Ria’s Blood Debt Deleted Scene

In writing Ria’s Blood Debt, I got pretty far in with a draft I really, really liked before I realized it just wasn’t going to work with the wider-series storyline. I even put the draft away from six months, hoping that I’d eventually come back and think up an ending.

In the end, I just had to accept that this plot just wasn’t going to work. But I still really like it, so I’m sharing it here.

This version of the story was more of a buddy-cop tale. In it, Tucker kidnaps Ria after calling in her blood debt, and the two of them have just one night to get all of the items needed for a cure. Along the way, they wind up in a forest outside of New York City. And of course, bad things happen.

Check it out below. I hope you enjoy it. And who knows? Maybe one day it’ll find it’s home in another story.

It takes about fifteen minutes of searching before we find the right combination of old car and abandoned block. We end up in a rusty old Volkswagen, and we get a pleasant surprise when Tucker starts the engine.

“Are you kidding me?” I say as I slap the heating vents. “There’s no fucking heat in this rust-bucket? Goddammit I’m never doing another mission without my car.”

“I’ll keep that in mind the next time I call in a blood debt,” Tucker says as he pulls off the street and starts making his way to the FDR drive.

“Not funny,” I say. “So which of the bloody three are we hitting up first? Gorgon, fae, or orc?”

“Orc first, while we’ve still got the strength to deal with it.”

“It really doesn’t help when you say things like that. Okay, where do we find orcs?”

“The woods, mostly. They tend to feed on wild animals, livestock, and the occasional lost camper.”

Great, I get to romp around the woods at night in the snow. This is going great.

“I’m taking us to a campground outside of the city. I’ve heard rumors of an orc enclave out there.” Tucker turns his attention back to the drive while I turn on the radio.

We catch an anchor talking about the fire on the lower east side. Apparently, everyone in the buildings above were evacuated in time, so at least I don’t have to worry about whether or not we burned innocent people alive.

“You care too much,” Tucker says.

“Excuse me?”

“Your heart started beating fast when you heard that everyone was evacuated.”

“You can HEAR my heart?”

“Let’s just say that when you’re a vampire, you pay attention to your food sources.”

“We need to work on your conversation skills.”

“My point is, you care about the safety of those outside of your circle.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Yes. It’s a weakness that your enemies can exploit. Your bleeding heart is going to get you or someone you actually love killed.”

“Let me guess, that’s why you don’t care about anyone or anything other than yourself, right?”

“Damn straight. Fewer attack points.”

“And how is that working out for you right now? Maybe you wouldn’t have gotten stabbed if someone had been around to warn you.”

“Or maybe, if I cared about someone, Ducart would have killed them first.”

“Or maybe—and I’m just spit-balling here—Ducart wouldn’t be after you if you hadn’t TAKEN HIS EYE.”

“We can go in circles all night, but don’t forget I’ve got more life experience than you. I think I know what I’m talking about.”

“Funny, that’s what human adults say to justify shitty behavior. I guess you’re more human than you think.”

As we approach Harlem, I spot a big pharmacy just off the highway. “Take the exit,” I say.

“What, why?”

“Because if we’re going to be stealing blood from things, we’re going to need a way to get the blood out of them and a way to keep the blood stored until we’re ready to put them together. That pharmacy should have needles and vials.”

“I don’t need any needles. I’ve got two right here.”

“Yeah, about that; how about we do this in a way that doesn’t leave anyone dead?”

“Weren’t you just mad at me for not killing Ducart earlier?”

“Fine; if we come across an orc, gorgon or fae that happens to know and hate you, I give you full permission to kill them. Now give me thirty bucks. Needles aren’t going to pay for themselves.”

Tucker pulls off the highway, and a few red lights later we’re in the parking lot of the pharmacy. Tucker gets to work rooting around in his pockets while I examine myself in the mirror. My chin is a little red from where the bouncer got me, but other than that I don’t have any obvious wounds.

My clothes, on the other hand, tell a different story. My leather jacket is covered in blood. Note to self, stand a safe-enough distance before shotgunning vampires next time.

I pull the jacket off, leaving me in just my black hoodie. Then I remove the mask as Tucker hands me the cash.

“Stay in here,” I say. “I won’t be long.”

“Don’t go calling your parents,” he warns. “I’ll know.”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it.”

I step out into the snow, pull the hoodie over my head and try very hard to walk in a straight line as I head toward the entrance of the pharmacy. Tucker’s threats aside, I seriously consider calling my parents. I can barely see straight, and we’ve probably got a pissed-off vampire with holes for an eye and a chest coming after us. This would be a shitty time on my best night. And tonight is totally not my best night.

I get to the entrance of the pharmacy and pull my hoodie down, exposing my face. It’s a risk, making myself visible to security cameras. But I’m hoping that no one will come to Harlem looking for clues to an arson case downtown. I’m also hoping that the sight of a black girl in a pharmacy in Harlem isn’t that strange of a sight yet.

The clock on the wall shows 1:30, and the pharmacy is a ghost town. Aside from one bored woman at the check-out machine and man pushing a mop around, I’m the only one in here. Works for me.

I find medical syringes and fluid vials in aisle four with blessedly little struggle. Hooray for the little victories. I also take the chance to pick up a fanny pack and a Swiss Army knife. Hey, you can never be too prepared.

Gear in tow, I make my way to the check-out and pile my spoils at the register. The cashier, a black woman with short-cut hair who looks to be just a bit older than me, eyes the syringes and vials and then me.

“Uh, I’m a scientist,” I say, my face feeling hot.

She arches her eyebrow. “Uh, huh. And I’m betting your swollen chin is from your latest experiment.”

I consider saying something, but think better of it. I’m trying to stay off the radar, and the last thing I need is for a cashier to call in any tips about the weird girl who bought all of the medical supplies in the middle of the night.

“Whatever. Have a good night.” I pay and get my items. I make my way to the exit, and I hear her voice as I walk through the door.

“Whatever you’re doing, it’s not too late to get out.”

That draws a chuckle from me. Lady, it’s far too late.


The drive out of New York takes about forty-five minutes from Harlem, so it’s almost 2 in the morning by the time we pull off a dark service road onto a parking lot in front of a large waterfront banquet hall of some sort.

“We’re here,” Tucker says as he opens the car door and steps out into the night. I bristle as the wind enters the car, stealing away what little warmth remained. I rub my arms to keep warm, and then I exit the vehicle.

“Where exactly is here?” I ask, taking in the hall ahead of us. “A country club?”

The banquet hall is two stories of gray stone and brick, with two big staircases running up the to the second floor. Large, square windows line the top level of the building, and several of them are showing dim light from inside. If this is a party space, everyone’s wrapped up for the night.

“Bear Mountain Inn,” Tucker says. “You should give the place a visit in the daytime, I hear it’s lovely. Unfortunately, that’s not where we’re going. ”

He points to the woods beyond the Inn. “There. That’s our target.”

I rub my arms again. “You sure there’s no chance orcs hang out indoors?”

“Believe me, if they did, you’ve have heard of it.”

He starts toward the woods. I swear, wishing I’d at least thought to bring a winter coat. Next time I get kidnapped, I’m totally going to plan for the elements.

If it’s dark by the lodge, it’s DARK in the woods. The trees block out virtually all of the moonlight, leaving the forest floor almost pitch black.

“I can’t see,” I say. “I’m going to fall on my face and die and you won’t have any help finding an orc.”

“You know, sometimes I forget how terrible human eyesight is.”

“Whatever, tell me you’ve got a phone or that lighter or something?”

“Afraid not.”

“Great. I’m — whoa!”

My foot catches on a tree root and I go down. Thankfully, Tucker grabs a hold of my arm before I can introduce my teeth to the snow.

“How about I hang onto you while we’re here?” He suggests.

“Good idea.” I don’t like the idea of holding hands with a vampire, but I like the idea of cracking my head open even less.

We keep marching, deeper and deeper into the woods. By this point, I’ve got no idea where we are, no idea what we’re looking for, and no clue how long it’s going to take to find it. And did I mention that I’m freezing? Because this snow won’t stop coming down.

“How much better is vampire eyesight?” I ask, making conversation to take my mind off the cold.

“Hmmm,” Tucker says. “You know, I’ve been a vampire for so long that I don’t actually know how to compare it.”

“Well, I can’t see anything. What can you see?”

“Almost everything. I can see each individual tree. I can see the birds sleeping in nests above. I can see deer grazing a few yards away. Some things are slightly shadowed, but nothing’s hidden.”

“I bet that’s useful.”

“Goes both ways. Bright rooms make my eyes hurt.”

“Got it, so the key to killing you is to hit you in the eyes with a flashlight.”

“And the key to killing you is to break that flashlight and make sure we’re in a forest.”

“How about we call it a draw for now?”

“Works for me.”

I keep shivering. Tucker pulls off his jacket. “Here,” he says, handing it to me.

“You don’t have to do that,” I say. But I still accept it because holy shit I’m cold.

“The cold doesn’t bother you when you’re dead.”

“Touche.” I slip the jacket on. “How long have you been a vampire?”

“Almost a century.”

“What happened?”

A pause. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

That catches me by surprise. “Okay…well, how will we know when we’ve found an orc?”

“You’ll know.”

“That’s not helpful. What do they look like?”

“Skin-covered tanks.”


“Yep. Tall, pure muscle, bad attitudes. They’re not my favorite.”

“And what exactly is the plan to take down a walking tank? We can barely walk in a straight line.”

“Orcs have a weak spot under the left armpit. They go down a like a sack of bricks if you can hit them there.”

“And if—”

“Shut up,” Tucker says, cutting me off.

I scowl. “Excuse me?”

He puts a finger to my mouth. I’m about to break his hand, but his next words chill my skin worse than the snow.

“I hear something.”

I stop, mid-step. I scan the forest, but in the dark I can’t see anything. I strain my ears, but the only sound I can pick up is the wind as it whips through.

“Do you see it?” I whisper.

“I think so… I think it’s in the trees.”

“That’s a good sign, right? Orcs are too big to hang out in trees, aren’t they?”

“I’m not sure. I’m going to check it out.”

“What? Are you kidding me? I can’t see shit!”

He lets go of my hand. I reach out to grab his arm, but he’s already gone. Suddenly I’m alone in the woods. At night. In the snow.


I listen for his footsteps, hoping they can give away his location, but I don’t hear anything other than the wind. Either he’s moving very softly or he’s turned into a bat. Either way, I don’t have any idea where he went.

A wolf howls in the distance. Great, just great; there’s wolves in this forest. Just what I needed. My hand drifts to the knife at my belt. I don’t know what’s out there, but if anything comes for me, I’m going to paint the snow red.

There’s a crunch in the snow in front of me, and I crouch into a fighting stance. “Calm down,” Tucker says. “It’s just me. I scanned the tree-tops. It was just an owl.”

That gets me to relax. “Well, that’s good to hear.”

“Not quite. We still need to find an orc before you freeze to—”


A deep, full-throated, and really-fucking loud bellow comes from behind us. And it’s close. Really close.

I don’t bother turning around. “Tucker, what’s behind me?”

Tucker’s voice is so weak, it’s almost lost in the wind. “That would be the orc.”

“How big is he?”

“Big. Really, really, really big.”

“Anything else I should know?”

“Well, he appears to be holding half a wolf in each hand. And he’s coming at us.”


“What do we do now?” I ask, my eyes searching the night for any sign of the orc. But, of course, I can’t see anything. Not the trees, not the forest, and not the big-ass monster that’s apparently barreling straight for us.

God I’ve had better days.

Tucker yanks my arm, pulling me to the side. I nearly fall into the snow, but his hands are there to steady me. He pulls me close and wraps his arms around me. I want to kick him in the face and knee him in the groin, but he puts a finger to my lips.

“Don’t make a sound,” He whispers. “He can’t find us if he can’t hear us.”

I feel behind Tucker and my hand touches bark. A tree. So we’re hiding. Let’s hope the orc’s not good at Hide-and-Eat.

The wind continues whistling all around me and snow continues pelting my face. But I stay quiet as the orcs first footfalls reach my ears.

They’re not loud. Cushioned by the snow, the orc’s footsteps are intense hisses. It’s almost as if the snow is melting beneath its feet. So that’s hot feet, bad hearing, and the ability to rip wolves in half. I’m learning so much about orcs tonight.

The hisses land in a steady rhythm, becoming louder and louder as the orc draws closer to us. I try to peer around the tree, but Tucker puts both hands on my shoulder and pulls me closer. I get a whiff of his cologne and I almost decide I’d rather take my chances with the orc.

The hisses grow louder. One sounds from the other side of the tree. I try to keep my breathing steady. Despite the cold, a bead of sweat runs down my spine. If the orc comes after us, we’re going to have to fight. And not only am I weak and dizzy, I also can’t see.

I have no idea how we’re going to pull this off.

A series of howls from back where the orc came from, followed by the beat of paws on snow. There’s a growl, followed by several snarls. I guess the wolves didn’t take kindly to having one of their own ripped apart.

“What’s happening?” I whisper to Tucker. And before he can answer a pained scream pierces the night. Another growl, this one much louder, and then an agonizing canine yelp and the crack of bones tearing.

I feel Tucker pivot slightly, and then return. “When I count to three, we’re going to run back toward the inn. Do you understand?”

I nod. “Okay,” he says. “One…two…three!”

Tucker pulls on my arm and we start running. We make it about seven steps before another roar greets us from behind. The hisses start again, this time coming faster.

“I’m gonna guess he knows we’re here!” I say. I’m answered by another yelp of agony. And then a huge crash to my left that causes the tree nearest to me to crash and sprays snow everywhere. I almost eat it, but Tucker picks me up and keeps me going.

“What the hell was that?” I ask.

“Half a wolf!”

“He’s THROWING wolves at us?”

“I didn’t make up the rules for how orcs hunt!”

“Why’s he even after us? Eat one of the fucking wolves!”

“Ask him that when he catches us! Now move!”

We keep running. I’m doing my damnedest not fall and Tucker’s working overtime to right me every time I stumble. The first bits of light begin to leak through the trees as we get closer to the inn. I’m tempted to look back and see if I can glimpse the orc with my own eyes, but decide that’s a terrible idea. Last thing I need is to get hit with a flying wolf chunk while engaging in magical rubbernecking.

The light grows brighter, and I can finally see ahead of me. Which is enough for me. At least now I won’t suffer death by clumsiness.

“So what’s the plan?” I yell as the orc roars behind me. The poor people in the inn are going to have a terrible sleep.

“You’ve still got the syringe on you, right?”


“I’ll draw his attention, you stab him in the armpit.”

“How the hell am I supposed to do that?”

“You’re smart enough to figure it out!”

Mercifully, we tear out the forest edge, bathing us in the dim light from the hotel. I can see our car ahead when a wolf chunk slams into the ground, spraying us with snow and sending me flying. I land in a heap and shake my head out just in time to get my first look at the orc.

Shit, he’s big.

So imagine if you had one pro basketball player standing on the shoulders of another pro basketball player. They’d still be about a foot shorter than an orc. This thing is massive, with huge, tree-trunk arms, and a serious under-bite that reveals two cuspids, each the size of my hand. And, oh yeah, the snow is actually melting under its feet.

And it’s charging for me at full steam.

How the shit am I supposed to stop that?

I barely have time to think “oh, shit,” before Tucker tackles the orc to the ground. That might be the clearest example of vampire strength I’ve seen, because Tucker looks like an infant trying to tackle their parent compared to the orc.

The orc swings a meaty fist that just barely misses taking Tucker’s head off, and the vampire responds by driving a knee into its stomach and slamming a fist to its face.

The orc stumbles just a bit before wrapping a hand around Tucker’s waist and lifting him off the ground. He then wraps a second hand around Tucker’s legs.

Shit, he’s going to try to rip him in half.

I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’m racing to save Tucker. Before the orc can get to the tasty vampire insides, I’ve drawn my knife and jammed it into the orc’s legs. The orc roars in pain, sweeping a hand toward me that comes within a hair of sending me to the moon.

But the hand he’s trying to crush me with is a hand he doesn’t have on the vampire.

Tucker takes advantage, biting down on the orc’s hand and drawing a scream. The orc drops Tucker and shakes his hand, and Tucker pounces, leaping on the orc’s chest and burying his fangs into his neck.

That’s my chance. While the orc is scrabbling at Tucker, I pull out the syringe, and, in a feat that would make my father proud, leap up the side of the orc and jam it into his armpit. The orc screams in pain and Tucker and scramble out of the way as it stumbles to its knees and collapses face-first in the snow.

“You weren’t kidding,” I say as Tucker and I stare at the downed orc, our chests heaving with exhaustion. “The armpit really is a weak spot.”

Tucker steps over the orc and examines the syringe. He pulls on the plunger, filling it with orc blood before looking to me. “Nice shot.”

“Thanks,” I say. “Let’s never do that again.”


Ria’s Blood Debt Excerpt

My every muscle is tense. I can feel the hairs standing up on my neck. Everything slows down around me as I try to focus on the rope. If I don’t make this, everything is fucked.

I take a deep breath, gathering my strength. I’m going to make this count—

“Let’s go, Miller! We don’t have all day!”

And there goes my concentration.

I let out the breath and look behind me at Mrs. Morris, the high school gym teacher. She’s barking at me and clapping her hands, making the arms of her bright blue windbreaker flap like sails in the wind.

I don’t even understand why she’s wearing a windbreaker right now. We’re inside the school gym. There’s no wind to break.

The other students in my gym class are lined up behind her, all eyes on me. I spot Ariana de Los Santos standing next to Will. They’re both beaming. Will mouths you got this to me.

“Come on, Miller!”

I sigh and return my attention to the thick, knotted rope in front of me that dangles a good fifteen feet from the ceiling. Yep, that’s right: It’s time for rope climbing, the gym assignment from hell.

Mrs. Morris made it clear to me that my grade would depend on me actually trying during the second half of the school year. Apparently, she thinks I’m taking it easy during drills. It’s not my fault that this all feels like pre-school. Once you’ve had to jump off a few rooftops, suicide drills just don’t seem so life-or-death.

“Miller, let’s—”

I take off before she can berate me further, running across the hardwood gym floor onto the blue rubber mat underneath the rope. I jump, grabbing hold of the rope and anchoring my feet on the bottom-most knot. I climb, one hand over the other, and I’m at the top in a flash.

See? Gym class is easy.

I look down. Ariana and Will erupt into whoops and high fives. Mrs. Morris lifts her neon yellow whistle to her lips and blows it as she clicks time on her stopwatch. “Okay, four seconds. Not bad, Miller. It’d be nice if you didn’t take a decade to get started.”

I try not to roll my eyes. I’d like to see her jump from a roof without taking a moment to center herself.

I descend the rope and return to the line, high-fiving Ariana as Mrs. Moore calls Calvin Edwards. Calvin doesn’t hesitate, he runs and jumps onto the rope. But that’s the last thing he does easily. He immediately sinks down to the bottom and starts squirming in an attempt to get back up.

“This is hard to watch,” Ariana whispers.

“Cut him some slack,” I reply. “He did get turned to stone.”

I mean that literally.

Calvin spent some time last month as a statue when the Sorceress Idina came through on a hunt for her niece. He’s better now, obviously, and the witches made sure to wipe his memory of the whole night. But I imagine that’s gotta mess with your climbing ability.

Mrs. Morris claps her hands. “Come on Edwards, we don’t have all day. You don’t want to get beaten by Miller, do you?”

“Please, I could beat her any day,” Calvin huffs as his face starts to turn red from the strain.

I roll my eyes. Whatever, dude.

“So how did last night go after the dinner?” Will asks.

“The usual. Found a werewolf, chased a werewolf. Beat up a werewolf, jailed a werewolf in The Cell.”

“So, you got him alive?”

“Yep. Had to shoot him first, so he was unconscious for most of the night. Hopefully, he wakes up soon and we can learn about whatever the vamps and wolves are planning.”

Calvin grunts on the rope before letting go and falling onto his back. The entire class breaks out into laughter as Mrs. Morris blows her whistle. “Take it to the bench, Edwards! De Los Santos, you’re next!”

Ariana fixes her shoulder-length brown hair into a ponytail before skipping over to the rope, her over-sized gray gym shirt billowing as she goes. She takes the rope in her left hand, it’s about as thick as her entire fist.

“How long you think it’ll take her?” Will asks.

“Not sure. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ariana do anything physical.”

“She did save us from an evil henchman once.”

“Yeah, but that was with the help of a frying pan.”

Ariana grabs the rope with one hand. And…

Well, shit. She just about bolts to the top. I’ve never seen anyone move so fast. It looks effortless.

In fact, a bit too effortless.

“Three seconds!” Mrs. Morris gushes. “We have a new record! Congratulations, de Los Santos!”

Everyone starts clapping as Ariana returns to the line. Will high-fives her, but I cross my arms. “You used magic, didn’t you?”

So, Ariana found out that she was half witch last month after the Sorceress fucked up our Winter Formal night. Since then, she’s been training with Daya, one of the witches that fought with us against the Sorceress.

Though ‘fought’ might be too generous a term, since Daya turned her scared tail and left when it looked like we were going to lose.

Anyway, the training seems to be working. At first, all Ariana could do was float inanimate objects. But judging by my short-lived rope-climbing record, she’s progressing fast.

Ariana’s mouth drops. “What? No. Why would you even suggest that?” She scoffs and looks at Will. “Can you believe she’d suggest that?”

“Ari, I’ve seen you struggle to carry all of your textbooks,” I say. “There’s no way you got to the top that fast without a little help of the supernatural variety.”

“You’re just jealous that someone beat you,” she says, sticking out her tongue.

“Yeah, cause you cheated!”

“How is it cheating to use my skills? It’s not cheating for you to use all that fighting stuff you know.”

“That fighting stuff? I’ve trained every day for six years!”

Mrs. Morris calls Will. He shakes his head, windmills his fully-healed arm, and trudges over. Ariana and I stay in whispered conversation as he tries to climb.

“Training must be going well,” I say. “Where’s your wand, anyway?”

She grins and rolls down the lip of one her calf-length socks, revealing a thin brown stick.

“Training’s going great,” Ariana says. “I actually learned to levitate myself yesterday. If this keeps up, I’ll be able to ride a broomstick in no time.”

“Things have got to be going well in the witching world for Daya to be spending so much time teaching you.”

“Well, it’s not like she’s got work to do back with the queen. From what I hear, Marisol still hasn’t forgiven her for abandoning the fight. I think she just lets Daya come out and teach me to get away from her.”

“And how is Marisol?”

“Busy. The Sorceress still has supporters on the loose. Sera and Amara are doing what they can to round them up, but from what I hear, Marisol’s having a hard time keeping everything together.”

“It’s weird not having her around here to call us freaks.”

“Ria Miller, are you going soft?”

“I’ve always been soft. I just have a tough night job.”

Mrs. Morris blows her whistle and Will comes walking back to us dejectedly. “Stupid rope,” he mutters.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” I say, ruffling his hair. “You’ll get ‘em next time.”

“Whatever,” Will says. “I don’t know why we’re climbing ropes in the first place.”

“Speak for yourself,” Ariana and I say at the same time before giggling.

“Fine. Those of us who aren’t going to spend their time on rooftops or flying on broomsticks aren’t going to need this skill after we graduate high school.”

“Oh! That reminds me!” I say. “I got into City Arts last night!”

Ariana starts jumping up and down, drawing a whistle from Mrs. Morris. Ariana apologies and then turns back to me. “Congratulations! That’s amazing!”

“Are you gonna go there?” Will asks.

“I don’t know for sure yet,” I admit. “But my parents said they’d help me pay for my own apartment no matter where I end up.” I squeeze Ariana’s hand. “We can be roommates next year!”

Ariana’s smile fades and she gently pulls her hand away. “Uhh…about that…”

That doesn’t sound good. Ariana and I have talked about getting an apartment together since Thanksgiving. If I’m going to move out of my parent’s house after I graduate — and I’m going to — there’s no one else I’d rather live with. I thought she felt the same way.

“What?” I ask. “You don’t want to be roomies?”

She shakes her head. “No, it’s not that. Just…lately I’ve been thinking about learning more about magic instead of going to college.”

“Phew. You had me scared there. That’s not a problem. So, you’d have Daya over more often, I guess. No big deal.”

“Actually…I was thinking about going over to the witching world.”

It’s Will who gets the surprised words out first. “Wait, what?”

“You want to leave us?” I ask.

Mrs. Morris blows her whistle before any of us can get another word in. “Okay class, all this side chatter tells me you’ve got extra energy. How about we burn that off with some push-ups? Everyone drop and give me twenty! Now!”

We all grumble as we hit the deck and start the push-ups. The whole time I’m staring at Ariana. She’s staring ahead, avoiding eye contact.

Great. Just great.

Ria’s Broken Windows Excerpt

Ria's Broken WindowsFor your reading pleasure, here’s the first chapter of Ria’s Broken Windows, out on Amazon on December 4, 2017.

My right shoulder aches as I pick myself up off the dark blue carpeted floor of the hotel lobby. I put my hand to my nose and it comes away wet and red. Great, a freaking bloody nose. Just what I needed right now.

I wipe the blood on the side of my leather jacket and feel my shoulder. Its sore as shit but its not broken. Hooray for the little victories.

I crane my neck up and take in the view of the second-floor railing I just crashed through. The white wooden banister is shattered, with jagged edges hanging dangerously from above. Sucks; it felt like it was quality woodwork.

My name is Ria Miller, and Im having the worst time tonight.

You already know that I just fell from the second floor of this building, which just so happens to be the Champion Hotel; the swankiest hotel in downtown Brooklyn. What you dont know is that I got my ass tossed by a revenant a vengeful spirit that spreads disease and tries to rip people open.

Hes all pissed that I tried to make him dead. Well, deader than he already is. Im mad that I got blood on my new jacket. Ive gone through like five of these in the past month.

My moms voice sounds in my earpiece. I heard a crash. You okay?

Before I can answer, the revenant glides down from the balcony, floating on a dark cloud as it makes its way toward me.

So heres the deal: theres, like, a gazillion people in New York City. And it just so happens theres almost as many things that would like to slice, dice and crunch on those people. My parents and I hunt those things, monsters like trolls, shape-shifters, vampires, and—oh yeah—Casper the asshole ghost here.

If youve never seen a revenant before—and I hope you havent—heres what you need to know: they look like characters in the most messed-up Tim Burton movie you can imagine. Theyre see-through, their skin is a bluish-white, their hands and feet are usually rotting, their mouths are dark voids, and their eyes are usually black orbs. Unless theyre pissed at you, in which case their eyes are a deep red.

This guy is looking at me with eyes as red as the blood on my hand. So, yeah, bad times all around.

Can I get back to you? I tell Mom as I take in the area around the lobby, looking for a way out.

Its a nice place, with warm-colored wooden desks, big crystal flower vases, and a red brick fireplace that looks like it doesnt get much use. The ghost is blocking my path to both the elevator and the stairs. Ive got a clear line at the front door, but I cant leave this thing alone with my Mom.

That leaves the fireplace.

The revenants mouth opens wide, and I take a step back. Revenant screams are no joke. If a ghost screams in your face, youd better hope youre standing in a salt circle. Otherwise, you wont have a face much longer.

Unfortunately, theres no salt here.

Running out of options, I dive toward the fireplace and wrap my hands around a black poker. I breathe a little sigh of relief when I feel the steel and I chuck it right at the ghost. Theres a huge puff of black smoke as the poker passes through the revenant before crashing onto a counter and knocking over a vase. Shit, that looked pricey. Im glad were doing this for free; no one can dock our pay.

I look around for the revenant. Its nowhere to be found. Ghosts dont get along with steel; it tends to make them vanish. I think they like salt even less, but theyre not exactly the chatty type. You know, since theyre trying to make your face melt.

I rest my hands on my knees and try to catch my breath. Man, they better be giving customers a discount on rooms, I huff.

Once Im fairly sure I wont get attacked again, I radio back to Mom. Sorry about that. I just had a run in with our spook.

You all right?

I windmill my arm, wincing at the pain in my shoulder. Nothing a bigger allowance wont heal.

Dream on, Outkast, Mom snorts, using my code-name. We try not to use our real names when working a job.

Ill have you know I just got tossed off a balcony.

Maybe do less of that.

I grumble under my breath before getting back to business. Theres no sense in messing around when theres an unwanted, undead hotel guest here. Besides, the hotels only going to be closed for about four more hours. We need to be long gone before that.

Well, I can safely say that the second floor is anchor-free, I announce. You find whats keeping this jerk here?

Negative. Im heading to the fourth floor next. You check the basement.

Just so you know, going down into the basement when theres a ghost in the building is exactly how most black girls die in horror movies.

So I suppose you should be thankful that youre no ordinary girl.

Now youre just trying to flatter me.

Always. Im heading up. Radio if you find anything.

I take a moment to pat my pockets and check for my gear. I can feel my lighter, my gasoline flask, and my slingshot at my waist. My hands then move to the pouch belt I keep strapped to my chest. I feel in each pouch, taking stock of the number of salt balls Ive got. I shake the cobwebs out of my head and trudge to the elevator, smacking a large bronze down button and sighing.

Mom and I are in this ritzy hotel the Saturday night before Thanksgiving because the revenants been scaring the shit out of guests for the past month and a half. Hotel management was willing to ignore all the terrified complaints from customers until they found a woman in room 601 without her face. They couldnt ignore that, so they called the cops. And it just so happens one particular cop tends to call us when things like this happen.

My parents met with the hotel manager and convinced him to shut the place down for the night to let us work uninterrupted. It wasnt hard; people tend to be more willing to play along with you when the alternative is a supernaturally painful death. Hell, earlier this month some bankers basically begged us to pretend to be tellers at a bank that was being robbed by shapeshifters.

Now, a shuttered hotel has its advantages: its a lot easier to throw around pokers if you dont have to worry about hitting a maid. But theres a downside, too: revenants tend to want to kill people, and tonight were the only ones in here that fit the killable description.

 Normally this wouldnt be any problem. My parents and I have taken down more than our share of revenants in the five years weve been doing this. But then Dad got called away at the last minute to deal with a murder in Queens, leaving us to worry about the revenant.

Yeah, just another normal night in the Miller house.

Standard procedure in revenant cases is to sweep the building for what we call an anchor, an object of the deceased thats keeping their spirit here. Something like an old hat, a favorite shirt, an ancient love letter, maybe even a pair of dentures. Once you find it, torching it with salt and gasoline will usually get rid of the ghost.

We started out with the standard procedure and things were actually going smoothly for a while. Mom and I each ran a sweep of a hotel floor to see if we could find the anchor. But then I ran into the ghost himself on the secondfloor landing, andwell, you saw how that turned out.

The elevator arrives and I hop in, groaning as I lean back against the wall for the ride. I know I shouldnt let my guard down while were hunting a revenant, but I just got thrown off a stairwell. Its been that kind of night.

Hell, its been that kind of month. Weve won a lot of our fights against the supernatural, but lately, it feels like each time I have to get beat up a little bit worse. This shit wears on you.

The elevator opens to a dark basement hallway thats only lit by the soft red glow of exit signs at the opposite end. I sigh, pulling out my flashlight and clicking it on. Who thought it was a good idea to leave all the lights off in the basement? Doesnt anyone watch horror movies?

Slowly, I make my way across the dark hallway, taking pains not to bang my shins on anything as I look for the laundry room. My hope is that the spook ordered dry cleaning before he died and maybe his favorite suit is still here. Otherwise, we could be here all night.

I turn a corner and my flashlight shines across a sign hanging from the ceiling that says laundry. How convenient.

I follow the sign and find myself in a long, windowless room with three rows of stacked washers and dryers on one side. Theres a clothing rack, a long table, and a bunch of laundry bags on the other end. I guess Im in the right place.

Without wasting any time, I start plowing through all of the bags, looking forI dont know, something that looks old or blood-splattered.

Dammit, I growl. You just HAD to go die in a hotel. Couldnt go haunting a single bathroom? What about a cubbie?

I dig through my fifth clothing bag when I come across an old, poop-brown-colored tweed jacket. Hello, I say as I pull it out. You certainly look ugly enough to be something only the soon-to-be dead would be caught alive wearing.

Of course, I have no idea whether or not this belonged to the spook, and I wont know till I set it on fire. So I place the blazer on the ground, pop the top of my flask and douse that sucker in gas. I reach into my pouch belt and break a salt ball, sprinkling the crystals over it. Finally, I pull out my lighter.

If Im wrong about this Im setting someones blazer on fire for no reason. Then again, you could also say Im doing a public service.

I flick the lighter on, but before I can drop it a jolt of energy smacks into my body. I go flying again, this time slamming against a washing machine with enough force that I begin to question my choice of nighttime activities.

The revenants red eyes shine through the dark as I try hopelessly to move. Im pinned, held in place by the spirits mojo. And as the revenant glides closer to me, I also realize I am so, so fucked.

The revenant opens its mouth. I close my eyes.


I open my eyes in time to see a giant black and white dog as it dives through the revenant, causing it to go poof again. Im released from its hold and fall to the ground.

I cough for a moment before rubbing my aching back and turning to the dog, a big black-and-white husky puppy with blue eyes and a pink nose. It comes up to me and licks my face before sitting and wagging its tail, looking like the proudest pup ever.

What the hell took you so long? I shout at the dog, which isnt actually a dog at all. Its really Cal, a young shape-shifter my parents and I took in two weeks ago after the whole bank-robber thing. Im not sure what Cals real shape is, but he spends most of his time as the dog.

He starts scratching at the collar on his neck, his pink tongue lolling out of his mouth. Sorry! I was on the fourth floor and I got distracted by the smells! All of the bed sheets smell like poop! Theres so many stories in poop!

I shake my head, in part because Im still not used to hearing the shape-shifter beam his thoughts directly into my brain and partly because that might be the grossest thing Ive ever heard. No wonder the ghost is haunting this place. Im definitely taking a star off my review.

I dust myself off and pick up my lighter as Cal continues to scratch his neck. I swat at his head. Would you stop that, already?

I cant help it! This new collar itches!

Thats cause the tags are solid steel. And you should be thankful; without that collar, the revenant wouldve turned you into dog food back there. Now watch my back, will you?

Cal barks in enthusiasm and spins around twice as I flick on the lighter and hold the flame to the blazer. Soon the whole thing catches fire.

Cal leans against me and I rub his head. What do you think, did that do the trick?

Cal barks once, then his head cranes behind. A low growl rumbles in his chest. I turn to see the revenant charging at us.

Oh, come on! I say in disbelief as I pull out my slingshot. Why is it never easy? I load in a salt ball and fire, but the revenants wised up. This time he disappears on his own before the salt can hit him, only to reappear a second later.

Shiiit, I groan as I fire more salt shots. Maybe help out, Cal?

Cal barks in reply and takes off. But he doesnt head toward the ghost. No, he runs behind a washing machine.

Coward! I shout as I fire my last salt shot. The revenant dodges and swings at me. I roll to the side and get to my feet. Crap, Im out of salt and Ive got nothing steel. I need to come up with a plan fast.

Cal comes charging out from behind the washing machine. Hes got a pair of lace panties in his mouth. Im about to scold him when he tosses them on top of the blazinger, blazer. They smoke for a moment before catching fire.

The revenant lets out a pained scream in front of me before stumbling backward. His eyes turn back black, and he erupts into smoke. Then hes gone.

I walk over to the pile of burning clothes. Cals sitting in front of them, wagging his tail like he doesnt have a care in the world. Well Ill be damned, I say to him. No wonder the hotel staff couldnt figure out which items belonged to him. Howd you know those were his?

“Smelled it,” he says as if its the most obvious thing in the world. He then trots happily toward the elevator. I rub my aching back for a moment before looking around for a fire extinguisher.

This is my new normal. Hunting monsters with the help of a monster of my own.

I am so getting too old for this.