Guardian: A Novel

Guardian: A Novel

by Natasha Deen
Guardian: A Novel

Guardian: A Novel

by Natasha Deen

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Overview

Selected for the Best Books for Kids & Teens 2015

Selected for The Sunburst Award

For seventeen-year-old Maggie Johnson, transitioning the dead isn't hard. What's tough is surviving the insults and pranks of Serge Popov, high school thug and the dumbest jock to ever set foot in Dead Falls, Alberta. When she finds him dead and later discovers his spirit trapped in her room, she figures it's a case of divine justice. Let the jerk rot for eternity, bound to an earthly prison. But someone—or something—has a different agenda. If Maggie doesn't help Serge cross over, she'll die at the hands of the otherworldly entity that's taken an interest in the dead bully. As she digs into the circumstances of Serge's murder, she'll uncover the secrets hidden by the world of the living and the wonders revealed by cities of the dead—if her investigation doesn't kill her first.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781927855102
Publisher: Great Plains Publications
Publication date: 09/30/2014
Series: Guardian
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 272
File size: 582 KB
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

One of the best parts of being a writer for Natasha Deen is presenting at schools, conferences, and workshops. She's also appeared in a variety of media outlets as a literacy advocate. When not working, she hangs out with her furry boys.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

When your dad owns one of the few funeral parlours in your town, you get used to seeing dead bodies, but when the dearly departed is in the trunk of your car, curled up where the spare tire should be, it's a little different. Especially when the corpse belongs to the late but unlamented Serge Popov, the biggest bully and dumbest jock ever to set foot in Dead Falls, Alberta.

My canvas messenger bag slithered along my leg and dropped to the asphalt with a dull thud. Blowing on my fingers to warm them up, I peered at the shadowy form of his body. The smell of his cologne — orange blossom, coriander, and amber — wafted past, and filled the cold night with tangy, sweet scents. Years of helping my dad prepare bodies for burial meant I didn't scare easy but seeing Serge was like seeing a dead rattler. You knew it couldn't hurt you, but you remembered the venom. My breath condensed in the frigid air, grey smoke against the dark shadows of my car trunk. I peered inside, hoping to find ... anything, but in the dim light of the library parking lot, it was hard to make out much.

I dug into my coat pocket, pulled out my phone, and lit up the flashlight. The hard angles of Serge's face glowed blue-white. There were no marks on his skin, and I didn't smell blood, vomit, or human waste. I glanced around his body but there was no vapour or fog. That was some good news.

His scarf was bunched around his neck. I didn't want to disturb his clothing or the scene. I blew on my hands again and put my palm to his face. Ice-cold but not freezing. Then I held my fingers in front of his nose.

Nothing.

He'd been dead long enough for his temperature to drop, but not long enough for all his body's warmth to evaporate. After a quick double check to verify the empty bottle of pills in his hand, I had enough information to phone the cops.

I put my hands on the trunk lid. My exhalation streamed out in a long, thick plume.

Crap.

I hated the guy, but I was sorry he was dead. Seventeen is young to off yourself. And I was super creeped out that he'd decided to do it in my car. But that was Serge. He always had to be the last to give you the finger — even from the grave. I flipped my cell around and phoned my dad.

He picked up on the third ring. "Hey, baby girl, what is it?"

The sound of his voice — soft and gentle — soothed me. My whole life, it's never been anything but me and my dad, which made us both seriously over-protective of each other. I went for a casual tone and said, "Hey, Dad, I got a problem here." Through the phone lines, I felt him stiffen.

"Yeah?" There was an edge to his voice, like he was ready to put on a military uniform and turn our beat-up minivan into a Sherman tank.

"Nothing like that — well, a bit like — Dad, Serge's body's in my trunk."

There was a stunned pause. "Maggie, what did you do?"

"What! Nothing — !" Okay, maybe I deserved that. One day, I'd live down the sausage incident but right now, I was staring at the cadaver of my six-foot-three-inch tormentor. It didn't seem like the time to argue over the past. "He killed himself ... in my car."

There was a worried, processing silence on the other end. "You sure?"

"I think I know a dead body when I see it."

"No, I mean about him killing himself. You sure someone didn't dump him in your car?"

Well, thanks a lot daddio. That just added a whole new level of creep- me-out to the October night. "I don't know," I said, my sudden drop of confidence reflected in my tone. I leaned over his body again.

Serge jerked suddenly, rearing up and reaching for me.

I screamed, dropped the phone, stumbled backwards, and fell on my butt. Pain shot from my tailbone to my teeth. Jagged pebbles dug into the palm of my hands.

He jumped out of the trunk, laughing. "Awesome! So worth freezing my butt off!" He reached behind his neck and pulled out his cell. "Downloading fresh and live to all the viewers of the Serge Network." He cackled and said in a falsetto, "I think I know a dead body when I see it." His voice dropped back to its usual guttural bass. "Stick to books, Deadhead. You suck as a cop."

"Dickhead!" That one might get me grounded if Dad heard. He didn't like me swearing. I kicked at Serge's legs but he dodged out of the way.

"Loser!" He turned his back to me.

"Where's my spare?"

He just laughed and swaggered out of the library parking lot.

Cussing, I got to my feet and grabbed my phone. "Dad?"

"I heard," he said, his voice tight. "All of it. We'll talk about your language, later."

In the background was the metallic clink of keys slapping together. He may not be in army fatigues, but he was definitely about to test the limits of our van.

"I'm going to call Nancy."

"Don't," I sighed. "The sheriff can't do anything and I don't need the extra attention."

"What's this about your spare?" The dull thud of a door closing preceded the growl of the van coming to life.

"He must have slashed my tire. That's why I went into the trunk in the first place, to get the spare, but God knows what he did with it."

"Stay there, I'll come get you. We'll fix the tire tomorrow."

"Thanks." The phone beeped. "I'll see you in five."

He hung up and I flipped to the other line.

"Maggie — I just got a video in my inbox —"

I cut Nell off. "Yeah, Serge strikes again."

"I wish he really had offed himself."

"Me too."

"Maggie ... he sent it to the whole school."

My heart cramped and my intestines followed with a double-twist. "That's fine," I said, talking big to hide the tears. "Let him and his buddies make fun of me."

"Didn't you — y'know, notice any stuff to tell you he was really alive?"

I sighed. "No. The shock of seeing his Easter Island face in my trunk undid my usual keen observational skills."

"Your woo-woo failed you?"

The left side of my mouth lifted at Nell's code to describe my skills. "No. No woo-woo."

The tapping of her fingers on the keyboard clicked over the phone line as she said, "It's not so bad — I don't think — I mean —"

It was worse than I thought. My half-smile fell off my face. When Nell runs out of words, it just hasn't hit the fan, it's propelled its way up into the upper atmosphere. "Listen, my dad's going to be here in a bit, so ... "

"Yeah, okay. I'd say 'call me later' but I know you. You're going to turtle."

I didn't argue.

"I'll see you tomorrow?"

I nodded, then remembered I was on the phone. "Yeah, tomorrow." I hung up and checked the doors of my vehicle. Breaking into a 1952 Ford A Convertible with soft-top roof was something a drunk monkey could do — which explained how Serge was able to manage it. But that car had been in my family since the day it rolled off the assembly line and the stunt was trademark Serge. It was one thing for him to mock me, but screwing with my car ... that was crossing the line.

A little voice in my head pondered the sanity of valuing a car above my own person, but it was ten o'clock and I figured a philosophical debate could wait till morning — or my deathbed. I locked the car up as best as I could, then took a seat on the library steps and waited for Dad.

He arrived a few minutes later.

I look nothing like him — except our height. We're both tall, but he's well built, filled out without being heavy. I look like a stick, and the only bumps on me are my knobby knees. Sometimes — a lot of times — I wonder if I look like my mother, but Dad never kept any photos of her. I understand his motivation, but sometimes — a lot of times — I wish he'd kept just one snapshot.

"Why didn't you wait inside the library?" he asked as I climbed into the van.

"Didn't want to let the car out of my sight." I turned the heating vents my way and let the warm, dry air blast my face.

He gave me a look that once again had me wondering why an inanimate object ranked higher in priority than my person and said, "It's cold — didn't you notice?"

"Fantasizing about killing Serge kept me warm."

Dad shook his head. "If he doesn't die in some bar fight, your tax dollars will be paying for his stints in prison."

I smiled. "Yeah. Should upset me, but the idea of him in a cage and having to pee in front of other men makes me happy."

My dad snorted. "It's Serge. He's been peeing in front of people since he was four."

"Oh." My fantasy lost its fuzzy, warm edge.

"Of course, there are always cavity searches."

Hope buoyed me once again. I grinned. "Thanks."

He chuckled. "Any time."

We drove in silence for a little while. "Dad ... when I phoned, did I — "

"No, you didn't."

"Are you sure?"

The passing light of the streetlamps revealed his grimace. "I heard what that little dung heap said, and I checked your inbox while we were talking. The video's clean."

Most kids wouldn't like their parents checking their emails, but Dad and I had a different kind of relationship. We looked out for each other — partners against the world, and teammates in the game of life. "Okay," I said, feeling a small weight lift off my chest. "Thanks."

We arrived home about ten minutes later. The buttered lights of our duplex warmed the dark night. I caught sight of the police cruiser in the driveway. "Couldn't help yourself, could you?"

"Thought she should know. That kid's a menace."

Dad phoning Nancy Machio had more to do with his hormones than fatherly outrage, but I didn't say anything. He hasn't dated since Mom left us seventeen years ago and he needs a woman.

Heck, I needed a woman.

Until Nancy came into our lives, I didn't realize steak came in versions other than "charred black" and there was more to spicing meat than salt. She introduced us to exotic spices like black pepper. If Dad wasn't man enough ask her out, I'd start dating her.

We got out of the car and headed inside. The door opened and she was there, all curves and steel, arms open, an expression between fury and sympathy on her face. I took the hug. She smelled like gun oil and photocopier toner, gardenia flowers and bread.

"If I could lock up that little creep, I would."

"I know," I muttered into her thick, blond braid.

"If I could have him disappear down a lonely stretch of road, I would."

"I know."

Nancy had been coming over for a few months, and she wasn't just securing room in my dad's heart, but mine as well.

"Thanks." I pulled away so I didn't start bawling about Serge, my absent mother, and my total lack of cool.

"I brought you some cannelloni and meatballs."

Geez, I love this woman. She's Italian and thinks what can't be solved by food can be solved with a gun, handcuffs, and an alibi. "Marry me, Nancy."

She blushed and looked at my dad. It was a sweet, wistful expression and when I glanced at him, I saw the same look on his face. It took years off of him, made his blue eyes sparkle. When my dad's eyes start sparkling, that's my cue to leave.

I hung my coat up in the closet and turned towards the steps that led to the living room. Grey fog seeped out of the kitchen, curling as it rolled along the floor, tumbled down the short staircase, and spilled over the banister railings.

Great. Just what I didn't need: the confused dead. Unzipping my hoodie, I went up the steps to the main area and entered the tomato- scented embrace of the kitchen.

It was an old-school set-up. Cupboards on the left and the counters underneath separated the dining table from the rest of the kitchen. On the right was another row of counters and cupboards, and in the middle was the window, above the sink. This wasn't the house for espresso machines or four-slice toasters. No floating islands or granite countertops, no food processors. We don't even have a blender. We didn't need any of those things. With Dad's cooking, all we really needed were the takeout menus on the fridge and the fire extinguisher for his yearly attempt to make Christmas dinner.

There was a cobalt-blue plate on the white counter, half of it filled with pasta, the other half with Caesar salad and garlic-buttered bread. My stomach growled and my mouth watered.

A woman rose from the table and came to me. Fog poured off her purple Vera Wang shift dress. She gave me an uncertain smile. "I'm afraid I'm a little out of sorts, here," she said with an Alabama drawl. "My name's Annabelle. I was meetin' some friends for drinks and I tripped." Her water lily-blue-eyed gaze surveyed the room. "The next thing I know is I'm standin' here with the most awful headache."

"Take a seat, toots," said a man with a rock-and-gravel voice who sat at the table. He was all slits and folds, a fleshy, beefy chunk of meat with stubby fingers and bushy eyebrows. "I got here first, and the lady's helping me."

"Well, yes." The Southern woman was all etiquette and genteel grace. "I don't mean to interrupt ... But" — she cast a helpless glance my way — "why am I here?"

The guy laughed, though it sounded like a death rattle. He ran a hand over his shiny palette. "I'll let you figure it out." Focusing his dark eyes my way, he said, "What now?"

I turned away and went to the fridge.

"Need something, honey?"

"No thanks, Nancy. Just some milk." I pulled the carton out. "I got it."

The cop moved past the woman, brushing against her bare shoulder and went to the cupboard.

Annabelle blinked. Her lower lip trembled.

"I could charge him with disturbing the peace," continued Nancy.

"No one was around. It was just Serge and me."

She puffed out an angry breath.

Tears filled Annabelle's eyes. "Oh." She looked down as dark bruises began to form on her fair skin. "Oh, nuts."

Nancy walked through her. "I'll check. That little turd had to violate something — "

I took the glass she offered.

Annabelle gingerly touched the back of her head. When she pulled her hand away, a bright layer of blood dripped off her fingers. The tears came down. "Darn it. I'd just gotten promoted." She turned to the other ghost. "Promoted! Do you know how hard that is?"

"Hey," he grunted. "In my line of work, if you're not moving up, you're moving down. Six feet down, you know what I'm sayin'?"

She shook her head then wailed. "I'm dead and you're talking to me about gardening!"

He blinked then gave me a bemused look.

"You volunteered a lot at church, didn't you?" he asked Annabelle.

She sniffed. "What? Yes. So?"

He was up and around the table, pulling her into his arms. "It's okay, Doll face. Let Gio take care of you." He looked over at me and winking, pointed at Annabelle — specifically, her butt — and made a thrusting gesture his fist.

Oh boy. Whatever killed this guy I bet a high dose of Viagra or Cialis was involved.

Nancy caught my gaze. Her eyes widened and she gave me a brilliant smile. "Breaking and entering." Light infused her face and made her pupils glitter. "I knew I'd get that little bastard."

I swiped an extra piece of bread from the pan. "Remind me never to get on your bad side."

But she was already pulling out her cell and dialling. "Roger. Pick up Serge Popov. Breaking and entering" — she gave me a thumb's up gesture — "and destruction of private property."

"That dame —" The man moved Annabelle's hair out of his face and flicked away the blood on his hands. "She's like a Rottweiler." A smile lifted the side of his mouth. "It's sexy. She your ma?"

"Stay away," I told him around a mouthful of food.

"Huh?" Nancy looked up.

"A-Okay. You go get 'em."

"You know it, sweet cakes."

I looked over at Dad and gave a subtle nod in the direction of the mobster and the Sunday school teacher. "I'm going to my room."

"Feeling foggy?"

"Times two."

He grunted. "Good luck."

I nodded. Grabbing my food, I headed up the steps to my bedroom. It had lavender walls, black furniture, and a white duvet. Well, mostly white duvet. I glanced at the two mounds of black fur on my bed.

"Normal animals," I told them, "greet their owners with joy and wild abandon."

Buddha's response was to give me a yawn wide enough to make his mastiff jowls jiggle. Ebony opened a green eye, watched me, stretched out her claws and went back to sleep.

The mobster and Annabelle had followed me to the bedroom. Pine and evergreen scents preceded them, carried by the fog. I shut the door with my heel and said, "You just have to let go."

Annabelle blinked. "Let go of what?"

"Life."

"That can't be it —"

"That can't be it." Gio echoed. He lifted his hands and glanced around like he was looking for a band of supporters. "Let go."

"Yeah. You're dead. That's it. Stop hanging on and go." Usually, I'm a lot more comforting and patient. But I was hungry, humiliated, and didn't have time for chitchat.

Annabelle pulled at her hair, like if she yanked hard enough, she'd wake up and this would all be a dream.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Guardian"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Natasha Deen.
Excerpted by permission of Great Plains Publications.
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.

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