Read an Excerpt
Beg Me to Slay
By Lisa Kessler, Danielle Poiesz
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Lisa Kessler
All rights reserved.
Burning the midnight oil was nothing new for Tegan Ashton, but tonight something sinister lingered in the air. It's all in my head. She rubbed the back of her neck, wishing she could release the unwarranted dread. Anxiety coaxed her pulse, teasing her senses with its false promise of danger.
It pissed her off. The ghosts of the past were uninvited guests in her life.
Regardless, she could almost hear her father's voice in her head whispering in Welsh Gaelic, "Perygl ar mae'r gwynt." Danger on the wind. She forced her attention back to her work. The only thing in danger at the moment was her bank account.
Tegan's fingers flew across the keyboard, filling in the databases, entering the codes. Brainless, tedious work, but it paid the bills. Her new dojo in Leucadia, just north of San Diego, teetered into the red every month, so she picked up as many Internet data entry jobs as she could.
Late nights and mainlining caffeine, the glamorous life of a black-belt businesswoman.
Hoping to calm her nerves, she took a long, slow sip of her iced tea and pulled up her "favorites" tab on her computer. Although she lived in a beach town, she couldn't afford the rent on anything with an ocean view. Her compromise was an hourly treat of a five-minute break to watch the moonlight on the ocean, courtesy of the Starlight Beach Inn's twenty-four-hour webcam.
The hotel was just a few miles away from her studio apartment over her dojo, and it kept a floodlight dimly lighting the shoreline. Once she fired up her iTunes track of ocean waves, it was instant relaxation. In San Diego's North County, 2:00 a.m. was just about the only time you could stare at the waves on the beach without a bunch of people in the way. Perfect.
She double-clicked the ocean waves, grabbed her tea, and leaned back in the chair while the webcam loaded. Now all she needed was the smell of sea air and she'd be good to go. Her shoulders started to relax and Tegan grinned, taking a swallow of her tea. Anxiety attacks were no match for the calming power of the Pacific Ocean.
The grainy picture came up while she stretched out her cramped fingers. She frowned and leaned forward in her chair. Someone was on her beach.
A man and a woman. He shoveled sand while his date reclined on the shore. What were they doing building sand castles at this time of night?
She sighed and set her tea aside. So much for her beach break. Being a Peeping Tom during someone else's late-night date wasn't part of her calming respite. Tegan poised the mouse over the X to close the webcam when the guy scooped his date up and dropped her into the hole.
"What the hell?" Tegan rubbed her eyes, leaning closer to the screen.
Goose bumps lined her arms when the first shovel of sand covered the woman. "Holy shit." She reached for her cordless phone. "Shit, shit, shit."
"911. How can we help?"
Two more shovels of sand into the hole. "There's a man burying a woman on the beach outside of the Starlight Beach Inn."
"I show your location on Pacific Highway."
Tegan nodded, only half listening. "Yeah, I'm watching him on the hotel's webcam. Someone needs to help her."
"Ma'am, you realize you can be held accountable for falsifying calls to 911."
The man on the beach chose that moment to look over his shoulder, wiping his chin. His eyes glowed like a cat's would in a picture using a bright flash, but this was only the dim light of the webcam. Tegan's heart lurched in her chest. "It's him."
She clicked the off button on her phone, her lungs constricting and fingers tingling. She struggled to slow her breathing as painful memories swamped her, a massive wave of anxiety swelling inside. Even with the grainy webcam view, she recognized every angle of his face. The same face still haunted her nightmares.
The man who had attacked her in Los Angeles, the man the police had failed to catch, had just traveled south into her sleepy beach town. In fact, he was only a few miles away from her bedroom.
* * *
Tegan left the sheriff's department exhausted mentally and physically, but there was no way she was going to fall asleep. The looks on the uniformed officers' faces told her all she needed to know. They didn't believe her. Apparently a black-and-white did visit the Starlight Beach Inn at 2:45 a.m. to find the beach deserted and no signs of disturbed earth. They claimed the hotel was requesting the webcam footage from their service provider, but it would be at least a week. Without any evidence of a crime, they couldn't force the issue and subpoena any records.
All it took was pulling up her case file for all of them to get that familiar look of pity in their eyes and assure her the search for her attacker was still ongoing. It was no secret she'd had a mental breakdown after the attack, and although she'd given them a full physical description of the man, she'd been unable to tell them about her injury. They told her he'd stabbed her with an acid-dipped blade of some sort.
They'd never believe the truth.
She'd been bitten, and as crazy as it sounded, no human man had pointed teeth like those she'd seen that night when he smiled and his forehead contorted, cracked to expose something inhuman beneath.
This was information that would've kept her locked in a psych ward, so she kept it to herself. As the months passed into years, she'd started to wonder if maybe she was crazy after all.
Tegan leaned back in her La-Z-Boy reading chair, peppering herself with questions. Could her mind have been playing tricks on her when she fired up the webcam? It had been late, and she'd felt uneasy before the picture ever came up.
But she'd watched that beach hundreds of times in the middle of the night and never saw anyone. Definitely never saw a man bury a body.
If you could call that sick sack of shit a man.
Her fingertips traced the line of her fishhook-shaped scar along her collarbone, wishing she could erase the memories and rehabilitate her mind the way she had her body. She thought she'd put that night behind her.
Until the bastard showed up on the webcam and ripped the wound wide open again.
Yeah, sleep was definitely not going to happen. The threat of seeing him again in her dreams kept her too amped up to sleep. She got up and pulled the small card table to the side of the room. Controlling her breathing, she moved through her martial arts katas. Her focus on each fighting position calmed her, defusing the bomb of panic brewing inside of her. By the time she reclaimed her peace, sweat soaked through the back of her T-shirt.
She wasn't the same college student from four years ago. She wasn't a victim, not anymore. And she never would be again.
Tegan pulled her hair back into a ponytail and reached for her cell phone. If the police didn't believe her, she'd hire someone who would. Sitting back and hiding was not an option.
Multiple Google searches, several hours, and ten calls later, she chucked her hair tie across the room in frustration. She either couldn't afford the PIs she was finding or they heard there was an open case number involved and didn't want to get anywhere near it. Her gaze drifted to the picture of her folks at the country club. They'd lend her the money in a heartbeat.
But then they'd worry. It wasn't until a few months ago that her mom and dad finally started traveling again. They were supposed to be enjoying retirement, not babysitting their only daughter. If they found out she thought she saw her attacker, they'd swoop in and try to take over. Unacceptable. She could handle this. Somehow.
She grabbed the phone again. Another Google search and she scanned the names until one caught her eye: Gabriel V.H. Smith. Licensed PI and paranormal investigator.
Paranormal investigator? She stroked the mouse key lightly, not ready to commit to clicking. What kind of private investigator admitted to paranormal investigations? Did he think he was some kind of Ghostbuster? People couldn't possibly hire him to check their house for the dead and haunting, could they?
She leaned back in her chair. This guy could be a waste of time. But she'd already made more calls than she intended — and she was running out of viable options. What did she have to lose?
She made the call, relieved when a receptionist answered. He had a secretary. That had to mean that he took his business seriously — or at least she hoped so — and Tegan did her best not to judge him by the fact that he had time in his schedule to meet her that same day. No harm done in driving up the coast to San Clemente for a meeting. She didn't have to hire him. San Clemente was probably a perfect PI location, right between San Diego and Los Angeles. He could spy on cheating husbands and wives in either big city.
She closed her computer and got up. If she hurried she could get a shower before she made the forty-five minute drive up the 5 freeway.
* * *
The building wasn't what she expected. Instead of an office inside a law firm or strip mall, she parked her car in front of a small converted church. At least she assumed that's what it was by the stained-glass windows. There wasn't a steeple or a bell.
She opened the carved oak door and stepped into the shadowed office. A stylish woman with short black hair chomped her gum behind a desk, stapling papers into manila folders. Glancing Tegan's way, she lifted her hand from the stapler. "Are you Megan?"
"It's actually Tegan. Like Megan with a T."
The receptionist popped her gum and shrugged. "Suit yourself. Gabe will be back in a few minutes."
Stapling recommenced, the pound and grind of bending metal staples echoing through the space. Tegan glanced up at the high ceilings and took a seat on the long pew opposite the desk. Time slowed, the rhythmic noise lulling her into a comfortable trance. Maybe she was more exhausted than she realized.
The large door burst open. Tegan shot up from her seat, her feet instinctively hitting a fighting stance. A tall man with broad shoulders, brown hair, and dark glasses blew through the narthex toward the chapel area. His features were striking even though she couldn't see his eyes behind the dark lenses of his shades. The strong angle of his jaw and the way his hair brushed the collar of his black coat made her pulse jump. He was perfectly mussed somehow, as though he'd just rolled out of bed looking like that.
For some reason she'd been imagining him much older. The whole paranormal thing sounded like an old man chasing a silly superstition. This guy was also a little less polished than she'd expected. Judging by the swollen lip and the scrape at the corner of his mouth, he'd had a recent job that had gotten physical.
Her pulse thrummed in an inappropriate response. The fact that this guy might know how to fight should not excite her. Obviously her hormones were aching for more male contact.
Screw that. The last thing she had time for was a man.
"Martie, is my five o'clock here yet?" His voice was deep and a little hoarse. Rough and sexy.
The stapling came to an abrupt halt, and Martie pointed a red, perfectly manicured finger. "That's her."
He spun around and tipped his head, peering at Tegan from over his sunglasses. "You're Megan?"
His light-green eyes almost made her forget her own name. "It's Tegan. Tegan Ashton."
"Like Megan with a T."
She nodded, an unexpected smile curving her lips. "Exactly."
He held out a large hand. She stared at it for a second. This was a business meeting, nothing more. Other than her karate classes, she hadn't touched a man since the attack.
I won't be a victim. I'm not a victim.
She forced herself to place her hand inside his, and he squeezed, giving her a firm handshake. "Nice to meet you. I'm Gabe."
His fingers brushed her wrist, sliding across her palm as he released her. Almost tender. She'd forgotten how a simple touch could calm instead of threaten. Pressing her lips together, she reminded herself to breathe.
He gestured toward his office. "Come on back."
* * *
Gabe took off his coat, doing his best not to wince as the right sleeve skimmed his dislocated elbow. It would heal, of course, but it would hurt a helluva lot less if he'd taken the time to reset the joint.
But he didn't want to be late.
Offering her a chair, he stepped around his desk to hang his coat, but he kept his dark glasses on. Easier to give his clients the once-over if they couldn't tell where he was looking.
All part of the job. Although today was more enjoyable than usual.
When Martie had told him his new potential client thought she witnessed a murder, Tegan had his full attention. Now that she sat in his office, it was clear even if she didn't have a big case, she would've caught his attention. Her thick auburn hair fell just past her shoulders, and her dark-brown eyes and pouty lips teased him. They had a softness that contrasted with the rest of her body.
Which was toned and tempting, even through her clothes. Hard and tense, as though she was ready to take on the world at a moment's notice. Her face looked a little pale, shadows lingering under her eyes. No sleep, and judging by the way her fingers trembled when he released her hand, she probably needed to eat too. Her fighting stance the second he entered the office hadn't escaped him, either. What had turned this angel into a warrior?
None of his business. Giving a damn would only get her killed. He'd been down that road before, and he refused to lose another person he cared about. Best not to care at all.
He pulled his sunglasses off and his potential new client gasped.
"You should put some ice on that eye."
"I'll be all right." He sat behind his desk, chastising himself for not checking the mirror in the car before he came in. Damn. He knew that hit was going to leave a mark. "So, tell me why you're talking to me instead of the police."
"Because they don't believe me." Her doe eyes pleaded with him. He'd seen the look before.
Gabe rolled his head slightly, snapping his vertebrae back into alignment. "Why not?"
She wrung her hands in front of her for a moment before shooting up from her seat and leaning against his desk.
"You know what? Let's cut the crap. I have money, and after calling every PI in SoCal, you're my last shot. I need you to find the guy who gave me this."
She caught her finger in the neckline of her T-shirt and tugged it back to reveal a jagged hook-shaped scar on her collarbone, with a raised edge all the way around it. The center of the wounded flesh was discolored, almost gray. His pulse raced. He'd seen these scars before, but never on a living person. No human had given her that scar.
Releasing the shirt, she met his eyes. "It's been four years since he attacked me, and last night I saw him on a webcam in my neighborhood."
Gabe stood up, resting his hands on his side of the desk and leaning closer to her. This close, he could see the flecks of green in her dark eyes. No sign of a fine outer ring of gold — the first indication of a demon incognito.
Good. This woman was human.
And somehow she'd done the impossible and survived a Hingo demon attack. It was unheard of in his line of work.
"I'm on the case."
"Same price I was quoted on the phone?" Her eyes narrowed, her gaze searching his.
"Yeah." Gabe nodded. For a chance to send another Hingo demon straight back to hell, he'd almost take the case for free, but he kept that to himself. A guy had to eat.
He reached for his coat without thinking; his arm tweaked, unable to straighten. "Damn it."
She came around his desk, frowning. "Somebody beat the crap out of you."
"You should see the other guy." He smirked. "Do me a favor and —"
She grabbed his wrist, and already had her other hand ready to lever his elbow back into place.
"You've done this before." He gripped the desk with his free hand.
"And it hurts like a son of a bitch." She tugged hard.
Sparks lit around the edge of his vision while he screamed a few choice words. Finally a loud pop echoed through the room and she let go of his arm.
Gabe moved it a little, tentative.
"You need to ice it."
Excerpted from Beg Me to Slay by Lisa Kessler, Danielle Poiesz. Copyright © 2013 Lisa Kessler. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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