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By Lori Sjoberg
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Lori Sjoberg
All rights reserved.
Harvesting souls can be a pain in the ass when you're dealing with a serial killer.
Adam Javorski watched the house at the end of the street from inside his pickup truck. The air-conditioning had crapped out a couple weeks ago, making August in Florida even more unpleasant. At night, temperatures hovered in the nineties, and with the humidity it felt closer to a hundred. A bead of sweat rolled down Adam's temple, and his clothes were stuck to his skin.
"How the hell are you supposed to get in there when it's locked up tighter than Area 51?" Martin drawled from the passenger side of the truck. Typically, reapers worked alone, but in this case a partner was essential. The big man leaned against the bucket seat and rested his right arm on the windowsill.
"The same way I got in last time." The knowledge of what was going on inside sat like a rock in Adam's gut. This was his third trip to Heron Cove in a little less than a year. Dmitri used to handle this case, but now that he was out of the picture, the task had been reassigned to Adam.
It was a wonder none of the neighbors had noticed that something wasn't right with the house. Storm shutters covered every single window, with locks keeping them bolted in place. It might be considered normal during hurricane season, but year-round? Definitely weird.
The pulse of pending mortality emanated from the building, weak but growing stronger by the minute. Soon, death would claim another victim, leaving Adam to clean up the mess.
As a reaper, that was his calling. Day in and day out, he claimed the souls of the recently departed and guided them to the next stage in their journey. Often, that meant a better place. Other times ... not so much.
He'd been on the job for almost four years, after losing his own humanity in the south side of Chicago on a warm October night. Back then he'd been a cop, and a damn good one. But that hadn't stopped him from royally fucking up and damning his soul in the process.
Shaking his head, he forced the painful memories from his thoughts and focused on the house across the street. Inside, the call of death intensified, gathering steam until it buzzed through his blood like a chain saw. He gritted his teeth when it reached a crescendo, his hands clenched against the steering wheel. He hated this part — not doing anything when you knew someone was about to die. It went against all of his instincts. But Fate had strict rules concerning interference, and he knew better than to challenge her authority.
Less than five minutes later the garage door opened and a silver four-door sedan backed down the driveway. Seven little stick figure decals were lined up on the back window, and Adam couldn't help but wonder if they signified actual family members or the number of people he'd murdered. As for the killer himself, he seemed deceptively average: white male, average height, average build, with short graying hair and brown eyes. No visible scars, tattoos, piercings, or other distinguishing features. His mediocrity served as camouflage to conceal a predator lurking in plain sight.
As soon as the car drove out of the subdivision, Adam popped the lock to his door. "Call me if he comes back early," he told Martin as he stepped out of the truck. From past experience and Dmitri's notes, he knew the guy would only be gone for about ten minutes. Just long enough for the sick fuck to buy a half gallon of ice cream from the nearby grocery store.
Under cover of darkness, Adam crossed the street and approached the wood-frame house. He ignored the sign that warned of an alarm, since it merely served as a deterrent. No serial killer worth his salt would run the risk of the alarm sounding off and triggering a visit by local law enforcement. Retrieving the set of picks from his back pocket, he worked on the locks on the front door. The bottom one opened with little effort, but the dead bolt gave him a minute of trouble before the tumblers clicked into place. He took a deep breath, mentally bracing himself for the horrors that waited inside.
The stench of fresh death and lingering decay assaulted his nostrils the instant he crept into the foyer. As a cop, he'd never gotten used to the smell, and he doubted he ever would as a reaper. With the lights out, he couldn't see a damn thing, but he waited to flip the switch until after the door clicked shut.
The small foyer led into a large living room with a brick fireplace. There wasn't a single piece of furniture in sight, and the vaulted ceilings and shuttered windows gave the place a cavernous feel. Blue plastic tarps covered the hardwood floor, probably to protect it from stains. Or perhaps they were there to make it easier for the killer to remove the body.
The victim was a male this time, barely out of his teens. The poor kid had been chained by his wrists to the wall a few feet away from the fireplace. He was clad in only a pair of ratty black jeans, with a silver collar fastened around his neck. The blade of a dagger was buried in a chest so mutilated it was almost unrecognizable. His pale green eyes stared into oblivion, his mouth opened in a silent scream.
The soul had already broken free from the corpse, hovering close but not quite touching. Confused and despondent, he retained his human form, unaware that he no longer needed to conform to his prior physical constraints.
Pushing back against a rush of anger, Adam stepped closer to the body. The cop in him demanded immediate justice, but that was no longer part of his job description. He narrowed his focus, reaching out with his mind until he locked onto the kid's essence. He sensed no taint of evil on the soul as he slowly drew it toward him. To calm the spirit he sent out wordless reassurances, promising safety, closure, and the end to physical pain.
Pacified, the soul offered no resistance, merging with Adam's body in a wash of benevolent warmth. The kid's essence carried a unique quality that Adam couldn't quite define. Demon, mage? Honestly, he couldn't say for sure. His experience with non-humans was limited. As the kid's spirit distilled to its purest form, it became aware of the death of its body, and confusion gave way to panic.
"You've got to get out of here before he gets back! Please! Go, and warn the others. If he finds them, he'll kill them all — oh wait! You need to free the girl first. She doesn't deserve what he plans to do to her. Please say yes, I'll do anything you want, please, please, please ..."
Adam squeezed his eyes shut while he contained the soul, blocking out the unwanted flood of emotions for the sake of his own sanity. During his time on the force, he'd grown desensitized to crime scenes, but all that training flew right out the window when the dead insisted on talking. For him, it was one of the toughest parts about being a reaper, so much that it came close to breaking him during his first year on the job.
Finished, he turned away from the body, eager for a breath of fresh air. And a beer. He was halfway to the front door when a female's voice shouted out from the rear of the house.
"You bastard! Let me out of here!"
Adam froze in his tracks. Glancing down, he checked the time. In less than five minutes, the killer would return. He needed to get the hell out of Dodge. But he couldn't leave. At least not yet. The cop in him wouldn't allow it.
Cursing under his breath, he hurried down the hallway and threw open the door at the end. The room was pitch dark, so he flipped on the light, and what he saw put a lump in his throat.
The back wall consisted of a row of metal cages, each one no more than five feet high, three feet wide, and a couple feet deep. A layer of straw covered the floor of each enclosure, and electronic locks kept the doors from opening. All stood empty, except for one.
The young woman appeared to be in her mid-twenties, with blond hair that hung down past her shoulders. She wore nothing but a dingy white bra and blue panties, displaying toned legs, a narrow waist, curvy hips, and ample breasts. A silver collar, similar to the one on the kid, was fastened around her neck. Her taut, tanned skin was marred with cuts and bruises in various shades.
In spite of her injuries, her life force was remarkably strong. And like the kid, her essence felt rich and exotic. It reminded him a bit of the witch he'd reaped a few months ago. Close, but not quite.
If she was surprised by his presence, she didn't show it. A savage ferocity filled her piercing amber eyes as she glared at him from behind the metal bars. A frown line pinched the space between her brows.
"Who the hell are you?" Her husky voice sounded harder than iron, but her eyes were wide and unblinking.
Adam didn't answer. He was too busy appraising the locks. With enough time and the proper equipment, he could override the electronic keypad. Unfortunately, he lacked the luxury of either.
Besides, it wasn't his business. As a reaper, his obligations lay with the dead. He had no right to interfere with the living. Those lessons had been drilled into his head countless times. Always collect your appointed souls. Do not alert humans to our presence. Do not question Fate. And for the love of God, do not alter destiny. His mentor's words echoed in his ears, the only thing keeping him from running to his truck for a hacksaw.
Frustrated, Adam balled his hands into fists. If he had a lick of sense, he'd leave the house before he did anything stupid.
But something about the young woman called out to his soul, tugging so fiercely he found it impossible to turn away. A deep sense of connection flashed through his blood — swift, strong, and given the situation, completely inappropriate. He'd never experienced anything like it, and it knocked him completely off balance.
His phone vibrated in his back pocket, jarring him from his thoughts.
"Get your ass out of there," Martin said when Adam answered the call. "Your boy's on his way back to the nest, and it looks like he brought company."
Shit. According to his notes, the killer worked alone. Since when had he recruited a partner? "All right, I'll be there in a minute."
Adrenaline surged through his veins as he disconnected. There wasn't enough time to break the blond free. But what kind of man would he be if he left a defenseless woman in the hands of psychos?
Fuck destiny. The least he could do was give her a fighting chance at survival. To the best of his knowledge, she wasn't fated to expire any time soon, and in his book that made her fair game.
"Hey!" the blond shouted when he stormed out of the room, fear rising in her voice. "Come back! Let me out of here!"
The sound of the garage door opening shot Adam's pulse into overdrive. With time running out, he rushed to the kitchen and grabbed the cordless phone from the charging station. He dialed as he walked, and by the time he reached the back room, a 911 operator had picked up the call.
"Please state the nature of your emergency," a woman said on the other end of the line.
Adam shoved the phone through the narrow steel bars. His gaze locked with the woman's long enough to insert a mental suggestion. You're at 816 Heron Cove. I was never here.
She stared at him, a puzzled expression on her face as he turned and raced for the exit. He heard her speaking to the emergency operator, and relief flooded his heart. With luck, the police would arrive within minutes and free the poor woman from captivity.
The sound of a car engine shut off in the garage. Adam's pulse pounded in his ears as he flicked off the lights and yanked the front door open. As he stepped over the threshold, he heard the creak of the door that connected the garage to the kitchen. Quietly, carefully, he closed the front door, praying they wouldn't notice the unlocked dead bolt.
Not looking back, Adam ran to the truck and slid behind the wheel.
"What took you so long?" Martin's nose crinkled. "Dude, you smell like roadkill."
Adam shot him a withering glare as he turned the key in the ignition. "What did you expect? It doesn't smell like fucking lilacs in there." He twisted his neck and sniffed the sleeve of his shirt. Yep, he reeked of death, which meant a shower and a fresh change of clothes before heading out to the bar. After he clicked on his seat belt, he reached over and switched on the police scanner.
Martin glanced down as Adam adjusted the dial to pick up the right frequency. "What are you listening for?"
"Nothing." The code for a drunk and disorderly came over the speaker, followed by an officer acknowledging the call and stating that he was en route. What the hell? Where was the dispatch to save the woman? Maybe they'd already made the call and he'd missed it. He drummed his fingers against the gearshift, hesitant to leave the scene until he knew an officer was on the way.
Martin's thick eyebrows furrowed. Even in the darkened space of the cab, it was obvious he wasn't buying Adam's bullshit. "What did you do?"
Before Adam had the chance to think up a lie, another call came over the scanner. Possible kidnapping and murder, suspects armed and dangerous. Dispatch advised officers to approach the scene with no lights and no sirens. Good. At least they were taking the call seriously. From the sound of it, one of the units was close enough to arrive in under a minute. Thank God. Adam slipped the truck into gear and pulled away from the curb. The last thing he needed was to get dragged into a multiple murder investigation.
Martin's mouth dropped open as they sped past the killer's house. "You didn't."
"What was I supposed to do?"
"Your job." Martin let out a grunt of disgust. "Fucking Boy Scout. You know better than that. Samuel's gonna tear you a new one."
"Only if he finds out." The memory of what happened to his mentor sprang to mind and an icy ball of dread settled in his stomach.
Samuel always found out.CHAPTER 2
Marlena Walther wrapped the blanket tighter around her body, not from embarrassment over her state of undress, but because she didn't want anyone noticing how quickly her injuries were healing.
Shifters recovered a lot faster than humans, but they didn't go around advertising the fact. Already, the bruise on her hip had faded, and the gouge in her right arm had knitted together. It would take longer for the burns around her neck to heal, but that was to be expected after prolonged contact with silver.
The flash of police lights illuminated the night sky, while a news crew hovered just beyond the perimeter of the yellow caution tape. A scattering of neighbors watched from their front yards, curious to see what the fuss was all about. Soon they'd know, and then they'd wonder how something so atrocious could happen right under their noses.
Marlena glanced over her shoulder toward the house and fought back the urge to shudder. The kid's body was still inside, probably being processed by the crime scene technicians who'd gone in a few minutes before. Soon, his family would learn the terrible news, and the cycle of grief would begin.
"Here you go." Officer Quintana handed her a cup of coffee. He was an older man with a kind face, but it seemed a little haggard, like he'd seen too much. Like tonight. The poor man had been the first cop on the scene and got an eyeful after he broke down the door. "It's a good thing you got a hold of that phone."
Yeah, it was. Who knew how long it would have been before the asshole carved her up just like the kid. She hadn't actually seen what happened to the guy, but she'd heard every one of his screams. Even now, the sound echoed in her ears and promised to haunt her dreams.
But no matter how hard she tried, she still couldn't remember how the phone had come into her possession. It wasn't like her captor to leave things lying around. On the contrary, he'd been extremely meticulous, with a strict set of rules whenever he interacted with her. The shock on his face when he'd found her talking with the emergency operator had given her a sick sense of satisfaction. And lucky for her, the asshole had decided to cut and run instead of ending her life on the spot.
A dull ache throbbed at the base of her skull as she tried again to retrace her steps. There was a noticeable gap between the time the kid was murdered and the time the killer and his accomplice returned. Maybe after a decent night's rest, her memory wouldn't be so hazy.
"Have you found him yet?" she asked the cop.
Officer Quintana shook his head, compassion crinkling the corners of his eyes. "No, but we will. There's an all-points bulletin out for him and his vehicle, and once we talk to the press, they'll have a field day with this guy."
Excerpted from Grave Attraction by Lori Sjoberg. Copyright © 2016 Lori Sjoberg. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Lori Sjoberg surpassed herself big time! I have been a rabid fan of the author ever since the first book came out, my expectations are always very high, and yet she always manages to wow me! GRAVE ATTRACTION is the most exciting and action-packed to date. Ms. Sjoberg has built a terrific paranormal world from the first book, and she has added new and electrifying elements. Adam and Marlena share wonderful chemistry, they are both enticing and complex characters; they make a great couple. And one of my favourite characters features prominently: the fabulous Dmitri. I loved Cassie, who is fascinating, and Ms. Sjoberg has several heartstopping plot twists, featuring Samuel, Fate’s right hand. I loved the romance, the action was terrific, and the worldbuilding – dare I say – out of this world! I hope there will be more books in the Grave series! I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.