Review + Excerpt: The Sinner - Vilma Iris | Lifestyle Blogger

A sinner’s only hope is true love in this passionate new novel in J.R. Ward’s #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series.

Syn has kept his side hustle as a mercenary a secret from the Black Dagger Brotherhood. When he takes another hit job, he not only crosses the path of the vampire race’s new enemy, but also that of a half-breed in danger of dying during her transition. Jo Early has no idea what her true nature is, and when a mysterious man appears out of the darkness, she is torn between their erotic connection and the sense that something is very wrong.

Fate anointed Butch O’Neal as the Dhestroyer, the fulfiller of the prophecy that foresees the end of the Omega. As the war with the Lessening Society comes to a head, Butch gets an unexpected ally in Syn. But can he trust the male—or is the warrior with the bad past a deadly complication?

With time running out, Jo gets swept up in the fighting and must join with Syn and the Brotherhood against true evil. In the end, will love true prevail…or was the prophecy wrong all along?

Series:

Black Dagger Brotherhood

Book 18

Book Type:

Urban Fantasy

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The Sinner
By J.R. Ward

Review + Excerpt: The Sinner

“Don’t make a hero out of me, Jo. It won’t serve you well.”

With THE SINNER, J.R. Ward delivers the perfect balance of old and new—familiar feels, an ancient war, a foreboding prophecy, and at the story’s center, a brother who is a relative newcomer, who has both fascinated and shocked us with his insidious talhman. It’s a story of vulnerability, connection, redemption and evolution. A story of love found and self-discovery.

As with other BDB books, connected storylines run in parallel. In one, we delve into Syn’s story, exploring his horrifying past and the battle he wages with the lurid, lurking monster within. He’s a male haunted by ghosts of the past, one who has surrendered hope, discarded self-worth as penance for his dark misdeeds.

As he falls for Jo Early—a half breed unaware to her true nature—we see a different side to him, a depth we’ve not seen but now come to realize in the context of what he endured and shaped him.

Syn also becomes an unexpected ally to Butch O’Neal, the Dhestroyer and fulfiller of the prophecy which foresees the end to the Omega. But could they have gotten it all wrong? And could Syn be trusted? New revelations connect them in ways unforeseen, adding complication as the war comes to a head.

By the story’s end, the brotherhood, the war, are intrinsically changed—a twist that promises exciting things to come.

There were so many aspects I loved about this latest installment. Loved that it channeled vintage BDB vibes, loved the rawness and vulnerability of some of the story threads, loved the emotion that swelled in the end, and loved that there’s an unpredictability to what’s coming next.

It’s amazing that after eighteen books, Ward still manages to surprise us in the very best ways.

Chapter 1

Behind the wheel of her ten-year-old car, Jo Early bit into the Slim Jim and chewed like it was her last meal. She hated the fake-smoke taste and the boat-rope texture, and when she swallowed the last piece, she got another one out of her bag. Ripping the wrapper with her teeth, she peeled the taxidermied tube free and littered into the wheel well of her passenger side. There were so many spent casings like it down there, you couldn’t see the floor mat.

Up ahead, her anemic headlights swung around a curve, illuminating pine trees that had been limbed up three quarters of the way, the puffy tops making toothpicks out of the trunks. She hit a pothole and bad-swallowed, and she was coughing as she reached her destination.

The abandoned Adirondack Outlets was yet another commentary on the pervasiveness of Amazon Prime. The one-story strip mall was a horseshoe without a hoof, the store fronts along the two long sides bearing the remnants of their brands, faded laminations and off-kilter signs with names like Van Heusen/Izod, and Nike, and Dansk the ghosts of commerce past. Behind the dusty glass, there was no merchandise available for purchase anymore, and no one had been on the property with a charge card for at least a year, only hardscrabble weeds in the cracks of the promenade and barn swallows in the eaves inhabiting the site. Likewise, the food court that united the eastern and western arms was no longer offering soft serve or Starbucks or lunch.

As a hot flash cranked her internal temperature up, she cracked the window. And then put the thing all the way down. March in Caldwell, New York, was like winter in a lot of places still considered northerly in latitude and thank God for it. Breathing in the cold, damp air, she told herself this was not a bad idea.

Nah, not at all. Here she was, alone at midnight, chasing down the lead on a story she wasn’t writing for her employer, the Caldwell Courier Journal. Without anyone at her new apartment waiting up for her. Without anyone on the planet who would claim her mangled corpse when it was found from the smell in a ditch a week from now.

Letting the car roll to a stop, she killed the lights and stayed where she was. No moon out tonight so she’d dressed right. All black. But without any illumination from the heavens, her eyes strained at the darkness, and not because she was greedy to see the details on the decaying structure.

Nope.  At the moment, she was worried she was about to provide fodder for True Crime Garage.  As unease tickled her nape, like someone was trying to get her attention by running the point of a carving knife over her skin—

Her stomach let out a howl and she jumped. Without any debate, she went diving into her purse again. Passing by the three Slim Jims she had left, she went straight-up Hershey this time, and the efficiency with which she stripped that mass-produced chocolate of its clothing was a sad commentary on her diet. When she was finished, she was still hungry and not because there wasn’t food in her belly. As always, the only two things she could eat failed to satisfy her gnawing craving, to say nothing of her nutritional needs.

Putting up her window, she took her backpack and got out. The crackling sound of the treads of her running shoes on the shoulder of the road seemed loud as a concert, and she wished she wasn’t getting over a cold. Like her sense of smell could be helpful, though? And when was the last time she’d considered that possibility outside of a milk carton check.

She really needed to give these wild goose chases up.

Two-strapping her backpack, she locked the car and pulled the hood of her windbreaker up over her red hair. No heel toeing. She left-right-left’d it keeping the soles of her Brooks flat to quiet her footfalls. As her eyes adjusted, all she saw were the shadows around her, the hidey-holes in corners and nooks formed by the mall’s doorways and the benches pockets of gotcha with which mashers could play a grownup’s game of keep away until they were ready to attack.

When she got to a heavy chain that was strung across the entry to the promenade, she looked around. There was nobody in the parking lots that ran down the outside of the flanks. No one in the center area formed by the open-ended rectangle. Not a soul on the road that she had taken up to this rise above Rt. 149.

Jo told herself that this was good. It meant no one was going to jump her.

Her adrenal gland, on the other hand, informed her that this actually meant no one was around to hear her scream for help.

Refocusing on the chain, she had some thought that if she swung her leg over it and proceeded on the other side, she would not come back the same.

“Stop it,” she said, kicking her foot up.

She chose the right side of the stores, and as rain started to fall, she was glad the architect had thought to cover the walkways overhead. What had been not so smart was anyone thinking a shopping center with no interior corridors could survive in a zip code this close to Canada. Saving ten bucks on a pair of candlesticks or a bathing suit was not going to keep anybody warm enough to shop outside October to April, and that was true even before you factored in the current era of free next-day shipping.

Down at the far end, she stopped at what had to have been the ice cream place because there was a faded stencil of a cow holding a triple decker cone by its hoof on the window. She got out her phone.

Her call was answered on the first ring. “Are you okay?” Bill said.

“Where am I going?” she whispered. “I don’t see anything.”

“It’s in the back. I told you that you have to go around back, remember?”

“Damn it.” Maybe the nitrates had fried her brain. “Hold on, I think there’s a staircase over here.”
“I should come out there.”

Jo started walking again and shook her head even though he couldn’t see her. “I’m fine—  yup, I’ve got the cut through to the rear. I’ll call you if I need you—”

“You shouldn’t be doing this alone!”

Ending the connection, she jogged down the concrete steps, her pack bouncing like it was doing push-ups on her back. As she bottomed out on the lower level, she scanned the empty parking lot—

The stench that stabbed into her nose was the kind of thing that triggered her gag reflex. Roadkill . . . and baby powder?

She looked to the source. The maintenance building by the tree line had a corrugated metal roof and metal walls that would not survive long in tornado alley. Half the size of a football field, with garage doors locked to the ground, she imagined it could have housed paving equipment as well as snowplows, blowers, and mowers.

The sole person-sized door was loose, and as a stiff gust from the rainstorm caught it, the creak was straight out of a George Romero movie- and then the panel immediately slammed shut with a clap, as if Mother Nature didn’t like the stink any more than Jo did.

Taking out her phone, she texted Bill: This smell is nasty.

Aware that her heart rate just tripled, she walked across the asphalt, the rain hitting the hood of her windbreaker in a disorganized staccato. Ducking her hand under the loose nylon of the jacket, she felt for her holstered gun and kept her hand on the butt.

The door creaked open and slammed shut again, another puff of that smell releasing out of the pitch black interior. Swallowing through throat spasms, she had to fight to keep going and not because there was wind in her face.

When she stopped in front of the door, the opening and closing ceased, as if now that she was on the verge of entering, it didn’t need to catch her attention and draw her in.

So help her God, if Pennywise was on the other side…

Glancing around to check there were no red balloons lolling in the area, she reached out for the door.

I just have to know, she thought as she opened the way in. I need to . . . know.

Leaning around the jamb, she saw absolutely nothing, and yet was frozen by all that she confronted. Pure evil, the kind of thing that abducted and murdered children, that slaughtered the innocent, that enjoyed the suffering of the just and merciful, pushed at her body and then penetrated it, radiation that was toxic passing through to her bones.

Coughing, she stepped back and covered her mouth and nose with the crook of her elbow. After a couple of deep breaths into her sleeve, she fumbled with her phone.

Before Bill could say anything over the whirring in his background, she bit out, “You need to come—”

“I’m already halfway to you.”

“Good.”

“What’s going on—”

Jo ended the call again and got out her flashlight, triggering the beam. Stepping forward again, she shouldered the door open and trained the spear of illumination into the space.

The light was consumed.

Sure as if she were shining it into a bolt of thick fabric, the fragile glowing shaft was no match for what she was about to enter.

The threshold she stepped over was nothing more than weather stripping, but the inch-high lip was a barrier that felt like an obstacle course she could barely surmount—and then there was the stickiness on the floor. Pointing the flashlight to the ground, she picked up one of her feet. Something like old motor oil dripped off her running shoe, the sound of it finding home echoing in the empty space.

As Jo walked forward, she found the first of the buckets of blood on the left. Home Depot. With an orange and white logo smudged by a rusty, translucent substance that turned her stomach.

The beam wobbled as she looked into the cylinder, her hand shaking. Inside there was a gallon of glossy, gleaming . . . red . . . liquid. And in the back of her throat, she tasted copper—

Jo wheeled around with the flashlight.

Through the doorway, the two men who had come up behind her without a sound loomed as if they had risen out of the pavement itself, wraiths conjured from her nightmares, fed by the cold spring rain, clothed in the night. One of them had a goatee and tattoos at one of his temples, a cigarette between his lips and a downright nasty expression on his hard face. The other wore a Boston Red Sox hat and a long camel colored coat, the tails of which blew in slow motion even though the wind was choppy. Both had long black blades holstered handles down on their chest, and she knew there were more weapons where she couldn’t see them.

They had come to kill her. Tracked her as she’d moved away from her car. Seen her as she had not seen them.

Jo stumbled back and tried to get out her gun, but her sweaty palms had her dropping her phone and struggling to keep the flashlight—

And then she couldn’t move.

Even as her brain ordered her feet to run, her legs to run, her body to run, nothing obeyed the panic-commands, her muscles twitching under the lockdown of some invisible force of will, her bones aching, her breath turning into a pant. Pain firework’d her brain, a headache sizzling through her mind.

Opening her mouth, she screamed—

 

Chapter Two

Syn re-formed in the midst of the cold drizzle, his shitkickers sinking into the mud, his leather-covered body readily accepting the weight of his muscles and the pump of his black heart, his dark function resumed from a scatter of light molecules. Up ahead, the lineup of expensive foreign sedans and SUVs made no fucking sense in the cement company’s parking lot. Next to the stacks of concrete blocks, the heavy moving equipment, and the mixer trucks, they were a bunch of floozies standing among Sumo wrestlers.

Walking forward, his tongue teased the tip of one of his fangs, the cut he deliberately made bleeding into his mouth. As he nursed at the taste, his hands cranked into fists and the sense that his brain was a fuse about to be lit was something he ignored.

Predators needed prey.

So sometimes, you needed to eat even when your stomach was full.

As he approached a shallow overhang, the stout human man sitting beside the door on a plastic chair looked up from his Daily Racing Form. The bald lightbulb hanging from a live wire above his head made shadows of his eye sockets and his nostrils and his jaw, and Syn pictured the skull that would remain after death sloughed the mortal padding from the skeleton.

The man frowned. And by way of greeting, he moved a gun into view, placing it on top of his magazine.

“I’m here to see someone,” Syn said as he stopped.

“Ain’t no one here.”

When Syn didn’t leave, the man sat forward. “You hear what I said. Ain’t nobody here for you—”

Syn materialized onto the human, picking him up by the throat and punching him into the building, the plastic chair flipping out of the way as if it had no intention of getting involved in problems that were not its own.

As he disarmed his victim, the human’s meaty hands dug into the grip around its throat, and its legs flailed, banging the heels of its shoes against the building. The mouth, no longer slack with superiority, gaped in failed efforts to bring air down into lungs which were clearly starting to burn from denial already.

Then again, fear had a way of demanding a dance from hypoxia, no matter how much of a wallflower oxygen deprivation was in the normal course of things.

“I am here to see somebody,” Syn said softly. “And if you are lucky, it is not you.”

Lowering the man such that those feet found purchase, Syn released pressure enough to allow for verbalization. But it was not because he wanted words. No, a response of that nature was a flimsy meal.

He wanted a proper scream to ring in his ears.

Syn unsheathed one of his steel daggers. As he brought the silver blade up, the man transferred his clawing grip from what was locked on his neck to the wrist and forearm controlling the weapon. The protest was like that of a child, of less consequence and constriction than the sleeve of Syn’s leather coat.

The tip of the dagger went into the man’s left ear, and as the fist nick cut into the skin of the canal, Syn breathed deep.

Blood. Fear. Sweat.

He pressed his lower body into the man’s. Syn’s erection was not about sex, although given the way those watery, dark brown eyes flared, the man misinterpreted the response.

Closing his lids, Syn felt a surge of power in his body, the dominance, the aggression, the need to kill using pain, taking him over. In the back of his mind, he warned himself that he should stop now. This was not the plan, but more than that, this would be over too soon and then cleanup would be inconvenient- and he was not referring to the blood that would spill and splash, speckle and soak.

“Fight me,” he whispered. “Do it. Fight me—give me an excuse to drain your fucking brain out of the hole I drill into your skull.”

“I got kids,” the man stammered. “I got kids—”

Syn eased back a little. “You do?”

The man nodded like his life depended on the number of dependents he had. “Yeah, I got a boy and a girl, and—”

“Did you drive to work tonight?”

The man blinked like he couldn’t understand Syn’s thick, Old World accent. “Ah, yeah.”

“So you’ve got your driver’s license with you, right. Because you’re such a law abiding criminal.”

“I— I, ah, yeah, I got my wallet. Take the money—”

“Good.” Syn leaned down again, placing his right eye directly in front of his victim’s right eye, getting so close that every time the man blinked, his lashes stroked Syn’s own. “After I’m done with you, I am going to break into your house and kill them in their beds. And then your wife? You’ll hear her scream from your grave.”

Pure terror came out of every pore of the man, the sharp, tangy smell of it like cocaine to Syn’s system. Racing heart, racing breath, racing blood—

A hidden door swung wide.

The fat, older man who pushed it wide had a bulbous nose and acne scars that made his face look like the surface of the moon. His eyes were anything but pudgy and slow.

“Jesus Christ, guess you are the man I want. Come in—and don’t kill him, will ya? He’s my wife’s cousin’s husband and it’ll make Easter a fuckin’ nightmare.”

For a split second, Syn’s body did not listen to the release command—and not the one the human issued. His own brain was doing the ordering around, yet his hands refused to let go. Ah, but if he delayed gratification, he could kill another that would offer better sport. This was not the end. This was the beginning.

Like a tiger distracted off one carcass by the appearance of fresher meat, his fingers retracted, claws called home, and he stepped back. The man began coughing in earnest, slumping forward as if he intended to sweep the stoop with his face.

“Come through here,” the older man said. “Better that nobody sees you.”

Syn nearly bent in half to fit through the camouflaged doorway, and the narrow hall brushed the muscles of his shoulders and the older man’s padding as they went along. Through the wall on the left, he heard men talking and shouting over cards and he smelled the cigar smoke, the weed, the cigarettes. The alcohol. The cologne.

At the end of the corridor, there was another door, and on the far side of the flimsy panel, there was a cramped office. A desk littered with papers. An ashtray with a smoldering cigar nub. A worn swivel chair with raw patches for both ass cheeks. There was also a small black-and-white monitor showing the image of the man with the magazine righting his plastic chair and sitting back down.

“Have a seat,” the old man said indicating the hard chair on the far side of the desk. “This won’t take long.”

Syn noted the way the corridor’s panel re-shut itself, disappearing into the wall. There was another door with conventional hinges and knob, and he angled his back to the corner next to it so he could visualize the old man, the hidden passageway’s entrance, and the regular way into the office.

“So you come highly recommended,” the old man grunted as he lowered his weight on knees that were clearly wearing out early. “I usually handle these things myself, but not in this case.”

There was a pause. And then the human took out a laptop and put it on the paperwork. Turning it on, his cataract’d eyes flashed upward. “This filth needs to be taken off the streets.”

The man turned the screen around. The photograph was black-and-white. Grainy. Like it was a camera phone shot of a newspaper article.

“Johnny Pappalardo. He’s violated some rules that cannot be violated in my territory.”

When Syn didn’t acknowledge the picture, the old man frowned. “We got a problem?”

His pudgy hand dipped beneath the desk, and Syn moved faster than a human could track. Without changing the position of his eyes, he palmed a twin set of Glocks with suppressors and pointed one at the old man and the other at the door with the hinges and the knob.

Just as a man lunged into the office.

The humans froze, following the leader. In a low voice, Syn said, “Don’t do that again. We’ve got no problem, you and me. Keep it that way.”

The old man got to his feet and leaned over the desk. “Son, you ain’t from here, are you. Didn’t your friend tell you who I was—”

Syn pulled the triggers on both guns. Bullets landed into the walls to the side of both heads, causing the men to jump.

“I only care about the job,” he said. “Don’t make me care about you.”

There was a tense period of silence. Then the old man lowered himself back into his chair with that grunt.

“Leave us.” When the other guy didn’t move, the old man snapped, “Jesus, Junior, you deaf?”

“Junior” looked at Syn and Syn spared him a glance. Same coloring as the old man. Same facial structure. Same way of narrowing the eyes. The only thing that differentiated the two was twenty-five years and seventy-five pounds.

“Shut the door behind yourself, Junior,” Syn growled. “It’ll offer you some cover when I pull this trigger again.”

Junior checked in with his father one last time and then backed out.

The old man laughed. “You have no fear, do you.” As he went to duck his hand into his cardigan, he said dryly, “You want to lower those guns?”

When Syn didn’t reply, the old man shook his head with a grin. “You young boys. Too much gas in the tank. If you want to get paid, I’m going to have to take your money out of my pocket—”

“I don’t want your money. Just the job.”

The old man narrowed his eyes again. “What the fuck.”

Syn moved over to the hidden door. As he willed the hidden panel to slide back, the old man recoiled, but he recovered fast, no doubt assuming it hadn’t shut right.

“You don’t want the money then?” he said. “Who the hell does a job without getting paid?”

Syn lowered his chin and stared out from under his lids. As his eyes flashed with all the menace of talhman, the old man abruptly sat back in his chair as if he didn’t like being in an enclosed space with the very weapon he had sought to purchase and was putting to use.

“Someone who likes to kill,” Syn said in an evil growl.

 

Chapter 3

 

Published by Gallery Books, a div. of Simon &Schuster.
Copyright (c) 2020 by Jessica Bird.
All rights reserved.

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2 Comments:


  1. Lawana Washington said:

    This excerpt makes me wonder how it will all come together with Syn and his side business unknown to the brother’s, and just how does Butch handles this whole destroyer thing.

    Reply

  2. JackTheBookworm said:

    With this excerpt, now I MUST read The Sinner!

    Reply

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