Fantasy Nancy Holder; Debbie Viguié Crusade

ISBN 13: 9781416998020

Crusade

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9781416998020: Crusade

The ultimate battle. The ultimate love.

For the past two years, Jenn has lived and trained at Spain’s Sacred Heart Academy Against the Cursed Ones. She is among the few who have pledged to defend humanity or die trying. But the vampires are gaining power, and the battle has only just begun.

Forced to return home after death takes a member of her family, Jenn discovers that San Francisco is now a vampire strong-hold. As a lone hunter apart from her team, Jenn is isolated—and at risk. She craves the company of her fighting partner, Antonio: his protection, his reassurance, his touch. But a relationship with Antonio comes with its own dangers, and the more they share of themselves, the more Jenn stands to lose.

Then Jenn is betrayed by one who was once bound to protect her, causing her to doubt all she had held as true. To survive, Jenn must find the courage to trust herself—and her heart.

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About the Author:

Nancy Holder has published sixty books and more than two hundred short stories. She has received four Bram Stoker awards for fiction from the Horror Writers Association, and her books have been translated into more than two dozen languages. She has written or cowritten twenty Buffy and Angel projects. Her books from Simon Pulse include the New York Times bestselling series Wicked and the novel The Rose Bride. A graduate of the University of California at San Diego, Nancy is currently a writing teacher at the school. She lives in San Diego with her daughter, Belle, and their growing assortment of pets. Visit her at nancyholder.com.

Debbie Viguié has been writing for most of her life and holds a degree in creative writing from U.C. Davis. Debbie loves theme parks and has worked at both Knott's Berry Farm and Disneyland in California. When Debbie is not busy writing she enjoys traveling with her husband Scott. Debbie grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and now lives in Florida.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER ONE

For thousands of years the Cursed Ones hid in the shadows, fooling mankind into thinking they didn’t exist. Then one day they just . . . stopped. Skeptics turned into believers one fateful dawn. And no one was ever safe again.

No one knows why they made themselves known. Why they chose a Valentine’s Day in the early twenty-first century to reveal their presence. Some say it had something to do with the end of the world. Others that they simply grew tired of hiding.

I was twelve when Solomon, the leader of the vampires, first appeared on TV and lied through his fangs to all of us. Thirteen when the war broke out. Fifteen when the United States declared a truce . . . when, in reality, we surrendered, and the nightmare really began.

Even after that, many of us couldn’t bring ourselves to actually say the word “vampire.” It was as if once we admitted it, then we’d have to believe in extraterrestrials or government conspiracies, too. Or in witches and werewolves . . . in anything and everything that could destroy us. Because we could be destroyed. We lost something so precious—our faith that eventually everything would be all right. Because it wasn’t all right . . . and few believed it ever would be again.

So among those of us who swore not to abandon all hope, vampires came to be called the Cursed Ones. We learned that it was the name given to them long ago by those few groups who knew of their existence yet never shared the knowledge. But the vampires weren’t the cursed ones—we were. They had seduced us with their hypnotic smiles and talk of peaceful coexistence and immortality even as they had mounted a war against us. Then they sought to turn us into their slaves, and drink from rivers of our blood.

I’m nearly eighteen now, and I have learned something about myself I might never have known, if I’d been able to live an ordinary life.

But there is nothing ordinary about my life.

Nothing.

Including me.

—from the diary of Jenn Leitner,
discovered in the ashes


THE VILLAGE OF CUEVAS, SPAIN
TEAM SALAMANCA: JENN AND ANTONIO,
SKYE AND HOLGAR, AND ERIKO AND JAMIE

Barely sunset, and death exploded all around Jenn Leitner.

It was a trap, she thought.

The sky crackled with flames; oily smoke choked the air and burned her lungs. Jenn struggled not to cough, fearing that the sound would expose her. On her elbows and knees, her dark auburn hair loose and falling into her eyes, she crawled from beneath the red-tiled roof of the medieval church as it collapsed in a crash of orange sparks. Fragments of tile, stone, and burning wood ricocheted toward the blood-colored moon, plummeting back down to the earth like bombs. She dug in her elbows and pushed forward with the toes of her boots, grunting as a large, fiery chunk of wood landed on her back with a sizzle. She fought to stay silent as the pain seared through her. Biting her lip hard, she tasted coppery blood as she rolled to extinguish the flames.

Next to her, Antonio de la Cruz hissed a warning. The scent of her blood would fill the night air, attracting the vampires they’d been sent to hunt—but who were hunting them instead. When Jenn was little, her grandmother had told her that sharks could smell a drop of blood in the water half a mile away. She hadn’t gone in the ocean since. Cursed Ones could smell blood more than a mile away. With sharks you could choose to stay out of the water. With Cursed Ones it was different. You couldn’t leave the planet. You were trapped.

Like we are now.

Antonio studied her with his deep-set Spanish eyes. Jenn gave her head a shake to let him know she was all right; she could keep going. She had no time to search through her jacket for the garlic-infused salve that would block the odor of her blood. She prayed that the stench of the burning buildings—and burning bodies—would cloak the scent long enough to allow them to escape.

Past the church grounds the oak trees were on fire, acorns popping, leaves igniting like tattered tissue paper. Smoke filled the inky night sky, smothering the faint glow of the moon, but the hellish light from the fires illuminated Jenn’s and Antonio’s every move. Combine that with her bleeding lip, and they were two very easy targets for the savage monsters bent on massacring the village.

Antonio stopped suddenly and held up a warning hand. She watched him closely. Wisps of his wild dark hair escaped from his knitted cap; his full eyebrows were raised slightly, and his jaw was clenched. Like her he was dressed all in black—black sweater, black cargo pants, black knee protectors, and black leather boots—and now coated with ash. She could see the glint of the small ruby-studded cross that he wore in his left ear. A gift, he had said, when she’d asked about it. His face had darkened when he’d answered her, and she knew there was more to that story. So much of Antonio was a mystery to her, as intriguing as the sharp planes and hollows of his face.

He was focused, listening. All Jenn could hear were the flames and the terrorized, outraged cries of the villagers from the surrounding houses and office buildings. Her world became Antonio’s face and Antonio’s hand, blotched with soot, and she tensed her muscles so she’d be ready to move again when his hand dropped. She wished she could stop shaking. Wished she would stop bleeding and hurting. Wished someone else could do the rescuing, instead of them.

But somewhere in the darkness the Cursed Ones were watching. She imagined them staring at her, and could almost hear their cruel laughter dancing in the acrid air.

Three vampires and six hunters stalked one another through the steamy inferno. If the other hunters are still alive. If they escaped the burning church.

Don’t think about that now. Don’t think at all. Wait. Watch.

Cuevas, a small Spanish town a couple of hours from their home, had been terrorized by a group of vampires for weeks, and their mayor had begged for help. Jenn was one of a group of trained vampire hunters called the Salamancans, graduates of the Academia Sagrado Corazón Contra los Malditos—Sacred Heart Academy Against the Cursed Ones—at the centuries-old University of Salamanca. Father Juan, their master, had sent them to Cuevas to rid it of the Cursed Ones.

Instead the vampires were hunting the hunters, as if they had known they were coming, as if they had lured them there. Jenn wondered how they’d known. Father Juan always sent the team out covertly. Was there a spy at the university? Had someone in Cuevas betrayed them?

Or is the Hunter’s Manual right about all vampires?

Don’t think.

Late that afternoon Jenn, Antonio, and the other hunters had parked in the woods and silently made their way to the church, where they waited, meditating or praying, and preparing for the battle ahead. The vampires appeared with the flat shadows of dusk, and in the literal blink of an eye—they moved faster than most people could see—they set fire to the stone ruins of the castillo, the brick-and-mortar shops of the nearby plaza, and the glass and steel of a handful of modern office buildings. Flower boxes lining the plaza, which had brimmed with pink and white geraniums, crackled like sparklers; windows shattered; car horns blared like Klaxons; and everywhere, everywhere, fires roared.

In their short two months’ hunting together as a team, the Salamancans had fought greater numbers—once there had been as many as eleven—but those Cursed Ones had been newly converted. The younger the bloodsucker, the easier to defeat, as they would not have fully adapted to their new abilities . . . or their weaknesses.

Against older vampires, like the three lurking in the darkness, you could only hope they hadn’t yet run up against a hunter. That they would have grown so used to slaughtering the helpless that they would underestimate those who knew how to fight back.

But the Cuevas C.O.’s had struck first, which meant they knew what the six hunters were capable of. By the time Jenn and the other Salamancans had smelled smoke, there had only been time to rouse Antonio from his meditations in the chapel behind the altar and crawl outside.

Now they were exposed and vulnerable. And—

Jenn blinked. Antonio was no longer beside her. Panic wrapped around her heart, and she froze, unsure of what to do. Directly in front of her an oak tree shuddered inside its thick coat of fire, and a huge limb snapped off, cascading into the dirt with a fwom.

He left me here, she thought. Oh, God.

Breathe, she reminded herself, but as she inhaled, smoke filled her lungs, and she pressed her hand over her mouth. Her balance gave way, and she collapsed onto the dirt. Jenn grunted back a hacking cough. The welt on her back burned like a bull’s-eye; she was a prime target. And alone.

Where are you, Antonio? she silently demanded. How could you leave me?

Tears welled. Jenn gave her head a hard shake. She had to hustle. If she didn’t move, she would die a horrible death. She had seen vampires kill people. But he wouldn’t let that happen to her. Would he?

Don’t think. Just move.

Jenn’s fingernails dug into the dirt as she lifted herself up. Commando-style she worked her way forward, scrambling to the left when another large oak branch cracked and fell toward her like a flaming spear. She had to get away from the collapsing buildings and the falling trees before she could think about going on the offensive.

There was a whisper of sound, a shushshushshush, and Jenn rolled farther to her left just as a vampire landed on his back beside her. His pale blue eyes were opened wide in a death mask, and his breath reeked of rotting blood. She thought he groaned a word, maybe a name.

Then all at once the vampire collapsed into dust and was scattered by the hot winds. One down, she thought, covering her mouth and nose to avoid inhaling any of the vampire’s remains. The first time Jenn had seen that happen, she’d been unable to speak for over an hour. Now she couldn’t help the triumphant smile that spread across her face.

Jenn struggled to her feet; Antonio stood a breath away, his eyes blazing, the stake that had killed the vampire still clenched in his hand. He towered over her, six feet to her five-five. As she reached out to touch his arm, a blood-curdling scream ripped through the night air, and she took off in its direction, expecting Antonio to do the same.

Instead his body hurtled past her, landing in a pile of burning branches and leaves.

“Antonio!” she screamed, then wheeled around in a fighter’s stance, facing off against the vampire who had tossed him through the air like one might toss loose change onto a counter. The Cursed One was tall and bulky, grinning so that his fangs gleamed in the firelight. His face was covered in blood. Her stomach lurched, and she tried not to think about how many of the villagers were already dead.

Jenn swiftly grabbed a stake from the quiver on her belt, gripping it in her right hand, and ripped open a Velcro pocket with her left to retrieve a cross. She desperately wanted to look back at Antonio. She dared not.

The vampire sneered at her and snarled in a thick Leonese-Spanish accent, “Pobrecita, I can hear the frightened beating of your heart. Just like the rabbit in the trap.”

He slashed her across the cheek with his talonlike nails before leaping back in a dizzying blur. Jenn felt the blood running hot and sticky down her cheek before she felt the sting.

Jenn circled him warily. I’m a hunter, she reminded herself, but the hand around her stake was shaking badly. Surely he could see it. If he attacked, there was a good chance she wouldn’t be quick enough. The specialized training she had received at the academy had taught her how to anticipate a vampire’s moves even when she couldn’t see them. They moved so fast, the Cursed Ones. Father Juan said that they moved faster than man could sin. He said they could kill you and you would never know it had happened, but if you had been a brave and just person, the angels would tell you all about it, in song.

I’m not brave.

She took a deep breath and turned her head slightly to the side. Her best bet at tracking him was not to look directly at him. Movement was most effectively caught out of the corner of one’s eyes. She had learned that at the academy, and it had saved her before. Maybe it would again.

But maybe not.

The vampire stayed visible, stalling, but more likely toying with her before he made his kill. Some vampires were matadors, drawing out the death dance like a ritual. For others the hunt was a means to an end—fresh human blood, pumped by a still-beating heart.

Movement in the shadows caught her eyes. Jenn fought not to react as one of the other hunters—the Hunter, Eriko Sakamoto—crept toward the vampire, her tiny frame belying her superior strength. Dressed in night hues like Jenn and Antonio, she wore a turtleneck, leather pants, and thick-soled boots that Velcroed halfway up her calves. Her short, gelled hair made her look like a tribal warrior. Fresh streaks of soot were smeared on her high, golden cheekbones.

The sound of the fires masked any noise from her approach. Eriko caught Jenn’s eye, and Jenn began to edge to the right, placing the vampire between them.

“Hunters . . . jóvenes . . . you’re nothing special after all,” the Cursed One snarled.

“We’re special enough to turn you to dust,” Jenn growled, trying to hold the vampire’s attention. She focused on his fangs instead of his eyes, so as not to be mesmerized by him. That was one of the first rules of survival—to resist the Cursed Ones’ hypnotic gaze, designed to put their prey in thrall. “You’d better say your prayers. You’re about to die.”

The vampire scoffed, weaving closer, seemingly unaware that a hunter advanced behind him with her stake poised. The smell of Jenn’s blood cloaked the subtler scent of unharmed human flesh.

“Prayer is for mortals,” he said, “who must beg some deity to save them. And as we know, those prayers always go unanswered.”

“Always?” Jenn asked, feeling the blood oozing down her cheek. The vampire stared at it as if he hadn’t drunk in centuries.

“Always,” he replied.

Eriko kept her distance, and Jenn had a terrible thought: She’s using me as bait. Jenn began to back away, and the vampire made a show of taking a step toward her. Her hands were slick with sweat—from the heat, from her fear—and her grip on the stake began to slip. She worked her fingers around it. The vampire snickered.

Jenn took another step backward, her boot crunching down on something. Her stomach lurched as sparks flew upward. What if it was Antonio?

She couldn’t stop herself from glancing down. It was only a branch. The vampire launched himself at her with a hiss.

“No!” Jenn shrieked, falling backward.

The vampire landed on top of her, his eyes filled with bloodlust. His fangs were long and curved; she flailed, forgetting all her training, every maneuver that could save her. His breath stank of fresh blood, and she heard herself whimper.

Antonio.

Then, suddenly, the Cursed One was gone. Jenn pulled herself into a crouch, aware that she’d lost her cross. Eriko had yanked the vampire to his feet and was on his back, legs wrapped around his waist. He batted at her as she laced her fingers underneath his chin, forcing back his head. He his...

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Book Description Simon Pulse, United States, 2010. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The ultimate battle. The ultimate love. For the past two years, Jenn has lived and trained at Spain s Sacred Heart Academy Against the Cursed Ones. She is among the few who have pledged to defend humanity or die trying. But the vampires are gaining power, and the battle has only just begun. Forced to return home after death takes a member of her family, Jenn discovers that San Francisco is now a vampire strong-hold. As a lone hunter apart from her team, Jenn is isolated--and at risk. She craves the company of her fighting partner, Antonio: his protection, his reassurance, his touch. But a relationship with Antonio comes with its own dangers, and the more they share of themselves, the more Jenn stands to lose. Then Jenn is betrayed by one who was once bound to protect her, causing her to doubt all she had held as true. To survive, Jenn must find the courage to trust herself--and her heart. Bookseller Inventory # BZV9781416998020

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Book Description Simon Pulse, United States, 2010. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. The ultimate battle. The ultimate love. For the past two years, Jenn has lived and trained at Spain s Sacred Heart Academy Against the Cursed Ones. She is among the few who have pledged to defend humanity or die trying. But the vampires are gaining power, and the battle has only just begun. Forced to return home after death takes a member of her family, Jenn discovers that San Francisco is now a vampire strong-hold. As a lone hunter apart from her team, Jenn is isolated--and at risk. She craves the company of her fighting partner, Antonio: his protection, his reassurance, his touch. But a relationship with Antonio comes with its own dangers, and the more they share of themselves, the more Jenn stands to lose. Then Jenn is betrayed by one who was once bound to protect her, causing her to doubt all she had held as true. To survive, Jenn must find the courage to trust herself--and her heart. Bookseller Inventory # BZV9781416998020

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Book Description Simon Pulse, United States, 2010. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The ultimate battle. The ultimate love. For the past two years, Jenn has lived and trained at Spain s Sacred Heart Academy Against the Cursed Ones. She is among the few who have pledged to defend humanity or die trying. But the vampires are gaining power, and the battle has only just begun. Forced to return home after death takes a member of her family, Jenn discovers that San Francisco is now a vampire strong-hold. As a lone hunter apart from her team, Jenn is isolated--and at risk. She craves the company of her fighting partner, Antonio: his protection, his reassurance, his touch. But a relationship with Antonio comes with its own dangers, and the more they share of themselves, the more Jenn stands to lose. Then Jenn is betrayed by one who was once bound to protect her, causing her to doubt all she had held as true. To survive, Jenn must find the courage to trust herself--and her heart. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9781416998020

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