Nine of Stars A Wildlands Novel
On Sale Date: December 27, 2016 Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Following on the heels of her critically acclaimed prequel novels Dark Alchemy and Mercury Retrograde comes the first installment in Laura Bickle’s dark contemporary fantasy series, Nine of Stars, a Wildlands Novel
Winter has always been a deadly season in Temperance, but this time, there’s more to fear than just the cold…
As the daughter of an alchemist, Petra Dee has faced all manner of occult horrors—especially since her arrival in the small town of Temperance, Wyoming. But she can’t explain the creature now stalking the backcountry of Yellowstone, butchering wolves and leaving only their skins behind in the snow. Rumors surface of the return of Skinflint Jack, a nineteenth-century wraith that kills in fulfillment of an ancient bargain.
The new sheriff in town, Owen Rutherford, isn’t helping matters. He’s a dangerously haunted man on the trail of both an unsolved case and a fresh kill—a bizarre murder leading him right to Petra’s partner Gabriel. And while Gabe once had little to fear from the mortal world, he’s all too human now. This time, when violence hits close to home, there are no magical solutions.
It’s up to Petra and her coyote sidekick Sig to get ahead of both Owen and the unnatural being hunting them all—before the trail turns deathly cold.
The surface of the water churned. At first Gabe thought it was the wind, swirling around loose chunks of slush. But bubbles seethed from the interior, pushing through the gold algae.
He reached for his rifle and pressed it to his shoulder. He aimed it at the water, sighting down to see a black mass rushing upward, breaking the surface in a hail of spattered slush. Crowned in antlers, the creature glittered with ice, launching itself up into the daylight like a whale breaching the surface of the ocean. Jack.
Instinctively, Gabe blew out his breath and pulled the trigger. He fired once, twice, intending to put the creature back down in the water. His rifle jolted his shoulder with each shot, and he knew he’d hit the creature dead in its center of mass.
But the shadow leapt up onto the bank, dripping, crouching. It was the shape of a man, with antlers crowning its head. It looked upon Gabe through the skull of a stag, pale and ferocious . . . and it stood up. In one hand, it gripped the golden coin Gabe had cast into the water. A fistful of bone-pale knives dripped from the other.
Gabe ratcheted back the slide on his rifle and fired again. The creature didn’t flinch. It was as if the soaking pelts of its cloak simply sucked them in.
Petra was shooting at it, too, with no better results. She was shouting at Sig to get behind her.
Gabe kept firing, backing away to the snowmobiles. He had known that Skinflint Jack was a fearsome creature, but he suspected that Jack could be hurt. He’d guessed wrong.
Jack lowered his head and made a run at Gabe. Gabe dove away, but not before the darkness of Jack’s cloak slapped him in the side of the face. It was like being slapped by the abyss—cold, stunning hell. An antler caught Gabe in the shoulder and he tumbled, ass over teakettle, into a snowdrift.
He rolled over in the snow, the shadow looming over him.
“Hey, you! Cthulhu wannabe! Look what I got.”
Jack turned. Petra was holding two glittering gold coins in her hand. She made sure that he’d seen her. He took two steps away from Gabe, toward her . . .
. . . and she pitched the coins as far as she could, into the snowy waste. The pair of them shone like falling stars on the way down.
Jack paused, seeming torn.
But he growled and scuttled after the coins.
Gabe climbed onto his snowmobile and cranked the engine. Petra and Sig had already climbed aboard theirs and gotten the engine going. He followed Petra to a hasty retreat up the valley. Behind him, he watched the dark figure in the snowfield sifting through the snow with his hands.
That had been a disaster.
But they sure as hell had managed to get Skinflint Jack’s attention, for good or ill.
Laura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. After graduating with an MA in Sociology-Criminology from Ohio State University and an MLIS in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she patrolled the stacks at the public library and worked with data systems in criminal justice. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs. Her work has 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.