Read an Excerpt
The Night Series
By Lisa Kessler, Alison Blissard, Theresa Marie Cole
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Lisa Kessler
All rights reserved.
Blood pooled in the bottom of her mouth. The metallic sweet taste made her wince. She had a habit of gnawing on the inside of her cheek as her aggravation level rose. Judging by the size of the hole in her mouth, she'd already hit DEFCON 3 and rising. Great.
She shook her head with a smirk and rolled her eyes. Oh, she was way past aggravated. She'd moved straight on to pissed.
The heels of her pumps clicked against the cement sidewalk, echoing off the walls of the aging brick buildings clustered together near the beach boardwalk. No tourists in this part of Pacific Beach.
The hollow sound magnified the silence surrounding her.
Muriah La Deaux tossed her head, sending her long dark hair cascading back over her shoulder and giving her a clear view of the abandoned alleyway. As soon as her foot left the curb, the sea breeze took control of her hair again until it veiled her face.
Richard stood her up tonight.
"Bastard," she muttered under her breath. Without slowing her pace, she glanced at her watch. Nearly one in the morning. She never should have waited so long.
She shouldn't have waited at all.
"Oh get over it, Muriah. No one forced you to spend the past four hours sitting in his apartment watching HBO," she groaned, well beyond caring if anyone heard her talking to herself. Why did she keep accepting his apologies, giving him second chances?
The real question was who annoyed her more, Richard or herself.
This wasn't the first time Richard failed to show up to meet her. He always had an excuse, an urgent matter. Apparently she wasn't urgent enough to matter.
Maybe it was time to grow up. Her penchant for bad boys and dead end relationships disguised as freedom was starting to feel pathetic instead of thrilling.
A man dressed in black with a stark white collar stepped out of the shadows, offering her a flyer. "The end is near. The signs are all around us. Is your name written in the Lord's Book? Will your soul be saved?"
"Yes," she answered without hesitation and crossed to the other side of the narrow beach street where the yellow streetlights kept the shadows, and usually the fanatics, at bay.
Since the rash of unexplained mass suicides plagued Central America and parts of the southern United States two months ago, the self-proclaimed ministers of doom had been coming out of the woodwork, and they weren't the only ones. Even the mainstream Protestants and Catholics of the world were being strongly encouraged by the clergy to confess and make their souls right with the All Mighty Savior.
The sudden wave of death that swelled out of nowhere disappeared the same way it came. Silently and without warning. But contrary to the preaching of the doomsday ministers, Muriah doubted it had much to do with the end of the world. Strange, unexplained phenomena had been happening for centuries. No denying this one was scary and dangerous, but it was also over.
Just like her relationship with Richard.
She laughed at herself. Relationship. Definitely not what she and Richard shared. More of a convenient friendship with certain intimacies enjoyed on the side. She didn't even know if he dated other women. Knowing him, he probably did, not that it mattered much. She never asked for anything exclusive with any of the men she dated.
The thought of commitment gave her hives ... too real, and much too binding. Way too easy to get yourself hurt. Bad.
But being stood up was getting old. She turned thirty today, and instead of a candlelight birthday dinner with Richard, she spent it alone with his remote control. She didn't need true love, but a guy who called when he ran late wasn't asking too much. Time to stop wasting her life on men like Richard.
He was one of her customers, a collector of rare books and other artifacts. A year ago, he had walked into her bookstore, The Dimension's Den, searching for a certain Mayan codex. He burst through her faded red door oozing with adventure.
Maybe his passion for finding ancient relics had been her downfall.
Richard wasn't alarmingly handsome, more like an average-looking man you might run into at the grocery store. The one you offer a polite smile, but not your phone number. He said his plain looks were an asset to him in his "business."
Mayan relics and writings weren't something many people asked her to find. In fact, over the years, only one other customer had ever requested her help finding documents dating back to the Maya, and he wasn't human.
When Richard came in, she hadn't been certain the codex he wanted still existed, but she craved the adventure to try and find it. Maybe the challenge made Richard more attractive to her.
Hard to say.
While she searched her sources across the border in Mexico, tracing relics older than recorded time with her gifted fingers, Richard made other purchases and soon became a regular customer. Before she realized it, they were dating. She'd never dated one of her customers before.
It wasn't that she had a rule against it, it just hadn't ever happened.
Rule following wasn't her strong suit anyway.
At least her bad boy obsession kept her heart protected from the inevitable good-byes. She went into the relationships expecting them to end eventually. She never should have wasted so much time with Richard anyway. Cutting and running was a simple decision. Painless really.
Yanking her keys out of her purse, she rounded the corner into a darker, narrower alleyway. Her forward motion abruptly halted. She smacked into the chest of a large police officer. Muriah gasped and peeked around his solid frame, her eyes widening when she saw the faded red door to her tiny bookstore blocked off with yellow police tape.
"What happened? This is my store." She dodged to the right, but his large hand caught her arm. "What's going on?"
"Are you Muriah La Deaux?"
Her pulse pounded in her ears. She blinked. Finally, she glanced up at his face and nodded.
Muriah ducked under the tape, trailing behind the officer and into her shop. Her heart sank at the sight of all the uninvited, uniformed guests snooping through her things. Before she could scream at all of them to leave, a tall man with dusty blond hair approached her and offered his hand.
"I'm Agent Bale. You must be Miss La Deaux?"
"Muriah." Numbness seized her as she shook his hand. "Mind telling me what the hell is going on here? You can't just barge into my store without a search warrant."
He released her hand, withdrawing a search warrant and his badge from his pocket. "I've got one. I'm investigating an unusual homicide."
"Homicide?" Her eyes widened. "I don't understand. What does my store have to do with it?"
"Do you have someplace we can speak privately?"
Muriah nodded. "My office is in the back."
She walked past a few more officers and into her office. Once they were inside, she sat behind her desk while the tall agent closed the door.
"Okay, what's going on? Why are you in my store?"
"We couldn't reach anyone at the store, so we got a warrant to check out the connection." He cleared his throat and leaned forward with an intense stare. "One of your customers, a Richard Talley, was found dead on the beach at six a.m. yesterday morning. We have reason to believe he was on his way ..."
The detective's lips kept moving, but she couldn't hear him anymore. The blood drained from her face and her chest tightened. A few minutes ago, she'd been cursing Richard under her breath for standing her up, and now ... Now she understood why he hadn't come to his apartment to meet her and didn't answer his cell phone. He hadn't been alive.
He was gone. Forever.
"Miss La Deaux?" The old, wooden swivel chair screeched as Agent Bale leaned forward. "Are you all right?"
She flinched when his large hand reached across her desk. "Yeah. I'm sorry I'm just ... shocked."
"Would you like some water or something?"
"No, that's all right." Richard was dead? God, Richard was dead. "How? When? I mean, how did this happen? Who did it?"
"We're still trying to determine what happened. That's why we're here. The address on his driver's license is incorrect, but he had a few receipts in his wallet from this store. We're hoping to find out some additional background information about him. When we couldn't contact you today, I got a search warrant."
"He still had his wallet?"
Agent Bale nodded, his steel gray eyes honed in on her. "This didn't appear to be a robbery. We have his credit and banking records. He seemed to spend plenty of time and money in your store. We were hoping to find more connections, like a current address. Can you tell me where he lived?"
"Richard moved around a lot," she whispered. She meant to speak louder, but shock choked her voice.
Her mind raced. She wanted them to catch Richard's killer and give him justice. But she knew what Richard's "business" entailed, and none of it was legal. His "associates" were dangerous, and if they were behind this ...
She didn't want to get mixed up in any of it.
Richard would understand.
She didn't offer up that she had the address where he lived, or that she had been waiting for him in his apartment earlier this evening. As much as she wanted to curl up into a ball and cry, she fought the tears.
It wasn't a good idea for law enforcement to know he had been more to her than just a client.
"Do you know where he lives now?"
"No." Muriah took a breath. "I don't have an address for him."
Detective Bale nodded slowly, looking her over. She did her best to keep from fidgeting like a guilty child. Muriah forced herself to remain still and maintain eye contact. If nothing else, she was stubborn, and if he could sit and stare at her, she'd stare right back.
Finally, Agent Bale glanced down at his notepad. Muriah let out an inward sigh of relief and shifted in her chair as his gaze met hers again.
"Anything else you can tell me about him? Anything that might help us find out who did this or why?"
Muriah swallowed the lump in her throat and shook her head. "I don't think so. He collected rare books. That's all I know. I wish I could be of more help."
Her pulse raced. She fought to stay calm and at least appear relaxed. But she was far from it. Her toes curled inside her pumps, her muscles tense, while she waited to see if he would question her further.
Agent Bale rose to his feet, towering over Muriah. She stood up and offered her hand. He gave her a firm handshake and what looked like a well-rehearsed, empathetic smile. "Thank you for your time and cooperation, Miss La Deaux. We'll try to be out of your shop as soon as possible."
She nodded and watched him walk away. How long was "as soon as possible?" Clearing her throat, she stepped out of her office and headed for the small water cooler in the corner. She never took her eyes off the uniformed officers milling around her shop while she sipped the water.
"So how long have you had this bookstore?"
A well-meaning officer smiled at her. But she was in no mood for small talk.
"All my life." She raised her cup, gesturing to the shelves that used to be orderly. "It's a family business."
"Really? I've come down to Pacific Beach for years, and I've never seen it before."
"Guess you weren't looking for it then." She finished the water. "I don't advertise. It's all word of mouth."
He nodded and shrugged. "I don't go into these new age alternative bookstores much anyway."
Muriah crunched her paper cup and tossed it into the wastebasket. "Alternative to what exactly?"
She rolled her eyes. "My bookstore is an alternative to what? The stores that sell cookbooks with those fancy pictures of food that no one ever prepares, or maybe those novels with steamy covers of men and women none of us could ever hope to meet, or maybe I'm an alternative to those coffee table books no one ever reads, is that it?"
"No, I just meant ..."
"What? That because my store is full of books you never knew had been written, books about spirituality or magic, or maybe just a hard to find manuscript ... That makes it an alternative? I thought it made it a bookstore."
A large hand rested on her shoulder, and she spun away from the shell-shocked officer to find Agent Bale looking down at her with a smile that looked foreign on his stern features.
"I'm sorry if we're upsetting you. We're just about finished."
Muriah flipped the business card in her fingers. Over and over. She wasn't sure how long ago the police left her store. Agent Bale was the last officer to leave, offering her his card and the request that she call him if she thought of anything else about Richard that might help his investigation. It listed his name, title: Federal Agent, cell phone, email, and the same insignia she'd seen on his badge. No mention of which department, or even FBI. Weird.
Why she still had it was anyone's guess.
She heaved a sigh and opened the top drawer of her desk. Tossing the nondescript card inside, she closed it and glanced over at the clock. Just past three in the morning. No wonder exhaustion weighed her down.
But sleep seemed like an impossible dream at the moment.
How could she rest when Richard was zipped in a body bag, and his killer was still out there somewhere?
Muriah pressed her palms on her desktop and pushed herself up to a standing position. Sitting around thinking would make her crazy. She needed to keep busy.
Gradually she made progress, putting her receipts away and reshelving the books the police officers had left stacked haphazardly on the tables. Once she was satisfied with the store, she made her way behind the counter and started her methodical cleaning of the espresso machine and polishing the countertop.
Pride was important when you ran a family business. Since the La Deaux family rolled their wagon into San Diego in 1795, they had run The Dimension's Den under the radar of mainstream society, providing their patrons with coffee, tea, hard to find books, and open minds to discuss the wonders of the cosmos and the supernatural forces of the world.
But the La Deaux family ended with Muriah.
"Oh please! Not now ..." She pushed stools in along the counter grumbling to herself. This was not the time to start worrying about who would carry on the store.
"Stupid biological clock," she muttered.
With all traces of the police investigation gone, the coffee area clean, and some of her nervous energy burned off, Muriah grabbed her purse to head out, locking the door behind her. If she kept moving, maybe the grief wouldn't catch up to her.
She walked down the alley, head held high with her keys firmly in her grasp, giving a jingle with each step she took. She didn't live far from the store, only a couple blocks away, but walking alone this late at night made her jumpy. It reminded her of those B-horror movies. The slasher films where you scream at the college coeds not to go outside. But they always did. And they always died.
Muriah walked faster.
When she rounded the corner to her condominium, a warm sense of relief washed over her. She made it home, no problems.
Except for the tall stranger standing on her steps.
She slid her hand into her purse, and gripped her cell phone. "Can I help you?"
"I believe you can." He stepped down. Closer.
Was that a British accent? She wasn't sure. Muriah took a cautious step back. "Who are you?"
The man walked under the yellow light of the street lamp and tipped his head in her direction. He stood over six feet tall with shoulder-length black hair, and his face looked pale compared to his dark eyes. His jaw was chiseled, along with the rest of his body.
Normally, she might have welcomed a chance meeting with a gorgeous man like this, but at four a.m., after learning someone murdered Richard, something about this man's gaze bothered her.
He stared at her like a famished man drooled over a piece of meat.
In the dim glow of the streetlight, his eyes held her attention. It must've been the yellow tint, but his eyes seemed to lighten, gray, like a storm gathering. She blinked hard, and his lips curved, hinting at a smile. He was stunningly handsome, almost too handsome. Too perfect.
"Interesting." His gaze narrowed. "What are you?"
"Excuse me?" She gripped her keys so two poked between her fingers like brass knuckles.
"I cannot read your thoughts."
This guy was certifiable. Sadly, he was also still on her front steps. "In that case, here's what I'm thinking. You're trespassing."
Excerpted from Night Child by Lisa Kessler, Alison Blissard, Theresa Marie Cole. Copyright © 2014 Lisa Kessler. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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