Authors: Ann Kellett
Tags: #Demons-Gargoyles, #Paranormal
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
COPYRIGHT © 2013 by Ann M. Kellett
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
PO Box 708
Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708
Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com
First Black Rose Edition, 2013
Digital ISBN 978-1-61217-849-3
Published in the United States of America
Praise for Ann Kellett
“Ann Kellett is an amazing writer.
enthralls with twists and turns—fire and brimstone—and love and treachery. Readers will clamor for more after savoring this debut novella.”
~Mitzi Pool Bridges, author of twelve books,
the last three published by The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
This book is dedicated to
those who stood by me (and nagged)
until I got it all down on paper:
my husband, Michael;
my dear friends and critique partners,
Mitzi, Diana and D’Anne;
and the members of Brazos Writers.
Dax Thelassian sighed with relief. Waiting in line would give him time to study his prey. He removed his cowboy hat as the door to the hotel lobby swung shut behind him, and welcomed the cool rush of air conditioning. Driving the twenty miles from the ranch into San Saba had left him hot and thirsty, but he couldn’t afford to look flustered. This was his most important assignment in his two centuries as a demon-warrior.
Dax picked up a copy of the best-seller and got in line. The hotel serving the town of about three thousand was small, and the lobby was crowded. The patrons were mostly women, giving off excited, open energy at having a celebrity in their midst.
. He wouldn’t have to worry about his eyes turning gold. His sunglasses were within reach, just in case.
Several women gave him appreciative glances. He knew that even in the heat, his white button-down shirt was perfectly starched, and his faded jeans crisp, ending at just the right spot on the tops of his pointy-toed boots.
Dax studied Meredith Stone’s photo on the back cover of the thick novel. It was the same one she used on her Website, and in fact was the only one that Dax had uncovered despite extensive research. He had assumed it was several years old and heavily retouched. Perhaps the real Meredith Stone was too vain to let her readers see her crow’s feet and gray hair.
He was shocked to see that the young woman seated a few yards ahead looked exactly like the photo. Long layers of black hair skimmed her collarbone. Elegant manicure. Expertly applied makeup that accentuated huge blue eyes. Ridiculously long eyelashes. A hint of a dimple on her left cheek as she smiled and made small talk.
. This might be more of a challenge than he or the other members of the Warrior Council had anticipated. Even more frustrating, Dax knew little about his prey. Never married, no children. This was her first book. Before this, she had never sought out nor been in the public spotlight.
Some reviewers had dismissed Meredith’s book. If demons existed, surely they would pick a more sophisticated entrance into the world than a cave in the rugged and sparsely populated Texas Hill Country west of San Antonio. And surely the battles of good versus evil that Meredith depicted were naïve exaggerations.
Dax was there to get to the bottom of the situation. The Warrior Council didn’t question Dax’s finding that Meredith Stone was fully human. Now Dax intended to find out much more. Was she a demon expediter, one of the mortals who dedicate their lives to facilitating the work of demons? Did she unknowingly channel highly sensitive information from a member of the Council without understanding its profound and terrible consequences? Or did she simply have a vivid imagination that somehow hit far too close to home?
Expediters would rather die than give up the secrets of the demons they served. What good was money or fame if everything around you came crashing down? An expediter would be rewarded in the afterlife, not here.
Meredith had written the book nearly three years earlier. At that time, no one—not even the demon-warriors—knew about the twists and turns that would lead them to their current battle strategy. One that was eerily similar to what Meredith detailed in the book he was holding.
His turn. Dax found himself virtually drowning in the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. He was half-demon-warrior, but the half of his being that was human—and all male—quickened with desire. In a flash, he was in another world. He felt her glossy hair spilling through his fingers. He tasted the warm nape of her neck as she turned from the bank of the stream to face him so they could embrace. He felt her waist through her buckskin dress as he wrapped an arm around her and dropped something into the pouch hanging off her turquoise-beaded belt. “
For safekeeping until next time, my love
,” he whispered.
The vivid image formed and then evaporated in the blink of an eye. Had she noticed anything? Perhaps a member of the Council was giving him a mental test. Perhaps it had been too long since he had been off the ranch.
He wished that Randy—also half-human, half-demon-warrior—had come instead. But the ranch foreman had an important duty of his own. As keeper of the scepter that was the warriors’ primary weapon, Randy was charged with finding the unknown object that was lost from the scepter long ago.
“Thanks for coming out,” Meredith said as she dropped a felt-tipped pen into a trashcan and picked up a new one.
“I don’t get many male fans at these events. Don’t tell me—your wife has a birthday coming up. I can inscribe it for her.”
“I’ve never been married,” Dax said. “I’d prefer it if you’d make it out to me.”
“Of course!” Meredith took the book and looked up expectantly, pen in hand.
“The name’s Dax—Dax Thelassian. I believe you’re already familiar with the spelling.”
Meredith scanned the lobby, hoping to spot Elena, her cousin and best friend who was working as her assistant. No luck. Meredith forced a smile as she signed the book and handed it back to him.
Meredith’s publicist had warned her that books about the paranormal brought out all kinds of kooks. So far, she had been lucky—twenty-four signings in fifteen states, without a hitch. But she knew this odd man was likely to make an appearance since she never replied to his letter asking how she came to use his name in her book.
“What an unusual name,” she said. “You must be aware by now that the hero in my book has the same name. And lives here in San Saba.” She smiled. “But even if you’re from around here, surely the coincidence ends there. You’re not going to tell me that there really are demons lurking in these hills, are you, Mr. Thelassian?”
Two teenage girls in line behind Dax giggled.
She couldn’t help flirting once she saw how good-looking and normal he seemed. After the letter, Elena had hired a private investigator to find out as much as possible about the alleged real-life Dax Thelassian.
The man in front of her seemed to confirm the investigator’s findings. He obviously worked outdoors, with his calloused hands and sun-kissed face. A cowboy, but with a regal bearing, as if he felt equally at home with peasants or kings. The strong, silent type who knew what he wanted and was used to getting it.
Now that he was standing directly in front of her, she made herself focus on his face instead of the six-pack abs that beckoned under the crisp white shirt that was at eye level. The black leather belt with the silver tip and buckle was fastened at the next-to-last hole, emphasizing his trim waist. She could only imagine what delights lay a few inches below.
“I’m sorry if I have caused you to be the subject of unwanted attention,” Meredith said. “My cousin, who happens to be here this morning, was in charge of fact-checking things like this. It hardly seems possible that she could have missed something so glaring.
“Is there anything in particular that you would like that could make up for your inconvenience? This is the last stop on my book tour and I’ll be back home in San Antonio this afternoon. My lawyers will contact you shortly to negotiate some kind of arrangement.”
Meredith fiddled with her pendant, as she often did when anxious. She knew first-hand that becoming a millionaire virtually overnight made her vulnerable to all kinds of outlandish schemes.
If this man was reasonable, he could be paid off and out of her life soon enough. If he was vindictive, the court battles and headlines could drag on endlessly. She had to treat this man as if he were reasonable. Feed his ego, at least for now.
“A cowboy like me doesn’t have much use for lawyers,” Dax said. “Besides, even though I’ve lived here all my life, I prefer to keep to myself. Thank you for the autograph. I look forward to finding out all about myself.”
The teenage girls giggled again as Dax walked away.
A few minutes later, Elena appeared. “Just a few more. We should be able to get out of here right on time.”
“I hope so,” Meredith said. “Something tells me there’s more than meets the eye with that cowboy—Mr. Dax Thelassian in the flesh. He’s still hanging around. If you’ll start packing up, I’ll go turn on the charm one more time so we can leave him behind for good.”
Dax was seated in the corner, reading a newspaper.
“You’ll be front page news when the paper comes out next week,” he said. “We don’t get many celebrities through here.”
Meredith smiled. “To tell you the truth, I’d rather be page one news here than just about anywhere. People here are so kind. San Saba doesn’t have a bookstore, so they were nice enough to let us use the hotel. But I do find it odd that no one ever mentioned you before, Mr. Thelassian.”
“Like I said, I keep to myself,” he said. “You asked earlier if I wanted anything. Two things come to mind.”
“Oh?” Meredith braced herself.
“First, call me Dax. And second, have lunch with me here in the hotel diner. I’d like to hear all about your book and how you came to write it.”
Meredith smiled. “I’d be happy to, Dax. My treat.”
The outcome wasn’t perfect—the cousin, Elena, had tagged along—but Meredith seemed relaxed and chatty.
He had to get her talking about the book. Being only half-demon-warrior, he could not force her to do anything. He had to coax her, make her think things were her idea. Being half-human, he knew what made humans tick. He would make Meredith and Elena think they were the most fascinating creatures on Earth. For now, they were. The fate of all the other creatures in the world might depend on it.
He’d get Elena out of the way first. “Meredith tells me that you’re cousins,” Dax said. “You must be close.” He tore open a homemade sourdough roll and dipped it in the gravy on his chicken fried steak.
“Like twins born two years apart,” Elena said. “Our grandmother raised us. In the middle of the barrio in San Antonio. We didn’t have much except each other. Now it’s just the two of us. Nanna died three years ago.”
Meredith said, “Right. Seems like yesterday. Elena still lived with her, took care of her. Thankfully, I was able to get there just before she passed. Remember how she was hallucinating? Saying wild things, that people were in the room and yelling at her—Native Americans in traditional dress. She kept repeating, ‘It’s true! It’s true!’ Right at the end, she had a moment when she was perfectly lucid. She sat up and told us how sorry she was.”
Dax resisted the urge to glance at his Rolex. “Sorry for what?”
“We always knew that we had some Native American blood—Lipan Apache,” Meredith said.
She licked a bread crumb off of her upper lip. Dax felt his mouth water.