And with that, the seed for my novel, Bounty, was planted.
As often happens with my stories, it took on a life of its own. I wanted to get away from the modern day take on vampires and zombies. I wanted to use characters who wouldn’t know what these creatures were, wouldn’t know a stake through the heart would kill a vampire, or a bullet to the head would bring down a zombie. I had to set it in a different time, and I decided that the Old West would make for an interesting place. I had never written a Western before, but the characters and plot kept bringing me back to the Old West, and so I gave in.
“Bounty,” became the title of the first book in my Venom Valley Series, and it introduces Josh Stanton, an outcast all his life in the small town that allowed him to live there but refused to let him all the way in. Raised by his mother, a rumored witch, on the outskirts of town, he was taken in by the town's spinster school marm, Agnes, when his mother vanished one night.When the book opens, Josh is in trouble. He has found Agnes dead in the house they share, a heart attack maybe, or a stroke. He tells no one, but he sits with his rifle across his lap, and he waits. Because he knows what's coming next, he can feel it. And when she comes awake, as he anticipated, she is different, not the Agnes he knew, and very hungry. With lurching steps she stalks Josh, reaches for him, opens her mouth wide to bite into him... and he shoots her in the head. It's the only way he's learned to bring down the restless dead.
Understanding follows closely behind grief. He realizes no one in town will believe him, not even his best friend growing up, Dexter Wells, who is now a town deputy. So Josh flees into the night, leaving Agnes's body behind.
Meanwhile, in the town of Belkin’s Pass itself, the working girls at the local saloon, the One-Eyed Rooster, are being stalked by a dark stranger. It is a vampire, but none of them know what he is or what to call him, they simply succumb to his powerful persuasion and allow him to feast on their blood. All of them but Glory, a half white, half Indian saloon girl who is protected by a Native American spirit.
Glory tries to save the others, but too many of the girls are fully turned by the time she understands what’s happening in the halls and tiny rooms of the One-Eyed Rooster, and she flees.
Dexter Wells has found Agnes and goes looking for Josh. He knows a sheriff's posse will be coming along behind him soon, and he wants to hear Josh's reasons for himself. He tracks his best friend to the abandoned house where Josh had been raised by his mother, out on the edge of the desert scrub known by the locals as Venom Valley. When he arrives, his feelings for Josh, much stronger than friendship, come to the surface and Dex decides that now is the only time he may have left to speak the words he's kept close to his heart. But what good can they do against such odds?
The characters come together in the barren wasteland of Venom Valley where they figure out some key secrets to battling not only the resurrected dead that haunt Josh’s path, but the power hungry vampire Balthazar who stalks them.
The terror of Josh's nightmare seeped from his system and he swallowed hard past the dry residue of it lodged in his throat like a clod of dirt. He leaned over the edge of the bed, fingers reaching for the rifle where it lay in a patch of moonlight that spilled in from the window by the bed.
Then a quiet voice spoke from the shadows: “Let me in.”
Gooseflesh broke out over Josh’s body and he froze, fingertips grazing the wooden stock of the rifle. He fought back the fear that paralyzed him and forced himself to finish his movement, grabbing the rifle and sitting upright on the bed.
He scanned the heavy shadows but found no sign of an intruder, so he took a moment to tuck his cock back inside his trousers and use the blanket to wipe himself clean. Sliding off the bed, Josh crouched in the shadows gathered at the foot. Someone was outside, a man from the sound of it, but one whose voice he did not recognize.
And then the voice came again, floating out of the darkness. It surrounded him, wrapped around him, like a soft, black bed sheet loosed from a drying line. The voice pulled him to his feet and toward the door, soothing and chilling all at once. It called to him in a way that made him want to lay down his rifle and step outside. The words were spoken with an eloquent tongue, touched by an accent that hinted at lands far removed from this flat, dry prairie.
“Open the door,” the voice beckoned. “Let me look in your eyes; let me see your handsome face.”
Josh took a step toward the door, and then stopped, shaking his head as he gripped the rifle tight. He thought about Dex, conjured the memory of a summer day spent working around Agnes’s house. He had been able to smell Dex’s work-sweat, could almost smell it again now, that heady scent that made Josh hard in an instant and left his mouth watering.
“I feel you in there,” the voice whispered. “Let me in. I won’t hurt you.”
“No,” Josh said through clenched teeth.
“At least open the door,” cooed the voice. Josh could hear the pout in his words. “It’s so impersonal speaking this way.”
Feet moving without thought, Josh drifted through the dark room to the door. He drew back the bolt as if in a dream and pulled open the door.
Moonlight spilled through the doorway to splash across his feet and he paused, rifle at his side, hand on the edge of the door. The land stretched away in the cold moonlight. Halfway between the house and the barn, the pump stood at the end of its long shadow. The night was silent, unnaturally so. No insects buzzed, no night birds called. It was as if every living thing had stopped and caught its breath.
But someone, or something, was out there, and it was close. Josh’s skin prickled as a wash of cold air curled around him. He shivered and clutched the rifle tight to his chest, his eyes darting around the barren prairie.
“Show yourself,” he whispered, lips barely parted.
“As you wish.”
A black shape filled the doorway, inches in front of him, appearing out of the air and making Josh’s breath catch in his throat. The form blocked out the moonlight and towered over him, standing just outside the threshold. The cold air that had rolled in the door seemed to grow even more frigid, and Josh wondered if he would be able to see his breath.
It was a man, but a man unlike any Josh had ever seen. He was tall, more than six and a half feet, taller even than Dex. In the shadows that cloaked the man’s face, Josh could make out a prominent nose and a heavy brow. He was clean-shaven and pale, his chin pointed beneath the dark slash of his mouth, and his thick, dark hair hung below his shoulders.
In the veil of shadow that concealed the man’s face, his eyes gleamed red as embers. The glowing eyes captured Josh’s attention and held him pinned to the spot.
The stranger stared at Josh, into him, as the chill of the night air sank into Josh’s flesh, biting into his very bones. Inches away, the man turned up a corner of his mouth as his red eyes filled Josh’s vision, became his land, his sky, his world, and pushed into the soft meat of his brain.
“Look what we have here,” the man said, the sound of his voice soothing Josh’s nerves even as the cold rolling off him put Josh on edge. “Where did you stumble in from?”
Josh kept silent, trying in vain to tear his gaze from the man’s eyes. But his limbs were locked, frozen by the chill that surrounded him.
The man leaned closer but remained outside the threshold. He breathed in deep through his nose, closing his eyes. Once those glowing red eyes closed, Josh blinked and shook his head. The fog that had swallowed his brain cleared and he took a deep, freeing breath as the chill within him faded a bit. The man had bewitched him with his gaze.
Tom Webb, at A Bear on Books, said this about Bounty, "a fantastically original, rousing story of vampires, romance and the Old West. You won't be able to stop until you reach the end and you'll be left clamoring for Book 2."
The second book, Bait, should be available fall 2012.
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