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Tag: paranormal romance

Review of Spiral of Need (Suzanne Wright)

Spiral of Need is my first novel written by Suzanne Wright, and it was better than I expected. The hero and heroine are very well drawn. They work perfectly together and lift each other up. The outside antagonists weren’t really scary, just bitchy, and a lot of the plot was confusing to me until it was all explained at the end.

My favorite part: The sex scenes are unbelievable and worth the cost of the book all on their own. Hot doesn’t begin to cover it.

My least favorite part: So many characters! I guess the author is stacking the cast with characters for future books, but there were so many names with no distinctions or personalities attached, I actually forgot the h/h’s names the last half of the book.

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Remedy (Red Plague Series #4)

Written by Anna Abner

Copyright 2016 by Anna Abner

Enjoy this free peek into the Red Plague series!

Cover Blurb:

The red plague has devastated the human race, turning billions of people into zombies with red eyes and an insatiable hunger for human flesh.

Seventeen-year-old Callie Crawford is used to fighting. She was an all-star wrestler in high school, and since 212R destroyed her world, she hasn’t stopped fighting. When her high school boyfriend Levi caught the virus, Callie saved him by keeping him chained in a rural North Carolina barn, waiting for something to change.

Before 212R, Roman Duran was a computer nerd, but since the virus, he’s become a guard in the survivor enclave in Washington, DC. After volunteering for a rescue mission, Roman has been belittled, robbed, and left for dead. He hasn’t saved a single person.

Until he stumbles across Callie. Because she has a zombie on a short leash, and Roman is carrying a syringe full of zombie cure.

Callie and Roman will face soulless survivors and rabid zombies on their journey to save a single infected. Along the way, Callie will have to choose between her past and a whole new future.

Chapter 1

The sky was gray and hazy when Callie Crawford pushed her skiff into the cold Atlantic, the surf lapping quietly against the hull. She glanced up from her compass, not liking the look of the clouds on the horizon. A warm breeze thick with salt and moisture blew through her ponytail and teased her bare arms.

A storm was the last thing Callie needed. Dad had taught her a few things, but she was no sailor, and the strength of the tides and currents always took her by surprise.

As if things weren’t messed up enough by her oversleeping.

Today was Levi’s day. Every third day since the apocalypse was his, and she’d never missed a visit, never been tardy venturing onto the mainland where packs of slobbering, mindless people infected with the 212R virus ruled. Not once. But she’d overslept, and now she’d be late arriving. Worse, she’d be late returning to her newly acquired private island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. She may be forced to sail home in the dark.

Water splashed the side of the skiff as she maneuvered it over a mile of ocean. She’d been making the same trip every three days for the past two months, and she still thought she was going to die every time she lost sight of land and nothing but azure water hemmed her in.

She sailed past one of the department of transportation’s huge white ferryboats, immune to the reminder of a lost world. People didn’t use ferries anymore, and it had been left to rot. The vessel had foundered some time ago with all its vehicles still aboard. It jutted half out of the water, quiet and still, its once bright colors slowly being eaten away by rust and barnacles.

She palmed her compass, adjusted the sail for speed, and headed west. By keeping the buoys in sight, she steered her skiff straight into the port at Morris Marina.

Callie secured the ship and then pulled a marble and her slingshot from a pocket, looking for signs of trouble. No birds chirping. No dogs barking at strangers. No squirrels climbing branches. Nothing. She could have been the last creature alive on the earth.

Watching and waiting, she catalogued her survival tactics. Attacked from the front? Side step with a kick to the knee. Let their momentum work in her favor. Attacked from the rear? Head butt to the nose. Swarmed by a pack? Do whatever it took to break free and climb, even if it was into the back of a truck or up a tree. She’d mastered chokes, arm bars, and more than one submission hold.

Humans infected with 212R were lethally fast. Speed and maneuverability were key in her personal survival strategy. And she must survive. Levi needed her.

Wary, Callie perched on the seat in her little boat and let loose a high, piercing whistle. No movement.

Her slingshot zipped securely in her pocket and a pack on her back, Callie ran. The port was clear, and she hurried past the ticket office, the souvenir shop, and a tiny cafe. Her liberated Range Rover sat with the keys in the glove box. It started right up, and Callie chose a CD from her growing collection of pilfered music. It felt like an Elvis Presley sort of day. She pushed in “Blue Suede Shoes” and drove fast down Temple Street.

#

Roman Duran jogged a step behind Jackson Schultz and saw the moment the other man faltered on his wounded leg, careening into a chain link fence. Without missing a step, Roman ducked under Jackson’s arm and forced him forward along the garbage-strewn sidewalk. The pack of infecteds was only two or, at the most, three blocks behind.

“Here,” Pollard Datsik, the third member of their trio, called. He slipped around a block wall and sprinted up a set of exterior stairs to an apartment above a liquor store. Roman dragged Jackson behind him.

While Roman helped Jackson to a sagging sofa, Pollard shut the door with a quiet click and peered through the window, his breath a puff in the silence.

“Are they following?” Roman whispered. “Are they swarming the stairs?”

Pollard stretched his neck to see further, and then soft-stepped to the next window and stared at the street below.

“I’m fine,” Jackson murmured unnecessarily. “I tripped. It won’t happen again.” He shoved Roman away. “I just need a couple minutes.”

Roman didn’t buy it. The injury in question was a jagged slash above Jackson’s knee he’d earned climbing a fence the night before. Though they’d stopped running long enough to wrap it, Jackson wasn’t as energetic as he’d been before the wound.

Separating from Jackson, Roman peered through a broken windowpane, blinking away the exhaustion that had dogged him for the past couple of days. Without enjoyment, he chewed one of their last handfuls of goldfish crackers, the food dry and pasty in his mouth. Water was about to become a serious issue.

“I’m so thirsty,” he complained in a whisper. “And dirty.” What he wouldn’t do for a clean, clear stream of fresh water.

Roman glanced at his companions, noting their equally stained and stinking uniforms. Maybe volunteering to leave Washington, DC had been a crappy decision all around. Maybe the veep should have sent older, more experienced survivors on her search and rescue mission. Maybe his eighteen years on the earth weren’t enough for this kind of assignment.

A pack of infecteds had caught their scent in Raleigh and hadn’t let go. Forty-eight hours without sleep or rest. Two days of running, of hiding, of trying to lose the predators. And now, they were out of food and water.

“What if we climb on the roof?” Roman whispered. “We could wait them out.”

Pollard seized the bag of crackers from him and crammed a handful into his mouth.

“We’re out of water,” Jackson reminded them. “What if they trap us for days? No.” He shook his head at the room’s closed door. “We could end up a lot worse than we are now. I say we keep running.”

“Forever?” Pollard scoffed. “There has to be a point where we say we can’t continue like this. A point where we circle around the pack and head home.”

Roman wouldn’t call Washington, DC home. But then he’d never called anywhere home. An orphan kicked into the system after his mother abandoned him, none of the dozen foster and group homes he’d lived in had ever been his home. And DC was no different. It was a way station to somewhere else, no matter whether he had an apartment or a job or a purpose. It still wasn’t home.

Roman had yet to find his real home.

Swallowing dry crackers, Roman double-checked the number of rounds for his M-16. When they’d left the safety of DC’s walls, they each carried forty rounds for their personal firearms. It had sounded like a lot at the time, but he was down to nineteen rounds. The other two men had less.

For an entire day, Jackson had fired warning shots at their pursuers—a mistake, Roman realized now—but the only result had been bringing even more infecteds into the pack, as nearby stragglers were attracted by the noise.

His ears perking up, Roman rushed to the far window and scanned for movement. Was he crazy, or did he hear a car engine?

Roman had left DC wanting to help people, both infecteds and survivors. After running into people, one worse than the last, his companions were nearly to the point of abandoning the mission. But Roman hadn’t given up. Even though they hadn’t helped a single person.

The sound of the Range Rover’s engine quieted as it drove out of sight.

“Let’s try the distraction method again,” Roman suggested. The last time they’d thrown empty cans near the zombies, they’d been curious enough for Roman and the other two men to escape. “It worked before.”

Their rescue mission to Myrtle Beach could still be salvaged once they shook this pack. Unhindered by the starving horde of infecteds, the three men could scavenge for food and water, sleep safely in shifts, and cover ground at an easy pace. This running for their lives, though, couldn’t go on forever. Without water and more substantial food than goldfish crackers, he wasn’t going to survive much longer.

“I’ll open fire,” Pollard said, as if Roman hadn’t spoken, “and you two run for the cell tower at the end of the street. I’ll meet you there.”

“Good plan,” Jackson said, “except you’re a horrible shot. I’ll do the shooting, thanks.” He stood, trying to hide a wince of pain but failing.

Pollard clenched his jaw at the insult. “Fine.” He grabbed Roman by the sleeve and dragged him toward the door.

“You sure about this?” Roman asked, still thinking his idea would work better than wasting more bullets and hoping to find each other under a tower.

“Just run fast,” Pollard said.

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Spell of Shattering (Dark Caster #4)

Written by Anna Abner

Copyright 2015 by Anna Abner

SoSh 600x900

Cover Blurb:

Dive into the heart-pounding final chapter of the Dark Caster series!

If the Chaos Gate opens…
Demons will infest the world.

When the charismatic mayor of Auburn hires junior agent Jessa McAvoy to acquire him a very specific property, she hopes this is her big break. She’ll do anything to make her first real estate client happy, but the one favor he asks of her is impossible—convince her former friend Derek Walker to come out of hiding. Doing so will not only bring her into the orbit of dangerous casters, but force her to confront long-buried feelings for her missing friend.

After failing his tasks for the Dark Caster, necromancer Derek Walker is hiding in Alaska from his humiliating defeats as a card-carrying member of an evil dark cabal. But when his old boss begins opening the Chaos Gate, there is nowhere on earth Derek can hide. With no other options, he must return to the last place he wants to go—home.

When Derek Walker joins forces with Jessa and the entire Raleigh coven, the dark cabal’s biggest disappointment may be the only thing standing between earth and total destruction.

Chapter One

With a little pressure, Derek Walker punched his boning knife through the throat of a dead Silver Salmon. Working the knife like a saw, he removed the head and tossed it into the trash, and then got to work gutting the unlucky creature. Bright fish blood swirled in the lake below, creating an abstract waterscape.

Bo’s voice carried over the sound of the lapping tide. “Ice is the strongest element there is,” he shouted at Stubby.

They were certainly surrounded by the stuff. Bits of frost clumped in Bo’s scraggly beard, heavy snow clung to drooping tree limbs, and gray clouds swept across the sky ready to shower ice upon their heads at any moment. Derek hoped the storm would hold off a little while longer, though, at least until the men finished fishing.

“Bullshit.” Bo’s friend Stubby dug through the nearby cooler but came up empty. The six-pack was long gone, and it wasn’t even ten a.m. Frustrated, Stubby spit brown tobacco juice into the mud. “Fire’s stronger than ice.”

Derek shifted weight from one foot to the other and skidded in the mud, catching himself on a rock. It may be August in Alaska, but the wet ground around Bear Lake at first light was cold and seeped through his sneakers.

“No it ain’t,” Bo argued. “Glaciers carved up the earth, you dummy. A few drops of frozen water will break boulders.” He waved Stubby off. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Stubby seemed to take the argument personally. “Fire melts ice. End of story.”

Derek prayed it was, but of course, it wasn’t. Bo and Stubby could argue for hours over the most accurate brand of deer rifle, the stoutest superhero, or the most potent tequila. This latest debate could rage on for days.

Derek sliced up two beautiful fish fillets and wrapped them in paper for his boss’s dinner. Most likely, Derek would sear them on the grill with some peppers and serve them up tonight to a small house party of world-class belchers and bearded survivalists on Bo’s deck.

It surprised Derek he could even wield a knife or a BBQ grill in his condition. The memory spell Holden Clark had hit him with four months ago had devastated his mind. Literally. He may as well have dropped him headfirst from a forty-story building onto broken glass and concrete. Holden had stolen every single memory, skill, and instinct Derek possessed, leaving him alive but hollow.

Waking in a hospital bed blank and vulnerable had been the most terrifying moment of his life. He picked up the second fish and attacked it with the knife.

Generally, the work he did as Bo’s assistant was exhausting, which suited Derek just fine. He didn’t need the money. He needed the distraction.

Actually, it wasn’t that much different from the work he’d done in Auburn as Rebecca Powell’s assistant. Then, he’d redecorated houses, delivered paperwork, sometimes picked up coffee and her dry cleaning, and most of the time surfed on his computer or chatted with Jessa McAvoy, the adorable junior agent working as Rebecca’s protégé. Here, he bought groceries, cooked rudimentary meals, lugged trash to the dump, and drove Bo home when he drank too much.

Whether it was good living or not didn’t enter his mind. It was just living.

“All done, boss,” Derek said with effort, throwing the last of the slimy scraps into the trash and tucking the fillets into the cooler. It was a constant struggle to form words and transfer them to his tongue. He was getting better, but he feared he would never be whole again.

“Anything else?” Derek asked, rinsing his bloody hands in the icy lake.

“Yeah, run into town and get another twelve pack, will ya’?” Bo asked.

“Sure.” He ambled for Bo’s pickup, jingling a ring of keys as he went.

“You’re putting too much weight on your bobber again,” Stubby accused. “You’ll never catch anything that way.”

“You don’t know what you’re yammering about,” Bo shot back. “I’ve caught twice as many fish as you have, and that’s just today!”

Derek climbed into the truck before he caught Stubby’s reply.

He didn’t care. He didn’t care about much anymore. Even after the memory-destroying spell had been reversed, he still wasn’t the same. Like tying shoelaces. He just couldn’t get it. No matter how many YouTube videos he watched, he couldn’t make the bunny go round the tree or the fox go in the hole or whatever nonsense he was supposed to do with ease. It worried him how much he didn’t remember. What else was gone, never to return?

Kissing, for one. Surely, he must have kissed a woman at some point—he was a grown man—but he couldn’t recall specifics. Or even gather the desire to try it again. It seemed silly to him. That and sex. Bizarre, pointless endeavors when he had other much more important stuff to worry about.

Like how he was…

“…A huge fucking disappointment,” the spirit spat at him. “A total waste of good space. You think you deserve a second chance? What have you ever done…”

A grizzly of a dead man with a full beard and hunters cap hovered beside Bo’s truck, a gleeful smile on his pudgy face. For the past four months, the ghost had been his unwanted but constant companion.

Derek tuned out the ranting. It was getting a little easier. Night was the hardest. Trying to sleep while a nasty ghost screamed obscenities and curse words at him from the ceiling was challenging. Ear plugs only muffled the noise. They didn’t erase it completely.

The irony was, Derek was especially good at shield spells. With a spirit’s assistance, he could produce an invisible barrier impenetrable to both magic and spirit chatter. With a spirit of his own, Derek could cast banishing spells on all the ghosts the Dark Caster sent to torment his every waking moment. But Derek didn’t have a spirit companion anymore. Robert had been destroyed back in Auburn, North Carolina in the magical fiasco that had stolen Derek’s memories. And a necromancer without a spirit was just a man.

Almost the way a stray, foul-mouthed ghost couldn’t do any real damage without a necromancer to channel his spirit power.

He and the taunting soul were in the same boat—stuck with each other and frustrated.

It didn’t make listening to his insults any easier.

“Go away,” Derek murmured.

“What’s that, you miserable piece of crap?”

Clenching his jaw, Derek glared through the mud-streaked windshield at his new boss reclining in his favorite camp chair.

“Lost your voice?” the spirit taunted. “Loser,” he chanted. “Imbecile. Idiot.”

Alaska seemed far enough away to be safe.

So far, the worst the Dark Caster had managed since Derek’s escape was the big-mouthed ghost clinging to the inside of the truck.

Derek cranked the engine and steered away from the lake at a leisurely five miles an hour. Driving was something he had only re-learned since he’d been in Alaska. With the way Bo drank, it was a necessity.

Derek drove slow. Probably too slow. He remembered, vaguely, driving his former sports car fast on long, lonely stretches of highway, taking turns at warp speed and weaving recklessly through freeway traffic. Not anymore. Now, he was worse than an old woman. He didn’t drive the speed limit. He drove under it. When Bo teased him about it, which Bo loved to do at all times about all things, Derek blamed it on the rain and snow, but it honestly had little to do with weather conditions.

Just one more thing Holden Clark had stolen from him.

He parked in front of the town’s shopping center, bypassing a hardware store, a smoke-filled tavern, and the post office to pull open the heavy glass doors of a grocery store. Derek selected a twelve-pack of cheap, cold beer from the refrigerator case in the rear of the shop, and when he spun around, he came face-to-face with the eighteen-year-old checkout girl.

“Hi, Derek,” she said, grinning brightly.

It was too cold, too quiet, and too depressing to be so happy.

“Hello,” he returned, veering around her.

“Going fishing again?” she asked, trailing him down the baked-goods aisle.

“Bo is.” Derek didn’t fish. He’d never learned and didn’t see the point.

“I love to fish,” she exclaimed, scampering behind the register as he set the beer on the counter. “I’ll teach you how. I mean, if you don’t know how. Do you know how?”

While he rearranged possible responses in his mind, he studied the girl. Lea, read her nametag. She was young and dewy, and he envied the ease with which she spit out words, but something was missing. There was no light in her. An overabundance of enthusiasm, but no inner glow.

The thought of touching her in any way, let alone kissing her, made him slightly queasy. Definitely uncomfortable. And not in a good way.

“No, thanks,” he said, the same as every other time Lea had invited him somewhere.

Her face fell. “Oh. Yeah. Some other time.”

He paid for the beer with Bo’s credit card and turned to leave.

“You’re gay, right?” Lea called after him. “That’s it. You only like boys?”

He lowered his eyes and exited fast, tossing the beer in the cab of the pick-up.

Derek had been called worse in his life. It hardly bothered him anymore. He knew what kind of person attracted him. At least, he used to know. Since Holden’s spell, it was hard to say what turned him on anymore because nothing did.

He just wasn’t interested in being tangled up in someone else’s life. Or worse, someone tangling up in his. Because his was a twisted disaster of epic proportions.

To prove it, as if Derek held any doubts, his least favorite ghost appeared in the seat beside him.

“Worthless,” he repeated, making his voice purposefully ominous. “Worthless…worthless…worthless…”

Arriving at the lake a bit distracted, Derek stomped around thick-trunked trees toward Bo and Stubby’s camp chairs and silently arranged the twelve-pack in their cooler.

“Thanks, my friend,” Bo exclaimed. “Come pick us up later.”

“I will.” Until then, Derek would be working on his cabin. Struggling, he finally spit out, “Text me if you need anything.”

Once Bo and Stubby started drinking, though, they’d be arguing good-naturedly and downing cold beers for hours. Derek would have the rest of the day to himself.

“…just kill yourself already…you spineless worm… The Dark Caster’s spirit trailed him toward the truck. “…cut your own throat, and I’ll laugh while you die…”

Or maybe not.

* * *

Jessa McAvoy glanced from the weather report on her computer monitor to the beautifully embossed, rose-colored invitation in her lap.

Mr. Holden Clark and Ms. Rebecca Powell request the pleasure of your company…

Rebecca was getting married—Jessa double-checked the date—in almost three weeks.

She wasn’t sure how she felt about it. Conflicted, definitely. She was happy for Rebecca, but at the same time it made Jessa feel like she was stuck in neutral while everyone around her raced off to new and exciting destinations.

Though there was one bright spot on her horizon. Two days earlier Carly Pritcher had hired her, verbally, to be her real estate agent. So long as her boss allowed it, Jessa was on the verge of cutting the apron strings.

“Jessa?” Speak of the devil. Ryan Rohmer emerged from his office.

“Yes?” She crammed the invitation back into its drawer.

“Pull up the phase-two forms and personalize them. Here’s the info.” He slapped a pink post-it to the door beside his head. “And I smell coffee. Can you bring me an extra large? Two sugars. Thanks.”

The sticky note lost its purchase and fluttered to the carpet.

Jessa exhaled weakly as the note swooped through the air. This wasn’t her dream. Not by a long shot. As she crossed the room to collect the slip of paper, she knew she couldn’t stay with Ryan for much longer or risk being his junior agent forever.

Jessa hated her job. No, hate wasn’t a strong enough word. Loathed maybe. She’d spent a long time as Rebecca Powell’s junior agent. When Rebecca quit the real estate game, Jessa had taken a new job with Ryan Rohmer, assuming she’d be an agent of her own. But no. She was still a junior agent, just for a different person. She hated it. Loathed it.

Jessa was a good Realtor. She should have her own business, run her own shop, be master of her own destiny. Instead, she was fetching coffee, delivering paperwork to clients, and answering Ryan’s email as if she were his assistant, not his partner. Like she was Derek Walker, Rebecca’s former assistant.

There was someone Jessa worried about a lot. She hadn’t heard from in him months, not since he had up and disappeared. Hadn’t even said good-bye.

“I don’t know why you’re sighing all dramatically,” Karen snarked from her nearby cubicle. “I work my ass off day and night for leads and you and I make the same paycheck.” She curled her upper lip. “I’d count my blessings is all I’m saying.”

“It’s not about the money,” Jessa retorted.

But Karen ducked her head over her keyboard as if she hadn’t heard.

The money made no difference at all. Yes, Ryan paid Jessa a percentage of every commission he earned while she assisted him, but she didn’t want to be an agent for the money. The chase excited Jessa. Schmoozing clients. Running down leads. Closing deals. That’s what she craved. The thrill of the hunt.

Not filling out forms and pouring coffee.

She emptied two sugar packets into an oversized mug.

“Here you go, Ryan,” she said, handing him the steaming drink through his office door.

“Mmm.” He accepted it, smiling gratefully. “Just what I needed. Thank you.”

He sipped, nodded, and returned to his computer monitor, essentially dismissing her. But she had something to tell him, and if she didn’t spit it out soon she may never say it.

Having an actual client in her back pocket gave her courage. “I didn’t get my Realtor license,” she began, “to be a junior agent my whole life.”

Ryan’s fingers stilled on the keyboard. “Are you unhappy with your job here?”

Yes. “I want to close my own deals, and every lead I’ve had in the past few months you’ve taken out from under me.”

His eyebrows collided. “That’s the contract you signed. You assist me in finding clients, you help me keep those clients happy, and if I close a deal you earn twenty percent of my commission. There are lots of people who would love to do what you’re doing.”

“I guess I’m not lots of people,” she said. But when he gave her a wounded frown, she rushed to add, “I’m thankful for my job. All I’m asking for is a couple clients of my own.”

“Are you ready to be cut loose?” he returned. “Because I can’t use you if you’re distracted with your own clients. I need you available to me twenty-four seven. So, this is what we’ll do.” He steepled his arms on the desk and stared disdainfully at her. “You continue working as my junior agent, but if you actually find a serious client and close the deal, I’ll let you out of your current employment contract and then you can be a free agent in my office.”

Jessa exhaled. “Thank you. I’ll take it.”

“Okay.” He refocused on his monitor. “But until then, I need those phase-two forms and then track down someone—anyone—who’ll approve the Jones’ for a half a million dollar home loan. Thanks.”

She returned to her cubicle and scrolled through her business contacts list. In the past month, she’d either left voicemails or spoken personally to each and every person, hoping to sniff out leads. Sometimes finding a client was about being in front of them at the right time. Today, she was beginning callbacks. Just to check in and chat.

She dialed her former neighbor, Carly Pritcher, but the call went to voicemail. “Hi, Carly,” she greeted brightly. “I hope you’re doing well. Did those tomatoes ever come in the way you wanted? If so, let me know. I’d love to swing by the old neighborhood and buy a couple. And while I’m there, we can talk about properties.”

She said good-bye, and her hand hovered over her phone to dial a different number when it buzzed with an incoming call.

“Good morning. Jessa McAvoy with Ryan Rohmer Real Estate. How can I help you?”

“This is Anastasia,” greeted a brusque female. “Please hold for the mayor.”

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Spell of Summoning (Dark Caster #1)

Written by Anna Abner

Copyright 2013 by Anna Abner

Or, Enjoy A Sneak Peek At Chapter One Of Spell Of Summoning

Cover Blurb

Holden Clark walks into Rebecca Powell’s life, a tall, blue-eyed stranger who stirs long forgotten desires. But nothing, including this man, is what it seems. A dark necromancer is targeting Becca for a full-blown demonic possession. She is thrust into a world she never knew existed—a world where dark casters create chaos and necromancers talk to the dead.

Holden has no faith in his power. A necromancer, he communicates with the dead, but he has never embraced his gifts. Now, he has no choice. He must stop the dark caster attacking Rebecca, but accepting this mission means he’ll be delving into dangerous magics he’s never used before.

Under the protection of the damaged and mysterious Holden, Rebecca will question everything …

Chapter One

April in North Carolina didn’t have the sticky heat that would settle over the state during the summer months, but it was warm. Sweat tickled at the back of Holden Clark’s neck. But not because of the weather. He’d lied to a woman to get her here.

Well, lie was a strong word. He’d rather say he’d persuaded a woman to join him for lunch under false pretenses. Because he wasn’t a liar. In fact, he prided himself on his honesty.

But he couldn’t think of any other way to get Rebecca Powell to meet him here. Telling her the truth over the phone was out of the question.

Buster, Holden’s yellow Labrador, sat up off the asphalt and whined at an approaching, slow-moving vehicle. This must be her.

A silver Lexus pulled over and parked two spots down in the half-empty lot, giving Holden plenty of room to watch Rebecca Powell through her car windows. Grams was right. No doubt about it, the woman was under a summoning spell, and the demon trying desperately to break into their world clung to Ms. Powell’s blonde hair and narrow shoulders like a filthy veil.

“Tell her whatever you have to,” Grams said, rounding the hood of his stripped-down 1979 Jeep. “She doesn’t have much time.”

He leaned against the passenger door, his fingers tightening to the point of pain around Buster’s long, braided leash. The air between him and Rebecca crackled with magical energy. The spell on her was no amateurish accident. It was stronger than anything he’d ever experienced. Fear coiled inside him. He couldn’t help her. No matter what his Grams said.

With a flip of her hair, Rebecca rose from her car and smiled that big Realtor smile. She looked just like her photo on her website. Pretty, brown-eyed, and about his age, twenty-eight or twenty-nine. She wore her business attire—curled hair, expensive jewelry, short skirt, and heels—like battle armor. It all pronounced her professional, but friendly. Smart, but feminine. A tough southern girl.

Buster’s ears perked up. Holden dug in his heels, but Buster was eighty-five pounds of overgrown puppy. He launched himself at Rebecca full force, as if he had springs for feet. The leash jerked out of Holden’s hand, and before he could stop him, his dog scratched both her knees, untucked her white blouse, and slammed her against her car. It was Buster’s version of a polite “How do you do? Is that a demon over your shoulder?”

“Good Lord,” she squealed.

“Buster, no!” Holden wrapped both arms around the dog and lifted him clear off the ground to stop the assault. “Not cool,” he grumbled, setting the dog in the Jeep. He secured his leash to the steering wheel, giving him only enough slack to lie down.

“I’m so sorry,” Holden said, turning to Miss Powell. “He wouldn’t hurt you. He wants to smell—” He almost said the demon. “—you.”

Rebecca straightened her light blue skirt, one hand on the car for balance, and smiled, the perfect agent even with dog slobber on her arms.

“He sure is friendly.”

She closed the distance between them and the air sizzled. She extended her hand for a shake, but her knees wobbled. The magic written all over her must be taking a toll. She listed to the side.

Holden leapt to catch her before she fell, accepting the brunt of her weight against his chest. She was small and light as a bird, and she smelled like fruit and flowers and something even more delicious underneath.

At her touch, a slice of him long frozen roared back to life. It had been so long since he’d felt anything near to desire that he didn’t immediately recognize the sensation.

“Excuse me,” she chirped, wrestling free. “I got light-headed for a sec. I’ve been having migraines.”

“No problem.” Holden brushed himself off, uncomfortable with so much physical contact. It had been months since he’d been this close to a woman. And he’d never been this close to a demon.

“I’m so embarrassed.” Rebecca wiped at the worst of the dirt streaks on her skirt.

Blood bubbled up from a scratch above her knee. Holden pulled a mechanic’s rag, the closest thing to a Band-Aid in the Jeep, from his glove box and offered it to her. If only he owned a first aid kit like a normal person.

“I’m sorry,” he said again.

“No, thanks.” She waved away his rag and handed him a fancy business card with her photo on it. The spell on her crackled, passing him a minor electrical shock. She must have felt it, too, because she snatched her hand back.

“Mr. Clark,” she said, “let’s get down to business. You said you wanted to sell your house, but you had some questions?”

Right. His cover story. He’d called and offered her a job, insisting on meeting her here at this strip mall for a lunch date at a little Mexican restaurant. But he had no intention of selling the farmhouse he’d inherited from his grandparents. The ruse was the simplest way to get her to The Repository, a store that shared the same shopping center.

“Uh. Yeah.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Did you change your mind? Because I’m not feeling very well all of a sudden. I could reschedule.” She produced a cell phone and tapped on it. “To be honest, I’m not taking any new clients right now. My associate, Jessa, though…”

Grams appeared at his elbow. “Don’t even think about it, bubba.”

How did she know he was half a second from accepting the out?

“I can’t,” he mouthed. “It’s worse than I thought.”

Rebecca glanced up. “Sorry?” Her smile faltered.

He’d promised Grams to help Rebecca. He’d actually said the words. But if Rebecca refused his help, it wasn’t his fault.

Might as well come clean. “The spell on you. It’s worse than I thought.”

She cocked her head, a strand of honey-blonde hair sliding along her collar. “What did you say?”

Buster whined and strained at his leash, rocking the Jeep.

“The possession spell,” Holden said. “The demon.”

For a moment she didn’t react. Then, very calmly, she put away her phone and said, “I understand.” She straightened her shoulders and seemed to grow another three inches, though even in her towering heels she remained half a foot shorter than him.

“Good to meet you,” she said in a steely tone. “Have a nice day.”

Her first instinct was to dismiss anything to do with the supernatural, but he didn’t have the luxury of denial. His whole life was one big supernatural tragedy.

Grams adamantly shook her head at him. She’d given him an ultimatum. Stop the demon from breaking through to their world, or she was leaving. For good.

Last try, and then Grams would have to accept he’d done all he could.

Holden grabbed Rebecca by the wrist, stalling her. “Don’t you know someone is trying to possess you with a demon?”

* * *

Fear flashed through Rebecca, momentarily obliterating the constant headache and the pain in her thighs from his devil dog. The man whose arms she’d nearly fainted into was another lunatic. The third psychic in the last month. That must be some kind of record.

But Holden didn’t look like a Ouija-loving madman. First off, he showed up to a business lunch in jeans and a T-shirt. He was tall. And young, about her age. And way too handsome.

The fear morphed into anger, granting her strength. She locked eyes with his very, very blue ones. Quite distracting eyes, actually.

“Let me go. Now.” She stared him down, willing him to release her without any further fuss.

“Hear me out.”

“I don’t think so.” Becca palmed her cell with her free hand, her thumb poised to hit send on a 911 call.

Holden stepped so close she caught his freshly laundered scent, but Rebecca held her ground.

“Have you been seeing things? Having headaches? Does it seem like a haunting, except it’s only around you?”

Did he read minds? Yes, yes, and double yes. She dropped her cell phone into her purse. “My father hired you.”

“No.”

“Then how—?” Becca blinked and couldn’t stop.

She’d hoped today’s migraine was food poisoning from the Chinese take-out she’d shared with her staff at lunch, but she’d been suffering headaches for weeks. And the other unexplained phenomena surrounding her had nothing to do with MSG or bad bean sprouts.

The pain at the back of her skull receded, but for a minute there—the one during which she’d fallen into this guy’s arms—she’d feared she was having a stroke. Maybe she had.

Holden’s voice lowered. “I can see the summoning spell all over you.”

“You cannot be serious.” Nothing in Becca’s life, not her realty courses or the motivational seminars or the “Double Your Sales” DVDs she’d watched last week, had prepared her for this nonsense.

She forced a smile, wishing she had her sister beside her to roll her eyes for. They would jostle each other and giggle and reinforce the absurdity of all this. Because there were no such things as demons or spells or magic or any of it. That was summer movie, cable TV bullshit that didn’t translate to the real world.

Except she wasn’t so sure anymore. She’d seen so much.

Holden frowned, his gaze crisscrossing her face. “Am I wrong?”

“That’s private.” She pointed at her car. “I have a lot of work to do.” That wasn’t true. Not completely. She owned her own office. She made her own schedule.

He looked her right in the eye and leaned in even closer. Way too close. Kissing range close. “A necromancer is targeting you for a full-blown demonic possession. I can help you, if you let me.”

Becca swallowed, overwhelmed with the urge to retreat. His body heat rolled over her like a wave. “What do you—”

“I know what’s happening because I’m a necromancer, too.”

She froze, not sure whether to laugh or get her phone back out and press send on that call. “You’re joking.”

He freed her, leaving her reeling.

“I was trying to—” Holden shook his head. “Forget it. I’ll see what I can do.” He tilted his ear toward his vehicle as if he heard something.

Buster popped his scruffy blond head over the passenger door and rested his chin on the sill, but nothing else about the decades old Jeep drew her attention. And she didn’t hear a thing.

“What are you going to do?” Becca disliked the idea of Holden Clark investigating her personal life behind her back. “What do you mean?”

“There’s a guy in the store over there.”

She glanced at the row of shops. “What guy?”

Holden eased farther away. “I’ll let you know what I find.”

“Whoa,” she said, following him. “You’re not going over there to talk to some guy about my personal business.”

“Then come with me.”

Her logical mind urged her to get as far away from Holden Clark as possible. And fast. She’d taken a self-defense class. Distance and crowds were two important assets. Right now, she had neither.

But what if he wasn’t a lunatic? What if he was right?

She was already here, and she had nothing to do the rest of the day but sit in her mostly boxed-up office or go home to her too-small apartment, the second one she’d moved into in the last three months, and eat alone.

Then he went in for the kill, aiming the full strength of those blue eyes on her. “There’s a summoning spell on you. I want to get rid of it.”

“Not possible.”

But Becca couldn’t lie to herself. Some too-weird-to-be-believed shit had been going on for a while. It was the reason she lived in a tiny, slightly toxic-smelling one-bedroom apartment instead of her real house on River Road. This wasn’t all make-believe. Those chairs hadn’t moved themselves.

“Without help it’s only going to get worse.”

Worse wasn’t an option. Worse was stroking out during her morning commute. She couldn’t do worse.

“Does this guy have a name?” she asked.

Holden cracked a small, approving smile, and his features softened. She was struck, again, by how handsome he was.

“Cole Burkov. He has experience with dark magic.”

“Is he a friend of yours?” she asked.

“Sort of. But the point is he knows a lot about spells.”

Becca bit her lip and then went with it because not only was her schedule flexible for the first time in ten years, but if her issues weren’t supernatural, then it was CAT scan and blood work time. The very real possibility that she was suffering from a brain tumor was always sitting there in the back of her mind, terrifying the living daylights out of her. And she’d much rather deal with a pesky spirit than chemotherapy.

“Fine. You got me here. Let’s see what he has to say.”

Because, yeah, Mr. Clark was probably a head case, but how else to explain the headaches, the nightmares, and the electricity glitches?

She glanced at the fluorescent lamp pole arcing above their heads, but it held steady. No light shows today, then.

Holden secured his dog, and Rebecca pulled an off-white cardigan from her trunk. It would cover the gritty paw marks on her clothes. As she pushed her arms through the long sleeves, she made a promise. Five minutes with Cole Burkov, and then she’d return to her office. That was long enough to decide whether Holden was on to something or a frustrating waste of time.

Of the two other psychics that had tracked Becca down at work, neither had mentioned a necro-whatever or a demonic possession. Their conversations had run more toward blocked chakras, sage smudging, and EMFs. They’d been equally earnest in their conversations and only slightly more ridiculous. And each had brought up forms of payment in nearly the same breath as “Hello, nice to meet you.” At least Mr. Clark wasn’t asking for money. Yet.

Holden got his dog out of the Jeep, a stronger grip on the leash this time, she hoped, and gestured for her to proceed.

She faced the storefronts. Not exactly voodoo country. Where were the Spanish moss and rolling fog?

“So,” she said, “which is the collection of dark and unknowable magics—the fast food Mexican place or the ice cream parlor/arcade?”

He eyed the row of family-friendly establishments. “It’s the comic book shop.”

The dog surged toward Rebecca, straining at his leash and dancing up on his hind legs. He was obviously biding his time until he could jump all over her. She gave him a look that said, “Try it, and I’ll hobble you.”

“Who’s your fine young gentleman?” Rebecca asked.

“Buster. I hope you don’t mind, but he doesn’t like being alone.”

Mind? “Of course not.” She grabbed her bag, locked the car, and marched ahead in her heels and turquoise pencil skirt, her cardigan hiding most of Buster’s little gifts.

Holden led the unrepentant Lab across the parking lot, keeping barely enough space between them to prevent further assault. The dog couldn’t belong to anyone but Holden. Neither one had a clue about personal space.

“What is a necromancer?” Becca asked, quickly outpaced by Holden’s long strides.

He paused on the sidewalk for her to catch up. “I see spirits. Deceased persons.”

“You see dead people.” She fought a smile. “You’re obviously a movie fan. So, is that like a magician?”

“I’m not sure magician is the right word.”

He settled Buster in a shady spot under the store’s front windows and poured water from a bottle into a stainless steel bowl. The little devil tilted its head up and stared at Holden with an expression of pure adoration before belly flopping on the warm concrete. His tail thumped twice, and then he fell asleep.

“You’re good with him.” It wasn’t right to be jealous of a well-cared-for animal. Becca looked after others, but there wasn’t a single person who took care of her. Not her sister, not her dad, and her mother didn’t count. If she had time for a boyfriend, maybe he would, but she didn’t, and there was no point in dwelling on all the reasons why she didn’t.

Holden pulled open the shop’s glass door and held it for her.

Tall wall-to-wall shelves ringed the interior of the store, which smelled like books and Mexican food. Three men played a dice and card game at a table in the corner, a teenage girl flipped through back issues, and a twenty-something guy stood at the cash register, his nametag pinned to his dark blue polo.

“We have to go,” Becca whispered. “They don’t have magic. They’re role playing.”

Holden grunted.

A dark-haired young man wearing a company shirt stared hard at her and then headed right for them. “Freaky. It’s like you have your own personal storm cloud. Demonic possession?”

Holden had probably called this guy on the drive over and prepped him for their little con game if that’s what this was. And there was a good chance that’s what it was.

“Rebecca Powell.” She extended her hand for a quick shake, reflexively passing him her card.

“Sure.” He frowned at Holden. “Let’s talk in the back room.”

“And your name is?” she called after them. No answer.

Damn them. She knocked her knuckles on a glass case dedicated to Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. The stake-wielding blonde glared up at her from the cover of a glossy graphic novel.

This was a mistake.

Becca checked her watch. Three minutes down. Two to go.

Quiet conversation in the store picked up again. She didn’t mind being the center of attention—her job encouraged it—but this didn’t feel right.

“Hi.” The cashier stepped into her periphery. His nametag read Justin.

“Hello.” Smiling sweetly, she handed him her card. “Rebecca Powell. Nice to meet you.”

He traded her a plastic-encased comic book. Leaning in, he whispered, “You’re welcome.” He stared meaningfully at the book and then wandered to the checkout area.

She glanced at the comic in her hands. A group of teenagers under the Statue of Liberty raced across the front cover of Runaways.

Time’s up.

She set the book on a shelf and marched for the closed door marked Private—No Exit. Nobody tried to stop her, and she let herself in. Groups of used candles, posters of big-breasted superheroines, and crates of comic books surrounded Cole and Holden. No ancient tomes or long wands in sight.

Becca crossed the threshold, and her ears buzzed. The air hummed as if she were standing beside an electrified fence.

Cole stopped talking midsentence, and both men stared at her.

The lightning storm in her brain intensified, worse than ever before, and her instincts screamed at her to escape.

The shelf beside her rattled.

Rebecca pasted on a smile, cloaking herself in professionalism. “What have you come up with?”

“Go back into the store,” Holden snapped, a twinge of panic in his voice.

Just what were they doing in here?

She stepped into the room. And the whole building shook.

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Spellspeaker’s Prophecy (Beasts of Vegas #2)

Read the first chapter in the second installment of the Beasts of Vegas series.

Spellspeaker’s Prophecy (Beasts of Vegas #2)

Written by Anna Abner

Copyright 2018 Anna Abner

Cover blurb:

Roz Carrera is a witch on the fritz. Thanks to the Coven’s rejection of her application for membership, she’s been denied a proper magical education. Without a mentor, she’s nearly useless in helping her team of vampire hunters. Complicating matters is the hulking shapeshifter she stumbles upon outside Las Vegas who may or may not be a vicious psychopath.

The only creatures shapeshifter Lukas Larsson hates more than vampires are witches. He’s in the Nevada desert to destroy the vampires who murdered his family, but the witch Roz Carrera and her ragtag team sideline him. He can’t allow the very sexy Roz to distract him from his vengeance.

Chapter One

Roz Carrera calculated the chances that the bonfire in the distance was a positive occurrence. Considering the number of vampires in the area, the lateness of the hour, and the sheer size of the flames, the odds weren’t great it was anything other than a clusterfuck.

Connor Beckett leaned forward in the passenger seat. “Trouble ahead,” he said softly, his voice nearly fading under the roar of their modified F-350’s engine. “Ease up, Roz.”

She decelerated slowly. In the darkness, the orange and red flames shone like napalm. Shapes and shadowy figures danced around the fire. When she cranked down her window, an animal—a big one—roared in some cross between rage and pain.

“Vampires?” she questioned, catching Connor’s eye across the bouncy truck seat while his girlfriend Ali Rusenko fidgeted between them.

“I can only hope.” He gave Roz a look that said—keep your guard up. It had been days since they’d even seen an infected. Too long, considering their mission’s sole objective was to find and capture them.

Signs of modern civilization were sparse this far out in rural Nevada. It was the only light for miles. The only village for miles. Nothing but acres and acres of desert, rocky hills, and sagebrush. And anybody who lived anywhere within sight appeared to be circling the bonfire.

“Let’s move real slow on this one,” Connor said. Once she parked the truck a hundred feet from the fire, Connor cracked open his door. “Roz, keep everyone calm until we figure out what’s going on.” He shoved a .44 down the waistband of his jeans and handed a smaller .38 Ruger to Ali. “If anyone breaks away and comes at you—shoot. Don’t hesitate.”

“I’m not shooting anyone.” Ali didn’t even glance at the weapon.

“Just in case.” He forced it into her hands.

Rolling her eyes at the dramatic twosome, Roz stepped out of the truck in form-hugging leggings, flip flops, and a crop top. Connor tossed her a handgun over the hood and she caught it, checked the clip, and flipped the safety off. She rolled her shoulders. Ready.

They approached the fire together.

“The poor thing,” Ali whispered.

To the east of the fire, a full-grown bear writhed on a set of chains, strung between two mobile homes. Roz wasn’t great with species—black, brown, polar, grizzly—but she recognized a bear when she saw one.

Roz would rather have skedaddled, but Ali moved forward. And where Ali went, Connor followed.

And just so Connor didn’t think he was too special, barking orders, Roz said, “Connor, flex your muscles. If one of those freaks makes a run for it I expect you to throw a car at him.”

“Ha, ha. Now get to the magic.”

Except Roz was a witch on the fritz and had been for weeks. The thought of calling her power already had her pulse picking up and her blood pressure spiking. She was so tired of failing, and yet she couldn’t figure out how to succeed.

“I don’t want to leave the bear here to be tortured and killed.” Ali laid a hand on Connor’s sleeve. Though Roz couldn’t see her, she figured the girl was giving Connor her big, sparkly blue eyes. Fucking bleeding hearts. What were they gonna do with a super pissed off bear? They lived in a hotel for crying out loud.

“This isn’t our business,” Roz reminded them both. “I vote for backing out of here. We’re supposed to be hunting vampires, remember? This is local stuff.”

“She’s right,” Connor said, flicking his gaze from the crowd to Ali. “Let’s go.”

“We can’t leave it here to be tortured,” Ali hissed. “You know what they’ll do to it.”

“It’s none of our business,” he hissed back. “Vampires, remember? Not bears.”

“We could put it in the back of the truck,” Ali continued, still staring with moon eyes at Connor. “We’ll set it free in the mountains. It’s the right thing to do.”

Normally, Roz would be in step with Connor, but she wanted to piss him off. She was still stinging from being replaced as the sole female in their group. Oh, how easily she’d been replaced.

Roz sort of hated them right now, their love and their to-the-death loyalty and the happiness in their eyes, and their secret glances, and the passion sparking between them. Because it had been a long time since anyone had looked at her that way.

If Connor wanted to leave, then suddenly Roz felt like staying. “Not that you asked,” she said, shouldering her way between them. “But I say we rescue the bear.”

“Fine,” he snapped. “We’ll rescue the bear.”

Connor sighed as if this was a huge imposition, but Roz saw the sparkle in his eyes. He loved the hunt, whatever the prey. He was itching for a fight. They all were. The last vampire they’d encountered had fought so hard against being captured, they’d killed it by accident. Strange. Cause back in the day they’d have killed it on purpose. But since Ali arrived and changed everything, now they had a no killing policy when it came to the infected.

“But let’s do this quick,” Connor said. “No blood shed. Especially ours.”

“Deal,” Ali said.

A small group of fire enthusiasts broke away from the group and ambled nearer.

Roz took a deep, calming breath and centered her thoughts. “Blessed is my power,” she whispered, breathing in through her nose. “I call upon thee.”

Nothing sparked. No invisible wind, no whirling particles, no zing under her skin.

A barrel-chested older man raised a can of beer and burped hello. “You all tourists?” he asked in the same tone she’d ask a person, You all child molesters?

Connor may have been impersonating a Roman statue, but Roz knew inside he was a jumpy mess. He was calculating. Using his senses. Running plays. Only rarely did anyone get the upper hand on her best friend. He was a freaking warrior.

“Not exactly,” Roz answered. “What’s with the animal?”

“Last night, three people were torn apart in their trailer.” He slurped beer, and then shrugged. “We put out bear traps, and lookie what stepped in one. Must’a escaped from the zoo.”

Under her breath, Roz called her power again. A whisper of magic tickled the tips of her fingers. There was something there in reserves, and she teased it out.

“What are you going to do with it?” Ali asked the man.

“Can’t you see the BBQ we set up?” He guffawed as the bonfire flared over his shoulder.

Right on cue, the animal in question roared an inhuman scream of pure rage with an underlying note of pain. Roz may play the tough girl on a regular basis, but that sound plucked a heartstring. They were going to do horrible things to the beast because it had chosen the wrong food source.

“Join us,” the man said. “There’s plenty for everyone.”

Roz couldn’t imagine how these drunk idiots had wrapped a chain tight around the bear’s throat and trapped it between two mobile homes, but she guessed the steel bear trap eating its left hind leg had something to do with it. Another heartstring twanged.

The beast’s hide shone with blood. Its leg was torn up and broken, and patches of fur were missing.

She disliked frontier justice.

Connor gathered both women into a huddle a few feet away. “Roz, when I signal you, put the bear to sleep. And, Ali, for God’s sake, keep your hand on your weapon.”

They turned back toward the mob circling the fire. “We can take care of your bear problem,” Connor said. “We’ll buy it off you and haul it away.”

This announcement was met with general irritation from the crowd.

Roz pushed her power up and out. “Stay calm,” she hissed, over and over, a never-ending stream of words. So long as she kept speaking, her spell would hold. Perspiration beaded between her breasts and under her arms.

She whispered under her breath, her lips barely parting at all. Knowing in a few minutes, she’d have to throw up a sleeping spell on the bear on top of the calming spell she was currently sweating through. Not that Connor ever considered her power’s parameters. Connor thought it was a piece of cake speaking complex emotional spells, making people do things they didn’t want to do. She wasn’t a machine, goddamn it. She was barely a witch at all, let alone a first class spellspeaker with the ability to alter the world.

“You have enough to do, burying your dead. Let us pay you for the bear.” Under his breath, Connor said, “Roz, get out the money. Hundreds should do it. And put the bear to sleep.”

Sure, sure. Keep the crowd calm, force an enraged animal to close its little peepers, convince a grown man scraps of paper were hundred dollar bills, and anything else that came to mind. No problem.

Her fingers and lips tingled with the power swimming through her.

“Calm, calm, stay calm, go to sleep.” She repeated the spell, her lips working in fast-forward. Her breath hissed between her teeth, the words all running together. Without stuttering a syllable, she pulled three hundred dollars from her pocket. Connor didn’t need to know it was real cash, not magicked money. There was only so much she could do.

Roz hated passing off newspaper as bills, when she could actually juice up her magic to perform the spell. Those were the places she could never go back to. She was giving witches a bad reputation. Not that she cared what the Coven thought of her. Those prissy, holier-than-thou bitches could all roast.

Especially after their latest bullshit. Last week, an envelope had arrived at their suite at the Le Sort Hotel addressed to #Roslyn Carrera. Inside was a cease-and-desist letter from the Coven demanding she stop performing unauthorized magic.

As if.

In the distance, the bear quieted. Roz pushed harder, speaking faster, focusing all her energy on the sleep spell. The beast roared once and sat down, its head, shoulders and chest hanging from the chains. If they weren’t careful, the thing would choke to death before they rescued it. She refocused on the trailer park crowd.

“Holy…”

Roz’s head snapped up. What? Which spell had faded? Who were they coming after first?

She froze.

“No way,” she breathed, her spells forgotten.

The bear wasn’t a bear at all. He was a shifter. A supernatural freak, just like her. And asleep, his conscious mind gave up control and he shifted back to his natural form.

The bear was gone, vanished, and in its place, still strung up between two rusted mobile homes with chains, was a man. A bleeding, unconscious, naked man.

Oops.

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Shopgirl’s Prophecy (Beasts of Vegas #1)

Read The First Chapter Of My Latest Series (More Coming In 2018)!

The Shopgirl’s Prophecy (Beasts of Vegas #1)

Written by Anna Abner

Copyright Anna Abner 2016

Cover Blurb:

Sexy shifters, tortured vampires, and powerful witches fight the evil horde on the Las Vegas Strip…

Ali Rusenko has dangerous secrets she keeps close to her heart. In search of the truth of her past on the glittery Las Vegas Strip, Ali discovers vampires aren’t the most hospitable creatures. If it weren’t for sexy vampire hunter Connor Beckett, she’d be dinner.

Connor rescues Ali, but they just can’t shake the vampires trailing her. Unfortunately, Connor knows exactly how the creatures feel. He can’t let the beautiful stray go, either, because she awakens a part of him he thought would be denied forever. But if Connor’s going to have a real chance to defeat the horde leader, he can’t allow Ali to leave the country without discovering the one secret she refuses to reveal.

Chapter One

“Get down,” Roz hissed, yanking on Connor’s black jacket. A spotlight swept over their heads, and he tasted dry earth as he flattened onto the sand.

“That was too close,” Roz complained.

They skittered like cockroaches across the ground, avoiding a parked Humvee, and staying out of the guards’ eye line. The things they couldn’t avoid at the secret army facility in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Nevada were surveillance cameras on every wall and post. Hence, the need for speed and an electro-magnetic pulse device the size of a suitcase strapped to Connor’s back. If they were caught breaking into Oleksander the Destroyer’s prison, they’d never see daylight again. Sort of the way Oleksander had been in the dark of an army cell for the past twenty years.

Connor Beckett hadn’t known six months ago—a lackluster engineering student at the University of Chicago—that the Seer Ilvane would write down his name and forever link him with the end of the human race.

Connor from Cleveland will release the Destroyer and trigger the apocalypse.

There wasn’t any way to fix the prophecy and save the world except to kill the vampire lord.

“Push the button,” Connor said, nodding at the EMP. Thank the fates for Anton and Natasha, their very generous benefactors from New Zealand and their high-tech toys.

“Pushing the button.” Roz activated the device, and every electric light on the base, hopefully the cameras and security doors too, blinked off. “Now,” she ordered. “Move.”

Light on the balls of his feet, Connor ran for building 2A, which he knew from poring over satellite photos of the installation, was where the army kept the vampires. He hunched over the card reader controlling the prison’s heavy-duty outer door, sweat rolling down the back of his neck. “Please,” he breathed. A single second delay while they stood like a couple of sore thumbs at the gateway to a vampire’s cell on a secret military base could ruin everything.

He hoped for the best and yanked. The immense door swung open on soundless hinges.

“I was only fifty percent sure the EMP was going to work,” Roz admitted as she followed him inside and sealed the door.

There wasn’t supposed to be a guard on duty at two-thirty in the morning. Except there was.

“What the hell?” complained the unlucky soldier.

Engineering classes hadn’t prepared Connor for this situation. He’d psyched himself up for killing the Destroyer, not innocent bystanders. The soldier glaring at him carried a gun on his hip, and he probably knew how to use it better than Connor could operate the high-tech gear his New Zealand backers had sent.

“Both of you get on the floor. Now.” The man pulled his weapon, but he didn’t call for back up. Connor needed it to stay that way.

“Whoa,” Connor exclaimed, his mind coming back online. He stepped in front of Roz as she followed his lead and held up both hands. “I just want to see the vampire. Don’t shoot me. Jesus!” He cracked a goofy smile.

“Yeah,” Roz parroted. “This idiot promised me we wouldn’t get in trouble.”

“Stay where you are.” The soldier wasn’t buying it. “I’m calling my sergeant.”

Plan C. Or was it D? “Sleep spell?” Connor whispered to Roz out of the corner of his mouth.

“Blessed is my power. I call upon thee.” Roz produced a tiny windstorm that pushed and pulled at her dark clothes. “Sleep, sleep, sleep…”

The guard blinked at Connor in bewilderment before his knees buckled and he crashed to the floor, fast asleep.

“Oh, crap.” Roz said, picking up the soldier’s fallen handgun. “I was only about twenty percent sure I could do that.”

“That’s twice as confident as I was,” Connor admitted, relieved he didn’t have to hurt anyone human. With no magic or supernatural abilities of his own, having a witch as a friend had its perks.

Her windstorm died down. “We gotta hurry. My spell won’t last more than a few minutes.”

Satisfied the guard was out cold, Connor turned his full attention on the pair of cell doors at the far side of the room. Each one had a monitor above it, and under each monitor was a name plaque. The first read: Maksim Volk, vampire lieutenant. The second read: Oleksander the Destroyer, vampire lord. But someone had scratched out lord and written douchebag in permanent marker.

“Grenade,” Connor said, holding out one hand. His voice didn’t even waiver, which was weird considering how terrified he was on the inside.

A cold, egg-shaped bomb landed in his palm. Connor opened the sliding hatch in the cell meant for exchanging food and correspondence and peered inside. Volk lay on a cot with his back to the door wearing an unadorned orange jumpsuit. Connor pulled the pin from the grenade and tossed it into the cell. He watched through the slit as the grenade went off, so loud Connor jumped back from the door. Through the smoke, Volk was suddenly under the cot instead of on it.

“Volk’s down,” Connor announced. He swallowed thickly and gestured shakily for the second grenade.

Roz passed it to him, and Connor opened Oleksander’s mail slot. He’d fantasized about killing the Destroyer so many times he wanted to savor it, to take his time and be certain the vampire was dead. But Oleksander wasn’t visible through the small opening.

He’d never murdered anyone before.

Connor’s skin prickled. Was the vampire in there skulking in a corner? Or had the army moved him in the six hours since Roz had sweet-talked a drunken, off-duty soldier for info at Applebee’s?

The poor sot had admitted nobody guarded the vampires anymore because after twenty years of incarceration, torture, and experimentation both were as docile as a pair of kittens. If the army was stupid enough to believe that, fine. Connor assumed Olek and Volk were every inch the cold-blooded psychopaths they’d been before their bloody capture.

Visible or not, Connor tossed the grenade at Olek and waited. There was a gong as the bomb was thrown back at the exit, and it exploded against the door, warping it outward and filling the entire room with white smoke.

The door remained closed, but it was badly disfigured.

There was a moment, staring wide-eyed at the twisted metal, Connor considered backing out. Nothing catastrophic had happened yet. No one was hurt. So what if a few cameras were sizzled? He could pull his friend out of there and go home.

But he didn’t leave. This was Connor’s best chance to kill the Destroyer and negate his prophecy. He had to kill the vampire.

Connor plucked the third and final grenade from Roz’s vest and rolled it through the wasted door of Olek’s cell. Almost immediately, the grenade skidded right back out again.

Connor launched himself at Roz, and the grenade went off before they hit the ground, blowing them horizontally against a wall.

“Oh, shit,” he said, a ringing in his ears and blood in his mouth.

He wasn’t ready to die for a stupid prophecy. To be honest, he hadn’t totally believed the Destroyer would even be in this cell let alone that he had a chance in hell of slaying the vampire.

Connor was a failure. He was unprepared. He should have stayed home.

He rolled, taking weight off a gnarly wound on his left hip and shook Roz’s arm. “Are you okay?”

No answer.

A very aggressive alarm sounded. So much for the EMP. The base had come back to life. Soon, there’d be soldiers everywhere, and Connor didn’t have a good reason for blowing up their super secret vampire prison or a desire to spend time in a matching cell.

Through the haze, a large orange shape appeared carrying a body over one shoulder.

Oleksander the Destroyer.

Looking as spry and psychotic as ever in a prison jumpsuit.

Unable to tear his gaze from the Destroyer’s nearly black eyes and heavily Slavic features, Connor shielded Roz and prepared to be consumed.

“Thank you,” Olek said and then carried a bloody and unconscious Maksim Volk out of the building.

Chills skittered up and down Connor’s battered and bloody limbs. The Destroyer was much more terrifying in person than he’d been in photographs. He was a monster, a devourer of children. And he seemed to think Connor had just done him a favor.

“Roz,” Connor groaned, the world tilting dizzily. “We have to get out of here.” Olek might realize his mistake and double back to kill them both.

“Connor?” Roz sat up, wincing as she took in the warped cell door through a haze of white smoke. “He’s free?”

“Can you run?” he asked rather than admit the truth.

“If I have to.”

They hobbled, Connor gritting his teeth every time his burned leg touched the earth, toward the back fence as scream after tortured scream reached them. Olek was finally free and obviously enjoying himself.

“Halt,” a commanding voice ordered. More soldiers.

“Smoke bomb?” Conner questioned Roz. They had debated whether it was necessary, but he couldn’t remember if she’d packed it.

She pulled a canister from her waistband, tossed the pin, and threw the explosive over her shoulder. Immediately, they were engulfed in a thick, red cloud. Shots were fired, but nothing found a human target.

Like half-dead rabbits escaping the hunt, they slid through a hole in the chain link, and limped across an expanse of sand dotted with sagebrush.

“Get in, and start the engine,” Connor ordered, ripping a camouflage tarp off his baby, a 1973 Ford F-350 pickup. “They might have helicopters.”

The truck roared to life, and he leaped through the passenger door, hanging on for dear life as Roz raced over desert roads toward the lights of the Las Vegas skyline.

No choppers took flight. No Humvees chased them. No further shots were fired. It was like the base had been swallowed up. Olek was making up for lost time and wiping the secret military installation off the map with nothing but his hands and a pair of fangs.

“What happened?” she demanded.

Connor grimaced at the black smudges on her face, the ashes in her hair, and the blood splattered across her top.

The worst thing possible. “I fulfilled my prophecy.”

#

Maksim Volk’s prison cell faded from sight as he was dragged away by his army-issued prison garb.

Someone had thrown a grenade at him. Even now, his eyes burned and his entire left side felt gooey.

“I miss people trying to kill me with wooden stakes,” he grumbled, squinting to see who or what had a grip on him.

Oleksander the Destroyer.

“Fabulous.” Maks swatted at Olek’s iron-like fist, but only managed to bring his right arm halfway up. Yep, something was definitely wrong with his limbs. Fricking grenades.

Olek hauled him without any gentleness whatsoever across an asphalt parking lot and then roughly over a concrete curb. Maks’ legs, currently numb and useless, had been blown up a bit, it seemed.

Lovely. With a twist and a grunt, Maks freed himself and landed flat on his back.

He sat up to inventory his injuries. His right arm was burned down to bare bone, his left leg was ground beef and cloth, but nothing seemed missing that couldn’t heal. His seventeen-year-old body would regenerate exactly as it had been, leaving him forever looking like a rangy youth.

But the best news he’d received in twenty years? He was a free man.

No matter what happened next, he would never go back into a cell and be anyone’s guinea pig.

Maks crawled on his hands and knees, headed for rocky hills in the distance, and something fragrant tickled his nose. Faint, like a memory. Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeper.

Not a memory. Real.

Maks got to his feet despite the pain and stumbled west toward the scent, straining to place it.

“These mortals annoy me,” Olek grumbled as soldiers continued to fire their weapons.

Maks couldn’t care less because he’d finally recognized the scent. Vampires. Lots of rotting vampires under tons of earth. He increased his scuffling and lumbered toward a bare stretch of sand between the outer security fence and the base infirmary. The closer he got, the stronger the smell became.

He ignored the rapport of gunfire and the familiar sounds of Olek feeding messily on human victims to drop to his knees and tear into the earth as the shooting ceased altogether. His right arm was useless so he excavated with his left, scooping and clawing until his fingers were bloody and his nails cracked to the quick.

“Explain yourself,” Olek demanded, appearing behind him.

“Can’t you smell them?” Maks cried.

More specifically, his little bird. He could smell his sweet Katya, and he’d dig until both arms fell off to free her.

“Who?”

“Our people.” His fingers unearthed a trouser leg, and he dug faster.

At last, Olek knelt to help. He wasn’t half blown up and was made stronger from the soldiers he’d gorged on. He was much quicker displacing mounds of dirt.

A body appeared, rapidly followed by another and another. When the army had finished with Olek’s horde, they’d tossed the dried out, skeletal vampires into a mass grave under the base.

His mates. His fellow warriors. At last, he knew they weren’t being kept in a separate facility. They weren’t being tormented and experimented on the way he’d been. No, they’d been used up and thrown out like so much refuse.

Katya among them.

His little bird had been stolen from him so long ago, and yet he pictured her exactly as she’d been two decades earlier, before their capture. Young and beautiful, shy yet passionate. She had set his blood on fire.

Olek uncovered half a dozen more bodies, emaciated corpses, but further down the bodies emerged in pieces. Hands. Feet. Heads.

“No, please.” Maks dug directly at the spot Katya’s scent was strongest. She couldn’t be dead. She couldn’t be.

She was.

Maks lifted a familiar torso, now rotted to pieces, and beside that, a skull with a tuft of strawberry hair still attached.

No.”

The sky collapsed around him, drenching him in shadow. Not possible. She couldn’t be gone. Not the woman who gave his soul life, who gave his wretched existence meaning.

“Sergei, Ilya, and Ivan are beyond saving,” Olek said, picking and choosing bodies from the grave. “But my three best fighters are still strong.”

Lies. Maks didn’t have to look to know Olek’s three brothers Sergei, Ilya, and Ivan were whole and in stasis thanks to their immortality, but Olek had never enjoyed his brothers’ company, not when the four siblings were constantly struggling for control over the vampire horde. But Olek’s three favorite lackeys—Freddie, Dawn, and Lara? They were a different story.

He smelled fresh blood as Olek fed his three acolytes from nearby soldiers’ throats.

Maks didn’t care. His little bird had been cut into pieces. He would never care about anything again.

“How?” He cradled Katya’s head. “We are not animals. We are not experiments.”

Not that the U.S. Army hadn’t tried. For twenty years they’d been cutting imprisoned vampires open, testing their blood, pushing the limits of their mortality. Volk and Olek had been their preferred test subjects, though, and Volk had endured an eternity of pain and agony.

He would repay every second.

“I swear to you,” Olek said as his three warriors rose up around him, “we will make the human race suffer for what they have done. We will burn their world to the ground.”

Olek started to walk away, but Volk didn’t follow. He curled around Katya’s remains and was content to die from the grief splitting him in two.

“We go.” Olek grabbed Maks’ collar and pulled.

Maks scrambled to keep a hold of Katya’s skull, but he was only able to snatch her necklace off her neck, pulling strands of red hair with it before his master tossed him, Freddie, Dawn, and Lara into a Humvee with an unconscious soldier.

If he must live a little longer, then he’d get his revenge.

While they drove out of the base and into the mountains, Maks sank his teeth into the dying soldier’s throat, Katya’s locket clenched in his hand.

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Elixir (Red Plague #1) Chapter One

Enjoy this free sneak peek of Elixir’s 1st chapter!

Elixir (Red Plague #1)

Written by Anna Abner

Copyright 2014 by Anna Abner

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Back Cover Blurb:

The red plague has devastated the human race, turning billions of people into zombies with red eyes and an insatiable hunger for human flesh.

The 212R virus sweeps through the population so quickly a possible cure is left to rot. Seventeen-year-old Maya Solomon may be the only survivor who knows where it is. But to reach the lab in Raleigh, North Carolina she will have to outrun the infected boy tracking her every step and cross into a city swarming with monsters.

Chapter One

A buzzing circular saw woke me five minutes before my alarm was supposed to go off. Instant, achy terror consumed me. I scrambled out of bed in my PJs and crouched at the end of the hall, peeking around the corner into the living room beyond the foyer.

“Dad?” I hissed.

He stood, hands on hips, in front of our big screen TV staring at local news.

I sagged against the wall in relief. For a moment I’d thought… But no. We weren’t being attacked by red-eyed plague victims.

Dad hadn’t heard me, but around and between his arms I watched the agitated news anchor struggle through her report.

“If you are in a heavily infected area,” the hollow-eyed brunette read off the teleprompter, “you are instructed to shelter in place. Do not attempt to travel. Roads and highways are impassable, particularly in Raleigh and Charlotte. The safest thing for you to do is stay where you are. Lock your doors and windows and wait for further instruction.”

A tiny hiccup of fright escaped my throat, and Dad whipped his head around. His normally slicked back blond hair was dry and messy as if he hadn’t bothered to comb it at all.

“Maya,” he exclaimed, pasting on a friendly smile. But under the positive facade I could tell he was just as terrified as I was. The world was falling to pieces and we both knew it. “Good morning, baby girl. Did the construction wake you up? I told them not to make noise until after six.”

Baby girl. He hadn’t called me that in two years. Not since Mom’s funeral.

“Dad,” I said, twisting my fingers around a long tendril of dark hair. “What is going on?” I had fallen asleep worried about the incredibly fast-moving 212R virus and woken up in a construction zone.

“Oh.” He glanced through the kitchen archway toward the saw noises. “These men are building a survival bunker in the pantry. I think I mentioned it last week. It’s like a panic room, but it won’t require electricity.”

“Why do we need that?” Was I not panicking enough? 212R was infecting densely populated urban areas and, after three days of fever, stripping the diseased of their higher level thinking skills and replacing them with insatiable cravings for raw flesh and blood. Victims were crawling all over the larger cities. We were safe, for the moment, in our suburb. But we might not be for long.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, showing me another fake smile, making me even jumpier. “It’s an insurance policy. Get dressed and we’ll have breakfast.”

I slipped into my bedroom and tugged on my track gear—shorts, tee, and cross-trainers—in record time to catch up to Dad and one of the construction workers at the kitchen island.

Dad pulled stacks of wrapped twenties from his shoulder bag and slid them across the granite counter toward the man.

“It’s more than I told you,” Dad said quietly. “Can you finish before two?”

“No problem, boss.” The man glanced at me. “With the four of us working nonstop it’ll be done in a couple hours.”

“With an independent ventilation system?”

“Exactly like we talked about.”

“Sanitation station?”

“Roger’s putting in the piping now.”

I cleared my throat. “Do you want cereal, Dad? There’s some oatmeal left.”

He flinched as if he’d forgotten I was there. “Baby girl, make whatever you want. I have to go in a minute.”

My belly plummeted. “You’re going to work?”

The television, the small one next to the toaster oven, was tuned to cable news. On the screen was a fuzzy snapshot of an infected man, his face splattered with blood and his eyes a distinct and deep shade of red.

The news anchor said hotly to his guest, “We will not call them the Z word, Professor. They are ill and need our support, not our ridicule.” He choked up, covering his mouth for a moment. “My mother has been sick the last couple days. Her eyes went red last night.” He inhaled a shaky breath. “I won’t stand for that kind of language. Not on this show.”

On the right side of the screen was a cautionary graphic with bullet points. Stay indoors. Conserve energy. Boil water and keep it in sealed containers. Phone calls for emergencies only.

“I’m sorry.” Dad used the remote to turn off the TV. “You don’t need to watch this nonsense. It’s all posturing and fear mongering.”

Well, they had succeeded. I was terrified. “Should I stay home from school?”

“No,” Dad said. “The virus isn’t here yet. The best thing for you to do is go to school, see your friends, run track, just be normal.”

“But the news—“

“It’s bad in the cities,” he agreed, “but we’re not in the city. If 212R is here, it’s new. We have time.”

Up to three days. That’s how long it took the infection to invade a body and take over completely.

“Your lab is in Raleigh,” I reminded him. “It’s not safe there.”

He cupped my face, and though his touch was gentle, his fingers were tense as talons against my cheeks. “A cure exists, Maya, but I have to finish synthesizing the antiserum. If all my staff shows up I can finish it today. I have to go.”

I opened my mouth to argue further. He was one chemist toiling in a Center for Disease Control lab full of scientists and technicians. What difference would his absence make, honestly, in the grand scheme?

“I can put an end to this,” he said, his voice turning husky with emotion. “I can fix everything. I can save them.”

I saw in the set of his jaw and the steel in his spine I was not going to convince him to stay.

My stomach unraveled like an old scarf. “But you’ll come home tonight?”

“Of course.” He backed away, gesturing to the counter by the sink. “On your way to school, will you return Mrs. Kinley’s dish? It’s been sitting here for a week.”

“Okay.”

“I’m sorry I’m in such a hurry,” he said, collecting his satchel, keys, and cell phone. “The CDC is sending a helicopter to pick me up.”

I walked him to the front door, getting that itchy feeling I used to get when he dropped Mason and I off at day care years ago. I didn’t want him to go.

“Don’t forget,” he said, pausing at the threshold, “wash your hands constantly. Carry sanitizer with you. No shaking hands. No hugs. Eat and drink from sealed containers only.”

“I will, Dad.” I’d heard his cleanliness rules so often, especially in the last few weeks when 212R was all anybody could talk about, I knew them by heart.

“Come home tonight,” I pleaded one last time. Since Mom died and my twin brother Mason went away, Dad was all I had left. “Promise me? No matter how much work you still have to do?”

“I’ll come home. And I’ll bring a generator for the bunker.” He kissed my forehead and drove off in his car.

I had almost forgotten the workers banging away in my kitchen until I shut the front door and came face to face with their crew leader.

“Any little extras you want in there?” he asked, smacking his lips as he studied my hair. “Since your daddy is paying for it. I can throw in carpeting. Would you like that? What about a bulletproof peephole?”

Tucking my hair behind both ears, I edged toward the hallway and my bedroom. “Sounds good. Thanks.”

I twisted my hair into a bun, packed a bag with a change of clothes, my copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets for English class, and my school binder. Before leaving my room I hesitated in the doorway staring, unfocused, at my honey colored guitar. Holding it in my arms, strumming the strings, and feeling the chords’ vibrations in my ribcage was the best part of my day. But it would be a pain to carry it from class to class so I left it behind, promising myself to play it when I got home.

I left the house in a hurry, snatching the baking dish off the kitchen counter on the way out.

Mrs. Kinley opened her front door, but only after I knocked five or six times. And when she did, her hair usually in a sleek ponytail down the back of her neck laid loose and wild.

“Maya, what are you doing out there?” She yanked me inside, slamming the door and locking it behind me. “Are you watching the news? It isn’t safe.”

“Have they closed the schools?” Maybe I wouldn’t have to go after all, no matter what my dad thought.

“Not here. But they did in Raleigh.” Her cat Freckles darted across the room as if she had a ghost on her long fluffy tail. “They’re closing down the whole city. This zombie plague is ridiculous.”

The Z word, the word we weren’t supposed to say.

“Do you know what they just said on TV?” she added. “Reds can’t speak.” Her eyes filled with unshed tears, and she reached for my hand. Her fingers were cold, but strong. “Isn’t that the saddest thing you’ve ever heard? Even if they wanted to communicate, they physically can’t.”

Extricating my hand, I tried to smile reassuringly, but I feared it was more of a sneer. “It’s sad.”

“The saddest,” she said, turning back to the box she was packing on her living room sofa.

“My dad went to work in Raleigh,” I said. “He’s trying to finish a cure.”

“Bless his heart.” Her words were kind, but her eyes were resolute as if she’d already written him off. “Do you want to stay here with me until he gets home?”

“I’m going to school,” I announced bravely, though I felt anything but. “I just wanted to give this back.” I showed her the dish. “Thanks again for the brownies. They were really good.”

“My pleasure.” She pulled me in for a longer and tighter than normal hug, and I rested my chin on her shoulder. Enveloped in Mrs. Kinley’s soft, sweet smelling arms, I missed my mom more than ever. “Be safe. Not even our little corner of the world is immune to all this.” She waved her hand toward the living room to encompass the news on the TV.

“I will.” Readjusting my backpack I crossed her lawn and slid behind the wheel of my car, a rinky-dink coupe my dad had bought for me to practice on.

Palmetto High School was practically deserted. And it wasn’t just students ditching under the threat of plague. Half the teachers were absent and only a handful of subs showed up to cover their classes. Lots of kids crammed into classrooms they wouldn’t normally be in.

But my track coach was right on time and ready to sweat.

“I hope you delicate flowers came to work,” Coach greeted us. “No bird or pig or, I don’t know, raccoon flu is going to stop us, right?”

I glanced to my right at the three other runners who’d shown up to morning practice and nodded woodenly.

“That’s what I love to see.” Coach blew her whistle. “Warm up mile. Let’s go, ladies.”

I took off, quickly outpacing my teammates.

My best event was the one thousand meter. I was fast on a normal day. Maybe the panic and anxiety helped fuel me because I was better than fast. I was a machine in drills, not even caring about the humid, North Carolina air hanging heavy and thick. As I sprinted sweat blossomed, coating me in sticky moisture, but I never slowed down. By the time the first bell rang I was wrung out. I showered in the locker room and hurried to first period.

My history teacher Mr. Coates had the TV on and nobody even pretended to study or finish assignments. We scooted under the television and absorbed live footage from New York and Miami, the hardest hit U.S cities so far.

And North Carolina was right between them.

Infected plague victims, red eyes seeming to glow, swarmed the streets attacking and consuming people. Survivors jammed all major routes of transportation—freeways, train depots, airports.

“Lola Rodriguez had no way of knowing her first floor apartment would be attacked in the middle of the night by a 212R sufferer,” Daniela, a veteran reporter announced to the camera. “Thanks to her quick thinking she not only saved her own life but the lives of three of her neighbors by waking them up and hiding them on a second floor terrace.”

They looped a short video clip of a Red climbing a staircase, getting about halfway up, and toppling over like a toy soldier on a shaky table.

“As we’ve learned in the past few days,” the anchor continued, “212R affects the inner ear. Sufferers will not be able to either rise or descend more than a few feet before feeling uncontrollably dizzy.”

I glanced at the windows. Red eyes, no speech, and an inability to climb. Oh, and an insatiable craving for raw flesh and blood. And they were out there, not that far away, in Raleigh and Charlotte.

The reporter wrapped up her segment. “If there’s one thing to take away from the last hour,” Daniela said, “it is to shelter in place. Please, please, if you are in any of the major plague centers immediately find a safe spot to be for the next few days.” She smiled sadly. “My heart goes out to those suffering, both victims and survivors. If you can hear my voice, stay safe. Stay vigilant. We will get through this.”

The show went to commercial at the same time the bell rang, and I nearly jumped out of my skin.

On the way out of the room, even though it was against the rules, I brought my cell out of my bag and texted my dad. “Did you make it to work?”

Seconds ticked by. A minute. I waited in the hall. Just as I was about to put it away and go to my next class I received a text.

“I got to ride in a helicopter! Everything good. Working hard. Are you in school?”

“Yes. I love you.”

“Love you too.”

The next three classes went about the same as first period. At lunch I did what I always did, slipped into the band room to play guitar with my friend Guinevere. But Gwen wasn’t there so I stuck a granola bar in my mouth, pulled a student guitar from its case, and plucked a couple notes.

I played an upbeat country pop song on my instrument. The kind of song I loved. Normally.

It rang false. Nothing about the world was light and snappy anymore.

The side door slammed open and Cal poked his head in, his cold, calculating eyes discovering me sitting all by myself. The very sight of him caused a sour fear to spike inside my chest.

On any other day there were enough people in the room to create a buffer between Cal and I, but it was just the two of us.

Apparently, not even the threat of infection and death could suppress his sadistic impulses.

“Hey dork.” He grinned as he produced a chocolate milk grenade and pretended to bite an invisible pin from the top of the container. “Incoming!”

I abandoned the school’s guitar and took off a split second before he threw it overhand, digging my feet into the carpeting and sprinting for the back exit to the soundtrack of his cackling laughter. The warm milk exploded against my hip, splashing me from shoulders to knees in sugary, sticky mess.

I ran hard across the grassy quad and toward the girls’ locker room, not looking back.

“Attention students and staff,” a voice boomed over the loudspeaker. I slid to a stop next to a soda machine and spun, but Cal hadn’t chased me. “You are ordered by the county Sheriff’s department to go directly home at this time and stay there.” A pause. “A 6:00 p.m. curfew will be strictly enforced.” Another pause. “God bless us all.”

The emergency alarm screamed through the halls and pulsed from every classroom.

I hurried for the parking lot, joining the crowd of people headed the same way, and pulled my cell. “School’s canceled,” I texted my dad. “On my way home.”

He didn’t reply right away, but he kept his phone in his office, so if he was busy in the lab it might be a while.

The streets were congested and it took twice as long to get home. I steered my Honda with both hands fisted on the wheel. Twice, I narrowly avoided collisions with cars zigzagging through traffic.

My phone beeped. “Busy,” Dad texted. “Move garage gear into panic room. See you tonight.” I was too worried about dying on the road to stop and answer him.

The work trucks were gone from my driveway when I pulled up.

“Maya!” Mrs. Kinley came off her front porch with Freckles in a carrier. “Is your dad coming to get you?”

“He’s in Raleigh,” I said, “but he’s been texting. He’ll be home tonight.”

“Okay.” She popped the carrier into the backseat of her car. “I’m going to meet my parents in Nashville. You can come with me if you want. I’d love the company and 212R isn’t as bad in the country as it is in the cities.”

“I have to wait for my dad,” I said. “He’s really close to finding a cure.”

She smiled wistfully. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful.”

“Be careful out there,” I said and bolted myself inside my house.

I did what I’d been doing the last two weeks or so after school, as part of my dad’s safety checklist. I stripped to my underwear in the laundry room and immediately took a hot shower in the hall bathroom. Only then did I change into comfy pants and a tank top and inspected our new panic room.

The crew had done a good job. It looked solid. Impenetrable, even. Our old pantry was now a metal cell with a heavy swinging door that sealed from the inside with a wheel crank. I crossed the square of extra soft carpeting and decided I could live there for a few days. As long as my dad was with me.

Speaking of, I texted him again. “Panic room is done. Looks sturdy.”

While I waited for him to reply I made myself a sandwich and turned on the TV.

More bad news. Most of New York City was black and offline.

“The president has declared the entire city of New York a disaster zone,” the reporter said. “The National Guard is on the ground as we speak doing all they can to quarantine plague sufferers and evacuate survivors.” A video flashed on of a giant tank driving down a street choked with cars and people.

I didn’t feel particularly optimistic about the military response. The threat to the city was a microscopic virus, not anything that could be shot or detained.

Done with my snack I followed my dad’s directions. He’d been busy the last few weeks, even busier than I realized. Locked in our garage lay cases of drinking water and canned food, a first-aid kit, a tub of survival gear, and two narrow cots. I spent the afternoon sweeping up after the workers and moving and organizing the supplies into the old pantry.

“If you have a fever,” the news anchor announced, “go immediately to the nearest emergency room.”

I pressed the back of my hand to my forehead. So far so good.

“The best hope we have is to contain the virus,” the reporter continued. “Once infected, though, you can spot a ‘Red,’ as some folks are calling them, by the red color of their eyes. We now have Dr. LaVay from the CDC to tell us more about why and how 212R affects the color of our irises. Doctor?”

I turned off the TV and texted Dad, “Lasagna for dinner? I’ll start at 5.”

While I waited to hear from him I collected my guitar from my room and strummed a song I had written the year before called “Red Shoelaces.”

When the tray of frozen vegetable lasagna was hot and ready at six I served myself and ate in front of the television. Every five minutes or so I checked my cell to see if my dad texted anything and I had missed the beep, but nothing came in.

“Many of the services we take for granted,” the reporter said, “will no longer be available as early as tomorrow morning along the entire eastern seaboard. 212R has spread so quickly, incapacitating so many people, there may not be enough qualified people to run power, water, and sanitation services.”

I set my dinner in the trash and double-checked that all the doors and windows were locked tight and then turned on my phone. No new messages.

“We here at the news desk will keep reporting,” she added, “as long as we can to get you the information you need to stay safe. If the power in your area goes out, don’t panic. Scrolling on the screen right now are the radio channels broadcasting emergency information in your area. So, if you have a battery powered radio in your survival kit get it out and test the batteries.”

Something that sounded like a firecracker popped outside the front door. Then twice more.

Gunfire? I couldn’t be around gunfire. It reminded me of Mason and my mom and the horrible, awful thing that happened two years ago.

I ran to the window, but the street was deserted.

My cell screen was blank. No new messages, no new texts, no missed calls.

“Dad,” I whispered at my phone. “Where are you?”

The power blinked off, draping the house in quiet, purplish dusk.

“Lights went out,” I texted Dad. “What do I do?”

Somebody outside screamed. The living room window shattered. Someone or something in the yard growled like a pissed off panther.

I snatched my guitar, my song diary, and my iPad.

The front door crashed open, and I ran for it, slamming the bunker’s door closed with a resounding clank.

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Antidote (Red Plague #2) Chapter One

Enjoy this free sneak peek of Antidote’s 1st chapter!

Antidote (Red Plague #2)

Copyright 2014 by Anna Abner

Back Cover Blurb:

The red plague has devastated the human race, turning billions of people into zombies with red eyes and an insatiable hunger for human flesh.

The only known cure to the 212R virus is locked inside of Ben Sawyer. To get it out, seventeen-year-old Maya Solomon and a group of survivors will take him on a journey to what may be the last bastion of human civilization, Camp Carson, Virginia.

Chapter One

“Maya!” Pollard made a hard right, the RV bounced over a median, and I held Ben even tighter. “He’s a zombie. Back off.”

“He injected the cure,” I argued. “He’s not a zombie anymore.”

“You don’t know that!”

“He said my name,” I stated, still rocked by the memory of my name on his lips. I’d never heard a red-eyed infected person speak. No one had.

I felt the pulse at his throat and was rewarded with a strong thrumming against the pads of my fingers. Like plucking a bass guitar. His forehead, gritty beneath my palm, radiated heat. The fever had come on fast.

“Do we have Tylenol?” I called out. I didn’t even possess a proper first-aid kit. And there were so many other things that could go wrong.

“Not that I know of,” Pollard answered.

I wasn’t even sure if a fever was normal in a person infected with 212R, the zombie virus. Maybe he’d had one all along.

“I can do this.”

I had never done this. Over winter break I’d volunteered at St. Joseph’s Hospital to make my dad, the chemist with two medical degrees, happy. I had alternated between stocking supplies my manager re-organized after I went home—which was awful—and trailing actual nurses as they did their work—which was awesome. One LPN used to narrate every single thing she did, from inserting IVs to checking blood pressures.

But none of it had prepared me for this.

“Where are we going?” I asked. If we found a hospital or a clinic I might be able to scrounge medical supplies.

“Away from this nightmare,” Pollard said.

Away from the flaming remains of my dad’s CDC lab. Away from anything he’d made or left behind. All that was left of his work coursed through Ben’s veins and nowhere else.

As gently as possible, I unbuttoned the top two buttons on his shirt and peeled the dark navy fabric away from his skin to inspect the gunshot wound. A dime-sized hole, surrounded by angry swollen flesh, stared back at me.

I replaced his shirt and something like rough paper in his breast pocket, the one over his heart, stalled my fingers.

I pulled out a wallet-sized school photo and immediately dropped it.

“Crap.” Fumbling, I picked it up off the RV’s dirty linoleum floor and stared into my own face.

Mine.

To be certain, I flipped it over and my narrow, jagged signature adorned the back. Last Christmas I’d mailed the photo inside a care package to my brother Mason. It had been addressed to the Dogwood Juvenile Detention Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.

But if I’d mailed it to Mason, how had it ended up in Ben’s shirt?

“Hang on to something,” Pollard called.

I stuffed the pic into my pocket. If Pollard or Hunny asked questions about it, I had no answers, yet.

I tested Ben’s pulse again, this time the one at his wrist, just to be sure it still beat. But my touch jumpstarted a chain reaction. His fingers twitched, and then the tremors spread to his arms and legs.

“Oh, no,” I cried out. His legs spasmed and his head knocked against my belly and thighs. Hard. “Ben? Can you hear me?”

Fear twisted my insides into origami as I held him through full body convulsions. Finally, his muscles quieted. I checked and re-checked his pulse.

“What’s wrong?” Pollard shouted.

“The medicine made him sick.” Understatement. More likely, it had poisoned him and his internal organs were failing.

“You’re not going to die,” I whispered as his seizure faded to a few quivers in his hands. Not with my father’s only remaining elixir in his blood. “I’ll take care of you.” Whatever he needed. A bath. Decent clothes. Soft blankets and a pillow. How long had it been since he’d slept on a pillow? If he needed medicine, I’d find it.

I wanted to take care of him. Because with my father’s antiserum in his veins, he felt a whole lot like family.

And I didn’t have much family left. My gaze wandered across the interior of the RV from Hunny’s blonde ringlets to the back of Pollard’s head.

Pollard cursed loudly, clipping the rear end of a compact car and sending it spinning away. The RV swayed to the left and I knocked into the mini fridge.

“I noticed the neighborhoods are less crowded than the highways,” he said.

On our two-day trip into downtown Raleigh, we’d stuck to major thoroughfares and been slowed down at every turn. Nothing but streets bottlenecked with abandoned vehicles, packs of red zombies, and overzealous snipers. I glanced down at Ben’s dirty face. He’d be a major hindrance if we were forced to change vehicles, or worse, walk part of the way back to the truck stop.

“Get the map out,” Pollard said. “Please?”

He swerved around debris, and it felt like the RV went up on two wheels for a moment, sending my stomach into a tailspin.

“Hunny,” I called. “It’s in my backpack.” I was afraid to move. Afraid to jostle Ben, even a little bit, and maybe hurt him.

I shifted, positioning his head on my lap, and cupped the side of his face. To keep him still. To reassure myself he was still breathing.

The little girl, ringlets bouncing, leapt over the unconscious Red and rifled through my pack.

“Here,” she said, returning to the front of the RV and handing the paper to Pollard.

“Spread it out,” he said. “I’m not stopping this thing. Not for a single minute. It’s too crazy out there.” To prove his point, he waved at something on the other side of the extra-tall windshield. “You see that pack of zombies? Must be twenty-five of them.” As we passed the pack by bouncing onto the sidewalk, Pollard checked the side mirrors. “And now they’re running after us.” He caught my eye over his shoulder. “We’re gonna get out of here,” he said, his usually pretty blue eyes steely with resolve. “I promise you.”

With the map unfolded and laid out on the dash, he pointed at different sites. “We’re about here.” He glanced up and turned the wheel to avoid a decorative brick wall around someone’s front yard. “We’re going west through the suburbs,” he announced, nodding as if convincing himself as well as us. “Then we’ll turn south and come up on the truck stop from the back.”

“It took two days to get here the first time,” I reminded him.

“It’s not going to take that long.” He smiled reassuringly at me in the rearview mirror. “On a good day I can drive there in twenty minutes. So…”

But since 212R had ravaged the human race, changing over ninety-nine percent of us into flesh-eating monsters, time seemed to pass differently. What had once taken a few minutes now took hours when you factored in the loss of electricity and scavenging for gas and hiding from Reds.

“Just hurry,” I added unnecessarily. “We need a safe place to stop and regroup.” To process the sight of my dad’s empty and looted lab. Or the fire. Or Ben’s injecting what I hoped was the antiserum. Or his saying my name.

Pollard was right. As soon as he passed through the heart of the city, there were fewer parked vehicles, less random debris, fewer Reds. He rolled over streets, driveways, access lanes, and sometimes even sidewalks and front lawns to keep us moving in the right direction.

“Maya?” Hunny climbed out of the passenger seat and stepped tentatively down the narrow walkway between the gas range and the dining table. “I saw snacks in your pack. Can I have some?”

I couldn’t remember what was in there. “Of course.” Then I recalled another helpful item I’d collected along the way. “And grab the baby wipes, will you?”

But she crept as far as Ben’s boot and then hesitated. “What’s wrong with him?”

I wiggled a little, changing positions, but kept his head in my lap. He didn’t react, just continued sleeping against me. “He injected the antiserum to 212R.” At least I hoped it was the antiserum. If it wasn’t, he may have ruined everything by injecting himself with poison.

Hunny scrunched her nose. “What?”

“He took the cure,” I said. “But probably the wrong dose. It’s making him sick.”

Her green eyes traveled up his body from his dirt-caked black boots over his stained blue work clothes to his blood-splattered face. “Are you going to be a zombie now? Because you touched him?”

“No,” I said quickly. “If I haven’t been infected yet, I probably won’t be. Besides,” I added, nodding at the back of Pollard’s head, “he thinks we’re immune.”

“It’s just a theory,” he said, proving he was eavesdropping. “It doesn’t mean you should touch him, Maya.”

“I think it’s a good theory.” It made sense to me. No matter how catastrophic a virus was, there was always a fraction of the population naturally immune.

“What are you going to do with him?” Hunny asked. She nudged his boot with the toe of her tennis shoe and Ben’s leg wobbled, but he didn’t wake up.

“Easy,” I warned. He was a human being, not a toy. “I’m not going to do anything with him. He’ll wake up,” I hope, “and we’ll find out if the antiserum worked.”

She bobbed her head, but I sensed she had something else to say. Finally, she whispered low enough Pollard couldn’t hear, “Maya, I took something.”

My guts clenched. “What did you take?” And from where?

“I’m sorry,” she said in a rush. “I know you told me not to, but it was just sitting there, and it was so cute and little.”

“What did you take?” I pressed. We’d been in a lab where hazardous chemicals were stored. “It could be dangerous.”

“No, it’s not.” She pulled a silver rectangle from her pocket and offered it to me. “Here. Look. It was on your dad’s desk.”

The moment it landed in my palm I knew what it was. Immediately, like turning a faucet, I teared up.

“It’s me and my brother when we were little.”

I opened the small, hinged frame and stared at a pair of black and white portraits, cropped to show just the faces and nothing else. At two, when the pictures had been taken, we’d looked so similar. We both had wispy black hair. The same brown eyes. Only our smiles were different. Mine was smaller, more hesitant. Mason grinned whole-heartedly, showing off tiny baby teeth.

“This is me.” I touched the glass over my pale face, and then my twin brother’s. “This is Mason.”

So much had gone wrong since we’d taken the photos, but in the snapshots we were still young and sweet and the future seemed bright. Maybe that’s why Dad kept it on his desk, even after Mason was incarcerated. Maybe he’d liked to remember his kids before the darkness descended.

I thought of the picture tucked into my pocket. Is that why Ben liked it? Did my face somehow remind him of his life before the plague?

“I’m sorry,” Hunny said again.

I closed the frame and returned it to her. “It’s okay. I’m glad you took it.”

“You should have it.” She tried to give it back. “It’s yours.”

“No.” I shook my head. It hurt too much to look at. “Keep it. You can give it back to me later when you’re done with it.”

She wedged it into her pocket and unzipped my backpack. “Here.” She handed me the wipes and then returned to the passenger’s seat with a box of yogurt-covered raisins.

I scrubbed vigorously at my hands with a moist towelette, rubbing between my fingers and up both wrists. I repeated the process with a second cloth, removing layers of blood, dirt, and grime. No matter how hard I washed, though, I couldn’t remove every mark I’d gathered since the red plague exploded out of South America and then the world. Maybe I’d never be completely clean.

There was so much blood caked on Ben’s hands they looked black, but up his left arm was a fine misting of white paint. Evidence it had been him who’d written me a message on asphalt, and no one else. Proof he was different than most Reds. I reached to clean it off when the RV hit something so big I was weightless for an instant.

“Ladies?” Pollard announced, spinning the giant steering wheel. “We’re almost there.”

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Grandma Abner’s Apocalypse Bread Recipe

By Anna Abner

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons yeast
  • 2/3 cup dry milk with 2 cups water (or the equivalent to 2 cups milk)
  • 4 tablespoons egg crystals with 6 tablespoons water (or the equivalent to 2 eggs)
  • 1⁄2 cup warm water
  • 8 tablespoons shortening
  • 7 cups flour
  • 6 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Directions

Step One: Mix wet ingredients in a bowl with a spoon. Add shortening.

Step Two: Slowly add flour and dry ingredients. Mix well.

Step Three: Knead dough by hand until mixed and soft. Sprinkle extra flour on hands and counter as you knead.

Step Four: Raise the dough in a bowl (covered with a cloth) at room temperature for one hour.

Step Five: Grease inside of 13×9 glass baking dish with shortening.

Step Six: Knead dough again by hand until soft.

Step Seven: Separate dough into about 16 balls and roll smooth by hand, arranging them in greased dish.

Step Eight: Raise the dough in the dish (covered with a cloth) for another hour at room temperature.

Step Nine: Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Can be eaten warm or cold. Wrap them up and stuff them into your backpack before you set out on the open road to find other survivors.

When I was writing the Red Plague Series I wanted the survivors to make a food item that was both a little unusual but also reminiscent of home. This is a family recipe that can be found in a 1977 church cookbook of recipes handed down for generations.

<3 Anna

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It’s That Time Of Year Again! :D

Or, NaNoWriMo is here!

November is my favorite month of the year–Fall colors, a chill in the air, pumpkin spice everything, and National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is the one month a year when I raise writing to priority #1 and quit with the excuses. I have to write everyday to “win” NaNo, and you should know I’m very competitive. For at least the last five years I’ve written messy, delightful, creative manuscripts that have become published novels in my Spell of Summoning, Red Plague, and Beasts of Vegas series.

Do you have a novel waiting to be written? Join me for NaNoWriMo this year. It’s free to participate and a community of amazing amateur and professional writers are always there to bounce ideas off of and meet for coffee and plot talks.

This year, I’m taking a break from my Beasts of Vegas series (but don’t worry–I’ll be back with a new sequel next year) and writing the last novel in my Red Plague series. There’s one more story to tell, and I’m going to share Jared and Olivia’s apocalyptic love story. There will be red-eyed monsters, tyrants, edge-of-your-seat adventure, and so many zombies!

I’m going to need your support to get through the next month, so keep checking back, and throw me a heart or two on Instagram (anna.abner).

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<3 Anna

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