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Excerpt: The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt

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Alice Wyndham has been plagued by visions of birds her whole life…until the mysterious Crowley reveals that Alice is an ‘aviarist’: capable of seeing nightjars, magical birds that guard human souls. When her best friend is hit by a car, only Alice can find and save her nightjar.

With Crowley’s help, Alice travels to the Rookery, a hidden, magical alternate London to hone her newfound talents. But a faction intent on annihilating magic users will stop at nothing to destroy the new aviarist. And is Crowley really working with her, or against her? Alice must risk everything to save her best friend—and uncover the strange truth about herself.

The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt will be available on September 3. Please enjoy the following excerpt and head to Tor.com to read the first three chapters.

Excerpt

‘Cigarette?’

She started. A man was leaning against the wall beside her, puffing on a stubby roll-up. She immediately searched out the air above him, and let out a sigh of relief to find it bird-free. She shook her head.

‘No, I – I don’t smoke,’ she stammered.

‘Sensible.’

She nodded. ‘Sensible. The code word for boring.’ Boring was good. She wanted to be boring.

He chuckled and stamped the cigarette out with the heel of his boot. ‘Oh, I don’t know. Sensible girls know what they want. And I like a girl who knows her own mind.’

She flushed and looked the other way, watching the cars zing past.

‘Everything okay?’ he asked.

She turned to find that he’d sidled closer. Close enough that she could see the ragged edges of a white scar slashed across his cheek and another bisecting his eyebrow. He was quite a bit older than her, but somehow the scars and his nearly shaved hair made it hard to guess how much.

‘I’m fine,’ she said, frowning at him.

‘You don’t look fine,’ he said.

‘Oh really? How do I look?’

He paused and examined her. ‘Beautiful.’

She snorted. ‘Well now I know you’re lying,’ she said. ‘No one has ever accused me of being beautiful before. Wholesome, yes. Oh, and of course jowly.’

‘I only say what I see.’ He grinned, his eyes wandering over the dress.

Her cheeks burned uncomfortably. ‘Yes, well . . . you’re probably drunk.’

‘I’m definitely intoxicated,’ he said with a wink. ‘Let me buy you a drink.’

‘Thanks,’ she said, stepping away from him, ‘but my friend’s already bought me one.’

A lazy smile played around his lips. ‘I’ll see you later then. I’ll be waiting right out here.’ He whistled softly. ‘I’d wait all night for a woman like you.’

She resisted rolling her eyes and darted back inside the pub. But once in the narrow corridor, her courage deserted her. Would the birds still be in there? She steeled herself and swung open the door to the Piggery. A wall of black loomed over her, barring her way.

‘What the—’

Crowley’s strong hands grabbed her and urged her backwards, into the side room that was the Poke.

‘Get your hands off me,’ Alice hissed, shoving him away.

‘I was watching you from the window.’

Her mouth fell open. ‘So you are stalking me then? I don’t think your girlfriend would be very pleased.’

His face registered confusion.

‘Sandra?’ she prompted.

‘Don’t be absurd – I only met her a few hours ago. When you raced from your office, after I simply wanted to talk, I had to find someone willing to give me your home address.’

‘She handed my address to a total stranger? What a cow.’

‘I can be quite persuasive when I want to be.’ He shrugged. ‘It was imperative that I spoke with you, but you rudely ejected me from your flat so—’

‘Why are you here?’ she demanded.

The look on his face soured. ‘Stay away from that man.’

‘I beg your pardon?’

He frowned at her. ‘The man you were talking to outside. Stay away from him. He’s dangerous. When Sylvie warned you that you weren’t safe, it was because of him.’

‘Is that so? Well, he hasn’t been following me all day. He didn’t try to force his way into my flat. He hasn’t dragged me into a side room.’ She suddenly became acutely aware that the room was empty. ‘What do you even want?’

Crowley’s eyebrows drew down into a glower.

‘Forget it,’ she said. ‘I have enough to deal with without all this nonsense.’ Alice shoved past him, and he dived to stop her from leaving, pushing the door closed. She could feel his chest heaving, pressed against her back, and she stiffened. ‘Stay away from me or I’ll scream blue murder,’ she said quietly, before forcing the door open and slipping through it. She crossed the narrow corridor and entered the Piggery. Noise and warmth washed over her.

Sandra had broken away from their work colleagues and was hovering anxiously nearby as though waiting for someone. Crowley, obviously. As Alice took a step forward, she glimpsed the dreaded birds again, and her legs weakened. Just as before, they filled the air in a teeming, churning mass. But every blink swept them clean away. Birds. No birds. Birds. No birds. What was happening to her?

Light-headed, she briefly covered her eyes with her hands. Her skin was clammy and her legs weak. She needed to go home. ‘Jen?’ she croaked. A few heads nearby turned, but none were Jen’s.

The room wouldn’t stop spinning and blinking in and out of existence. Birds. No birds. Birds. No birds. A ruffle of wings swiped near her head and she jerked away. A hand made a grab for her, but she shook it off and staggered outside once more.

‘Hey, slow down! Slow down!’

She tripped over the pub’s threshold, and the scarred cigarette smoker caught and steadied her.

‘I knew you weren’t fine. Here,’ he said. ‘I’ll get you into a taxi.’

She squinted at him through narrowed eyes, afraid of what she might see. No birds. She blinked. Still no birds. She exhaled and hugged her arms across her chest.

‘I don’t think I’m very well,’ she mumbled.

‘Come on,’ he said. ‘We’ll share a taxi and I’ll make sure you get home safely. You look like you’re going to faint.’

‘I—No, I’m okay,’ she said, swallowing.

‘Let me get you home,’ said the smoker, tugging at her wrist.

‘No. Honestly, I’m fine. My friend is still in . . .’ She trailed away as she caught sight of a dark figure lurking behind the window, staring at her. Crowley. She turned to the man beside her and nodded shakily.

‘That would be good, thanks,’ she said. He grinned and urged her towards the kerb, threading his arm through hers. ‘I – I don’t even know your name.’

‘Vincent Kelligan. Call me Vin.’

Copyright © 2019 by Deborah Hewitt

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