Read an Excerpt
By Kate Douglas
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Kate Douglas
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGinny Jones wrapped a clean kitchen towel around her torn fingers and glared at the screeching cat she'd finally managed to shove into the carrier.
Her cousin Markus leaned over her shoulder and sighed. "Poor Tom. I sure hope he's not rabid."
"No shit, Sherlock." She glanced at the blood-soaked towel and then at Markus. "And what do you mean, poor Tom? Did you see what that stupid cat of yours did to my hand?"
Markus shook his head, sending his long dreads flying. "I don't understand. Tom's a sweetheart. He's never even scratched anyone, much less bitten before."
"Tell that to your neighbor. She's going to need stitches in her leg, not to mention what he did to me. C'mon. We have to get your stupid cat to the vet so they can quarantine him before animal control shows up, or they just might take him and put him down."
Markus grabbed the keys off the hook by the back door and picked up the carrier. Tom screeched, a long, low banshee wail that sent goosebumps racing along Ginny's arms and raised the tiny hairs on the back of her neck. Tom didn't sound anything like any cat she'd ever heard.
So, why did that screech sound so eerily familiar?
Something about it skirted the edges of her memory. She stared at Tom, glaring back at her through the slats of the carrier, but nothing clicked. She'd never seen a cat with eyes like his-they flashed blood red. When he snarled, she was almost certain he had extra rows of teeth.
She shivered again and wrapped her arms around herself. Beyond weird. Everything about the stupid cat was freaking her out, but then, so was this entire trip. Frowning, Ginny followed Markus at a safe distance through the backdoor to the garage and watched while he stowed the sturdy carrier in the rear seat of the Camry.
Tom howled again. Ginny shook her head. "I don't like this one bit. Shouldn't we maybe put him in the trunk?"
Markus ignored her suggestion and got into the driver's seat. "Get in. No cat of mine rides in the trunk."
Ginny stared at the red-eyed cat. Tom returned her stare.
Markus glared at her. "You scared of a cat? Damn it, Ginny. Get in."
She took a deep breath. She wasn't about to let herself act like a coward in front of her younger cousin. "Well, if he gets loose from the carrier, you're putting him back-and I'm outta here. I've bled enough for the cause." Ginny slammed the door and reached for her seat belt, wondering for the hundredth time what she was doing visiting her cousins in Sedona anyway. It wasn't like they were all that close, but for some reason she'd gotten a wild hair, packed her bags, and headed to Arizona without any plans or advance notice at all.
So far, her timing sucked. She'd barely parked the rental car at her aunt's house when the shit hit the fan. Old Tom, the fattest, laziest-looking cat she'd ever seen, had jumped up, shrieked like the devil was on his tail, and launched his porky butt off Aunt Betty's front porch.
He'd practically flown over the six-foot hedge between her aunt's house and the one next door-like a flying furball with fangs. He'd zeroed in on the poor neighbor lady who was just getting out of her car, arms loaded with groceries.
The bags had gone one way, the woman the other, but Tom latched on to her left leg and buried his teeth deep. It had taken both Markus and Ginny to pull the cat off the screaming woman, and then he'd taken off, still screeching. Aunt Betty had freaked out, grabbed the twins, and as far as Ginny knew, she was still hiding in the bedroom with the kids.
Markus-with typical teenage thinking-had gone after the cat with a big bass net like it was a four-legged fish. Ginny'd been the one who finally cornered Tom against the fence, but he'd gotten her good with claws and teeth before she'd managed to shove him into the carrier and latch the damned thing.
Not quite the entrance she'd imagined on the flight from Sacramento to Phoenix. If she had to go through a course of rabies shots, she was going to kill Markus, and anyone else who gave her grief.
Like Alton. Especially Alton.
Now why in the hell would she be thinking of her friend Eddy Marks's tall, drop-dead gorgeous, egotistical jackass college buddy Alton? They'd barely met, though Ginny kept associating him with her being here in Sedona, which made no sense whatsoever.
Neither did the fact he'd kissed her the first time she saw him. For some reason, her memories of that kiss were all fuzzy and dreamlike. She knew they'd locked lips, if only for a moment, but her memory should be sharper. A lot sharper.
He had perfect lips-full and warm and soft-and he was a spectacular kisser. She remembered that much, but little else.
Like why. She couldn't recall anything leading up to the kiss, or even what had happened directly after, which wasn't like her. Not one bit, but confusing memories of Alton were all jumbled up with boarding a plane for Phoenix. She'd rented a car and hung out in Phoenix for a few days, feeling confused and off-kilter before giving in to some weird need to see her aunt and cousins in Sedona. Early Tuesday morning, she'd finally hit the road for the two-hour drive across the desert to Sedona.
And now she was headed to the local vet's with a crazy cat, her stupid kid cousin, and a hand that was bleeding through the dishtowel she'd wrapped around the bites and scratches.
If this was a vacation, she'd definitely had better.
"Is it always this busy?" Ginny rewrapped the towel on her throbbing hand while Markus drove around the block again, looking for a parking space. All the slots at the vet's clinic were taken and there wasn't a single empty spot along the road.
Markus shook his head. "Never. Especially on a Tuesday morning. Weekends, maybe, but not today. I don't get it."
He finally pulled into the parking lot in front of a grocery store a block away. "I'll carry the cat." He glanced at Ginny and seemed to notice the blood-soaked towel for the first time. "Is that still bleeding?"
"Yes, it's still bleeding. Your sweetheart of a cat nailed me good." She got out of the car and started walking toward the clinic. Markus fell into step beside her with the carrier clutched in one hand. Tom had quit screeching, but his incessant yowling was almost as bad.
Markus was big for eighteen-at least six-foot-six with broad shoulders and legs like tree trunks. As tall as she was, Ginny had to look up at him. He might not be the sharpest tack in the box, but she figured if he couldn't protect her from a stupid cat, no one could.
Though, come to think of it, she was the one bleeding, not her cousin. She was still thinking along those lines when Markus grabbed the door to the clinic and held it open for her.
Ginny stepped into total pandemonium.
The small clinic reeked of sulfur, which made no sense at all. Usually vet clinics smelled like cat pee. This one was filled with crying kids, freaked-out grownups, screeching animals-most of them in cages, thank goodness-and a couple of staff members who looked as if they were ready to run and hide. Ginny turned and looked at her cousin.
Markus stared wild-eyed at a large cage holding a big blue macaw. The bird spread its beak wide and screeched. It sounded just like Tom. Markus swallowed with an audible gulp. Ginny took a closer look at the macaw. Teeth. Rows and rows of teeth.
Now, she was no expert, but Ginny was sure she'd never heard of birds with teeth. She blinked and refocused, but the macaw's mouth was still filled with way too many teeth-all of them razor sharp. A screechy howl caught her attention and she glanced down at a scrawny little Chihuahua that was, thankfully, wearing a muzzle.
More teeth. Not just sharp doggy fangs, but rows of shiny, razor-sharp teeth filled the little mutt's mouth. A lop-eared bunny in a cat carrier just like Tom's snarled and hissed and curled its lips back. More teeth. Every single animal in the clinic looked like something out of a cheap horror film, all of them snarling and screeching and trying to take bites with mouths filled with way too many rows of sharp teeth.
And just like that, memories crashed into the forefront of her mind. The big concrete bear chasing her that night back home in Evergreen, her best friend Eddy's dad, Ed Marks, and Alton-though she hadn't known him then, that tall, good-looking friend of Eddy's from college-rushing out of the darkness and attacking the impossible creature. Alton had saved her life.
She saw it like a movie on fast forward-Alton carrying a huge sword that glowed like a freaking Jedi lightsaber, jabbing it into the concrete bear like the bear was made of butter. Jumping up on the creature's back, riding it like a bucking bronco. And the sound! The bear'd been screeching and wailing.
Screeching and wailing, just like the animals here, in the veterinarian's clinic.
Ginny sucked in a breath as images flowed into her mind. Alton lopping off the concrete bear's head with a powerful swing of his sword, the glowing blade flashing by in a slashing arc.
The bear crumbling, just turning into a pile of rocks and dust and sulfuric stink, like it had never been alive at all. And the smell. That horrible stench.
Just like this vet clinic in Sedona.
She remembered Alton and Ed walking her home. How could she have forgotten that night? That was the night Alton kissed her! A girl didn't forget a night like that. It made no sense at all.
Except she was remembering now. Remembering it as clearly as if it had just happened. The bear, the battle ... Alton's lips. Oh, Lordy ... his lips, warm and full and so sweet, pressed against hers, moving over her mouth in a sensual whisper of sensation and seduction.
The noise, the screeching animals, the frantic humans, the stinky veterinarian's clinic, all faded away as Ginny pressed her fingertips against her lips and let the memories flow.
There'd been another night too. How the hell could she have forgotten? It was only a few days ago! She blinked as it came into focus. She and Alton, walking arm in arm down the street to her house. The two of them laughing and talking about lots of nothing-flirting, for crying out loud! Both of them standing on her front porch.
She sucked in a breath as the memories cleared. She'd been thinking of breaking all her rules about guys and inviting Alton in. He'd been just as bossy and arrogant as the first time they'd met, but she'd had fun with him, too, and even though they'd only met the night he'd saved her life, she'd been drawn to him on an almost primal level.
The chemistry had certainly been there-so intense the need she'd felt was almost painful. Even now, just thinking of him fired a slow burn of desire deep in her core.
How could she forget that he'd offered to stay the night on her front porch? Offered to sit out there to protect her. That was sweet, even though she didn't need any protection. Not in her little town of Evergreen on the slopes of Mount Shasta.
Safest place in the world.
She remembered saying good night. She'd kissed his cheek when she'd really wanted to drag him inside and take him straight to her bedroom. Her toes actually tingled, remembering. Her womb felt heavy, her breasts full, recalling now how she'd gone in alone and closed the door. Leaned against it, thinking of Alton. Hearing his voice.
Hearing his voice? How could she have forgotten his voice in her head, that sexy whisper ... giving her orders?
Damn it all!
Telling me to come to Sedona.
Ginny clenched her hands into fists and bit back a scream that probably would have shut up every screeching animal in the room. It was him! This was all Alton's fault! Somehow he'd hypnotized her. That had to be it. He'd hypnotized her and made her forget the bear and his kiss and ...
She growled. The macaw shut its big mouth and stared at her, but all Ginny could see was Alton. That insufferable jackass had sent her here. He'd saved her from a bear made of concrete with rows of sharp teeth, a bear that couldn't have been real, and he'd sent her down here to frickin' Sedona, Arizona, where the cats and bunnies and birds had the same kind of impossible teeth.
Ginny spun around and glared at her cousin.
Markus took a step back. "What'd I do?"
"Nothing. Not a damned thing." She sucked in a deep breath and let it out. Something very weird was going on and Alton was involved, all the way from the tips of his sexy cowboy boots to the top of his beautiful blond head. "I have to make a phone call. You sign in. I'll be right back."
There wasn't a stitch of clothing covering her perfect body. She was tall and slim and her stylishly bobbed hair swung against her jaw with each step she took on gloriously long legs. If she hadn't been trying to kill him, Alton might have found her attractive. Instead, he wrapped both hands around the jeweled hilt of his crystal sword and swung with practiced ease.
The blade sliced cleanly through the juncture between her neck and shoulder. He watched with grim satisfaction as the mannequin's head bounced off the wall and rolled across the sidewalk. The jaws gaped wide, exposing row after row of razor-sharp teeth framed by perfectly painted pouty lips.
Alton stepped back out of the way, giving Eddy Marks plenty of space to aim the point of her crystal sword. She held DemonSlayer high, slashing through the demonic mist as it flowed through the hole in the mannequin's plastic neck.
The eerie banshee cry of the escaping demon sent shivers down Alton's spine. The screech ended abruptly the moment Eddy's sword sliced into the mist and it burst into flames. All that was left was a puff of foul-smelling smoke.
"Well done, my lady."
Eddy smiled at the sword in her hand. "Thank you, DemonSlayer." Then she sheathed her weapon and rose up on her toes to accept a kiss from her beloved Dax.
Alton couldn't help but think that Dax was one very lucky ex-demon, to find a woman like Eddy Marks, one brave enough to have gained immortality along with her own sentient sword. There weren't many women like her.
In fact, there were none like Eddy in his own lost world of Lemuria. As far as Alton knew, she was just as unique to Earth.
For some unfathomable reason, a fleeting image of Ginny Jones flashed through his mind-her body tall and lean with skin dark as night, and those gorgeous tiger's eyes of hers.
The image popped out of existence so fast it left him shaken. Blinking, he realized he was still watching Eddy and Dax.
"That was a new one," Eddy said when she finally peeled herself away from her lover. "Have you seen any others like her?" She nodded toward the mannequin lying on the sidewalk.
Alton dragged his gaze away from the two of them and stared at the mannequin. "Thankfully, no, but this isn't good. It was bad enough when demons were using ceramic and stone creatures as avatars, but plastic's a new medium for them. Can you imagine the chaos they're going to cause? There's no way to get rid of all the potential hosts for the damned things."
This latest demon invasion had begun less than two weeks ago. So far, demons could exist in Earth's dimension only as formless wraiths-smelly black mist without substance. They'd started out possessing ceramic, stone, and metal figurines, though they'd not managed to do too much damage.
This was scary, though, this move to plastic. The demon who'd possessed this mannequin seemed to have a lot more control than the ones who'd taken on the more primitive avatars. The creatures were somehow gaining power, even intelligence. It appeared they were actually evolving-and doing it way too fast.
Dax knelt down and ran his hand over the mannequin's body, as if he needed to see for himself what it was made of. "I want to know where these new demons are coming from. There shouldn't be so many. Not since Alton sealed the gateway from Abyss."
Eddy shoved her bangs out of her eyes and glanced at Alton. "Maybe they've opened a new one."
Nine hells. A new portal was the last thing they needed. Alton really didn't want to consider such a thing. He stared at Eddy and Dax and sighed. Just over a week ago he'd been a perfectly bored resident of Lemuria, wondering why nothing exciting ever happened. Then he'd helped two humans, a tiny will-o'-the-wisp, and a mongrel dog escape from a Lemurian prison in a separate dimension deep within Mount Shasta.
Excerpted from HELLFIRE by Kate Douglas Copyright © 2010 by Kate Douglas. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.