Dakota Frost is back, and the ink is about to hit the fan-again. Graffiti comes to life in the dark heart of Atlanta's oldest cemetery, slaying one of the city's best loved vampires before the eyes of his friend Dakota Frost. Deadly magick is at work on the city's walls, challenging even the amazing power of Dakota's tattoos to contain it. The hungry, graffiti magick loves to kill, and the Edgeworld is no longer safe from its own kind.
Dakota begins a harrowing journey to save those she loves and to discover the truth behind the spreading graffiti-even if that truth offends the vampires, alienates the werekin and creates police suspicion of her every action. Saving Atlanta may cost her everything, including custody of her "adopted" weretiger daughter, Cinnamon. But failure is not an option. If the graffiti> isn't stopped, Cinnamon could be the next victim.
"Blood Rock is amazing! There is an excellent mix of action, drama and twists that incite whiplash. I truly enjoyed the unexpected love, loss, and magical battles. I could barely wait for the villain and his secrets to be revealed and was not disappointed when it all exploded in the end." -- Porche Butler, GoodReads
"...he gives us the physics of magic like no other urban fantasy author has done before....Genius. Pure, unadulterated, genius." -- Kirsten, Book Series Reviews
"Involving [and] inventive."-- Joe Young, Good Reads
"...fantastic writing!... The magical showdown in the end is spectacular, the relationship between Dakota and Cinnamon is very touching...Dakota is refreshingly straightforward." -- Kara-Karina, Nocturnal Book Reviews
"If you love Urban Fantasy, magic and tattoos- read this now!" --Julie-Anne Harrison, Thoughts of a Scot
"This book had one of the more original story lines I’ve read in a long time... This is the Edgeworld of Atlanta, a place where practitioners of magic, were, vampires, witches, and the like congregate. Edgeworld is dark and gritty." -- -AH, BadAss Book Reviews
CHAPTER ONE – Cinnamon and Frost
"Dammit, dammit, dammit!” I cursed, slamming the school doors open and stomping out into the cold January Atlanta air. Once outside, facing bare trees in a bleak parking lot under a graymetal sky, I regretted my words—because the example I was setting was the problem.
I stopped, swung back, and reached one lanky arm out to stop the door from closing. Moments later, my daughter stepped out of the darkness, eyes blinking, whiskers twitching, holding her tiger’s tail in her hands before her like a portable lifeline.
The two of us looked as different as can be: me, a six-foot two woman in a long leather vestcoat, wearing my hair in a purple-and-black deathhawk that lengthens into feathers of hair curling around my neck, and her, a five-foot-nothing teenager in a pleated school skirt, taming her wild orange hair with a blue granola-girl headscarf that poorly hid her catlike ears.
"It’s OK,” I lied gently, putting my hand on Cinnamon’s shoulder; though we both knew it was very not OK. "We’ll find a school that will take you.”
She hissed. That school had been the top of her list—until Cinnamon cussed the principal out in the middle of the interview. And this was after she’d promised to be on her best behavior. I was starting to worry something was wrong with her, and not just her being a weretiger.
Notthat there’s anything wrong with being a weretiger; if anything, lycanthropy was the least of my worries taking an abused, illiterate streetcat into my home. This adoption was turning out to be a lot more than I bargained for—and we were little over a month into it.
I had learned, however, to put my foot down. "Cinnamon. What you said—”
"I’m sor—” she began, then snapped her head aside violently in a kind of a sneeze, pulling at the collar around her neck. "Who cares? School stinks. They allstinks.”
I felt my collar in sympathy: I didn’t like mine either. OK, so I lied again: we didn’tlook as different as can be. First, we both had silver collars around our necks, a kind of fangs-off sign provided by the Vampire Queen of Little Five Points; and second, we were both tattooed.
Cinnamon’s tiger stripes were beautiful, eye-catching... and forced upon her by her last guardian. She’d hide them if she could, but they come all the way up to her cheeks and down to the backs of her palms, and our attempts at covering them with makeup were a disaster.
My elaborate vines are even more eye-catching, a tribal rainbow beginning at my temples and cascading over my whole body in braids of flowers and jewels and butterflies. Today I was in a turtleneck, but normally I make no effort to hide them. I want people to see them move.
Unless you know what to look for, it’s subtle: out of the corner of your eye, a leaf flutters, a butterfly flaps, a gem sparkles—it’s like magic. And that sparks the conversation: Actually, they are magic, all inked here in Atlanta by yours truly—
"Dakota Frost,” I said, as my phone picked up, "Best magical tattooist in the Southeast.”
"Dakota.” The voice was deep, male and familiar.
"Hey, Uncle Andy,” I said. When I had been a kid, Sergeant Andre Rand had been my father’s partner on the Stratton police force—so close to the family I’d called him "Uncle Andy” though he was nothing of the sort. Now that I was an adult, Detective Andre Rand was my guardian angel in the Atlanta Police Department. "And before you ask, I didcall Dad—”
"This isn’t about that,” Rand interrupted. "It’s—look, where are you now?”
"Out school shopping with Cinnamon.”
"Not what you’re doing,” Rand snapped. "Where, I mean geographically—”
"Downtown,” I said, now worried. Rand was normally polite and uber-smooth, but now he was curt and very stressed—and that scared the hell out of me.
"What’s goin on?” Cinnamon said suddenly, staring at me—never underestimate a werekin’s hearing. "Who died?”
Immediately when she said it, I felt she was right. Something catches in a person’s voice when they report a death. Pay attention, in those few awful times in your life when someone gets the call: you can tell from the grief in their voice, from the crumpling of their faces.
"Andy,” I said. "What’s wrong? Is someone hurt?”
"How quickly can you get over to Oakland Cemetery?”
"Whatever you do, hurry,” he said. "Just—hurry.”
We hopped into the blue bomb and headed to the Cemetery. Actually, the ‘bomb’ was a very nice new Prius I’d picked up last year after besting the magician Christopher Valentine in a tattooing contest. His Foundation had yet to pay up a dime, so I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep it—but it sure beat riding Cinnamon around on the back seat of my Vespa scooter.
Oakland Cemetery was a time capsule. All around us were gentrified warehouses and decaying apartments, but the Cemetery was protected from downtown’s churn by low brick ramparts lining Memorial and Boulevard. Within those long red lines stood sparse trees, from which the winter chill had long since stripped the leaves, leaving branches stretched to the cloudy sky like the claws of dying things pleading to Heaven.
When we hooked around to the entrance, we found an officer guarding the driveway. As we pulled up to the striped sawhorse they’d thrown up to block the drive, I steeled myself for a runaround. My dad was on the force, Rand was a friend, heck, I was even sort of dating a Fed—but somehow being six-foot-two with tattoos-and-deathhawk just never mixed well with cops.
But the officer’s eyes lit up when he saw us. He didn’t even check for ID—he just pulled the sawhorse out of the way and waved us forward. This was bad—they’d closed off the whole cemetery, and it was huge. I rolled down my window and asked, "Which way—”
"You’re Frost, right? Straight back,” he said, eyes wild. "Straight back! And hurry!”
"This is bad,” Cinnamon said, head craning back to look at the officer. "Rand’s sweet on ya, but we never gets special treatments from the piggies.”
"Don’t call them piggies,” I said, speeding down the tiny road.
"Why?” she asked, flicking an ear at me. "You knows they can’t hear us.”
"Really? So you knows that none of them are weres?” I asked, miming her broken diction. "You knows for sures?”
Her face fell. "No, I don’t.”
We bumped down a worn asphalt road through a canyon of winterbare trees, elaborate Victorian markers, and rows upon rows of Confederate graves. The road sank down, the graves grew smaller, more sad, and we rolled to a halt in a forest of headstones at the bottom of the hill between the Jewish section and Potter’s field.
What seemed like a thousand flashing lights waited for us: police cars, an ambulance, even a fire truck, surrounding a crowd of uniforms, paramedics and firemen gathered at the end of the road in front of the low brick wall that ringed the cemetery. Striding out of them was a well-dressed black man, sharp as a model and sexy as a movie star: Detective Andre Rand.
I opened the door, my boots crunched on gravel, and my vestcoat swished as I stepped out of the car, fhwapping behind me in the wind as I slammed the door shut. The officers stared. Their eyes narrowed. My normal getup was conspicuously out of place in this land of grey tombs and black uniforms. I’d been more comfortable talking to the buttoned-down principal of the school we’d just visited; now I just wanted to go and change.
"Hi, Rand,” I said, forced cheerful, putting my hand on Cinnamon’s shoulder as she materialized beside me. "What you gots—ahem. What do you have for me?”
At my grammatical slip Rand glanced down at Cinnamon briefly, trying to smile. His neck was covered with in a stylish turtleneck, not unlike mine, but the rest of him was in one of his GQ suits that never seemed to get dirty no matter what he’d gone through. Today, however... his suit was torn. There was blood on the back of his hand. And not even Cinnamon could spark a smile in him. Rand was off his game. Rand was never off his game.
He glanced up, frowning. "Dakota, thanks for rushing. We really need you but... this is bad. Really bad. Cinnamon can wait in—”
"I can takes whatever you gots,” Cinnamon said indignantly.
"And I’d rather not let her out of my sight,” I said quietly.
Rand’s eyes tightened. He knew why I never let her out of my sight: just before I took her in, a serial killer had kidnapped her to get to me. It wasn’t that I never let her out of my sight... ... but whenever things got sketchy, I’d pick bringing her over leaving her every time.
"I understand, Dakota,” he said, turning back to the knot of first responders. "Let me show you what we’re dealing with.”
"Sure thing,” I muttered. "No one thinks to ask me whether I can take it.”
Rand just kept walking. "McGough, this is Dakota Frost.”
"You didn’t mention she was a civvie,” said a small, wiry, wizardly man in a Columbo trench. Like Rand, his coat was torn, his hands bloodied, but where Rand was thrown off his game, McGough’s movements were still crisp, his eyes sharp. A few nicks and cuts? Bah. Didn’t even slow him down. "Bad idea, having a civilian on a crime scene—”
"She was practically raised on the force,” Rand said, "and I think she can help.”
"Well let’s hope somebody can, we’re outta options,” McGough said, sizing me up. "So you’re Rand’s fabled Edgeworld expert. Jeez, you’re tall.”
My mouth quirked up. ‘Edgeworld’ was slang for the magical counterculture. Unlike most practitioners throughout history, who’d kept magic secret, or most normal people today, who tried to pretend it wasn’t there, Edgeworlders practiced magic openly—something which did not endear us to either group.
"What gave me away?” I said. "And it’s Edgeworlder, not ‘Edgeworld expert’—”
"Ah, she knows the lingo. Good, but it’s still a bad idea,” McGough said, frowning. He glanced down at Cinnamon, and his frown deepened. "And on the note of bad ideas, you really want to bring a minor along?” Rand and I just looked at him, and Cinnamon raised a clawed hand and mimed a swat. "Fine, fine,” he said. "When the Department of Family and Child Services comes calling, don’t come crying to me.” He waded back into the officers.
"All right, boys and girls,” McGough said, voice crackling with authority, making the officers jump. He was barely taller than Cinnamon, but his presence dominated the scene. "Move aside and let’s see if Rand’s pet witch can figure out how to handle this.”
Before I could even try to correct the ‘pet witch’ crack, the officers—all nervous, most worried, many scratched up like they’d been in a fight with a cat—parted so I could see the outer wall. My breath caught, and it took me a moment to realize what I was seeing.
The brick wall was sprayed with graffiti, a huge flock of exaggerated letters exploding out of a coiling nest of elaborately thorned vines. The graffiti "tag” was amazing work. Even I had to admire the roses woven into the vines—they’re a specialty of mine—but the artwork was just a backdrop. Dead in the center of the tag, a person was crucified in a web of twisted and rusted barbed wire, half-standing, half-sprawling in a splash of his own blood.
The man moaned and raised his head—and with a shock I recognized him as our friend Revenance, a guard at the werehouse, Cinnamon’s former home. Revenance was a vampire of the Oakdale Clan—so what was he doing out in the day?I looked for the sun, relaxed a little at the cloud cover—and then something clicked in my mind, and I looked back in horror.
Revenance wasn’t crucified in the wires, but in the graffiti itself. Painted vines had erupted from the wall, fully dimensional, moving as if alive, curling around him, sprouting metal barbs, hooking into his flesh, drawing blood and pulling outward—pulling as we watched.
The graffiti was tearing him apart.