After all, I've always been a magnet for the emotionally needy, and not just in my work as a wedding planner. Being able to sense the feelings of others can be a major pain. Don't get me wrong, I like helping peopleand non-people. But this ability has turned me into a gourmet feast for an incubus, a demon that feeds off emotional energy. Now, brides are dropping dead all over town, and my home has become a safe house for the supernatural. I must learn to focus my powers and defeat the demon before he snacks on another innocent woman and comes looking for the main course
About the Author
She believes in pixie dust, the power of love, good cheese, lucky socks and putting things off until the last minute. Her home is Disneyland, despite her current location in Kansas. Rachel has one husband, two grown kids and a crazy-catlady starter kit.
Come hang out: Twitter: @RLNaquin Facebook: /RLNaquin www.rlnaquin.com
Read an Excerpt
Of all the possible weapons I might have grabbed. I chose a toilet brush. The men's boxers and oversized Hello Kitty T-shirt I wore reinforced my feeling of absolute stupidity. I made a mental note to buy myself a baseball bat, should I live through the next few minutes. And maybe some grownup pajamas.
I choked up on the brush and prepared to leap out at the intruder in my kitchen.
Logic, if I had any that early, might have suggested the unknown guest was my friend Sara, making coffee and waiting to ambush me into going to the gym. I didn't think of that until later. I woke to the smell of coffee and naturally jumped to the conclusion someone had broken in.
And my response was to grab the toilet brush on the way down the hall. I'm not my brightest first thing in the morning.
I craned my neck around the corner and peered into the kitchen. Logic would have been wasted anyway. It wasn't Sara at the table.
The intruder sat with a newspaper tented around his face and torso. He hummed to himself. A cup of coffee disappeared behind the paper. The humming paused for a sip, then resumed its tuneless refrain. The cup reappeared.
I was a bit put outcurious, but also irritated. I suppose I should have been more alarmed, but who breaks into a house with ill intent and stops to make coffee and read the paper? Under the table, a pair of checkered high-tops bounced in near time with the humming. My guest turned the page of the newspaper, and my throat locked in mid-swallow. The chalky, bony fingers holding the edges of the San Francisco Chronicle were familiar.
I ducked my head into the hallway and leaned against the wall for support, gulping air. I knew those hands. I clutched the toilet brush against myself as if it had the power to ward off nightmares. In the flash of a forgotten memory, I could see those hands grabbing at my doorframe, reaching to snatch out my eyes. My skin was clammy with terror ripened by over twenty years of repression and denial. I was five again, and monsters were real.
Kids are born with self-preservation instincts, and that night those instincts kept me still. The slightest twitch would alert the monster in the closet that I knew he was there.
I lay motionless beneath the sheets and stifling blanket, my fingers clasping the fabric beneath my chin. In the ambient glow of my Care Bear nightlight, the closet door seemed to swing outnot enough to be certain, but enough for me to hold my breath and squeeze the covers tighter. A floorboard wheezed a soft sigh.
I considered pulling the covers over my head for protection, but a sudden move like that would yell "I know you're in there!" which would make the monster fly out and devour me so fast I wouldn't have time to scream for help. Besides, having my head covered meant I'd eventually have to come out for air. If I wasn't watching, what would stop him from creeping beside the bed and waiting for me to peek out to find his warty, drooling face breathing over me?
I held still, limbs locked in place. In my mind I practiced making a run for it. My nightgown was damp with sweat. Between the cotton fabric tangled around my legs and the white socks on my feet, I knew I couldn't break free of the bed and sprint across the room before the monster heard me. I had to cross in front of the closet to get out. I would never make it.
I needed help. It was a huge risk, making sound enough for someone to come, but it was my only option. I had to try.
"Mommy." The timid whisper was hardly enough to be heard from inches away. I tried again, putting more strength and breath into it. "Mommy."
The closet door drifted open a few inchesthis time I was sure of it. I could hear the scritchy sound of the wood dragging across the carpet.
"Mommy." My voice sounded steady this time, conversational in tone and volume. No need for panic. Monsters love panic. They slurp panic through a crazy straw and make gross sucking noises.
The closet door moved again, now halfway open. Chalky, bony fingers slid up the doorframe, and yellow eyes blinked in the blackness.
A face moved into the muted light. Pointed ears cupped its head like giant shells, and shadows gathered in the carved-stone valleys around its bulbous nose. As I had known he would be, the monster was grinning. His teeth were ragged, and slobber dripped down his pointed chin.
My paralysis melted. I sat up and slammed my back against the wall. My lungs filled to capacity, and I screamed, holding nothing back. "Mommy!"
A light snapped on in the hall. The grinning, slavering monster winked at me and stepped into the closet, thoughtfully closing the door behind him.
"Zoey, baby, what's wrong?" Mommy was there, and I was safe in her arms, shaking and sobbing. The familiar scent of the ocean blew over me as she stroked my hair and murmured soothing nonsense sounds. We stayed that way until the shaking subsided, and I was capable of releasing my cramped fingers from her sweater.
"He was going to eat me," I said. My eyes flicked to the closet door, and tears threatened to spill down my cheeks in a fresh outburst.
Mommy frowned. "Let me take a look."
She yanked the door open and tugged the string hanging from the bare bulb. From my vantage point on the bed, I couldn't see inside, but Mommy didn't scream. That was a good sign.
She stood in the doorway staring into the space for a few moments, still frowning. In a loud, authoritative voice, she addressed the pile of dirty laundry, the clothes drooping half off their hangers, the toys crammed into boxes and on shelves. "There are no monsters allowed in this closet. Go away, monsters! You aren't welcome here!" She shook her finger and made a stern mom face for emphasis.
I giggled. My fear faded. I knew there were no monsters and Mommy was putting on a show to make me feel better. It was a trick of the light. It was my mind making things up. There was never anything there.
Mommy thoroughly checked and berated the rest of the room until I was too exhausted from the emotional typhoon to keep my eyes open.
For good measure, I slept with the light on for a few days, but the monster didn't bother me anymore. It was all in my imagination.
Everyone knows there's no such thing as monsters.
Here I was, twenty-three years later, looking at those same panic-inducing fingers clutching my morning paper. Squeezing my eyes tight, I concentrated on breathing. I thought about my mom. She'd been gone since I was eight, and I didn't remember much about her. With the return of the forgotten monster memory, her face came back to me in detail. I could hear her voice commanding the monster away.
"No monsters allowed here," I whispered. "Go away, monsters. Go away."
This was stupid. I was a grownup and a business owner. Monsters were not real, but intruders were. I pulled myself together and put on my stern mom face. This newspaper-reading, coffee-sipping, tuneless-humming asshat better have a damn good explanation for waking me up so early and taking over my kitchen. I dropped the impotent toilet brush on the floor next to a pile of shoes I'd meant to put away days ago.
I swung around the corner and glared into the room, fists on my hips, feet planted apart, in my best impression of an angry schoolmarm.
I felt pretty good about it. I was certain I looked formidable. My dark red locks were probably shooting out in every direction, lending me an air of ferocity. I added a little crazy-eye to my expression for good measure.
The effort I put into looking tough didn't matter. The mystery guest was still reading behind the paper, taking sips of coffee and, of course, humming. He was oblivious to me.
I considered clearing my throat to get his attention, but that was trite. In my head, I tried out various threatening, angry, sarcastic, nonchalant and mildly curious remarks, but none struck me as appropriate.
I settled on the ridiculous.
"You better pray you haven't done the crossword, buddy." I focused on amplifying my crazy-eye.
The paper slid down to reveal the same horrific, grinning face I remembered from childhoodonly bigger.
I stood my ground. It was obvious that I was hallucinating, since monsters were fiction. Backing down from an illusion would be embarrassing.
"You're up!" he said. "Sit-sit-sit! I made you orange-strawberry muffins. They'll be ready in a few minutes." He jerked to his feet and waved me to a chair. "I'll get you some coffee." He paused for a long moment, and his smile grew larger as he gazed at me. "Gosh, you grew up pretty, Zoey. Sit-sit-sit."
I felt an odd detachment as I drifted into the room and took a seat at my own table. I watched in silence as the creature moved through my kitchen, banging cupboards with enthusiasm and setting the table. He brought me a cup of coffee and patted my arm. His pale, mottled hand was warm. I'd expected the chill of a dead thing.
On autopilot, I sipped my coffee and found it just as I liked it, overly sweet with artificially flavored creamer. Aside from the seismic activity in the cup I was holding, I probably looked perfectly calm. I tried to breathe through it, expecting the hallucination to pop like a soap bubble or be blurred away by the blare of my alarm clock.
"Zoey, Zoey, my friend, Zoey!" His singing was off-key as he danced around my kitchen, the song apparently made up on the spot. His voice was higher in pitch than one would expect from a closet monstermore like Kermit the Frog than Cookie Monster. "Made her muffins, but they're doughy.
Zoooooeeeey!" He frowned. "That could've been a better rhyme. David Bowie? Do you know anyone named Joey?"
The oven timer buzzed and he pulled out the muffin pan, leaving it to cool on the stovetop. I blinked. No oven mitts. I took a swallow of coffee.
The monster-thing plopped into the chair across the table, his round, yellow eyes fixed on me. "So can I stay? Wait, don't answer that yet. Taste a muffin first. I'm a good cook! I can clean the pool, too. Honest, I won't get in the way."
I blinked again. "What?"
"You're still mad at me, aren't you. I'm really sorry about that. I didn't mean to scare you the last time I was here."
Even for a hallucination, this was surreal. Across the top of the creature's head, a sprinkling of fine hairs sprouted, all combed carefully to one side. I focused on a single, stubborn hair that had sprung up in a show of independence. It jiggled when he talked, bobbing forward and back with each enthusiastic gesture. I wondered if he would be insulted if I offered him a little hair gel. That would tamp it right down.
" and that's why I came here when she kicked me out. It's the only place I've ever felt safe."
"What?" I knew I'd missed something crucial. I glanced down at the table in an automatic search for the DVR remote. I needed to rewind and replay that last part.
"You're not awake yet." He patted my arm again. "Drink your coffee. We'll try again when you're fed."
My closet monster (who introduced himself as Maurice) turned out to be more than a good cook; he was an amazing cook. The muffin melted in my mouth before I could chew it. The flavors mixed together on my tongue as if the muffin was made from a magical fruit that grew on an orangeberry tree situated in a vanilla-scented orchard shaded by double rainbows and watered exclusively with unicorn tears. They were enormous, and I ate three.
Somewhere into my second one, the fog lifted, and I was able to focus on what he was telling me. The food made it all more acceptable, almost normal.
"I was only eight, myself, back then," he said. "I had nowhere to go, and your mom took me in. Oh, Zoey, she was so mad at me that night. I was supposed to stay in the hall closet, but yours had all those great toys. Even then I loved to cook, and your Easy-Bake Oven was perfect for trying out your mom's recipes in small batches. The lightbulb inside it gave such a warm, even toast to my shortbread." He reached toward me as if to touch me again, then pulled away, looking down at his hands. "I wasn't trying to scare you. I thought we were playing a game. Didn't you see me smiling?"
I nodded, the memory of that grin still giving me chills. "I thought you were going to eat me."
Maurice wrinkled his fat nose. "That's disgusting, Zoey. Anyway, your mom found me a new family not long after that. I came to visit sometimes while you were at school. I grew up, got married to a beautiful gargoyle, moved around a bit." His face fell, the first crack in his cheerful demeanor. "Pansy kicked me out. I think she's sleeping with a bridge troll. I don't know." He picked at a muffin and watched the crumbs fall to the table.
"I'm really sorry," I said. His sadness caressed me like invisible tentacles wrapping around my chest and squeezing softly. I reached my hand out and stopped short of touching the mottled skin that poked from the sleeve of his green and yellow checked shirt. "Maybe you can patch it up. Sometimes these things work themselves out."
"Maybe." Maurice looked up from his muffin de-construction. "So, can I stay?"
I ground the heel of my hand into the space between my eyes. Before I was forced to answer such a preposterous question, the phone in my purse jangled out a muffled "Wedding March." I dug for it while it rang, cursing myself for dropping it into my bottomless pit of a handbag. By the time I found it, I was so afraid of missing the call, I answered it without looking.
I groaned and considered crawling back into bed. Any day that started this rough should be ignored until it went away.
"What do you want, Brad?" I was deadpan, trying not to encourage my ex-husband by a show of emotion in either direction.