flaps of skin
oozing onto wads of gauze and a paper sheet. His face was a mass of blood, now
being daubed at with sponges. The anesthesiologist had found his mouth to
thread a tube down, and someone had managed to get an IV started in one of his
scraped-up arms.
            My
nose wrinkled under my mask. “What do the X-rays show? How deep does the damage
go? Did he get a CT?”
            A
nurse clicked on a flatscreen monitor that displayed a carousel of CT images.
I  squinted at them, muttering dark
oaths.
            “Radiologist
says it looks like a lacerated pancreas, punctured lung, and two rib
fractures,” the nurse said. The image switched to the head, and he said: “Also
the bonus of a fractured orbital bone.”
            I
stared at the CTs. “Let’s start with that lung. We leave the pancreas, and call
plastic surgery on that orbital bone. This guy’s going to need all the king’s
horses and all the king’s men to put him back together again.”
            “Will
do.”
            I
gazed down at the poor suffering bastard. I liked seeing the imaging, but I
preferred to get a good visual with my own eyes on my patients. Sometimes
X-rays and CTs didn’t tell me everything I needed to know about what to start
sewing where. Something about seeing where the blood moved and pooled in an
injured person gave me an idea of where to begin. The blood always led me to
where I needed to direct my attention. Where it spurted required my immediate
expertise. Where it clotted or moved lazily, I could wait a bit. When blood
drained out of a limb and had left it white, I needed to add more. I noted with
approval that he was already receiving a transfusion. As long as blood was
moving, there was a chance for him
            I
frowned at his chest and touched the edges of the rends in his flesh with
gloved fingers. Those were ragged and would have to be cut clean before I sewed
him back up. I could see the edge of one of those protruding ribs, sticking up
like a finger. I glanced over his limbs, counting the usual four. Hey, it pays
to count. Count twice, cut once. I mentally cataloged bruises and scrapes,
nothing that needed my immediate attention, though I flagged the palms of his
hands to get a few stitches from the surgical resident. Looked like defensive
wounds, like the guy had tried to fight the pin machine, but lost.
            My
eyes moved up to his face. One blackened eye was swollen shut. My fingers and
gaze wandered over his scalp, checking for major wounds, when I spied a
laceration at his throat.
            I
gently probed it with gloved hands. Some kind of puncture…the machine must have
caught him near a seeping vein. It had nearly dried up, smelling rusty and not
like the bright, coppery blood of his more critical wounds. It could still take
a few extra stitches.
            I
stared down at the unfortunate guy’s oozing chest. Peeling back a flap of skin,
I felt around for the collapsed lung. My finger quickly squished around and
found the hole, and I extended my free hand for a scalpel. Time to get this
party started…
            …when
the patient sat bolt upright on the table. His good eye was open, rolling.
            I
yanked my hands back and yelped at the anesthesiologist, “Curt, what the actual
hell?”
            The
OR erupted in a flurry of activity. The anesthesiologist arrived at the patient’s
side with a syringe, while nurses tried to push the patient back down.
            But
he was flailing, windmilling with his arms like a pro wrestler in the ring. The
IV ripped out of his arm, and the line slashed back at the anesthesiologist,
whipping across his face. The patient reached up and ripped the tube out of his
throat. His foot caught an instrument tray, sending scalpels flying. His blood
line yanked away, spewing crimson all over the floor.
            I
held my hands out, using my most calming voice. Not that I had a particularly
calming voice; I was a surgeon. We don’t talk to patients. But I tried: “You’re
safe. I’m your doctor, Dr. Conners. If you just lie back, we’ll make you
comfortable and—”
            The
guy shrieked and launched himself off the table. The paper sheet tangled around
his legs, and he grasped it around his waist as he put his shoulder down and
aimed for the door. His shoulder hit me in the arm, and I slipped on my
booties, landing on my ass on the tile floor. The patient launched through the
swinging doors and disappeared down the hall.
            I
swore and ripped my booties off my sneakered feet. I clambered to my feet and
punched the intercom at the door with my elbow. “Security, code orange at OR
6.” I couldn’t say: I’ve got a runner taking off down the hall. Please send
somebody to stop him, because anyone listening to that would freak the hell
out, and I would get a talking-to from HR.
            I
straight-armed the door and took off after the guy. I had no idea how the hell
this man was still walking around. Those injuries should have flattened him,
and he’d been anesthetized. I had graduated med school with Curt a few years
ago, and knew him not to be a careless anesthesiologist who played on his phone
in the OR.
            The
patient skidded down the hallway, landing at a dead end, where a window
overlooked the parking lot. The sun had just set, and the sky was the violet
color of a fresh bruise. I approached him slowly, like I was herding a feral
cat. I tugged my mask down to try and give him a human face to look at.
            “Hey,
it’s okay. It’s gonna be okay,” I murmured soothingly. I wanted to keep him
here until security arrived. If he got even further loose and hurt himself,
that would be one obnoxiously long incident report. And an even more involved
surgery after that.
            “No,
no,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s not gonna be okay. The bloodsuckers found
me…and the Lusine couldn’t protect me.”
            “I
don’t know who that is,” I said, thinking that the guy had probably run afoul
of some loan sharks. Maybe the mob? “But you’re safe here. We can protect you.”
            “No,”
he gasped, his face twisted in agony. “No one can protect me. And no one can
protect Emily.”
            He
turned toward the window, backed up a few steps.
            “No,
wait…” I could see what he was trying to do, and I was helpless to stop it.
            He
rushed the window, aiming for it with his shoulder. All the latches on the
hospital windows on patient floors were welded shut, but this wasn’t an area
where conscious patients had access, and the window was not secured against
suicide attempts. The glass buckled under his shoulder, the window crumpled
away, and he pitched through in a hail of glass into the falling darkness.
            I
rushed to the window and stared down at the parking lot in horror. Three
stories down, the patient sprawled on the parking lot blacktop, flattened like
a bug under a shoe.
            Curt
had come up behind me. “Oh, my god, Garnet…did he…”
            “He
jumped,” I said, my heart in my mouth. I turned and ran to the stairwell,
barking at him. “Get a gurney and the ER team.”
            I
burst into the stairwell, taking the steps two at a time. As I rounded the
third curve, my path was blocked by a tall, dark-haired man in a brown velvet
blazer and jeans. He was the type of guy that I might have liked to meet in my
off-time—he had a kind of scholarly intensity in his hazel gaze and a bit of
roguishness in the stubble that covered his sharp jaw.
            “Stand
aside,” I blurted. “Emergency!” As if my bloody gloves and surgical gown
weren’t warning enough.
            But
he blocked my path, one hand on either stair rail, his long arms spanning the
length of the stairwell. “That man is dangerous,” he growled softly.
            “That
man is under my care,” I announced, lifting my chin. I walked into the man,
figuring that he would give way to my outstretched bloody gloves. Like a normal
person would.
.           But
he didn’t. My sticky gloves nearly mashed into the velvet of his jacket, and he
didn’t flinch. This close, he smelled like old books and moss.
            “You
can’t go down there,” he said. His voice was soft, but insistent. 
            My
eyes narrowed. “You don’t get to tell me where to go,” I chirped petulantly. I
ducked under his arm, darting out of his reach, and barreled down the steps the
remaining way to ground level.
            I
rushed out into the parking lot and stopped short.
            “What
the actual hell—”
            The
patient peeled himself off the ground and crawled to his feet. He reminded me
of a half-dead insect when he did so, shaking and rickety and dripping blood.
            That’s
impossible, I thought. There was no way that a human being could do that. I took
two steps toward him…
            …and
a dozen people flitted out of the darkness, from the shadows beneath cars and
behind shrubs. The overhead parking lot lights, haloed by moths, illuminated
their long shadows on the pavement.
            I
breathed a sigh of relief. The squad was here and would get him stable, get him
back to my OR.
            But…my
brow wrinkled. That wasn’t the squad. Nobody was in uniform. They converged on
him as he turned, screaming.
            “Stop!”
I shouted.
            Heads
turned toward me. Their faces were moon-pale and glistening in the lamplight.
            The
man in the velvet jacket grabbed my arm, dragging me back. “You want no part of
this.”
            “Don’t
tell me what I want,” I growled. I stomped on his instep and twisted my arm to
break his grip at the weakest part, the thumb. I whirled and ran toward the
fracas.
            The
shadowy people had plucked my patient off the pavement, clotting around him.
            I
yelled at them, the way I might yell at pigeons in the park who were eating my
dropped French fries.
            Overhead,
the parking lot lights shattered, one by one, in a series of pops. Someone had
a gun. I flinched back, shielding my face from flying shards of plastic with my
hands, as I was suddenly plunged into darkness. I heard fighting, yelling, as
if a gang war had broken out in front of me, roiling in the dark where no one
could see.
            Or
at least, as dark as things could get in Riverpointe. Riverpointe was a
decently sized city, and ambient light filtered back quickly from the freeway,
headlights on the access road to the hospital, and the hospital’s helipad
above.
            As
my vision adjusted, I realized I was alone. The people who were trying to
abduct my patient, my patient…even that fascinating-smelling velvet guy…all
were gone. 
            Ambulance
lights flashed at the end of the parking lot, approaching me. Behind me, I
heard the hammering of footsteps on the stairwell. Security spilled out behind
me, along with a few cops who’d been hanging out in the nurse’s lounge. The
EMTs pulled up to the curb, and there were all of a sudden a couple dozen
people churning in a uniformed cloud around me.
            “Where’d
the guy go?” a security guard asked me.
            A
moth that had once orbited the parking lot lights flitted down and smacked my
face. I batted at it, grimacing.
            “I
don’t know,” I whispered, stunned. “He was just…taken.”
            The
moth landed on the ground on its back, wiggling.
            With
bloody fingers, I picked it up and placed it gently in a nearby shrub. Lights,
voices, and radios crackled around me. Questions rose and fell, directed at me
in a tide of inquiries I couldn’t answer. But I stared at the bloody moth,
stained by my touch, as it sought a safe place among the churning shadows and
light.

About the Author:

Laura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs and sometimes reads them to her cats. Her books have earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Laura’s work has also been included in the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project 2013 reading list and the State Library of Ohio’s Choose to Read Ohio reading list for 2015-2016. The latest updates on her work can be found at authorlaurabickle.com.




“With Feathers”
By Laura Bickle

My mother spoke with the dead, but I only talked to crows.
It was that way ever since I was a little girl, hiding under the tablecloth of the table where my mother told fortunes and murmured to lost ancestors. Men and women would come to our door, seeking voices from the past and hints of the future. My mother offered both with a cup of coffee and warmth, a spoon clinking slowly against her silver wedding ring and the rim of the cup.
I wanted to inherit her gift so hard as a child, but the dead never so much as uttered my name in a dream. 
But not the crows. The crows were my familiars.
My earliest memory was of a great black bird tapping at my window. I crawled to it and hauled myself up to the sill, holding out a sticky hand of cereal. The pieces fell, and the crow gobbled them right up. I clapped in delight, startling him away.
I fed them ever after from my window. I learned to tell them apart, their shapes and the way their feathers lay. I gave them names and met their children when the parents brought them to wolf down my toast crusts. 
In return, they brought me treasure, shiny things. Usually, they were coins, some of them silver. Sometimes, it would be a bit of broken costume jewelry, a straight pin, bobby pins, the face of a watch. All these things were filthy. I cleaned them carefully and hid them away in a shoebox.
My favorite crow was a beautiful bird with one leg. She had a caw so loud that she could shake the lightbulb in my bedside lamp. I named her “Peg,” because I was young and not very creative.
My grandmother and aunts would come to visit every few years and whisper after I’d gone to bed: “She hears no voices? None at all? Perhaps that’s just as well. Though, she might grow into it…”
I never did. As I grew into a teenager, I became convinced that my mother was a charlatan, that she took money for magic from the weak. To my reckoning, if the dead were speaking, they never spoke to me, and therefore they must not speak at all…at least not in my little world. 
Business slowed. My mother wanted us to move to a cheaper apartment five blocks away. I despaired…how would I feed my crows? How would they know where I’d gone?
I spent my last dollar on a big bag of dry cat food. When all the boxes and furniture were gone, I waited outside, below my window, for Peg to come. She eventually arrived, perching on the sill on one leg and turning her head to look at me quizzically.
“You must follow me,” I told her. “You and all the others.”
I dropped two pieces of cat food on the ground. Her favorite treat. After almost a minute, the crow fluttered down to gobble the bits up.
I walked away six feet, then dropped another piece. She hop-fluttered over to me, clumsy on earth as she was graceful in the sky.
I backed up to the sidewalk and put down some more. She followed, with a great hoarse caw that summoned her children. My heart pounded.
They followed me down the block, seething black shadows on the pavement. 
They tracked me all the way to the new apartment. It seemed I’d been holding my breath the whole time. I climbed the fire escape, up to my new bedroom window, where I’d set out a piece of plywood. I dumped the last dregs of cat food on the surface.
A dozen crows descended on the snack. I caught Peg’s eye.
“Please understand. I’m here now. Please come back.”
Peg said nothing, taking wing into the blue sky.
I worried the whole next day if she would remember. I ran home from school, up to my room.
I rushed to the window and breathed a sigh of relief. Six crows perched on the fire escape rail, while Peg hop-paced on the plywood. The corn flakes I’d left out that morning were gone.
I hurried to empty my pockets of a crushed granola bar and a stale pretzel, which they descended upon greedily with their sharp beaks and talons. 
The next day, they brought me a thimble, encrusted with dirt.
Money, which was never plentiful, grew even scarcer. My mother took a job as a secretary, which barely covered rent. I went to work as a cashier at a donut shop. I was allowed to take home any food that was left at the end of the day. Many days, my mother and I and the crows had glazed donuts for supper.
One month, we came up short. Shorter and later than usual. My mother’s boss decided to go on vacation and gave all her employees a week off – without pay.
I felt this, heavy in my heart, at the end of the month as I sat on the fire escape. I didn’t want my mother to see me cry.
But the crows would listen. Peg hopped beside me. They never got close enough for me to actually touch them. But I could see the confusion in her dark eyes.
I wiped my nose on the sleeve of my sweatshirt. “You birds are lucky,” I said. “You can build your own homes.” At least, I assumed that. I had never actually seen a crow’s nest; I only knew that they flew west with the sun at the end of the day, beyond the bus stop and the hospital and the graveyard.
Next day, there was a gift waiting for me on the plywood feeding station. I didn’t know what it was, at first. I scrubbed it up and turned the piece of metal over in my hand. 
A cuff link. Like the kind that men in suits would sometimes wear when they came into the donut shop. This one had a blue stone the size of a pea in it.
I bit my lip. Maybe it was worth some money. 
I took it to the pawn shop. Worries roiled in my skull: What if they laughed at me and told me it was plastic? What if it really belonged to someone, and they were looking for it? What if..?
I shook my head. If it was worth something or not, it was mine. A gift. I would not feel guilty for this.
The pawn shop gave me two hundred dollars for it. Enough to make the last bit of our rent and order a pizza. I saved the crusts for the birds.
I lay awake that night, certain the cops would come pounding on our door, searching for a cuff link. Who would believe that a bird had given it to me?
My mother believed me. She asked me where it came from, and I told her. She just nodded and slid the crisp twenties into an envelope to go under the landlady’s door.
I came home the next day to see blue and red strobe lights flashing before our apartment building. My heart leaped into my throat. It had been stolen. I was caught.
I felt the urge to run. But I knew that there was no use in that. My mother would lie to protect me and place herself in trouble. I squared my shoulders and walked to the corner.
A cop stopped me. “Are you Jordan?”
I lifted my chin. “Yes.”
“We need for you to…” The last thing the cop said was obliterated by the rush of blood in my ears. I looked past him, at a stopped car. At an ambulance. At a sheet-covered figure lying in the middle of the crosswalk, a figure wearing my mother’s shoes.
I screamed, louder than any crow.
***
It was a hit-skip, they said. Someone plowed my mother down in the crosswalk. Witnesses caught a partial license plate, and the police were searching for a guy who seemingly never drove without at least a six-pack under his belt.
The apartment was so empty without her. For weeks, I tried to talk to the dead, yelling and sobbing at the walls.
Only the crows answered me with their hoarse chatter. I remembered to feed them, but I did little else. I couldn’t bring myself to touch my mother’s unmade bed, to wash a fork that she’d used, or even to throw away the pizza box that contained our last meal together. 
The crows came and went, in fluttering shadow. They brought me a new assortment of baubles: buttons, a hair comb, an earring. I collected them without much thought, except to wonder if the earring might be worth something. It was crusty, but it looked like it real gold. Or how I imagined real gold would look if I had any experience with it.
I pressed my fists to my eyes as I sat on the fire escape. Why couldn’t I talk to the dead just this once to tell my mother that I loved her?
The beat of wings disturbed my hair. I looked down beside me. Peg held something in her beak.
I waited for her to drop it and fly away. Except she didn’t. She stood still, looking at me with bottomless eyes. 
I opened my hand and extended it gingerly to her.
She dropped the thing into my palm and took off with three beats of her wings.
I stared at the lump of mud. I chipped away at it with my fingernail. A ring, I thought. I spat on it and rubbed it against my shirt. I held it up to the sun, and my heart dropped.
It was my mother’s silver ring.
The one she’d been buried with.
My mind flashed back to all the dirty treasures, and I stared at the sky, where the crows were flying west, toward the graveyard.




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11 comments:

  1. I like the cover. Its very intriguing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! The cover artist is the always-wonderful Danielle Fine!

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  2. Replies
    1. Thanks! Danielle Fine is the cover artist, and I love her vampires!

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  3. Replies
    1. Thank you! My cover artist, Danielle Fine, does wonderful work!

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  4. Thanks so much for hosting me! I appreciate it!

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  5. Thanks for the review, sounds like a great book for the season.

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  6. Intriguing cover, this is a new author to me.

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  7. I enjoyed learning of this author!

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