She's a hot-blooded half-demon.
He's a cold-blooded vampire.
Sending evil souls to hell has never been more dangerous, or steamy.
Half-demon Jessie Garrett is searching for an evil vampire that's been preying upon children. She wants to claim the rogue vamp's soul and send it to hell. To find the dead man walking she must partner with another bloodsucker, Drake, even though she doesn't trust him. While Jessie works with Drake, she learns not all vampires are killers and discovers the cold-blooded vamp is a temptation too difficult to resist.
After the fiend abducts another child and Jessie has a near fatal experience with vampires, she turns to Jeremy, a demon she bumped into at a club, and makes a deal with him for his help. Drake disapproves, and Jessie soon finds herself wedged between two volatile creatures. When the chance comes to save the child's life and claim the evil vamp's soul, she must decide whom she can trust—a vampire who cools her feverish desires, or a demon hell-bent on seducing her.
The coolness of the dark basement soothed my feverish skin, but the stale air mixed with aged death pricked my gag reflex. My gut twisted, telling me to go. Hold on, Jessie, I thought while I held the digital recorder steady in my hands.
"Is the camera on?" my roommate Dani asked as she tossed her long hair over her shoulder. She rocked forward and backward on her feet while holding a flashlight pointed up.
The night vision set up on the camera showed her grainy image with a green tint among the darkness of the basement. Her blonde locks and fair skin glowed with the little bit of light hitting her face. Lips pressed together in a tight smile, she held a professional and confident image. The pungent air didn't seem to bother her.
"Do you see the red light?" I smirked, knowing it would get a rise from her.
"Yes, smart ass, I see it," she replied, humoring me. She turned off the flashlight and held it at her side.
Kyle and Lester, the other two members of our paranormal investigation team, stood behind me, whispering to each other. Hearing a smack on the concrete floor, I glanced over my shoulder and found Lester laughing as he picked up his flashlight. They were antsy and so was I.
With the hour approaching midnight, it was time to get the show on the road.
"Ready when you are." I watched Dani's green image and glowing eyes from the three-by-three display screen of the recorder. She inhaled a deep breath of air and smiled.
"I'm standing in the basement of the Stratton farmhouse located off Route 74 in Wanamaker. In 1946, Mr. Stratton stabbed his wife and son to death upstairs, in their rooms while they slept. He then brought his three daughters down to the basement and held them here for nearly two weeks."
Dani paused, catching a breath of air. Hearing her tell the story again made my temperature rise. How could anyone be so evil and cruel?
Dani continued. "During those two weeks, he tied up his three daughters, raped them, and tortured them. The middle child managed to escape and run to the neighbor's home. When police arrived to investigate the young girl's claim, they found the bodies of the other two girls and Mr. Stratton dead in this basement. According to the police report, Mr. Stratton shot the girls and then himself in the head with a shotgun. Three families have lived here since the deaths. Each one claimed they saw Mr. Stratton, and he tried to assault them. For the last twenty years, the house has sat vacant because of those claims. My name is Dani Rossler, and I'm here to find out if Mr. Stratton is still lingering around this house."
A broad smile spread across her face. Taking the cue, I hit the pause button.
"That was good." I complimented with sincerity.
Lester and Kyle strolled up from behind me. Lester stopped between Dani and me with his flashlight shining at her feet. He mumbled something to her. At my side, Kyle leaned in close to my ear and peered at the monitor. The fragrant aroma of his leather jacket seeped into my nostrils. Enjoying the leathery scent, I inhaled several quick breaths.
"Let's go upstairs and look around," he said, whispering in my ear.
"Shh," I said, and he sighed in protest.
Kyle's patience was wearing thin. Since we came in through the cellar, we had yet to scope out the rest of the farmhouse. His need to explore, driven by curiosity, nearly matched my desire to catch evil spirits.
"I'm ready to go through the story again," Dani said.
"Almost ready," I replied, steadying the camera for round two of her introduction. Stupid me, I left the stand back at our apartment. Having spent three years tracking down ghosts and investigating haunted homes to record paranormal activity, one might think I could remember to bring something as important as a tripod.
"Ready, Jess?" Dani asked, standing stiff as a model with one hand on her hip.
As I opened my mouth to answer, a cold chill ran down my spine. Tiny hairs on my arms stood up, tuning into the supernatural disturbance. Deep within me, a fire ignited. The evil soul lurking about the farmhouse was here, and it was time for me to find it.
"Lester," I said, searching for him through the display screen. I found him fast, standing a few feet from Dani. His grainy image appeared on the tiny monitor—short and stocky with curly hair and glasses.
"Yeah?" He turned and flashed his light on my stomach.
"Come take this. Kyle and I want to explore."
Lester obliged without putting up a fight. As we swapped devices, he gave me his flashlight, and I handed him the recorder.
"Here," I said fast, pointing the light at the tiny buttons on the recorder.
"Got it." He held up the recorder and aimed it at Dani. "Ready when you are."
I spun around and found Kyle waiting a few feet behind me. Wearing big black shoes and jeans, he blended in too well with the dark basement.
"Ready to get spooked?" he asked, shining his flashlight under his chin. He enlarged his green eyes, distorted his face, and stuck out his pierced tongue over a pierced lip.
I chuckled at his attempt to scare me. On the outside, his tattoos, piercings, and goatee gave him a rough don't fuck with me appearance, but inside, he had the heart of an angel.
"Yeah, fright master, lead me to your den." I joked as I gripped the sleeve of his leather jacket and tugged him away from Dani and Lester.
We ambled through the musty old basement and ascended a narrow flight of wooden stairs at a slow pace. The old steps whined with our weight. Kyle stayed ahead of me with his light guiding the way. Past the halfway point of the staircase, one of the steps moaned a little too much as I pressed my one hundred and thirty-two pounds upon it.
"Shit!" I said, as the step snapped and swallowed my foot. My knees bent, thrusting my body forward.
"Jessie!" Kyle said.
He whirled around as I hit my knees and hands on the steps ahead of me. Gripping the flashlight in my hand, I managed to save it from dropping.
"Guys!" Dani yelled a second later.
"I'm okay!" I shouted loud enough so Dani could hear me. Fucking step. Thanks to my jeans, my knees felt fine, but a tingling burn flamed in my left hand. Yep, I probably scraped it. Flattening my forearms on the step in front of me, I lifted myself up.
"Here. Let me help you," Kyle said, extending his hand under the light.
I switched the flashlight to my tingling hand, reached up with my good hand, and gripped his. Leaning on him, I wedged my foot free and balanced my body upright on the step below. Turning my head, I called out to Lester and Dani. "Be careful on the way up. There's half a step missing."
"You all right?" Dani asked.
"Yeah." I wiped the palm of my injured hand on my jeans. My body felt stiff with tension, but I'd shake it off soon enough.
"Let's go," I said, looking up at Kyle. I avoided the crumbling step and followed close behind him the rest of the way.
At the top of the stairs, we paused and flashed our lights around the room. Broken and empty cabinets hung on the walls. In the middle of cabinetry was a boarded up window with an old, porcelain sink below it. On the counter, a furry little critter with glowing eyes stared at me. My muscles tensed and nausea sprouted. My stomach welcomed evil spirits, but a rat made my guts churn.
"Let's move on," I said, gripping the sleeve of Kyle's leather jacket.
Pivoting, Kyle led the way through the dark farmhouse. Plywood covered the windows, and the floorboards creaked with each step. Passing through the heart of the home, I breathed in the stench of rotted wood and mildew. The house might have been warm and cozy at one point in time, but now it needed some serious TLC.
When we reached the staircase by the front door, we proceeded up with caution. Once again, the rotted wood acknowledged our presence with an orchestra of crackling noises. Wanting to avoid another mishap, I treaded carefully, easing my weight onto each step. At the top of the stairs, Kyle stopped.
"Which way?" he asked, tossing a beam of light in each direction. On the left was a short hallway with two doors. A longer hall ran to our right. He spun around and flashed the light upward to another set of stairs. "Or up?"
I paused to consider my options. Spinning around, I peered down the long hallway. The hairs on the back of my neck twitched.
"You go up. I'll stay down here and check out the rooms." In case I found something, I didn't want him around.
"Up it is," he said, and ascended the steps.
Following my Spidey sense, I set out down the hall with my flashlight pointed in front of me.
I crept into the first room. A layer of dust coated the floor, and a small spider scurried by. I skirted its path and tossed a beam of light up. Floral wallpaper decorated the walls and wood boards covered the solitary window. Not finding a trace of a spook, I backed out of the room and proceeded down the hall.
I stepped into the next room, and a surge of energy coursed through my body. The stench of death made me want to pinch my nose. Something was here.
I flashed my light around the room. Boards covered the window, and the closet door was missing. As I moseyed to the center of the room, the floorboards crackled underneath me. Behind me, the door squealed, and I stopped.
Slowly, I spun around on my heel. A tall man of average build with bloodstained arms stood behind the half-shut door. His soiled clothes reeked of rot and decay. Even without the hole in his head, I knew who he was.
"Good evening," I said with a wry grin.
"You can see me?" Mr. Stratton asked with his eyes wide.
"Of course I can see you." Aside from the shimmering glow around his body, he looked just as solid as any human being did. I could touch him, too, if I wanted, but I wasn't about to tell him that.
His dark, bottomless eyes appraised me with disbelief. "How . . . how can you see me?"
Instead of answering, I held my grin and stood motionless, waiting for him to move. If he chose to run, I would have to chase him down. If he came at me and tried to fight me, he wouldn't win. My strength out-matched his since I was living flesh and blood. Giving my best effort not to scare the spook away, I waited patiently, holding my hand at my side and my lips pressed together.
After a lengthy hesitation, he finally took a step forward and then another.
"I have a message for you," I said, hoping he'd come closer.
Mr. Stratton approached me with timid curiosity. "A message?" His forehead crinkled.
I held my breath while I maintained a phony smile. He stunk so badly, I wanted to puke. Over sixty years worth of decay does that to a ghost. They don't appear decomposed; in fact, they look normal, but they stink worse than a city dump on a sweltering, humid day.
"Yes." I said, waiting for him to step closer. The ghost took his damn time approaching me. "It's from my father."
He stopped within an arm's reach from me. Eyes tight and narrowed, he held a look of pure confusion. "Your father?"
My grin disappeared. "He wants you to join him." Reaching forward, I grabbed his forearm and yanked him closer to me. He didn't have time to struggle. "In hell," I finished.
Energy bubbled up inside me. I opened my mouth wide and inhaled, drawing him to me. He twitched and stiffened, fighting the suction. With his soul in my firm grasp, he couldn't break free. Still, he resisted and attempted to pull away from me. His spiritual form stretched as he drifted into my mouth. He brushed over my tongue, tasting of bile, and I almost gagged. Exerting a little more oomph, I sucked in his evil soul as if I were inhaling a deep breath of air. He slithered down my throat without so much as a poke or nudge on the way down. His final destination . . . hell.
Once I consumed Mr. Stratton's soul, I pressed my lips together and swallowed. For a moment, I stood static as his soul disintegrated within my body and traveled into the bottomless pit of hell. A pocket of air crept up inside of me, and I opened my mouth.
"Bitch!" I said on a burp, and my voice sounded like Mr. Stratton's. I chuckled at his final word.
Compared to other evil spirits I had encountered over the years, claiming Mr. Stratton's soul was a piece of cake. But then, he'd only murdered four people. Had the body count been higher and the level of cruelty intensified, I would've had difficulty swallowing.
The door squeaked as it moved. "Jessie?" Kyle said.
"Here," I replied.
He pushed open the door and stepped in. "Find anything or feel anything?" His light brushed over my chest.
"A cold chill blew by a few minutes ago." I shrugged with careless interest.
"Maybe it was his son," he said.
I smiled. Kyle's curiosity reminded me of a child's, pure and innocent. "Maybe."
Sighing, I stared at him with guarded eyes, wishing he didn't know I had a sixth sense. He had caught my radar detector on alert once while we were investigating a haunted nursing home in Southern Indiana. Kyle and I had wandered the halls in search of the infamous nurse apparition who'd murdered thirty-six senior citizens. When I found the nurse in one of the rooms my body became a solid statue, and I turned a hideous shade of white. Kyle saw my reaction and must have known I had either felt or seen something unnatural. Since I didn't have time to come up with a good excuse, I sent him to chase down Dani and Lester for the camera. As soon as he left, I tackled the nurse and sent her soul straight to hell. A few minutes later, the three of them ran into the room. I told them I had seen a ghost, and it had disappeared. From that time on, Kyle kept a close eye on me. It made my soul-catching job a little trickier, but I always found a way to claim my prize.
"Jessie . . . Kyle," Dani hollered.
"We better go," I said.
I followed Kyle down the stairs. Dani stood near the open front door. Large drops of rain battered the ground and the roof over the front porch. The breeze blowing into the house felt good against my warm skin. Lester stood outside on the porch with a cigarette between his lips. The smoke drifted into the farmhouse, and my nose twitched in irritation.
"Find anything?" Dani asked, brows arched. Dani knew I had a heightened sensory awareness, and that was all she knew. As much as I adored her, I could never let her know the truth about me.
"A lot of dust mites and a spider," I replied, with a shrug.
"Damn." She sighed, lowering her eyes.
"Are we leaving or staying?" Lester asked, swinging his hand in the air with the cigarette tucked between his fingers.
Kyle eyed me as if I were the one giving direction. Dani was the one in charge of our team, not me. Shrugging, I looked at Dani.
"I'm thirsty," she said, hinting at a grin.
"Drinks are on me." Kyle jogged out the door.
Dani and I looked at each other and smiled. Free drinks? Hell yeah! Lifting our hands over our heads, we made a mad dash through the pouring rain to the car.
* * * * *
We arrived an hour later at our favorite bar in downtown Indy. I pushed open the glass door, and the strong scent of beer crept into my nose. One patron sat at the far end of the bar, hunched over the counter, and a trio sat together near the window. World news flashed across the muted television in a corner. In the adjoining room, cue balls clanged on the pool table. My three friends snatched a round table in the middle of the spacious room. Out of habit, I headed for a flat stool at the center of the bar.
"Hey Jessie. What can I get ya?" Bruce, the owner, asked with his hairy arms extended along the counter. A fair gut protruded from his untucked green polo shirt. Graying hair hung over his eyes and covered the back of his neck.
"The usual," I replied. "And keep them coming."
Nick--Bruce's assistant and a Mark Wahlberg lookalike-- stood next to Bruce, cleaning behind the counter. He stopped, glanced at me, and smiled. Dani had dibs on him so I resisted his lure. Oh what the hell. I offered a kindhearted smile in response. After a wink, he took off heading for the back room.
Placing my elbows on the newly cleaned bar, I perched my chin over my hands as I watched Bruce prepare my drink. I liked Bruce and Nick as much as I liked drinking. Maybe I liked Nick a little more, if only to drool over. Bruce had an open mind and envied our wild tales of hauntings and ghost encounters, whereas Nick didn't believe a word.
"Better than any television show," Bruce always commented. Nick shook his head and kept his lips sealed. That's how it was with most people; they either believed in the paranormal or they didn't.
I lifted the shot glass in front of me and gulped the clear liquid. Wincing as the alcohol burned my esophagus; I set my glass down and waved my hand for another. Bruce wasted no time and filled my glass. Staring at the clear liquor, I twirled the little glass between my fingers, careful not to spill a drop of it. Then in one fast move, I gulped the fiery liquid.
After the forth shot, I held up the palm of my hand for a momentary break. My mind floated blissfully while my body felt numb. Could life be any better?
Hearing my friend's laughter, I glanced over my shoulder. Dani's face was red and her hand covered her mouth while she laughed. Kyle was leaning back in his chair, grinning and shaking his head at Lester. I missed the joke but I didn't miss seeing my friends so happy. I smiled at their pleasure.
"Ready for another?" Bruce asked, capturing my attention.
I met his eyes and shook my head. A second later, the drunk at the end of the counter mumbled incoherently. Bruce grunted and left me for the inebriated man.
Sighing, I stared at the sexy dark-haired, blue-eyed demon in the mirror on the wall. Oops, that was me.
Technically, I was a half-demon, not that it made much difference. My blood still connected me to the devil.
The main door opened and a cool chill crawled down my spine, alerting me to a presence. I stiffened my back and craned my neck. Tiny hairs on my body jumped to life as if static electricity floated in the air. I narrowed my gaze in the mirror. A tall man with a well-built physique strolled toward me. His shoulder-length brown hair and aura of confidence captivated my attention. He stopped one seat over from my right and sat down.
"Bartender." Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Mysterious beckoned in a voice as smooth as silk.
Bruce returned and answered my neighbor's call. "What'll be?"
"One of those"—he pointed to my shot glass—"and a scotch."
Bruce prepared the drinks while I watched the intriguing stranger in the mirror who avoided my gaze. With closed lips and slightly pinched brows, he held a firm, guarded look. The brown leather jacket he wore practically matched the color of his hair. His pallid skin and light pink lips defined many of his kind. Sure, he had an appealing lure to him, but all vampires were murderers in my book, and I avoided them like the plague.
Bruce set the shot glass of scotch on the counter. The man handed Bruce a twenty-dollar bill and told him to keep the change. I snorted.
"Bruce," I said, before he stepped away. I felt mischievous. "Can you hear the dead?"
He narrowed his eyes at me, probably wondering if I had too much to drink. "Don't think so dear," he replied.
The drunk at the end of the bar heaved on the floor. Bruce ran for him, mumbling curses and then yelling for Nick. Two seconds later, Nick appeared from behind the door in the back and sprinted towards Bruce.
Disgusted and needing a distraction, I returned my attention to the mirror. Behind hooded eyes, my neighbor slid the shot glass over to me. Huh, I thought. Why would he offer me a drink?
He picked up his glass of scotch. Curious, I waited to see if he'd swallow the brown liquid. He swirled the fluid around in the glass, studying the flow of movement as if it hypnotized him. I chuckled at his little performance.
Seeing I had a free drink, I wasn't about to let it go to waste. I picked up the shot and downed it fast. As my throat burned, I slammed the glass down on the counter, creating a loud clank. Clenching my molars, I glowered into the mirror. Now what?
He set his glass of scotch on the counter. With slow movements, he reached inside his jacket and he withdrew something nearly as big as his hand. After he placed it on the counter, he slid it over to me, stopping midway, and removing his hand. The object was a paperback book. What the hell?
I stared at the book half expecting it to jump out at me. After all, I had five shots of strong vodka in me. What did he think I would do? Read it?
The mysterious creature I loathed stood up. My body felt numb and tingly. I didn't dare move. With my eyes locked on his image in the mirror, I watched him saunter out of the bar.
"Fuck," slipped out of me a little too loudly.
"You okay Jessie?" Kyle called out.
I glanced over my shoulder and nodded. "Yeah." My mind screamed no.
I returned my attention to the counter. The book hadn't sprouted legs and crawled away. Damn. So my options were clear. I could take it and see what he wanted, or refuse it and pretend I hadn't seen him. Decisions, decisions. . .
I reached over and picked up his untouched scotch. I knew he wouldn't drink it. After I finished his drink, I slid the glass away from me and picked up the book. Without looking at it, I swiveled around to face my friends and hid the book behind me. Smiling and watching my friends, I lifted my shirt and tucked the paperback under the waistband of my jeans. Engrossed in their conversation, they didn't notice my action. I doubted they even noticed the vampire that had been in the bar. Humans were so easily fooled.