In celebration of my first and second place wins in the Pages From The Heart Contest ,and so you have something to chew on besides turkey, I am posting the first chapter of my winning entry, The Summoner's Angel. Enjoy! And have a wonderful holiday!!
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Winner! Winner! Turkey Dinner!
Lane Centeno’s breath quickened. Warm tingles danced over her skin. She opened her mouth to the teasing pressure of Eddie’s lips. His tongue slipped inside. Yes. She loved that. Kissing him. But what she really wanted, as sure hands slipped beneath soft fabric of her T-shirt, would wait. She wouldn’t be another Philadelphia sob story, like her sister, struggling to feed kids and pay rent, doing anything, legal or illegal for money. Eddie’s fingers brushed and caressed her stomach then moved slowly up. She groaned.
Oh. God. That felt good. He leaned forward. She lay back along the couch and stretched out under him. He brought his body atop hers. She arched her hips. He made a sound that was as deep and eager as her throbbing heart. His hands moved to her waist, lower. He unzipped her jeans.
She came to her senses. “Stop.”
Eddie groaned, part protest and part disbelief. He stopped. Eddie was good that way. He rolled off her. She tucked her legs to give him room to sit. He pushed dirty blond hair back from his face, revealing eyes like autumn leaves—warm amber outlined by bold earthy brown. Eddie didn’t just look at her with those eyes; he focused. Like now. “Seriously?”
“It’s just that I’ve been thinking…”
“About ways to torture me?” He finished the sentence with a breezy, teasing smile. Eddie's mood was like autumn too. Hot one minute then cool and ready to shake things off, like leaves from the trees, just for a change of scenery.
“No.” She fiddled with the sleeve of his black tee. “I was thinking we should hold off on fooling around until the pill kicks in, so when we make love it’ll be extra special.”
“Huh.” He ran a hand down her forearm as if in deep thought. “So let me see if I understand this. For the last eight months we’ve been waiting for life and stars to align before we have sex.” He looked tenderly at her, as it was her messed-up life they’d had to work around. “And now you think if we don’t touch for the next two weeks, then when we make love the first time, we’ll both might be more into it.” He nodded as if considering. His lips started to twitch. She couldn’t help but smile. He laughed. She laughed too. He quirked his eyebrow in that adorable way that seemed to ask her, “Are you sure?”
And yeah, she so wasn’t. In fact, that might’ve been the dumbest idea she’d ever had. She put her palm flat against his strong chest and brought lips that tingled with eagerness back toward his. He sprung from the couch.
What the heck? Had she done something wrong? Did he rethink that whole not messing around? He tilted his head and held his body rigid. There was intensity to his silence, as if he listened to some noise no human ear could pick out. Oh no, not this again.
“What is it, boy? Is Timmy caught in the well?”
Strands of dark blond hair swung about his face as Eddie shook his head. “Laney, stop watching your grandmother’s decrepit VHS tapes, I never get your cultural references.”
“I meant, what is it? Do you sense danger, boy?” She snared her tongue between her teeth to keep from laughing at the Lassie reference. Sure abuela’s old TV shows were lame, but she liked that people didn’t get her references. They didn’t fit with what every one else knew. But not fitting in was like her and her life. She didn’t live the way most sixteen-year-olds lived. For starters, she lived alone. Apparently, her teasing tone was enough for Eddie to get it.
He tilted his head further, like a dog hearing something. He let his tongue loll out—what a great tongue—and did a pretty good imitation of Scooby Doo. “Ruh roh. Rubble.”
Lane laughed. Sadly, he wasn’t totally joking.
“I’m going to take a ride around the neighborhood. I thought I heard something.”
“No. It’s not your job…” She bit her lip. There was nothing she could say. He’d been watching the neighborhood as long as she’d known him, since they were kids. She couldn’t count the number of times she’d sat outside her duplex while Eddie jogged by doing circuits. She’d never seen anything, but if he “sensed” something on the streets of their Philly neighborhood, he’d ask her, “Please go inside, Laney.”
She put up with it because it meant something to Eddie. And, if she was completely honest, because she sometimes wondered if Eddie saw things she didn’t.
He slipped into his leather jacket and fished out the keys. “This is your one chance to ask for something.” He grinned as he slung up his glossy black helmet. “Chocolate maybe.”
Why did guys think chocolate would solve all a girl’s problems? Then again, it wasn’t a bad idea. “Milk chocolate. Not that dark stuff. It’s poison.”
He nodded, though she suspected he was focused on something out there.
She moved her foot back and forth. Her toe brushed the couch with a whisper. Ugh. Why had she ended their make out session? If she hadn’t, he’d have been too busy to sense danger. Eddie might have ears like a wolfhound, but he was more seventeen-year-old boy than dog. She didn’t want to worry, but after losing both parents and then her abuela… well, she’d gotten paranoid. She couldn’t help herself. “Eddie, it’s raining. Be careful.”
He did pay attention then. He moved back toward her with an athletic grace that hit every button on her hormone meter. He tilted her face up, brushed the dark curls from her face, and brought his forehead to hers. “Niña, how many times do I need to tell you, not even death could keep me from you.”
He called her Niña, girl, because she was petite, five feet one and three quarter inches, with wrists small enough that he could easily encircle one with thumb and pinky. He let her go with a soft kiss. She missed the warmth of him instantly, but her heart lifted. He always knew the right thing to say. She, not so much. “Okay. But you’re going to have to make this up to me.”
He raised his eyebrows at the innuendo then flashed her a promissory grin that made her stomach flip. He stepped out. She heard him turn the key in the lock with a careful click. He tested the doorknob once. A moment later the revving of his motorcycle filled her ears then the slow rumble of the bike as he rode away. He only took his Ninja if he planned on a long circuit. Great.
She plopped her feet on the bright blue coffee table and wished for the thousandth time her Internet wasn’t patched through Eddie’s duplex next door. Yolanda, Eddie’s sister, changed the password all the time. She’d forgotten to get the code from Eddie—they’d been kind of busy—and now she couldn’t get online. Stupid Yolanda. She knew exactly who she blocked by changing the code. She hated Lane.
Grabbing the remote from between the couch cushions, she hit the power button twice before the ancient Panasonic popped to life. She hit another button that flipped on the VCR and hit rewind. She’d seen Drunken Master before, but loved Jackie Chan. The VCR started its slow whirring as the tape rewound. Or as Eddie called it, “respooled.”
A shrill shriek of tires sliced into her thoughts. It was followed by a long scrape of metal and the slam of a vehicle. Her heart lurched. She bolted to the door. She unlocked and flung it wide. She sprinted into the night. Her ears closed to every sound but the last clang of metal as it resounded from behind the duplexes. The alley.
Halfway down the block, her fingers dropped the remote. Every bit of flesh on her body crawled with alarm. The door of the corner duplex swung open. Eddie’s best friend Zeus stepped out. He yanked a shirt over his head. “Lane, what the hell was that?”
“Maybe Eddie! Call 911!” Her heart pounded so hard, she barely heard herself. She rounded the corner. Her breath thrummed in her ears. Rain pelted her. Her bare feet slapped the wet pavement. The slam of Zeus’s footfalls chased behind. They took the next turn together. The misted dark of the street gave way to the total dark of the alleyway, a place to buy drugs, dump trash, or start a fight. They raced down that murky backstreet, against the choking smell of burning rubber and oil. The dying engine hissed in the dark. Zeus passed her. His lean legs pumped. His arms fought for speed.
Ahead, the bike's headlight cut through the downpour. Eddie was on the ground, his chin on his chest, his body wrapped around the twisted steel of his motorcycle. Zeus part growled, part wailed Eddie’s name. He slid down to his knees. He fished out his cell phone. He moved his other hand along Eddie’s body. “It’s going to be all right, man. I got you. I got you.”
But it wasn’t going to be all right. She knew this by the desperate way Eddie’s body was turned, by the tears in Zeus’s voice carrying over the slam of rain. She knew it as Zeus stood and paced and began yelling at the 911 operator to get him an ambulance and stop asking stupid fucking questions.
She dropped beside Eddie. The spikes of the back tire tinked as they spun against a chain link fence. Her shaky fingers worked to undo the cold, wet straps of his broken helmet. She slipped it off. His head fell heavily onto her lap. Blood soaked into her sopping jeans. It smelled funny, not like she thought blood should smell, but like sugar and metal.
Eddie’s eyes blinked open. His lips moved. Her fingers trembled as she smoothed his wet hair from his forehead toward the back of his head. She snatched her hand away.
His skull. Oh God. Eddie’s eyes locked on her. He watched her reaction. She had to say something, anything normal. “Don’t forget, you owe me chocolate.”
So he couldn’t see, she brought her hand down and wiped the blood on the edge of her clinging T-shirt. She bent forward. She turned the broken headlight. It fell over Eddie’s skull. His head… Oh, God. It looked like something had clawed it open, straight through his helmet. Her stomach threatened to spill out. Her mind screamed. How was he alive?
“Laney.” Eddie reached for her. She clasped his wet hand and had to fight her gag reflex. His skin felt unnatural, not really alive or dead. It reminded her of the skin on the CPR manikin in health class. The bike made a tick, tick, tick then hissed a sad, exhausted breath.
Eddie squeezed her hand. “Watch.” His voice sounded so small and distant.
“I’m here, Eddie.” The handbrake dug into her shin, but she didn’t dare move. She wished she could drag him to safety, away from the wet, pebbly ground. She could only whisper the same soft words and hoped they mattered now. “I’m here. I’m here.”
His eyebrows drew together. “Careful, Niña. They’re after you.”
His hooded eyes flicked to the building. What? She didn’t want to look, but a sharp scrape, like claws against stone, drew her attention. Her eyes stared into the darkness. Movement? Something stood by the building. It lumbered on the darkest edges. It stood on two legs, but was too big and broad to be human. Her heart faltered then sped up. Her head began to vibrate and buzz. The hair on her neck rose. She brought her arm across Eddie’s chest and leaned protectively over him. The creature swayed back and forth in the torrent of rain.
Eddie coughed, thick and wet, and Lane’s eyes fell back to him. Blood coated his lips. His face was so pale. His mouth opened and closed as rain dripped down the contours of his handsome face.
Tears mixed with the rain on her face. “Don’t go.”
His amber eyes softened. “Not even death. Remember.”
Lane’s stomach soured. The words, “Not even death” had formed on Eddie’s bloodied lips, but his voice didn’t sync up. It was like watching a bad Japanese voice over. What was happening? His eyes closed. He convulsed. A white flash shot from him and brightened the alley.
Lane shielded her eyes as a figure made of pure white light appeared and reached out to her. He had Eddie’s build, his shape. Heat and blood hummed through her body. Inside this drumming pulse she sensed a deep regret and longing and then her mind was filled with the words, “Not even death.”
The figure vanished.
A long, low sigh escaped the Eddie in her lap. His slick body seemed to deflate. His hand now felt completely unreal. Lane gagged, dropped the hand.
“No, no, no.” She wanted to run back in time to the real Eddie, his warmth and wild passion.
Lane’s eyes refocused on the world around her. Zeus? How long had he been calling her name?
“Let them do their work.”
She stared at him. He repeated himself. She blinked away slow thoughts. She was in the alley. Lights from an ambulance parked at the mouth of the alleyway streamed down. Two paramedics, one male one female, were trying to prod her out from under Eddie. She let the man take Eddie’s head then scooted out with help from the woman who had an iron grip on her forearm. The woman let go. They moved in to care for Eddie.
The two techs exchanged a look. It as good as said, “Nothing we can do.” They put Eddie on the gurney then wheeled him past potholes filled with dirty water. She followed. The male paramedic gave her a dismissive wave. But she ignored him. Her sobs hitched and tightened the muscles in her throat. She needed to tell them. She had to protect Eddie.
“Th…there’s something dangerous in the alley. It’s not…normal.”
“Let’s go,” the male tech said and the female tech nodded.
The female tech turned to Lane. “Tell the cops. They’ll help you.” What? There were other people in the alleyway? Oh. Yes. Gawkers strained to see, but the police kept them back.
The techs slid Eddie into the ambulance with a click that sounded like a casket being closed. Her legs wobbled under a body suddenly heavy, as if made of granite. The edges of her vision dimmed. No. No. Not Eddie.
Zeus held up a hand to get the attention of the tech who’d climbed in after Eddie. “Which hospital?”
The woman looked back at Zeus, seemed to consider, then shrugged. “It’s Nazareth.” She shut the door. The ambulance pulled out, lights flashing, sirens off.
Lane’s heart split in half and tore a ragged hole of pain in her chest. She threw her head back. A long, desperate wail broke from her, leaving her throat raw and aching. She pulled at her sodden clothes and hair.
Zeus came up to her, yanked her hands away. She fought, but he forced her hands to her sides. “Stop it. Stop.” He held her tight until she settled against him. He held her for a moment. “Okay?” His voice was rough. His body shook. “Let’s call Monk and go to the hospital.”
“His head, Zeus. Did you see it?”
Zeus nodded. His top lip collected moisture that might’ve been rain or tears. “It’s messed up. Like an animal attack.”
She put both hands against Zeus’s chest. An animal? She shoved. He stepped back. She turned and bolted into the alley.
The rain assaulted her vision, but she saw it. An animal. It stopped its frantic rocking. She caught the glimmer of red eyes. It towered over her but then didn’t. She couldn’t keep its shape straight. It wavered, blurred. She sensed cold, an emptiness that went to its soul. She smelled sulfur, that distinct and musty rotten egg smell, and under that the metallic scent of blood. Eddie’s blood? Red-hot fury covered her, insinuated itself so deeply in her mind that it became everything. She flung herself forward. She punched and slapped and screamed. A sharp stab of pain laced her hand.
From behind, Zeus grabbed her hand and held it open. “What are you doing?” The palm of her hand bled, burned. Something had scratched her with a nail or a claw. “Lane, that metal is so rusty.”
“What?” Her vision shifted. There was no creature. She’d cut her hand on a bit of protruding old metal. But she’d seen something. “Something was there.”
A stern male officer passed them. “Get her to the hospital. She’s in shock.”
Lane began to tremble all over. Zeus supported her with an arm around her waist and led her away.
She let herself be guided. Despite the heavy downpour she thought she heard, slipping like a thief through the chatter of onlookers, police, and police radios, the low guttural chuckle of something inhuman.