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Read an Excerpt
By Marnee Blake, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Marnee Bailey
All rights reserved.
The motorcycle was almost sideways.
Seth leaned hard into the curve, not braking as he hit the gravel at the edge of the road. His tires skidded, sending his bike careening. It took all his strength to bring the machine under control. He slid to a stop next to the metal barrier that was the only thing between him and the rocky cliff's steep drop. But as he stared over the edge into the darkness, he waited. And waited ... and waited.
No rush of adrenaline, no blood-thumping wave of panic. Nothing.
He leaned forward, studying the craggy rocks and silence below, detached. Hell, he studied everything detached these days. He bungee jumped, BASE jumped, skydived. He used to love long drives on his motorcycle. Now? Even the wind in his hair and the feeling of flying along the open road didn't touch him. It all used to work.
The moon was high above him, and the night was clear. The empty air in front of him beckoned.
He got off his bike and dropped the kickstand. At the edge of the road, he gripped the metal barrier, the only thing standing between him and the open sky. It was no barrier, really. He could hop the bit of steel and be free-falling in a heartbeat. Less than a heartbeat.
His breath quickened, and his fingers chilled on the cold metal, the sharp edges of it biting into his palm.
His phone vibrated in his pocket. He didn't step back as he answered it. "Campbell."
"Where are you?" Nick didn't waste time on greetings. Said caller ID made pleasantries unnecessary.
Seth looked over the side of the cliff again. "Nowhere."
"Nowhere near San Antonio? For your sake, I hope that isn't true."
"Relax. I got held up in Denver. I'll cross into New Mexico in a half an hour. Be in San Antonio by tomorrow night."
Nick snorted. "No rush. Training only starts in five days. In North Carolina."
"I'll be in time." Like he'd miss it. Special Forces training, the army. This was why he still bothered polluting the air with his breath.
Nick must have recognized the defensiveness, because he backed off. "How's the ride?"
"Good." Seth grinned. "You know, we could take the bike to Bragg. Probably shave time." Nick could be such a stiff. Seth couldn't help razzing him sometimes.
His friend's chuckle floated over the airways. Seth could almost see him smiling, glancing down with his hand in his pocket. "No way, man."
Seth's grin widened. "Fine. I'll get the rental car." Something with a V8, maybe German engineering.
"My ass. It's not the car, it's the driver. Love the speed, hate the death potential. I drive."
"Cars have seat belts, asshole."
"See you tomorrow."
Seth pocketed the phone and noticed the blood on his hand for the first time. He found a gash in both palms, perfectly straight. Streaks of blood glistened on the metal in front of him. The sting of it didn't even faze him. He removed his handkerchief from his back pocket, careful to keep the blood off his pants. He bit the fabric, right in the center, and tore it in half. Wrapping one half around each hand, he secured them with the efficiency of a man well trained in field dressing.
Which he was.
After all, though the pain didn't bother him, there was no reason to bleed on his bike.
As he stared at his bandaged palms in the moonlight, exhaustion crashed over him.
He hadn't lied to Nick. He had been held up in Denver. He'd stopped to see Linda. But it hadn't been the visit that stopped him. No, that had only taken a minute. Linda had refused to speak to him.
It had been two years since Bobby died. Apparently that hadn't been enough time for her. Of course not. He'd lost a good friend; Linda had lost her husband.
Maybe he should stop for the night. He woke every day at dawn anyway. He could easily cover the hours to San Antonio before dinner tomorrow. A sign a mile back promised a bed-and-breakfast. He only noticed because the town's name had made him smile.
Glory. Population twenty-three.
Seth chuckled as he threw a leg over the motorcycle. Only twenty-three people? Sounded glorious.
With a stomp, he deftly started the engine. Then he spun the bike around and sped toward Glory without a backward glance.
When Blueberry Michaels let herself in the back door, the clock on the stove read 2:53. She rubbed her palm against the headache forming in her forehead. Even after a year, she wasn't used to the late hours.
Once a morning person, always a morning person.
She dropped her messenger bag and bartending apron on the kitchen table before taking a peek in the fridge.
Ah ... Gran left her dinner. Nice.
She could have grabbed food at the bar, but their menu was pretty standard bar fare. Read: meant for carnivores. She usually had to settle for fries, grilled cheese, or mozzarella sticks. Not much by food pyramid standards.
Blue warmed up the whole wheat pasta with veggies and tofu and grabbed a glass of tap water. As she dropped into one of the retro kitchen chairs — celery green, courtesy of the seventies — and dug in, she kicked off her black orthopedic work shoes and wiggled her toes, smothering her sigh of bliss.
She really needed a new job.
Problem was she needed the paycheck. Not many jobs paid as well as tending bar, especially with no college degree. Gran's Social Security check didn't begin to touch their bills. With the mounting number of prescriptions Gran needed and the increasing doctor bills, Blue was barely making ends meet for them working six nights a week.
God knew how she'd pay for it all when Gran's health really started to decline. And at seventy-six, Gran wasn't getting any younger.
Gran had brought up moving first. Two years ago, right after Blue's high school graduation.
"Blue," she'd said. "Why don't we move to Santa Fe or Albuquerque? Even Denver. There are plenty of personal care homes. And you could go to school, come visit on weekends."
She'd shut Gran down right there. Because neither of them would be happy in a city, any city. Gran barely tolerated the people in Glory. She hated crowds. A jam-packed personal care home would be her idea of hell.
And Blue? She didn't trust anyone else with Gran, especially a corporate-run personal care home. Corporations didn't care about people. They cared about money. After all Gran had done for her over the years, she refused to hustle her into some unfeeling institution. They only had each other. She wasn't going to leave the only person who'd ever loved her in some home that smelled like bad TV dinners and urine.
Blue smothered the tinge of all too familiar resentment, followed by the also familiar shame. This was her choice, one she made every day. Gran had taken her in when her own mother had fallen apart, too consumed by her grief and pain after her husband died to mother anyone. She'd never seen any bitterness on Gran's face, only unconditional love and acceptance. She would give her grandmother the same. Even if that meant picking up another job to stay here, in Glory, where they belonged.
Maybe someone in town needed help. She already drove thirty minutes to Raton every night. Adding more travel time appealed to her like greasy chicken wings. Besides, she'd prefer to stay closer to Gran during the day, to keep an eye on her.
Blue finished off her dinner with a swig of water. Then she put her dishes in some dishwater and scrubbed them down. Gran beat her awake every morning, and Blue didn't want her to have to clean up her mess. That's when she noticed the pill organizer and the empty water glass next to the rooster salt and pepper shakers.
Damn. Gran missed a dose of medicine again today. Blue mentally ran through the list of Gran's prescriptions. The most vital was for Gran's blood pressure. It looked like she'd taken her dose the night before, so she should be fine until morning. Blue reached into the drawer nearby, jotted a note to remind her grandmother to take the forgotten meds, and scrubbed down Gran's empty glass, setting it in the strainer to dry.
She needed to get someone to check on Gran while she was gone at night. This sort of slipup shouldn't happen as often as it did. Maybe someone in town would barter with her. Blue could do work for them if they stayed with Gran at night. It might work.
She nodded, decided. But the movement made her dizzy. She steadied herself with a hand on the sink. As her head spun, her stomach heaved. She leaned over the sink and threw up her entire dinner. After the retching subsided to dry heaves, she turned on the garbage disposal and rinsed out her mouth with water.
Sweat broke out all over her body, and she stumbled to the hallway, feeling as if her guts were on fire. She'd been tired lately, working too much. Obviously, she'd run herself down and set herself up for the flu.
Great. She couldn't afford to miss work. Apparently her body thought otherwise.
On the way to her bedroom, she faltered outside Gran's door. Usually she checked in on her before she went to bed. But in this state, she'd probably wake her up. Or worse, expose her to the flu. At her age, she didn't recover from illness as fast as she used to. Best to leave her to her rest. She passed the door without going in.
In her room, she grabbed the trash can and emptied the contents on the floor before staggering forward. She collapsed on the bed and pulled the covers over her.
When the shivers started, she knew this was no ordinary flu. She quaked, shaking the bed frame. Her skin seeped even as everything under it felt on fire. She writhed, threw up five more times, six times ... so many she stopped counting until all she could manage were dry heaves. As she curled in the fetal position, she debated food poisoning or some kind of exotic disease. The kind no one ever heard about because they didn't live to tell the tale.
The pain went on and on, and she thought she must be dying. She passed out — she was sure — and time became subjective, measured only by twisting and dry heaving. Eventually the light crept through the window, in streaks at first and then in a steady wash.
But the agony continued.
Until it ended.
As quickly as it came, the pain, the fever, the nausea ... gone.
She lay still, gasping, feeling her limbs and testing her stomach's fortitude. No way a flu left that fast. Usually she had to sip broth and eat toast, tough it out through endless cups of bland tea. But this ... nothing. It was as if she'd never been sick at all.
The only remnant of her illness was the smell of sickness in the air. And the filled trash can.
Gagging, she scurried into the bathroom. She dumped the nastiness in the toilet and rinsed out the sick. She seriously considered throwing the trash can out, but she didn't have the cash to replace stuff because it grossed her out. So she set it aside, deciding to bleach it later.
The door to Gran's room was still closed. Maybe it wasn't as late as she thought it was. The clock on the living room wall read two thirty. In the afternoon? Maybe Gran was resting ...
But she held her breath as she pushed Gran's door open.
The shades were drawn, and the trash can had been pulled next to the bed. In the dim light, Blue moved toward the bed. "Gran?"
Her grandmother's gray curls peeked out of the flowered comforter, and Blue almost smiled. Gran loved the floral prints. Blue was more minimalist. She shook Gran's shoulder gently. "Gran?" she called again. When she didn't move, Blue shook harder. "Gran."
Nothing. She rolled her grandmother over. Blood seeped from her eyes, her nose, her mouth, made more garish by its contrast with the flowered sheets. "Oh my God. Gran! Gran, wake up!"
But she knew. By the silence of her body, the lack of air expansion in her chest, Blue knew. A quick press to her neck verified the truth. She staggered back from the bed, shaking her head. "No. No."
In her pain, she scanned the room to avoid looking at the dead body. The full trash can. The shades. Gran must have felt the same flu-like symptoms she had last night. The flu had been bad, but bad enough to kill someone?
The evidence lay on the bed, lifeless. She wanted to cover her, to shield Gran from her eyes, but she couldn't bring herself to move forward. Couldn't bring herself to leave, either. Instead, she stood there, wishing she were strong enough to pull the sheet over Gran's face.
And as if it obeyed her, the sheet rose in the air and dropped over the dead body on the bed.CHAPTER 2
Blue stomped on the brakes in her beat-up Chevy Cavalier outside Murphy's Gas on Main. The street was abandoned, unusual at this time of day.
A phone, to call 911. She didn't have a cell — didn't have the money to pay for it — and the electricity and phone were out at home. Strange time for a power outage.
Gran didn't need immediate medical assistance, but Blue needed to tell someone, to have other people know that Gran was there — dead — in their home. And the Murphys were the best sort of people. She bounded up the stairs to the gas station convenience store.
The closed sign hung on the door. At three in the afternoon? Officially, the station opened early, closed late. But Blue had seen them open in the middle of the night for travelers who passed through Glory and needed to fill up. The Murphy family lived right upstairs. Either Jenna or Max could be down in the shop most of the time. And when they couldn't see to the shop, another local girl, Carmen, did it.
Ignoring the closed sign, Blue twisted the knob — unlocked, as expected — and went in. She'd grown up with the Murphys' four kids, and the door had never been closed to her, even now that all of them had moved away from Glory.
"Is anyone home? Mr. Murphy? Mrs. Murphy?"
The store was deserted, and there was no sign the place had opened today. The card table in the corner, where Mr. Murphy and Mr. Schumacher played cards, was clear of clutter. That was odd in itself. Blue had never seen that card table free of newspaper pages and coffee mugs. It was the first thing Mr. Murphy did every day — separate the paper into sections, drink his coffee, and read through the happenings. Everyone else who passed by would browse as well, as if the Murphys' card table was their portal to the outside world. Her stomach sick, Blue rushed through the store to the stairs at the back, taking them two at a time, calling for the Murphys as she went. But there was no breath of movement above her.
Dread coursed through her as she hit the top of the stairs, like it had when she opened Gran's door. She rounded the corner and stopped cold.
Jenna Murphy lay on the floor, blood trails from her eyes, nose, and mouth — same as Gran. Her body curled next to her husband, and Max's face sported the same gore. But they held each other, as if they'd known their last moments had arrived and their last thought had been to reach for one another.
"Oh, God." Blue covered her mouth, gagging. Not them, too. How could this be?
She reached for the phone, her hand trembling. Please work. Silence greeted her, the line dead — the same as at her place.
She needed to get away from here, from the bodies and the blood of the people she cared about. As the walls closed in on her, she stumbled back, tore down the stairs and out onto the porch. She tripped down the porch steps and out into the middle of the deserted street.
"Help!" Her yell came out a pathetic squeak. "Oh, God, help." The summer heat had sucked the air from Glory, and she gasped and panted, suffocating.
But there was no one around. Their tiny town was barely populated, but this was ridiculous.
"Someone ..." she whispered. Then she tilted her head back and screamed, "Help!"
The sound of breaking glass broke the silence, as loud as machine-gun blasts. She covered her ears, falling to her knees. On both sides of the street, every visible window had blown out. The huge pane of glass that used to boast the insignia of Mr. Schumacher's hardware store had been reduced to jagged pieces.
What the ...
A soft click sounded from the Keilmans' bed-and-breakfast. She froze.
"I want you to turn toward me, slowly, with your hands where I can see them." The unfamiliar voice held enough grit for her to know he meant business.
Her eyes widened in disbelief. Seriously? Someone was going to rob her now?
"Is this a stickup?" Laughter bubbled from her, and she swallowed it. Why laugh at a time like this? Better than crying, she supposed.
Excerpted from Altered by Marnee Blake, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2015 Marnee Bailey. 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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