PRAISE FOR BY BLOOD
“By Blood effortlessly transports you to the cobblestone streets and small pubs of Oxford, and Emma’s sassy voice pulls you right into the story with its hot British boys and touch of magic. A must read!” —Susanne Winnacker, author of Impostor and The Other Life
“A five star read from start to finish. Un-put-downable!” —Vanessa Garbin, author of the forthcoming Captivate
"Emma's sarcastic, biting narrative and the lure of Celtic myth and magic constructs a brilliant book to cosy up with...if you dare!" ~ 21st Century Once Upon a Times blog
"Love this book! It's a sweet little gem and I am glad that I got to read it! If you are looking for a story that is fun and quick, then I would recommend this book. You will want to know what happens to Emma in the matters of boys, family and adventure!" ~ Sarah, Me My Shelf And I blog
BY BLOOD EXCERPT #1
The baby was still crying. For a split second, I imagined taking my static-y, synthetic airplane pillow and pressing it against his face, until the blood-curdling screams stopped and there was, finally, silence.
“Come on, you little poop machine!” I muttered, voice edging into desperation. I made yet another silly face and wiggled my fingers at him. I tried bouncing him on my knee. Not that it made a difference. He kept crying, his face an angry red verging on purple. I peeked furtively at the other passengers; their dirty looks were hard to ignore. At any moment the leathery, pack-a-day military guy across the aisle was going to vent his obvious frustration, or the flight attendant intervene.
Mom breathed deeply next to me, her soft, doughy body slumped against the wall of the plane. Her black hair was swept into a low bun, clearly exposing a neon orange ear plug.
“Mom,” I whispered, nudging her more gently than she deserved. She didn’t move. “Mom!” I hoisted the kid into her lap and her arms automatically reached out to cuddle him close. Her eyes opened a slit.
When she saw me looking, she raised an eyebrow in question and removed the ear plug. And winced, as the baby’s wails redoubled.
”Please take Vermin,” I begged, “I’m pretty sure the guys in Row 14 are trying to figure out how they can kill us and make it look like an accident.”
Mom glared. “Emma, don’t be silly. And don’t call him that. Your grandfather would roll in his grave.” I opened my mouth to tell her I didn’t care what Grandpa Fermin did in his grave, but her look when she turned to gaze at her little mutant son stopped me. No scowl for him, even though he was still huffing and sputtering in distress. She tickled his belly – just like I’d done not two minutes ago – and elicited a mostly toothless and more importantly silent smile. Her expression melted into a look of love so obvious I thought for a moment I might be sick. When I slumped back in my seat, my elbow cracked painfully against the armrest.
With a happy gurgle, Vermin reached out and grabbed a chunk of my hair. I gave him a grimace, the closest thing to a smile I could manage. I tried to keep the revulsion from my face. It’s not like he was ugly. He already had a full head of silky dark hair, and wide, deceptively innocent eyes. He looked mostly Filipino, like Mom, except for his milky skin.
It wasn’t his fault I hated him.
But the fact remained that his presence meant my mom was having sex with someone other than my father. His very existence meant that my family would never be the same.
Probably it was just lack of sleep and not the consumption of cider that made my heels skitter dangerously against the cobblestones as I tottered my way back towards the house. As I walked, my mind flickered aimlessly from thoughts of Colin’s wolfish grin to wondering if the graceful swashes of graffiti on the concrete wall I passed were Arabic. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t make myself concentrate on anything useful. Like walking straight. Or where I’d put my purse.
I got halfway down the block before Josh caught up with me. “Hey, wait up,” he said and grabbed my arm when I stumbled a little.
“So did you punch him?” I giggled. If there had been a fight, I was glad Josh won. He kept his hand on my arm as we walked.
“What?” Josh asked.
For a second I couldn’t remember my question; I was too busy imagining Josh’s fist connecting with Colin’s too-pronounced jaw. Ha.
“You know, all that testosterone back there…” My hand reached over of its own accord and squeezed his bicep. “I thought we were going to have an international incident.” I’d never had a guy fight over me before. Not that Josh had fought over me. Not really. Though he’d had a protective vibe going on that was kind of hot. Not that I thought he was hot. Well, I did, but—
Suddenly my heel caught on the edge of a brick and my ankles wobbled. Josh tightened his grip on me and I tried not to lean on him too heavily as he led me forward.
“Jeez. You don’t hold your liquor very well. Are you okay?” He really did have beautiful eyes: clear cobalt blue with dark rings around the irises.
“It’s not like I’ve had a lot of practice,” I replied. “And yes, I’m fine. It’s just my shoes.”
“Not just. But I see your point. Those heels look lethal.”
There was something sexy about a guy who could appreciate my death-defying footwear. I flicked the boot’s stiletto heel in his direction, showing off a little. And teetered. My arms flailed and my elbow made contact with some portion of Josh’s anatomy. He grunted and I wobbled more. Oh crap. I was going down. Even worse, another of my ridiculous giggles spewed out. Just my luck I’d be the silly giggling girl with a broken ankle.
Before I could do real damage, though, Josh caught me, strong hands on my waist. He held me close, chest to breasts, until I was steady again on my feet, and then let his hands move to my wrists, a final reassurance that I wasn’t going to go toppling over.
My eyes trailed downward, drawn by the pressure of his hands on my arms, and widened when I saw a small sparkly box hanging from his wrist.
“My purse!” I exclaimed with relief.
He hastily handed it to me, as if he’d just remembered that he’d been carrying a lady’s purse around. “Oh yeah. I figured you’d be wanting that.”
I threw my arms around his neck, my exuberance knocking him back a step. “Thank you so much. You just saved my life. Seriously!”
Before my brain had a chance to catch up to my body, which was reveling in the feel of his warm, steadying hands on my waist, I stretched up to give him an enthusiastic kiss on the cheek. And somehow made contact with his lips.
I didn’t even have time to close my eyes and enjoy it.
“Whoa, whoa there.” His hands fell from my sides as if I’d burned him, and he took a big step back. “It was no problem. Really.” He reached out, without moving any closer, and gave me an awkward, brotherly pat on the arm. “I think we need to get you home. I didn’t realize one drink would be such a big deal for you.”
Oh no. What was I thinking? I stood frozen, mouth open.
Josh walked a few steps, but when he saw that I wasn’t following he paused.
“Come on, Emma.” His eyes were shadowed, hiding his expression.
I didn’t want to follow him. I wanted slink to the ground and slither away, find a hole somewhere, someplace where I could die of embarrassment.
“This time we’ll each invoke the element of nature we want to draw strength from. Each of us will make an offering—” Simon pointed to the empty bowl. I swallowed. “—and then I’ll close the circle by submitting our offering to the universe.”
I didn’t have a clue what he meant by that, but the last ritual had been pretty easy to follow.
He opened the Grove the same way he’d done before, flashing the sword at East, South, West, and North, and invoking each of the four elements. Again, I felt the tingle of the living Earth beneath my feet. The air was much clearer tonight; a gusty breeze rustled through the watchful trees and set Simon’s candle flickering.
Again, Simon said, “Now that we have called on the elements, we may proceed with the work of the Grove.” And Harrison, Simon, George and Molly purified the circle by air, fire, water and earth.
We’d started tonight’s ceremony later, and long shadows played against our faces. Bryna’s hair flamed in the glow of the setting sun. Tonight felt different; there was an edge to the anticipation. Ash wasn’t smiling. But we were all waiting, tensed to see what would happen next.
Simon set the bowl with the votive on the ground and held up the flask and the sword. “I invoke the spirit of flame to infuse this Grove with strength.” His voice was strong. He took a sip from the flask and then walked to the center of the circle. “By my blood,” he said and nicked his palm with the blade.
I watched a thin trickle of blood drip into the bowl. My face felt hot. When Diana and I were ten, we made ourselves blood sisters, pricking our palms with needles and squishing the tiny drops of blood together. That had been fun, silly even. We’d giggled through the whole thing.
This—this felt real. There was real power in the words Simon said, in the drops of his blood in that bowl. I breathed deeply, watching in fascination as Simon resumed his place and handed Ash the flask and sword. She wiped the tip of the blade against her bare leg and took a drink from the flask.
When she spoke, she did it with authority. “I invoke the spirit of all warm living, breathing things to give this Grove strength. By my blood.” A few more drops of cherry red blood fell into the bowl.
“I invoke the spirit of unyielding stone.” George hissed when the sword slid against his skin.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” Molly declared, looking askance at the sword. But in the end, she invoked the spirit of spring – rebirth, she said – and made a little cut on her palm with a squeal.
It was my turn next. I felt the weight of the sword in my hand, looked down to see my white dress shimmering in the gloom of twilight. What strength did I want from the earth? What power did I wish I had? As I thought, I stepped to the center of the circle and took a gulp from the flask – the flavor was different this time. Spicy, dark. Like red wine, but sharper. It left a coppery taste, like blood, on my tongue.
Suddenly, I remembered the calm I’d felt Saturday, meditating with Ash. The flow of my breath, inhalation, exhalation like waves. “I invoke the spirit of the sea,” I said, and my voice didn’t shake. “By my blood, I ask the ocean to lend us its strength.”
Quickly, so I didn’t have time to think, I swiped the tip of the sword against my skin. The cut burned, but it was shallow and only a few drops of blood leaked out. I stepped back to my place and passed the flask and sword to Harrison.
“I invoke the spirit of air,” he said, gesturing to the incense in the bowl at his feet. I could smell the sandalwood faintly; it mixed oddly with the spicy dark flavor in my mouth.
Bryna went last, and she cut herself the most deeply. I gasped at the small stream of blood as it flowed into the bowl. She invoked the spirit of thunder.
I pressed my palms together and felt the sting of my cut; it had almost stopped bleeding, but I didn’t want to get blood on my dress.
Walking to the center of the circle, Simon held the blood-filled vessel up to the sky. “By earth, air, water and fire,” he said, his voice ringing, “and by our blood, we invoke the strength of flame, of living, breathing things, of stone, spring, and the sea. We invoke the strength of the very air around us and in our lungs, and we invoke the strength of thunder.”
As he said the words, a great gust of wind blew through the glade, whipping my hair off my face. I could almost feel the earth shift beneath me, almost hear the faint rumble of thunder in the distance. My mouth was full of the taste of blood, and my skin shivered under the touch of the wind.
For a moment, we all stared at each other, our eyes wide.
Did that just—what was that?
SOUNDTRACK FOR BY BLOOD
To get in the mood to write By Blood, I listened to British pop music for the fun Oxford touristy bits and dreamy, atmospheric songs for the Druid rituals. Some of my favorites:
Follow Me Home, Sugababes
Sin Sin Sin, Robbie Williams
You Never Get What You Deserve, Starsailor
Goodbye My Lover, James Blunt
People Got a Lotta Nerve, Neko Case
On My Way Back Home, Band of Horses
Your Heart Is As Black As Night, Melody Gardot
First Love, Adele
Cannonball, Damien Rice
Criminal, Fiona Apple
If You Want Me, from the movie Once
Finding My Own Way, Charlotte Church
The Moon and Sky, Sade
GUEST POST ~ THE BEAUTY OF A BADASS CHICK
One of my biggest role models when I was in high school was Buffy Summers, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Growing up, I constantly felt like I had to prove I was just as strong/smart/brave as the boys. And here was Buffy, a short, dainty blond chick who was constantly underestimated…and then totally kicked people’s butts.
The truth is, being a girl can be awfully scary sometimes. It’s just a fact of nature that we’re often shorter or weaker than our male counterparts, and that can lead to moments where we feel powerless or out of control.
Emma, the main character in By Blood, is a short, curvaceous chick, but it was really important to me that she also be strong enough to take care of herself. Not with special powers, but with knowledge and a little skill. Her dad’s a cop and she helps him teach self-defense classes, so she has the tools to defend herself (which, yes, she has occasion to use in By Blood! ;-)). Here’s a little peek at one of these classes:
Dad moved to stand behind me, then simulated a slow-motion attack so I could demonstrate as I explained the best techniques to evade or incapacitate an assailant. I walked the girls through “SING” – solar plexus, instep, nose, groin – and they laughed at the funny face Dad made when I pretended to hit him in the crotch.
“Remember,” I said, “it doesn’t matter how tall or short you are, or whether you’re in shape.” I made a grand gesture that started at my black sneakers and swept up purple leg warmers, black leggings, to the loose gray tunic that clung to my curves. “I’m not exactly intimidating, right? I’m shorter than most of you for one thing. But that doesn’t mean I can’t protect myself.” I shifted my position, ready for the next move. “The more we practice, the more muscle memory we build, so our instincts when in danger will be the right instincts.”
Now came the best part—the part that got the oohs and aahs. Dad reached over my shoulders and before you could say “speeding ticket” I had him on the floor, belly up on the mat. The girls started clapping and a couple laughed in surprise. Dad grinned up at me. I loved that he let me lead the class, and that he was okay with me throwing him around in front of a bunch of girls. Not all cops were cool like that. Not all Dads either.
There are lots of places to take self-defense classes, and resources online and elsewhere that can give you tips on how to protect yourself. As Emma says, you don’t have to be in great shape or a black belt to save yourself in a scary moment. All you need is knowledge – and maybe a little practice!
Here’s an example of some good self-defense tips! http://lifehacker.com/5825528/basic-self+defense-moves-anyone-can-do-and-everyone-should-know
TRACY E. BANGHART AUTHOR BIO
Tracy E. Banghart is a cheesy movie–loving, fantasy football–playing (go Ravens!), globe-trotting Army wife who began “practicing” her craft at the age of five, when she wrote her first story. She loves visiting the international friends she met while pursuing her MA in Publishing and spends a portion of every summer at her family’s cabin in Canada, where she finds inspiration and lots of time to relax on the dock. She lives with her husband, son, two lazy dogs and one ornery cat. When not writing or spending time with her family, she is on a mission to bake the perfect cupcake.
Tracy’s next novel, Moon Child, a companion to By Blood, will be available this August!