The Becoming Series

Exclusive: An Excerpt From Bloodlines!

The end of the revisions for Bloodlines are rapidly closing in, and as a thank-you for your patience while I continue to chug along through the last quarter of the book, I’m very happy to offer up an excerpt from early in the book, exclusively here on my website! This is not an excerpt that’s been published before—it doesn’t appear in the back of the previous books or anything like that.

I hope you enjoy, and be sure to comment below and let me know what you think!

So without further ado, here’s an excerpt from Bloodlines!

Dez Ikeda felt like no matter what he did, he couldn’t seem to knock the chill out of his limbs. He’d spent most of his morning pacing along the span of the wooden, fifteen-foot wall that faced south, spanning two blocks along Franklin Street, centered on Walnut Avenue, his assigned section of the Demopolis community’s barrier wall, trying and failing to rub warmth into his fingers as he kept an eye out for any potential dangers. He didn’t remember Atlanta being this cold. Then again, when winter hit in Atlanta last year, he hunkered down in his hideout and didn’t go out much, opting to keep shielded from the cold and live off the stockpile he’d spent months building up just for such an event.

This year was different. This year, he wasn’t spending winter alone—he had responsibilities, people that it was his job to help guard, and though he’d only been in Demopolis for not quite two weeks, he felt the weight of that responsibility acutely. He’d spent two years sitting on the sidelines, keeping his military-taught skills close to the vest, shamefully avoiding confrontation in favor of self-preservation. Helping that unnamed Black man and the pretty girl with him had been nothing short of a revelation, and he was determined to help Demopolis in whatever way he could.

Dez paced to the center of Walnut Avenue, stopping on the dividing line between lanes, standing just north of the railroad tracks that ran along Franklin as he studied the two-block stretch of landscape before him. To his left, along the block that stretched from Walnut to Strawberry Street, was primarily a large, open field adorned by a few trees and a couple of low-slung buildings at the far end of the block—formerly a dentist’s office and a lawyer’s office, both buildings thoroughly cleaned out of anything useful a long time ago, according to Darius Richardson, one of the community’s council members and the man who’d been put in charge of security. To his right, on the block running to North Main Avenue, though, was a veritable forest of overgrown vegetation, probably well-kept before the apocalypse hit but left to run wild since then. It was a badly overlooked safety hazard—anything could be hiding in those trees, bushes, and vines, waiting for a moment to breach the community’s defenses. He would have to bring it up to Darius. A clearing crew and security for them would need to be arranged; if anything, the work would provide a nice haul of firewood for the rest of winter so the community could hopefully stay warm.

The rumble of a vehicle’s engine reached Dez’s ears from somewhere down Walnut. He stiffened, taking his rifle off his shoulder and making it ready, even as he double-checked the pad of paper in his pocket that contained that morning’s security notes. The truck from the Gaineswood satellite camp wasn’t expected until tomorrow, and Dean and Todd were scheduled to return with them. So who the hell was coming up the street toward him when there wasn’t supposed to be anybody there?

Dez stuffed the notepad back into his pocket and raised his rifle in a ready-fire position, prepared to squeeze the trigger at a moment’s notice if a threat presented itself. His concern of a threat appeared to be well-founded as the vehicle in question came into view: an M1035A2 Humvee, painted in the typical colors of the U.S. Army, coming straight up Walnut toward the community.

“Shit,” Dez swore, wavering between opening fire and running for additional help. Common sense ended up winning out—he could only handle so much on his own—and he bolted for the small gate built into the wall, off to the side, flinging it open and hurrying through onto a walkway fronting a set of old storefronts. He ran down the walkway to the last storefront on the row that used to be a lawyer’s office, pounding on the door several times before flinging it open.

“There’s a military truck,” he announced to the five people arrayed around the room. His breath felt short, not from the run but from the sudden, furious burst of adrenaline that had surged into his veins at the sight of the Humvee, and he grasped the doorframe to steady himself as his eyes darted over the handful of people inside. Darius sat behind a desk, studying some papers in front of him; Dez’s friend Emma, who had traveled to Demopolis with him after he met her on the road, was helping two others, Aiden and Nat, reload gun magazines with bullets, while Demetrius, Darius’s son, was cleaning the parts of a disassembled pistol. All of them looked up at him at his pronouncement, and he added, “It’s coming this way.”

There was a lull as everyone processed what he’d said. Then Darius stood from his desk, looked them all over, and began issuing orders. “Everyone, get armed up. Emma, run and alert the rest of the council. The rest of you, take up your posts.”

The general scramble as the others moved to do as Darius ordered seemed to echo off the wooden floors and sheetrock walls. As they armed up and as Emma slid past Dez to make the mad sprint for the city hall building up the block, Darius motioned to him. “Come on, let’s go meet our new guests, see if we can find out what sort of threat they might pose to us.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Dez asked, though that didn’t stop him from moving farther into the room and grabbing extra ammunition off the table Emma and the others had been working at before he followed Darius back out the way he’d come in. “Wouldn’t it be a better idea to wait for backup to rally and come with us?”

“Yeah, that probably would be a better idea,” Darius agreed, walking alongside him to the gate and stepping through it, shutting it behind them. “But there are too many people behind this wall counting on us to keep them safe,” he explained, tapping his knuckles against the plywood, “and any advanced notice of danger we can give them might mean the different between life and death for them.”

Dez couldn’t help but notice that Darius failed to mention the life-or-death difference for the two of them.

Now wasn’t the time to address it, though, because really, Darius was right—that was, after all, what the community guards were for. Besides, their visitors had officially arrived, and there was no time to wait for additional help. The large military truck had rolled to a stop a quarter of the way down the block at a seemingly safe distance, and it sat there, its engine idling, loud enough to preclude any further conversation between Dez and Darius. Then the engine cut off, and the silence that fell was almost deafening. The only things Dez could hear were the sounds of his own breathing and the heavy weight of anticipation over what was going to happen next.

There was a muffled pop, and Dez almost raised his rifle but hesitated when he realized it was just the passenger door opening and someone emerging from inside the truck. Beside him, Darius stiffened, then took two steps forward, right up to the edge of the railroad tracks, and called out.

“Damn, Dean, you scared the hell out of me,” he said, and Dez squinted, realizing he was looking at Dean Garraway, one of the two hunters who’d gone out in a pickup truck earlier that morning. He was definitely not returning in the same vehicle he’d left in. “What are you doing here?” Darius continued. “You guys weren’t due back until tomorrow when you came over with the Gaineswood crew. And where the hell did you guys get that truck?”

Dean made an odd gesture in the direction of the truck, like he was communicating something to someone inside, then strode toward the two of them. As he drew closer, Dez saw that his expression was pinched, strained, like he’d been through a boxing match in Hell and it had taken a toll on him. He stopped when he drew close enough to speak without yelling, standing on the opposite side of the tracks, stuffing his hands into his pockets and rocking on his heels, the toes of his tennis shoes brushing the metal of the track with every other pass. He refused to meet their eyes, looking everywhere but at them.

“Dean?” Darius prompted cautiously.

Dean drew in a slow breath, let it out, and said in a rush, “Todd’s dead.”

“Shit,” Darius breathed.

Dez shook his head in sympathy. “What happened?”

“Zombie,” Dean explained. “They swarmed us in the woods while we were hunting. I got away. He didn’t.” By the look on his face and the way he opened his mouth and then closed it again, Dez suspected there was something more to it, but clearly, Dean had no intention of elaborating.

“Damn, we can’t be losing even more people than we already have,” Darius remarked. “We’re already running low on manpower. The others on the council have been talking about shutting down Gaineswood just to bring those people back here to help guard.”

Dez was barely listening as Darius talked, instead looking past Dean at the vehicle beyond. “Who’s in the truck?” he asked, interrupting Darius’s continuing blather. He shifted his eyes to Dean and added, “Did you bring the military here?”

“What?” Dean asked, then hastily added, “They’re not military. At least, they said they’re not, and I think I believe them. They’re the ones that helped me, that saved me from the zombies. Their leader—I guess he’s their leader, anyway—claims to be Ethan Bennett.”

“Wait, what?” Darius exclaimed, and Dez’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “The Ethan Bennett? Are you sure?”

“That’s what he says,” Dean replied, giving them both a helpless shrug. “I don’t know why he would claim to be him if he wasn’t actually him.”

“I can think of a few reasons,” Dez remarked. “Considering the reputation someone like Ethan Bennett has developed over the past year or so, can you imagine the access claiming to be Ethan Bennett would get you? You could literally go anywhere you wanted.”

“True,” Dean acknowledged.

“So how do we know he’s really Ethan Bennett and not some grifter military guy trying to infiltrate Demopolis to gather intel on us?” Darius asked. “Or steal our stuff?”

Before Dez could even consider offering a suggestion—not that he actually had any—the pop of vehicle doors broke out again. Dean turned to face the Humvee as the vehicle’s doors swung open, three figures disembarking from the cab, hopping down to the pavement below. Two of them started toward the three, a blond man and woman, moving cautiously, their empty hands clearly displayed, as if trying to demonstrate that neither of them posed a threat.

Dez’s eyes slid past them, zeroing in on the third figure that stayed beside the Humvee. It was a woman, judging by the curve of the hips and the very feminine dip of the waist just above them. Her back was to them, and she was obviously scanning her surroundings like a good, responsible survivor, a compound bow in her right hand, a quiver of arrows on her back. Her dark brown hair was pulled into a braid, which had a noticeable shine to it in the afternoon sunlight. As the man and woman drew close enough to speak, their hands still raised in a non-threatening manner, the dark-haired woman turned to face in their direction, like she wanted to watch what was about to happen. And if Dez hadn’t been so disciplined with his weapon, he might have dropped it in his shock.

His jaw, on the other hand, did fall open, and he breathed out, “Holy shit.”

“Dez?” Darius prompted, looking at him strangely, his forehead drawn into a frown. “What is it? Is something wrong?”

“I know her!”

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Bloodlines! Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Bloodlines will be releasing in Fall 2023. Be sure to follow the blog to stay up to date on when preorders go live!

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