Read an Excerpt
“Your breath smells like the stench of a thousand rotting souls, muchacho.”
“And your dress is no more a designer label than I am a perky Bichon Frise.”
“At least if you were a Bichon you’d be easier on the eye and drool less.”
“But you, my little cheesy enchilada, would still be just as tacky.”
Marcella Acosta pointed the Rottweiler’s—the talking Rottweiler’s—muzzle away from her nose with one finger. “If I were you, Darwin, I wouldn’t point fingers. Oh, wait, I mean paws. Because you have no fingers, do you?”
Darwin reared his head out of her reach, letting his tongue loll from his wide mouth. “Nope. But I still have excellent fashion sense—even fingerless. I don’t need those to tell me your dress is horrifying, darling.”
“I don’t need fingers to slap you in the head, mijo.”
“True that. But you do need them if you’re ever going to make contact with anyone other than me. Something you sincerely suck sweaty balls at since you were allegedly banished to this hot mess. Mock all you like, but at least I can travel from plane to plane. You?” He gave her a pointed doggy look. “Not so much.”
Anger, sharp and stinging, seared her gut while she slid down the trunk of a leafless tree. “Fuck. You.”
“Not even if you were a fluffy French poodle who was leash trained, potty mouth.” He turned his chocolate brown eyes on her and gave his “so over this” look, then yawned, revealing his big, white teeth.
Marcella leaned into him, nudging his black, squat haunches. “You know, Darwin, each day I spend with you on this godforsaken plane I’ve been banished to is like shopping for Jimmy Choo shoes at Payless. I'm-fucking-possible.”
His big rust and black head cocked to the left. “You’re just cranky because you’ve been wearing that hideous dress for three straight months. You do realize, now that you’re doomed to roam this plane, with only occasional relief when some half-baked medium mistakenly summons your spirit to Earth, that shopping trips are a thing of the past for you, yes? That is, unless you get off your vivacious, tight ass and do something about it. Too bad, so sad. Guess you’ll be in the wrong color for the rest of your nonlife. Your nonlife being eternal, and all.”
Marcella flicked a finger in the air aimed at his wet, cold nose. “Care to tell me again how it is you, a dog, can talk on this plane? Just until I figure out how to rip your esophagus from your throat, that is.”
“Care to tell me how it is that you, a one-time not even level-one demon, thought you could throw down with Lucifer and win?”
Marcella smoothed a hand over her wrinkled, torn dress and stuck her tongue out at him despite the fact that it was childish and petty. “Go to hell,” she muttered out of the side of her mouth, letting her head rest on her knees. She’d thrown down with the horned one for one reason and one reason only.
Her closest friend, Delaney.
Okay, so she’d been her only friend.
In seventy-six years of demonicness.
And since that infamous, albeit totally humiliating, utterly defeated smackdown with the aforementioned king of evil, she’d been in her own special hell.
The one without a Pier 1.
Because she’d defied Lucifer in the name of her best friend of over ten years, he had banished her once demonic butt from Hell. Seeing as she was now considered “the demon formerly known as,” hitching a ride on the elevator upstairs was simply out of the question, because ex-demons, no matter how ex, weren’t offered the light option package. There’d be no light for her to walk into.
That wasn’t something she hadn’t known for decades now. But at least as a demon, she’d had earthly privileges. She’d wandered around as though she were still human. Here? Not likely.
So that meant she was shit out of luck. If she couldn’t go up, and down was no longer a possibility, in between was all that was left. Now she was doomed to drift endlessly, roaming a plane that was as mortifying as a trip to the Dollar Store.
But her arrival on this very plane meant Delaney had survived, and she’d won Clyde, the man of her dreams. That was all that mattered to Marcella. She’d smile for a hundred eternities spent right here in this dreary, colorless place be-cause Lucifer’d lost that fucking battle. Delaney was safe. Alive. Lifting her head, she saw that Darwin remained rooted to her side, so she repeated, “Didn’t I tell you to go to hell? Where in there did I slur my words?”
“I’d much rather stay with you—here on Plane Dismal. It’s much less humid, don’t you agree?”
A chilly, raw wind whipped at the edges of her torn dress. The tree at her back shivered from the gust. “Isn’t there a light you should be chasing a cat into?”
“Oh, I’ve no question there is. But who in their right mind would want to walk into a light when they can hang out with the fucking ray of sunshine that is all you, peach pit?”
Her intake of breath was ragged with defeat. She was so done with their banter for today. So over the injustice that a dog, her friend Delaney’s dead dog, could not only talk on this plane but travel between planes with the ease of a 747. Done with feeling like she’d fallen through a black hole smack-dab into the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Done-da-done-done. “Just go the fuck away, Darwin. Go off to the plane where unicorns jump over goddamned rainbows in herds and showers of dog biscuits rain down on you every day at three sharp, and leave me the fuck alone.”
“And let you stew in the stank of that disgraceful dress? Not on your unlife, sweetheart. If I didn’t do my part to at least find you a change of clothing that’s more suited to your complexion, what kind of faithful companion would I be to Delaney? Stop being such a candy-ass and figure this out.”
They’d only been over this a thousand times. Okay, so she’d only been over it once with Darwin—out loud and all—but she’d been over it in her head at least a thousand times. “You’re a dead companion to Delaney, one that she can no longer see or hear, to boot. And what’s there to figure? I’m being punished for defying Lucifer. He has me tethered here somehow, the motherfucker. I’m sure of it. My eternal punishment is this plane, where the in-betweens roam with restless dissatisfaction or some such depressing, melodramatic crap. Oh, and you. You have to be part of some kind of dam-nation.”
“Tsk-tsk,” he growled, then he snorted, making his sagging jowls tremble. “This is so not the Marcella I know. The Marcella I know wouldn’t take this kind of crisis lying down. Well, not unless there was mancake involved and a bed with silk sheets to do the lying down on. The Marcella I know would be kicking and screaming her stilettoed feet until she found a solution. Scarier still? She’d be putting that one brain cell she has left to good use by figuring this out. If the other undecided and doomed souls can make contact with the living, if they can leave this plane at will, then why can’t you?”
Marcella jammed a hand into her tangled hair with tense fingers. “The Marcella you know is ass-fried, pal. How many people in an afterlifetime can lay claim to the fact that they’ve been not only a demon but now . . . this? I’m tired, Snausage breath. Bone weary, chico. And what about damned escapes you, mutt? Every time I try, I’m slammed right back into this dump. Satan jacked me up but good. The other souls on this plane seem to have some kind of magic transmission juju I just don’t. Don’t think I haven’t tried, either.”
Because she had tried. She’d even resorted to using the Heavenly Medium Administration’s approved list of mediums to attempt to contact a ghost whisperer so she could send a mes-sage to Delaney. She’d also blown chunks at it, but she was only halfway through the HMA’s list. Though, she hadn’t tapped that Sylvia Browne or John Edward yet. There was still hope.
“What happened to the Marcella who would have Matrixed her way out of here? Are you saying you’re going to let a wee thing like the fear that Satan has tethered you here keep you from making contact with Delaney? You do realize she’s been worried sick about you, don’t you? Just the other day I heard her and Clyde discussing it. She feels in-credible guilt because of your sacrifice. She’s beyond frantic over your fate. If you were any kind of friend, you’d find a way to send her a message that would console her.”
Marcella flipped him the bird with the harsh whip of a finger. “Wee this, you ASPCA reject. You weren’t there that night with Delaney and Clyde. You have no clue what that was like. There was nothing wee about it.” A violent shiver slipped up her spine just recalling it.
Thunder, lightning, locusts, snakes—all the happy-clappy things true nightmares are made of. Marcella had no desire to dredge that night back up.
Darwin yawned, revealing a gaping black hole filled with miles of pink tongue. “I know, I know. That night was dreadful times a million. Old Lucifer whipped you like so much cream. That still doesn’t mean you just give up, Marcella. Other souls from this plane manage to make contact. You could, too. If you were willing to break a nail, that is.”
“Don’t you think I’d send Delaney a message if I could, you antagonistic shit? I’ve tried everything. I just suck at this.” And she did. Suck at it, that is. She just couldn’t get a feel for the whole deal. No matter how many times she tried to connect with a medium, she ended up crapping out with a fizzle. She’d even gone so far as to attend this shitty plane’s therapy sessions and more self-help classes than she could count, like it was her new religion. Yet thus far, she’d tanked in “Medium + Ghost = Happily Ever After for Eternity,” and she couldn’t even begin to express her dismay over the “Limbo Doesn’t Have to Suck” class.
The one last earthly thing she wanted to do was let her friend know that she was all right. That the choice she’d made that night in a hospital room in Nebraska was made with no regrets. Not one.
What made being doomed here that much more doomish was the idea that knowing Delaney like she did, she knew guilt was chewing a hole in her gut. Delaney was the kind of friend who’d never have allowed her to give up what she’d given up that night. In fact, she’d have probably rather had a limb hacked off in lieu of. The least Marcella could do was let Delaney know she’d survived. Her friend would never have complete happiness if she didn’t have peace of mind about Marcella’s fate.
“So?” Darwin prodded. “What are you going to do? Whine or take charge?”
“Here’s the problem, mouth, and you know the rules as well as I do, Darwin. Because I was banished to this plane, I can’t leave unless someone summons my soul or unless I can find a medium to connect with and send signs to—which seems to be about as difficult as getting hold of the date for the second coming of Christ. Maybe some of the mediums on the approved list they gave me are just a bunch of shysters. Delaney always said there were more fakes than the real thing. And seriously, do you really think a place called the Spirit Shack—where, I might add, they offer five séances for five hundred bucks, get the sixth one free—is the real deal?”
“The Spirit Shack just helped that Andre, didn’t they? He’d been here for eight years, Marcella. They can’t all be hack mediums if they helped a hard-core plane dweller like Andre. That’s just a convenient excuse for you not to get off your keister.”
“Oh, bullshit,” she snorted, enraged that he was goading her. “Andre’s the perfect example for why I think I was banished to this plane instead of just dumped here. He crossed without the use of a real medium. It was just his time to go, I guess. I tried hitting up the Spirit Shack and got nothing out of it other than watching some lying piece of shit who called himself Jean-Franc perform a séance then pretend he could see some guy named Marlon from Hoboken who wasn’t even there. He couldn’t see me any more than Delaney can still see you. If that’s not enough proof for you, then I got nuthin’.”
Darwin scratched his underside with a rapid thump of his paw. “While I’m certain some of the mediums who manage to make the approved list are just as you claim, full of shit, they aren’t all full of shit.”
“Look, the only friggin’ medium I knew for sure was the real deal was Delaney, and she’s no longer a medium, remember? Or are you forgetting the reason she could see the dead in the first place? The contract with Lucifer. You know, that crazy contract her freaky half brother Vincent had with the horned one that gave him all that evil power he abused the shit out of while he was alive? The power that, upon his death, was passed to his next oldest living relative? That relative being Delaney—who used the power for good instead of evil, by crossing souls. Do you also remember the clause in there that I mentioned to you? The stupid loophole that said the power would stay in Delaney’s bloodline for as long as there were living relatives to be had? Which would have been great had Delaney not actually died that night in the hospital.”
She shivered with remembrance all over again. When Lucifer had used Marcella as a human catapult, launching her body full force at Delaney, her friend had fallen hard and hit her head against a solid porcelain sink, essentially killing her from the impact to her skull.
Yet Clyde, the whole reason they’d had the big smack-down with Satan to begin with, had resuscitated Delaney, saving her life. Though Marcella’d been weak and battered beyond the point of moving, she’d seen everything, lying on that hospi-tal room floor before she passed out and ended up here.
Darwin peered at her with an intent gaze. “I remember this tale as if you told it just yesterday. In fact, I believe it was just yesterday when you finally, after three months, decided to leave your entrails at my feet. What does that have to do with you getting off this plane?”
“The contract. It has to do with the contract. Because Delaney died, she lost the power. That means she no longer sees dead people. I am, for all intents and purposes, the former. You know—dead people. Her medium days are ovah. No one’s going to summon me because no one but Delaney cares that I’m dead . . . gone . . . whatever I am. And if Delaney’s the only medium I know—knew—then color me all kinds of screwed. I’ve tried doing what the others do when they set out to send messages to their family members via a medium. You do remember me following that moron Ivan to Psy-chic Saul’s in the West End, don’t you?”
What an ass-sucking disaster that’d been. She’d ended up crossing Ivan’s signals with her own and confusing the ever-loving shit out of poor Saul. Ivan had been so pissed because she’d messed up his big moment, a moment that had taken him four years to get the nads up for, he’d made sure no one, not a drifting soul, would sit with her during their “Decisive Decision Making in the Afterlife” class.
“Ah, yet the others, who’re lesser women than you, have managed to make contact. Slacker.”
For the love of all things shiny. “The others aren’t here on the orders of Satan, smart-ass. They’re just lost and undecided for the most part. They’re not bound here by anything other than their own pathetic lack of the take-charge-and-face-up-to-your-obligations gene. The light is still an option for the others once they figure out what they want and settle things. We both know, and I don’t need to be reminded, the light isn’t an op for me. I lost all hope for a choice years ago when I didn’t go into the light upon my death. Maybe that’s why I keep running into roadblocks when I try to contact a medium. Whoever’s in charge just thinks there’s no point in allowing me to send a message, because I’m not worthy. So get off my back, Lord of the Kibble, and go chase cars. A lot.”
If it were still possible for her to be nagged to death, she’d be six feet under, and Darwin would win all kinds of awards for all the poking and prodding he’d been doing since she’d hit this plane. Yet, he was right. She’d once been a take-no-prisoners kind of girl. But since she’d arrived here, her energy points had been dwindling by the hour—and the Marcella of three months ago would’ve been fucked before she’d allow even Satan to get one over on her.
“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in you.”
Marcella snorted and looked Darwin in the eye. “I’m all kinds of broken up over it, too. I’m just good at hiding my complete devastation. You can’t see it, but really, I’m crying on the inside.” She let the sarcasm in her words ring crystal clear.
The pair remained silent for several moments. Marcella lost in her misery, Darwin flopping down beside her to roll on his back with a carefree wiggle.
“So riddle me this,” he said, interrupting any further wallowing.
“Oh, stop being so negative, whiner. I have an important point to make. Something that’s been bothering me since you landed here on Chez Drab.”
“Make it—and then go awaaay.”
He eyed her from his upside-down position with glassy, dark brown eyes. “How do you know Satan personally banished you? I mean, did he actually raise his fist to the sky and dramatically declare you dead to him while you displayed weak emotions like tears and begged him to spare you from the pit?”
Now that made her pause. Huh. Not that she’d have begged for anything from that puke to begin with. No one was more yippy-skippy than she was when someone managed to keep that freakazoid from wreaking more havoc. She’d gone into it knowing full well she might end up in the pit for eternity. She hadn’t been a demon for seven and a half decades without knowing the risk she was taking by trying to best Lucifer and protect her friend. She’d never asked to be a demon to begin with, so rebellion of any kind would receive only kudos from her. In fact, nothing got her rocks off more than interfering with Lucifer and his fucked-uppedness.
She’d laid low during her demonic stint, and she’d man-aged to slip through the cracks of Hell going virtually unnoticed, for the most part. Marcella had ridden Hell’s fence for a very long time—but when she’d jumped off that fence, she’d jumped big.
When she’d landed—she’d landed here.
But no. The devil hadn’t handed down an edict for any kind of punishment . . . not that she was aware of. Fancy that.
Darwin pawed her dirty, partially shredded sandal. “So?”
“Fine. No. No, he didn’t, but if you’ll recall, after that night with Delaney—you know the one, right? The one with locusts, and flames licking at my pert butt? The one that in general is the shit nightmares are made of? The one where I tried to stop him from taking out my best friend? What happened after that was this.” She spread her arms wide. “This was where I woke up. I assumed, because I no longer had earthbound privileges, that he was the one who dumped me here. Or one of his ass lickers did it. Why else would I be here?” If picking planes had actually been an option she’d been aware of, this gray dive wouldn’t have been high on her list of plane picking.
“He may have banished you from his domain, genius, but he didn’t necessarily banish you to this plane. Believe you me, there are plenty of planes far worse than this, and if Lucifer was as hacked off at you as I think he’d be because you interfered and kept him from exacting revenge on Delaney for stealing a soul that was supposed to be his, I have to think he’d have left you somewhere much more horrifying. You know, a place where your worst fears come to life. Like maybe the plane where there are never any sales at Pier 1. This is like Candy Land compared to that for someone like you. You know, hit a girl where it hurts and all. He’s not as omnipotent as he’d have you think. Only the Big Kahuna has that kind of power. Satan only has control over Hell, Marcella—nothing more, nothing less.”
Only. “Then why don’t you explain to me why I can’t make contact with anyone like the other spirits can, Wonder Dog.”
“Okay, I’ll give you this much. Yes, you’ve tried. Yes, you’ve failed. Boo-hoo. But to believe Satan could tether you here when he has absolutely no jurisdiction to do so is an easy out, if you ask me. That would take stupid to a whole new level. Do you really believe that?”
“Yes. No. I mean, I don’t fucking know. It wasn’t like I made it a practice to learn every rule in the demon handbook. I have mentioned a time or two that I didn’t choose the demon lifestyle with the intent of actually being demonic.”
“You have, and that puzzles me, too, my Spanish rose—”
Her head shook back and forth while her lips thinned. “Forget it. That part of my eternity is over and done. All I know is I had no one but Delaney when I was a demon, and she can’t see me anymore if I’m a ghost—which is, for the second time in this conversation, what I am now.” Marcella stuck a finger in her eye, pushing it through her skull and out the back side of her head with a dramatic flourish to emphasize her point. “See all the freaky stuff I can do on this plane? I can’t touch anything anywhere else but here. That makes me a ghost. So one more time for posterity: Delaney doesn’t see ghosts anymore. I have tried to do what everyone else here does and sucked so much wind for doing it. Try not to forget that. End of. Now go dig holes or gnaw on some mailman.” To rag on her because she was just no good at this ghost thing, probably worse at the ghost thing than she’d ever been at the demon thing, was heinous. And mean.
“Oh, Marcella,” he said, disgust seeping into his words, “I always feel as though I’m the only one who puts any effort into our relationship. Weren’t you the one who just told me, for the second time in as many days, that the gift of sight Delaney once had was passed to her because she was her half brother’s oldest living relative and when he died it was transferred to her? Very soap-operaish when you say it out loud, don’t you agree? Anyway, you said it yourself. Satan whipped up some crazy contract with that scum-of-the-earth Vincent, and in that contract there was a clause that kept the power within Delaney’s family for as long as there was a living relative, right?”
Irritation prickled her skin. “Point, Darwin. Make it. Soon.”
“Didn’t you just get through telling me that Delaney actually died the night that she faced off with the pitchfork lover? Yes, yes, you did. With a dreamy-eyed, wistful look on your face, you told me Clyde resuscitated her. Oh, and then you sighed—also wistfully, I might add, leading me to believe you’re a bit of a romantic, despite the fact that you’d like everyone to believe your heart is nothing more than a shriveled-up piece of beef jerky. Again, I don’t want to be redundant, but might I point out the contract. The bit about the power staying in the Markham family for as long as there was a living relative . . .” He trailed off with an expectant look in his large, brown eyes.
Jesus Christ in a miniskirt.
Her jaw might have scraped the floor if she hadn’t the fortitude to clamp it shut with a clenched fist.
Darwin sat back up and peered into her eyes—eyes that were wide with disbelief. “I feel a defining moment approaching,” he drawled.
Marcella grabbed his jaw, cupping his muzzle. “Kellen . . .” she muttered. It was all she was able to manage.
Blowing out a breath that made his jowls flap, Darwin nipped at her finger. “Survey says . . . Right on, sistah. Kellen. When Delaney died that night, the gift of sight passed to her brother. Your favorite person in the whole wide world. If the trouble really is that all the mediums you’ve tried to reach so far are hacks—we know of at least one who’s anything but a poser. Kellen’s your target.”
Her grip on his muzzle tightened. “And you didn’t tell me this sooner, why? I’ve been here for three bloody months and you knew all along Kellen was the medium I should target.” She spat the words out at him through clenched teeth.
He let his wet nose graze her hand before jerking out of her grip. “Ahem. As I recall, you were playing the post-traumatic stress disorder card and just couldn’t bring yourself to talk about that night until yesterday. I wasn’t privy to all of the details, just bits and pieces I heard via Delaney and Clyde’s conversations. Oh, and the stray, lip-trembling comment from you. Until yesterday. You do remember our conversation, don’t you? It involved a tear or two staining your pretty, chiseled cheekbones. One even fell on that train wreck of a dress. Then you whined—which became a rather awkward moment for me. So I ditched your sissy ass and skipped off to the plane where Milk Bones shower me at regular intervals to give what went down that night some thought. When I was all thought out—which, P.S., took all of ten minutes, in case you’re wondering—I rushed over here to brain you with my genius discovery. ’Cause I haz skillz.”
“Kellen . . .” she whispered. His name on her lips, rolling off her tongue, made her knees weak and her hands shake.
“Bingo, darling. You remember him, right? Never mind, of course you do, sugar. He’s the man you secretly lusted for but never put the old Marcella moves on because he hated demons. The man you went to extreme lengths to rile with your sharp tongue because it kept him at arm’s length, and that way he’d never know your libido sang a chorus of hallelujahs when-ever he was around. Indeed. He’s your man.”
Color rose in her cheeks, because Darwin was right. She hated that he was right. So she reacted with appropriate venom. “Fuck you, Darwin.”
“And again, not if you were a fuzzy Pomeranian who lived in a villa high on a hilltop in the French countryside and dined on canned food every day. Now, get over your shock and dismay, and get off your ass and do something.”
Marcella swallowed with a gulp, fighting the well of tears in her eyes. Jesus. Was she really giving even a little thought to crying? Her only defense was the frustration that knowing Kellen could see ghosts created for her. Yeah. She was frustrated. “I can’t.”
“Because Kellen hates—hated—my guts.” Hoo, boy, had he hated her guts, and she’d done everything she could to stoke the flames of his hatred due to her fierce attraction to him. He was the one man in all her years as a demon who’d made her wish she had just a week to be human again. A week that included a bed, some silk sheets, a bottle of expensive champagne, and not a stitch of clothing. Delaney was the one who had kept her from crossing the line during the ten years she’d known Kellen. No matter how much Delaney had loved her, treasured their friendship, she’d have never been comfort-able with Marcella making a move on Kellen.
Her demonicness, even though it’d been a choice made out of sacrifice, would never fly, considering the Markhams’ past history with Satan. Though there’d been plenty of times when Kellen was sending daggers of death at her with his eyes that she’d wanted to throw him on whatever surface she could find and have her way with him. Have a big way with him. “Kellen hates me. Period. He hated that I was a demon. He hated that I was Delaney’s friend. He hated. Game over.”
Darwin huffed. “I hate you, too, but look at me now all making nice. And why do I make nice with you? It certainly isn’t because you have good fashion sense. It’s because of Delaney. Because she loved you, whether we all thought that was a total waste of emotion or not. I love Delaney. It’s why I won’t cross over. I can’t bear the idea I’d never see her again. Kellen loves Delaney, too. We both want whatever makes her happy.”
Darwin’s confession stung just a little, softened only by the notion that the hatred they felt for her was likely because of misinformation. If only Darwin and Kellen knew how misin-formed they truly were. Still, there’d never be a time when she’d ever regret doing what she’d done to become a demon, no matter how much disdain and scorn was heaped on her.
“Do you honestly think he hates you enough to keep you from reassuring his sister that you survived that night? Kellen isn’t that kind of man, Marcella. You know that as surely as you know you wanted to get a good freak on with him. Stop stalling, pansy, and get on it.”
Energy surged through her for the first time in three months, making her jump to her feet. It was true. Kellen would never refuse to send a message to Delaney for her. He might not like it, but he’d do it.
But it meant she had to see him again. Be near him. Smell his cologne. See his hazel eyes fall on her with the same old contempt. Pathetically long for his sculpted fantasticalness all over again while he gave her the evil eye. Being here, thinking she’d never see Kellen again had almost been a comfort. Knowing she just might be able to connect with him shook her up.
Darwin nudged her thigh with his back end. “C’mon. Hike up your big-girl panties, and let’s get ’er done. You’ve stared Satan in the eye. Kellen’s easy-cheesy compared to that.”
Snapping her fingers together under his nose, Marcella narrowed her gaze at him. “Shut it. I need to think.”
“About what? If you think too long, you’ll set this plane ablaze from one end to the other. You’ve done nothing but think for three months. Clearly you did a half-assed job in the thinking department to begin with. It wasn’t you who figured this out—it was me. I know you’re gaga over Kellen, but I also know nothing can ever come of it, and so do you. Get over your case of lust long enough to let your best friend know you’re well. All you have to do is show up, state your case, and bounce. Simple.”
She sagged to the ground again, leaning back against the tree, strangely deflated.
The zing she’d felt just moments ago petered out and died.
“Get up, Marcella. If not for anyone else, then for Delaney,” Darwin urged, but his voice, growly and low, grew distant and warbled.
She reached for the base of the tree with fingers that sought to anchor her body to it. The odd sensation that she was being dragged grew. Yet she remained immobile, still clinging to the tree.
Her stomach began to swell, rising with sweeping surges in an odd concoction of butterflies and anxious rumblings. Marcella put a hand to her head, rubbing to alleviate the light, airy feel to it. Forcing her limbs to move, she struggled to stand, shimmying against the trunk of the tree for support. But her legs were like soft butter, caving and twisting beneath her, refusing to acknowledge the signals her brain sent to them.
Closing her eyes, Marcella swallowed hard to diminish the nausea assaulting her, the kind of seasicklike nausea she’d experienced when she rode the Teacup ride at Disney World.
Then the sensation shifted so suddenly and so swiftly, she had to take a deep breath. It was like someone had turned her inside out, then outside in. Reaching behind her to find a tree that was no longer there, she teetered on unsteady legs.
Her eyes fluttered open for a mere moment, scanned her surroundings, then closed in disbelief.
A surprised gasp slipped from her lips.
And then another surprised gasp slipped from someone else’s lips.
Which totally made the surprise-gasping thing a declara-tion of symbolic unification in astonishment.
Marcella forced her eyes back open and found herself face-to-face with Kellen Markham.
Standing right in front of her, holding an old scarf she’d once lent to Delaney.
Under his nose.