Read an Excerpt
A Goddesses Rising Novel
By Natalie J. Damschro, Danielle Poiesz, Kerri-Leigh Grady
Entangled Publishing, LLC Copyright © 2013 Natalie J. Damschroder
All rights reserved.
"The Society for Goddess Education and Defense is your go-to resource for learning about your heritage, preparing for the onset of your abilities, and building supportive relationships with your fellow goddesses."
— Sam Remington, promotional video, Society website
Riley's sneakers crunched on gravel as she crossed the pitted lot in front of the squat, rundown bar just off a quiet road in Bridgeport, Connecticut. There was no sign over the door to tell her she was in the right place. Even if she was, her information wasn't necessarily reliable. But she'd reached her limit even before her car had been stolen, and now all she wanted was a moment to sit down and decide her next move. What it was would depend on who stood behind the bar when she went inside.
The door creaked when she pushed it open and thudded solidly behind her after she stepped through. She shoved her hands in the pockets of her denim jacket and glanced around. The room was dim, hazy even though smoking had been banned in bars and restaurants years ago. The tables and chairs were mismatched, some wood, some metal frames and vinyl seats, even a few molded plastic. Most were empty at this late hour. Riley had wanted to be here earlier, when it would be more crowded and she could linger unobserved, but the car thing had made that impossible.
She made her way past a couple leaning close over a two-top, ignoring their beers in favor of making kissy-faces. She settled with her back to a corner and studied the other people in the place. Stalling. Postponing the moment when she found Sam Remington, or didn't.
Three guys at the bar shouted at a replay of a European soccer match on the TV over their heads, groaning loudly when the goalkeeper made a diving save. At the other end of the battered expanse of oak, a grizzled old man held up two fingers at the bartender. He added some whiskey to the old guy's glass, and when he spoke, his deep, slightly rough voice reached Riley easily.
"That's your limit, Tedley."
"I can count," the old man groused, but he winked at the bartender and pulled a few crumpled bills from his pocket. A dimple flashed in the bartender's cheek before he turned to deposit the money in the till.
Riley sagged into her chair, her eyelids stinging. She'd found him. Maybe he could help her, maybe not. But for the first time in months — hell, in years — she had a move to make. Half an ounce of control, or at least the illusion of it.
Sam looked a little different from the video she'd watched, oh, fifty-five times on the website for the Society for Goddess Education and Defense. His dark hair was longer, for one. Shaggier. It looked just as silky, though, when he shoved one side behind an ear. And his T-shirt hugged his chest and biceps much more lovingly than the tidy button-down he'd worn in the video. She wouldn't have guessed he was so tall, either. At least six foot four. Her head would probably hit the center of his chest.
She swallowed and glanced away. The image that had flashed through her mind was definitely ill timed. No reason her head would ever have occasion to meet his chest. But if it did ...
"What can I get you?"
Riley jerked her head up. In the few seconds she'd been fighting her thoughts, Sam had crossed the bar to her table. Why wasn't there a waitress working so he didn't have to leave the bar? Damn the assholes who'd taken her car and made her get here so late.
The soccer guys called goodbyes over their shoulders, and the couple followed them out. Sam waved and then rested his hands on his hips, waiting for her order. She cleared her throat, the sound loud in the now-quiet bar. The TV was off. Maybe she'd been lost in visualization longer than she'd thought. And there was that chest again, the hollow between his collarbones set off perfectly by the slight V-neck of his gray shirt.
"Uh, Coke, please."
"Yes," she said even though she hated Pepsi, just so he'd walk away sooner. She needed time to think, to figure out how to approach him. She hadn't practiced anything before now, afraid to hope a vague Facebook reference could lead her to the right place. Traveling to Connecticut wasn't a big deal, since she'd been on the move for what seemed like forever, but she didn't want to expect too much and be flattened when she wound up in limbo once again.
So while Sam drew her soda from the tap, she tried to come up with an opening gambit. It wasn't easy with her brain so fogged from fatigue. She'd been sleeping in her car as she traveled, not having enough money for a motel anymore. She'd walked a few miles to get to the bar, too, and while she wasn't out of shape, it added to the toll of a stressful day after a very long string of stressful days. And it was well after one in the morning.
She took a deep breath and shook off the haze. She shouldn't lose this opportunity. What if she didn't get it again? So maybe just keep it simple. Hi. What do you know about goddesses?
No, that was stupid. She knew what he knew — it was all over the Society website. Brief mentions in news items and meeting agendas and press releases, plus that video about a new educational program, all added up to "this guy is connected." But he wasn't one of them. He couldn't be — he was male. That was the only reason she was here.
Maybe it would be best to blurt it all out. I need your help. I'm all alone and crazy things are happening all around me, and everything I've been raised to believe has been flipped on its head. Goddesses don't exist, but if that's the truth, then I must be crazy.
She snorted softly as Sam came around the bar with her soda in his hand. He'd shove her out the door and lock it behind her if that babble came out of her mouth.
He might do that anyway. The clock behind the bar said it was one-thirty, and Tedley shuffled across the uneven floorboards toward the exit. Surely Sam would want to lock up and go home.
"Night, Ted," he called. "See you tomorrow."
The old man waved a hand without looking up from his feet.
Riley straightened, feeling lighter. She didn't have to say anything now that she knew Sam would be here tomorrow. She could come back with a real plan beyond "see if he's there."
And then he was, just a scant couple of feet away. He towered over her, massive but not bulky, evoking a sense of protection rather than threat. A hint of something both warm and exotic drifted through the air. Riley inhaled, but the stronger scents of beer and peanuts made the more personal scent elusive. She suppressed a tiny shudder and tried to smile as he set a tall plastic cup on the table in front of her. Condensation soaked the thin coaster under it in seconds.
"You hungry?" He tossed a paper-wrapped straw beside the cup.
"What? Oh, no, thank you. I'm sure you're ready to close. I'll just drink this and get out of your way."
He shrugged one shoulder. Her attention caught on the play of muscles the movement caused, and her mouth went dry.
"Open till two, so if you want a snack, let me know."
He didn't linger, leaving it completely up to her. Riley's stomach growled, but he was far enough away — hopefully — not to hear it. She poked the straw into the drink and sucked half of it down, both to ease the growlies and to finish fast so she could leave. The man was making it hard to focus on anything but his exquisite form. Maybe she shouldn't come back tomorrow after all.
She hadn't anticipated this attraction, which made the whole thing a little nauseating. Oh, please help me, Mr. Big Tall Man. I'm a damsel in distress! And want me, too! It didn't help that he appeared to be about ten years older than her twenty-three. That put too much emphasis on the naïve, helpless girl image for her liking.
She'd just slurped to the bottom of the cup, rethinking her entire plan — such as it was — when the door opened again. Out of habit Riley shrank into the corner and shifted to put her profile to the door.
Sam, who was polishing glasses and setting them on a high shelf, cast her a thoughtful look before offering an easy smile to the newcomers. "Evening, folks. What can I get ya?"
The small group didn't go to the bar or choose a table on the far side of the room, though they had a ton of privacy-laden options. Instead, they wove their way to a table only two away from hers, spun chairs around to straddle, and sat with deliberate movements. Two of them, one man and one woman, stared at Riley, both sets of eyes narrowed. The other guy went back to the bar to pay for the beers Sam had pulled from a cooler and set on the surface with a clunk. The pair sitting near her didn't even look away when their friend returned to the table.
Riley's heart leapt into a sprint, urging her to her feet. She hadn't recognized the man's voice, but something wasn't right. She firmed her jaw, determined not to look like she was running. And even though they'd already seen her face, she couldn't help dipping her head to let her hair fall forward, hiding it until she'd skirted the table next to theirs and reached the bar. Even then, when she dropped a ragged fiver from her pocket onto the battered wood, she couldn't raise her gaze above Sam's ribcage.
She kept her voice low. "Restroom?"
She felt Sam watching her until she'd rounded the corner. Some of the fear settled once she was out of sight.
She didn't know how they'd found her again. Hell, she didn't know how she knew they were the people who'd been harassing her, since she'd never seen them before. But after being hounded for months, no matter where she went, it didn't matter — she could feel them. Maybe she was wrong and they weren't connected to the phone calls and her lost job and eviction and everything else. They could just be random douche-bags, looking to mess with the only other woman in the place. But their glares had been more menacing than that, and leaving was the smartest move. First for her own safety, but also because causing problems in his establishment might set things off on the wrong foot with Sam.
She bypassed the ladies' room door and hurried through the emergency exit several feet past it. She didn't hesitate, despite the small sign that said an alarm would sound. Places like this didn't actually alarm their back exits. It was too much hassle for the staff who went out there to smoke or take out the trash, for one thing, and for another, there were always people like her coming through.
Once outside, she held her breath against the stink of the Dumpster beside her, a stink competing with old vomit and urine. At least it was late April and not mid-summer, when heat would render the stench intolerable. Riley looked around to get her bearings in the darkness, longing for the safety of her beat-up old car. The parking lot and street were too open, too far out of the main city. They'd spot her immediately if she went that way on foot.
Back here wasn't much better. The building was separated from some kind of industrial compound by about twenty yards of weedy, empty lot. Powerful ten-story lights shone down on the area behind a high chain-link fence that disappeared into a tangle of underbrush and stunted trees. To her left, small, close-set homes were visible on the other side of a ravine running through the narrow strip of woods. There was more cover there, darkness under the trees. But no metal. Her fingers closed over her mother's pendant, barely enough of a source to make her fingers tingle. That wouldn't be enough to help her if she had to defend herself.
The fence beckoned, shiny and solid, as much as did the shelter of the scant woods and shadowy ravine. Hide or fight?
Hiding had gotten her nowhere. She went right.
She'd barely gained the top of the fence when she heard voices. Panic hit her again, logic fleeing and her will with it. She dropped to the ground and ran, knowing they'd see her movement, maybe hear her footsteps. It had rained earlier and the pavement was wet enough to amplify her footfalls, each one making a little splash.
Riley raced across the blacktop, eyes locked on the giant chutes and pipes looming way too far away. She should have stayed near the fence, but it was too big, would leave her with too little control and trap her more than help. Her breath came evenly, lungs conditioned from months of running, but she was slower than usual. Her heart thundered as she sensed her pursuers closing in on her. They caught up before she'd reached the center of the open area.
Whirling, she dodged the first swing. Her mind raced almost incoherently. They'd never come this close, never tried to hurt her directly. Why now? Why here? She darted between the two men, avoiding their reaching hands. But the woman's foot was too fast. It caught Riley's right ankle, sending her sprawling across the ground. Her palms scraped over the rough surface. She flipped onto her back, feet raised to fend them off, hands up to block her face. The urge to scream bubbled in her chest, but she swallowed it. No one would come either way.
"Don't give us trouble, Kordek." The taller of the men reached down as if to grab her sleeve and pull her up.
She swatted his hand aside and kicked out at his knee. He grunted and moved back a step, giving her enough time to jerk her legs under her and land in a crouch, balanced on the balls of her feet. She put her hands out and waited, trying to keep her breathing even. How did they know her last name?
The woman laughed as the stockier man stepped toward her.
"Come on with — oof." He doubled over when Riley shot upward and drove her head into his groin. He tipped sideways and landed on the ground, his hands cupping the insulted area, barely able to wheeze his pain. The woman laughed again, this time at her partner. Riley scrambled all the way to her feet.
"What do you want with me?" she demanded. They didn't answer, and she backed up. The two not on the ground advanced. Her hands shook until she clenched them, chest heaving. She wasn't equipped for this. She needed metal, something portable to give her strength and hold them off. But they'd be on her before she could get to anything usable.
The shout came from behind the pair, and they turned.
* * *
Sam wasn't surprised when the young blonde didn't come back from the restroom. He'd noticed her tension as soon as the latecomers entered the bar. Well, noticed the change in her tension. She hadn't exactly been relaxed before that. She'd been checking him out from her well-chosen spot in the corner, but not in the way women in here usually checked him out, looking to get free drinks or something more carnal. She'd reminded him of the stray cat behind his house, wanting to approach but wary of his response. He'd offered a treat and then backed off, letting her take her time. She'd sucked down that pop so fast it should have been followed by an epic belch. He was sure she was about to leave without talking to him, but then the trio had come in and spooked her in a different way.
Sam kept polishing glasses and putting them on the shelf, watching the men argue with the woman too quietly for him to hear, even in the otherwise empty bar. He grabbed his keys and subtly locked the till. When the group split up, the woman and one of the men went out the front door, their buddy ambling toward the hall where the bathrooms were. Sam didn't hesitate. He ignored the baseball bat the owner kept under the bar — he wouldn't need it — and quickly locked the front door before following the single guy to the back. He took a quick second to check the bathrooms, in case he'd misread the situation and he was just taking a piss before joining his companions, but they were both empty. Sam pushed through the emergency exit and made sure it locked behind him.
His instincts had been dead on. All four people were spotlighted inside the plant's fence, the trio advancing on the lone young woman. Sam took off running along the fence line. Broken branches and trampled grass told him the others had already gone through this way, and sure enough, the rusty gate latch was broken. Sam wondered if they'd scouted the area before coming inside for their beer, or if they'd just gotten lucky. He knew the gate was here because he made a point of always knowing what was around him. Training and experience weren't easily forgotten.
Excerpted from Heavy Metal by Natalie J. Damschro, Danielle Poiesz, Kerri-Leigh Grady. Copyright © 2013 Natalie J. Damschroder. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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