Tag Archives: dark fantasy

Pretty Deadly Teaser Tuesday

 

Pretty Deadly cover

 

Dark Fantasy

 

 

Date Published: October 26, 2021

Publisher: Darkstroke Books

Cinna would quite literally kill for the throne.

She’s spent years forced to serve her wealthy cousins rather than attend society events alongside them, waiting for the chance to prove herself and exact revenge. When a ball is announced at the castle, promising to bring many powerful people to town, she seizes the opportunity to strike.

She bets her best friend, a small-time thief and con-man, that she can land a greater score the night of the ball than he can. They embark on parallel heists. But as their plots unfold, things begin to unravel: by the end of the night, the castle’s on lock down, a duchess is dead, a mansion has burnt to the ground, and Cinna hasn’t stolen anything. Or has she stolen something more valuable than gold and jewels?

Excerpt

Johann sat on the barstool beside Cinna and sighed. Without acknowledging him, she slid her empty glass forward across the bar.

The bartender poured her another round of top-shelf whisky, which Johann knew she could not afford. He wondered briefly whether the bartender owed her a favor, or if she knew something the man did not want shared, then decided that he didn’t care.

She smiled, settled back on her stool, and turned to him at last. “Have a good day?”

He grunted, which made her laugh. He may not have had a good day, but it seemed she had.

Life of petty crime too petty for you now?”

He shrugged and began rolling himself a cigarette. She sipped her whisky in silence, watching.

In truth, Johann had been in a good mood until he entered the bar and saw her sitting there. Every moment around Cinna was exhausting. She was his favorite and least favorite person at the same time, and he had been looking forward to brooding about her alone with some tobacco and alcohol. That plan was foiled now.

He tipped the cigarette toward her, asking wordlessly for a light. She was always good for that, at least.

She pulled a matchbook from a pocket and drew a match quickly between her fingers to bring forth the flame, then offered it to him.

Neat trick,” he said.

As she pinched the match out again, she asked if he’d heard about the ball they were throwing for the fiftieth anniversary of the accords.

No?”

He could never understand why Cinna made it her business to track things like that, and he certainly didn’t care. Maybe she did not expect him to, because she just shrugged and changed the subject. “Anything interesting in the store?”

With her words, he realized that in fact there was a reason to be glad to see her tonight. “Finish that,” he suggested, gesturing to her still-mostly-full glass. “I have something to show you.”

She raised an eyebrow and took a slow sip, decidedly not finishing the drink in any hurry. “How mysterious.”

Or don’t,” he said. “But I think you’ll find this interesting.”

She considered his expression for a moment and then seemed to decide that he was worth her time. With a half smile, she knocked back the rest of her drink and slid languidly down from the barstool. “Let’s go, then.”

Johann glanced toward the window. It was too wet and windy to smoke outside, so he stubbed out the cigarette and pocketed it, then offered her an arm as they walked out of the dim little tavern into the winter evening. As he had expected, she made no effort to pay or even thank the bartender.

He knew she only walked with her arm through his to humor him, but still it felt nice. The cold wind erupted in his face and blew back the hood he’d lifted as they went out the door, sending a shiver of icy rain down the back of his shirt. Though she wore a much lighter jacket than he did, Cinna seemed unbothered.

They passed in and out of the blue light of evening and the flickering oily yellow of streetlamps, descending through narrow streets toward his pawn shop. Passersby paid them no mind, in a hurry to get home as the temperature dropped. Before long, the rain would turn to snow and the puddles to ice.

He released her arm to dig out a key and led them inside, not bothering to light a candle. He preferred the shop like this: gloomy, dusty, dark. It reminded him what he hoped to one day escape.

She looked around as they walked deeper into the shop, studying various wares on the towering shelves. If he didn’t know that even Cinna had standards, he would have thought she was casing the place, selecting which trinkets she would come back for when he was not around.

What did you want to show me?” she asked, leaning her arms against the counter as he walked around behind it.

He wanted to let the suspense build, loving her attention on him. He shrugged out of his damp coat, and turned slowly as if considering his options, theatrically stalling in a way that, as hoped, made her laugh.

I’m starting to think you just wanted to trick me into coming home with you,” she said, a smile in her rich voice.

He grinned and leaned across the counter in a position mirroring her own. Close enough that he could smell the smoky whisky on her breath. “Maybe I did.”

She laughed again, then leaned away. “I’m missing my nice barstool and whisky.”

What did you do for that, by the way?”

She smirked. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

He sighed, well aware that she was as in control of this interaction as she ever was, and ducked below the counter to retrieve what he had thought to show her. It seemed silly now.

But he saw the sparkle in her eyes when he deposited the shoes on the counter with a flourish and knew he had been right. “They’ll fit you,” he said.

She lifted one in her hand, bringing it close enough to admire in the low light. They were truly beautiful, made of gleaming black leather embedded with tiny jewels, a delicate arch lifting upon sturdy but artful high heels.

She studied him over the shoe she held, eyes bright in the darkness. He had no idea what she was thinking, but he liked the hint of a smile on her lips.

You can have them,” he said, completing the thought he’d implied already.

She shook her head and set the shoe back down. “I have no use for anything like this,” she said. “You know that.”

He smirked and picked up the shoe that she had set down, holding it carefully in one hand with the other flat below the heel. With his thumb, he made some slight motion where she couldn’t see, and a slender knife dropped into his palm, pricking a tiny burst of blood where it made contact. Her eyes flickered to his face quickly enough to catch his grimace, but then they shared a smile.

She reached for the knife. He closed his fist around it and pulled away.

I have a weakness for pretty things,” she said slowly, picking up the other shoe and looking for the mechanism that would reveal the blade, “but usually I can ignore it. When beauty is combined with danger, though…” She grinned at him and he warmed at the sight of her honest happiness. “You know me well.”

And he did. Well enough to know that her real weakness was not that she liked objects that were pretty and dangerous, but rather that he knew as much. He was fairly sure she did not know his own.

But he would play into what she thought she knew. He set the knife he’d already extracted onto the counter and took the shoe from her, holding it aloft to show which jewel was actually a lever. “Someday I’ll get you every beautiful weapon you can imagine,” he said.

Gilded daggers?” she asked.

He nodded. “Swords inset with rubies.”

Guns that shoot not bullets but diamonds?”

He lifted his hands and parted them, as if to say he’d give her the world. She laughed, and he did too.

You talk a big game,” she said, lifting the blade by the hilt and tipping it back and forth. He watched her, seeing that she was thinking, wondering what she thought.

Cinna?” he asked.

The thoughts that clouded her face drifted away and she smiled. “What do you say to a wager?”

He folded his arms and raised an eyebrow. “Friendly competition between friends?”

Something like that.”

What are your terms?” he asked.

That ball,” she said. “Two weeks away. Everyone who’s anyone will be there. The king will empty his vaults to show off his treasure. It’s the ultimate target.”

I’m not seeing how this is a competition,” he said slowly. Understanding sank through him.

I’m not saying we do this together,” she clarified. “Let’s see who can land a bigger score that night.”

Risky, Cinna.”

Fun, Johann.”

She still twirled the knife between her fingers. He held only an empty shoe.

What’re the stakes?” he asked. He could never read her, much as he tried to. Maybe that was why she was so entrancing.

She shrugged, grinned, stood up straight. “Not high enough for you?’

Not high enough for you,” he replied. 

She laughed. A chill went down his spine.

Let’s decide once I win, shall we?” she asked.

He frowned. “That’s hardly fair.”

Her laugh this time was abrupt and biting, but her smile was friendly. “Then beat me.”

He drew a breath, considering. Cinna was not a fool: she would have a plan already, and he would be starting from behind if he agreed to this. But Johann was not a fool, either. Perhaps he needed something so risky and high-profile if he wanted to impress Cinna and break free of the ridiculous hold she had on him. Maybe this would show him that he did not need her approval to be strong.

Walk me home,” she said before he could reply, setting both knives down on the counter. “It’s late.”

He slid the knives back into their sheathes and put the shoes on the counter. “Are you keeping them?”

She lifted one by the heel, then the other. “I’ll wear these the night of the ball,” she said. “And I’ll see you there?”

He grinned, shrugged into his coat, and made up his mind. “If I do things right, you won’t.”

They headed back into the night, which had darkened fully by then. She did not live far away —the city was dense, with a small footprint—but even a woman as dangerous as Cinna knew better to walk home alone through those streets. Looking at her now, though, he was fairly sure she was the threat, not the one in danger. If someone thought to target her for a mugging, that would be their last theft.

The rain had let up but the paving stones had grown slick, just on the edge of icing over. Their breath clouded before them. Cinna held onto the shoes more firmly than she did his arm.

When they reached the mansion where she worked as a servant, they hesitated. He caught an inscrutable dark look in her eyes as she gazed up at its gabled roof and bright windows, and wondered for the thousandth time how Cinna had come to live the life she did. But if she shared that with anyone, it was not him.

About the Author

kelsey josund

I am a software engineer and author living and working in Silicon Valley, California. I studied computer science at Stanford University, but I’ve always loved stories in all their forms. I approach writing fiction the same way I approach writing code: I like to know where it’s going, but I want to figure out the details as I go along. Good software is a lot like a good story, full of neat and clever solutions to tricky problems, beautiful at a granular level but also from a distance.

Originally from Seattle, I love getting outdoors and living in places that allow me to escape to the mountains on the weekends, and I care deeply about the ecosystems that humans impact and that impact us. My writing explores these issues while also following classic coming-of-age arcs in science fiction and fantasy. I’m also very interested in stories and characters that complicate the traditional and familiar, leading me to fairytale retellings from unexpected angles.

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Shadowspeak Blitz

 

Shadowspeak cover

 

Realm of Skuggar Series, Book 1

 

Dark Fantasy

 

Date Published: February 21, 2021

Publisher: Fox Pointe Publishing LLC

Rune’s mother is uncaring and her brother is too young to protect her, so when Rune’s father sells her to the depraved city of Wraith at the young age of ten, no one stops him. His last words to her are of a debt he cannot pay. The shadows who’ve kept Rune company as long as she can remember seem to know what he speaks of and yet they keep their silence.

And so Rune grows up living in servitude to Wraith’s brothel and its manipulative mistress, Agata, all while having only the faintest recollections of her forgotten childhood. Years later when she finally escapes Wraith, a wild place wrapped up in hedonism and old world ritual, she vows to never return…

When a child prince is kidnapped by a masked killer in a neighboring kingdom, however, Rune no longer has a choice. Joined by Weylin, her old love and a fellow Wraith runaway, she returns to the accursed city and the shadows of her past.

Not all is as it seems as threads of memory begin to unravel, revealing old lies and dark secrets.

The debt of her past may be too high to pay.

The shadows are speaking.

Death is waiting.

Excerpt

I glance at the waiting shadows, my only friends in a world full of change and want and darkness.

Help. Please help.

The air in the circle grows thick as they press closer, seeking a way in. Their threads tangle and knot together, weaving among the circle’s branches …

Nothing.

The gray skuggi presses forward in determination, clawing at the resistance between us; a bead of sweat trails down my spine at its lack of success—at the futility and hopelessness.

And then Papa turns back to me.

Rune … a debt … I cannot pay.” His eyes roll and I see their whites.

He speaks of the skuld.

A shadow snaps back, She cannot know of it—not yet.

About the Author

Raven Eckman

Raven Eckman is an author, freelance editor, and overall literary fangirl. She always knew books were her passion, well before her grandmother’s challenge to read a book a day when she was young.

She obtained her B.A. in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Arcadia University. Since 2016, and the launch of her editing business in 2018: A New Look On Books, she’s been working with a range of authors, both self-published and traditionally published, on short stories and novels from horror to contemporary in YA and Adult fiction.

Shadowspeak is Raven’s debut novel. She is currently working on her second novel.

She lives in Pennsylvania with her fluffy pup, Atlas.

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Vow Unbroken Blitz

 

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Faerie Tales, Book 3

 

Dark Fantasy, Epic Fantasy

Release Date: May 28, 2021

In the third book of the Faerie Tales series, the story expands. In the outset story, Fergus, Aoife, and Niamh hunt down the reincarnation of Tamlin so that they might break the curse.

On the inset story, Aoife attempts to find Cu Roi Mac Daire’s weakness, so she can use it against him. She finds darker secrets await outside his castle’s walls.

Fagan, now going by Fergus, takes up Tamlin’s offer to train with the fae warriors so that he might gain favor with Mab. The prospect of ever seeing Aoife again is bleak until the legendary Cuchulainn, Mac Daire’s sworn enemy arrives.

(This book is written to stand alone, but reading Warrior Tithe will give you the backstory of the characters.)

If you’re a fan of Maas, Black, Armentrout, or Martin, you’ll love this take on the fae and legends of ancient Ireland.

Faerie Tales Fantasy series banner

 

Tam Lin: A Modern, Queer Retelling

 

Faerie Tales, Book One

Published: October 2020

Never break a promise to the fae…

After a fight with his fiance, Tom Lane needs a change of pace–more accurately, an escape so he can lick his wounds. He travels to Ireland in search of his Ulster-Scots roots.Though he was adopted as a child, Tom is adrift in adulthood and hopes the history of his biological family will help him understand himself and what he truly desires.

While on holiday, he meets Fergus and Aoife, sexy tour guides looking to show Tom a little more than the scenery. Their whirlwind romance sweeps him off his feet, and Tom dreams of making a life with his new lovers. But not all is merry and twee in the Emerald Isle.

Tom soon learns the truth of his past…and the history of his legendary ancestor. The stories he’s heard his entire life aren’t stories at all: they’re warnings. But when Tom finds himself facing the Wild Hunt, it might be too late to listen.

Warrior Tithe

Faerie Tales, Book Two

Published: March 2021

Sparks fly between an unlikely pair with a spurned sorcerer hot on their trail.

Aoife, a kelpie, flees a marriage trap laid by her father, Mannan mac Lir and the sorcerer king Cu Roi mac Daire, only to fall prey to an iron snare in the mortal realm.

Fagan, a poor cottar, with nothing left to lose takes pity upon the kelpie he finds in his snare, setting her free. When the kelpie transforms into a beautiful fae maiden and offers to take him to the queen of Sidhe to repay him for his kindness, he joins her on her journey.

However, Aoife is keeping secrets.

Her betrothed Cu Roi mac Daire will not let his betrothed go so easily. His life and his kingdom depends on it.


About the Author

T.J. Deschamps


T.J. Deschamps likes to build worlds with words. She lives in the American Pacific Northwest with her three children, two cats, and a very friendly tortoise. In her spare time, she loves to enjoy her beautiful state, read, dance, lift weights, and might possibly be a dragon.

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Let There Be Dragons Blitz

 

Let There Be Dragons cover

 

Dark Fantasy

 

Published: October 2020

Publisher: Tell-Tale Publishing

In a post-apocalyptic world, dragons, elves, vampires and demons war for control of Earth. A girl with powerful Gifts is the only hope the world has to destroy Slygon, a demon from the Pit come to rule all.

With the aid of a half-orc, his friends and a fairy, Annabelle tames dragons and rides to fight Slygon on his home territory. On a mission to rescue her sister from Slygon’s power, Annabelle will stop at nothing. When everyone around her is saying it’s time to quit, Annabelle is just getting started.

Let There Be Dragons tablet, phone

 

Excerpt

 

Chapter Three

Jackal

 

We be getting mighty close the city, Jackal,” Slag said.

I glanced at my green friend sitting astride the Belgium draft mare he’d named Bunny even though she was mean as a snake. Slag was three-quarters orc. Slag’s mother had been a halfling, his father an orc who raped her when she was hunting. Slag had been given to the same wet nurse taking care of me. We were raised together along with Chub, our third companion, another half-orc.

Slag’s frown emphasized the pointed ivory tusks that rose at the corner of his mouth from his bottom jaw to above his upper lip and nearly to his flat nose. At seven feet of solid muscle Slag weighed in at three-hundred pounds, and was two inches taller than me, and twenty-five pounds heavier. When I noticed the sun shining off the top of Slag’s head I grinned. Slag kept his head shaved to show off what he thought were his best features, a broad forehead and small, slightly pointed ears, each pierced with three golden rings.

Aye, the city be close” I said as I glanced around us. “The big lake be over that hill. The walls of New Orleans be about a league to the south of us.”

This be dangerous ground,” Chub said. “It’s getting’ late and I’m terrible hungry. Let’s stop and cook up some of that shoat we bagged this morning.”

I laughed. Chub was always hungry, a huge halfling who besides food, loved me, Slag and no other being in the universe, except perhaps the draft mule he rode. The mule was always hungry too. Chub shared other qualities with his mount, such as strength, tirelessness, and a foul temper. A dangerous combination. But then all of us are dangerous.

I’m good with that,” I said. “You two set up camp. I’m gonna ride up to the top of that hill and get a look see.”

I spurred Thor, a black Friesian with feathered feet and too much mane. The big horse was a gift from my mother, the elf queen, Ashera. It was the only thing besides my light skin, pointed ears, and thick brown hair she’d ever given me. That, and she’d carried me to term and not killed me at birth, which was the custom, because I was the result of an orc rape. Instead of killing me, she sent me to the village of Wildwhisper. She’d never raise a half-orc babe herself. Elves were all racists. They believed in the purity of the elf race and any mixing of blood was considered an abomination. I was glad she’d sent me to Wildwhisper. Life in the village suited me down to the ground. I’d learned to forge and use the weapons I made.

My two warrior friends and I were raised in the same small village outside the elves’ mountain fortress in what used to be Arkansas. It was also near Edenvale, a hidden sanctuary populated with humans who didn’t care to be serfs to the Magics or live within walls. The people of Wildwhisper maintained themselves by hunting in the forest, tanning hides, and forging weapons. They mined ore and coal in the mountains and found old steel and metal in abandoned cities to melt in forges fueled by the coal. Their swords were highly-valued, the metal folded and then sharpened to perfection and modeled after the Japanese blade, the katana. They also forged enormous axes to be used as weapons and smaller ones for cutting down trees. If it could be made of metal, it was forged in Wildwhisper. I always carried a satchel full of weapons to use in trade if we needed food or lodging, and sometimes I sold them for the most common form of money, silver coins.

As I galloped Thor to the top of the hill, reveling in the strength and immense power of the horse beneath me, I surveyed the landscape. Below stretched the big lake and the wall built around the city of New Orleans. The city center was too far to see clearly, just the spire of a great church, and the remains of tall buildings now crumbling ruins. Inside the wall, small farms were green with summer’s bounty.

I squeezed Thor’s sides sending him charging into a valley and up another hill. At the top, I spotted a group of orcs camped in the bottom of the next valley inside a copse of oak saplings. Smoke from their cook fire rose between the leafy boughs. I couldn’t see all of them, but the usual orc raiding party was ten or twelve. Seven were visible, tending to the huge boars they rode. The hogs grunted and snorted from their position tied to trot lines. I was close enough hear the restless animals.

This was good news to me. Finding a raiding party before it found you was always good news. Then I spotted the girl. She looked about ten and was tied face down across the back of a hog. One of the orcs dragged her off the massive pig and tossed her to his fellow who laughed and ripped off her clothes.

I felt my animal nature rising. Anger at the terrible treatment of the child, for the girl was no more than that, warred with my inner voice cautioning me to take care. I wanted nothing more than to tear down the hill and fight all of them.

I whirled Thor around on his hind feet and galloped back to camp. It was almost dark. Slag and Chub would appreciate the chance to kill some orcs.

I pulled the big Friesian to a sliding stop at the edge of the camp. Slag grabbed my reins. “I see that light in yer eye.” Slag grinned. “Ye found us a bit of work, didn’t ye?”

Orcs have a girl. We gotta go now. Setting up camp can wait. Mount [JP1] up and let’s ride.”

Slag and Chub leapt on their mounts[JP2] . Chub still had his long bow slung over his shoulder, a quiver full of arrows and his axe in a holster attached to his leather body armor. Slag favored a broad sword, a crossbow with bolts tipped with rattlesnake venom, and a spear. I still had my katana and sheath hooked to the back of my armor. Armed to the teeth, we thundered down the trail, knowing the girl might soon be dead, or worse. A ten-year old was a woman to orcs.

We stopped at the top of the hill overlooking the orc encampment. The sun had set, and a huge moon slowly rose over the trees behind them. The ghostly-blue light illuminated the troop of orcs gathered in a raiding party. We sat still and silent, impatient as we watched the orcs move out. When the orcs crested the far hill and headed toward the city, I dismounted, left Thor ground-tied, and slunk down the hill staying in the cover of shrubs and underbrush. Chub stayed with the horses, but Slag followed.

The fire I’d seen earlier was extinguished, but the orcs obviously planned to return to this camp. Two huge, ugly, green monsters squatted close to the girl. They weren’t touching her, just sitting there watching. Two hogs wandered around behind them, saddled and ready to go, but eating acorns and snuffling in the leaves beneath the trees.

I waved, sending Slag off to the left, while I went right. The hogs scented us and squealed an alarm. The two orcs jumped to their feet. One held a massive hammer, the other a multi-bladed mace, crude but effective. A brace of spears leaned against one of the trees. The hogs came close to inspect me and I shooed them away. One charged, its tusks gleaming blue in the moonlight. I held my katana high over my head in a two-handed grip as I waited for the hog, then I stepped aside and sliced its head off with my razor-sharp blade. The head rolled, foam dripping from its gaping maw as blood gushed from the body. The other hog squealed and ran away.

Alerted, the two orcs raced around in circles searching for us. Slag stepped up behind them and put two poison bolts into the biggest one while I slashed the other diagonally across its body from neck to thigh, opening its belly. Guts and blood poured onto the ground as the stunned orc took a minute to figure out, he was dead, then toppled over.

Smiling, I do love a good fight, I wiped my blade on the grass to clean it. “Get the girl.”

Slag moaned. “Really? Like we ain’t got enough problems?”

If we leave her here, the orcs will find her and their two dead friends and come looking for us after they kill her.”

Happen, they’ll come for us, no matter.”

Not if we catch them first.”

Slag lifted one bushy eyebrow.

We have to go after them. They’re headed for the city.”

When did you become a lover of the Magics?”

It’s not the Magics I care about. The regular folk die too, and they don’t deserve it.”

Slag sighed. “Let’s be off then. Chub’s missing his dinner and that will put him in a right bad mood.”

We found the girl curled into a ball under a rough blanket made of sacking. I pulled the sacking off her face. She was red headed, with pale skin and bright blue eyes. She pounced on me, clawing at my eyes. “Whoa, there filly.” I pulled her off my head. “I ain’t an orc.”

You are!” she screamed. “You might not be green, but you look just like them.”

I know I ain’t pretty, but it’s not kind of you to remind me. I might be half orc, but I always thought I was better looking than orcs.” I held her out in front of me and noticed she was younger than I’d thought, and feistier. “We just killed your captors and we plan to get the rest.” She kicked and scratched at my leather wrist guards, tried to bite me, and shrieked bloody murder.

I can always give you back, if you’d druther.”

She stopped shrieking. “Put me down.”

Are you gonna run?”

Duh.”

Where to?”

Away from you, that’s for certain.”

Slag stepped forward in all his hugeness and laughed. “Jackal be your onliest chance of surviving, missy. I’d stick with him if I was you, for a kinder heart in a bigger ass you’ll never find.”

About The Author

Janet Post


Janet Post is a self-described military brat from Hawaii. She worked as a reporter for years before retiring to write books. Horses and dogs are her passion along with writing adventure and fantasy for young adults. She currently lives in the swamplands of Florida.

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The Soul Collector Blitz

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The Soul Collector cover

Dark Fantasy, Supernatural Suspense

Publisher: Story Bound Publishing

photo add-to-goodreads-button_zpsc7b3c634.png
 

 

As I lay trapped inside this quiet realm,

My soul adrift, my body earthbound,

A magical book guards my flight,

Will it keep me safe till morning’s light?

 

It begins with darkness. Are they dead, or trapped inside a horrible dream?
No one can hear them, see them. Has the world forgotten them? Are they
invisible? Not to the Soul Collector. They have stepped into her Kingdom,
and she is waiting for them.

The Soul Collector tablet

 

Excerpt

Chapter 1

 

The biggest boxing match of the season landed on a Friday the 13th. But a
little thing like superstition had no effect on the newcomer, Jonathan
Bayfield, and heavyweight champion, Lou Turlock. The fight fans agreed,
stomping their feet while chanting “Fight! Fight! Fight!” inside
the packed, brightly lit arena. Sportscasters got up close and personal,
claiming ringside seats for an in-your-face camera view.

Bayfield locked his gaze on his opponent, his right ear taking in
Coach’s words.

“Go to the body. Don’t overreach. Straight punches. Got
it?” Coach gripped Bayfield’s shoulder. “Hey, eyes on me.
Don’t let him get inside your head.”

Bayfield looked at Coach, giving him a slow nod, then reverted his focus
back to Turlock, transmitting a defiant “this fight is mine”
glare.

Turlock reciprocated, taunting Bayfield with a “we’ll
see” sneer.

The vein in Bayfield’s forehead pulsed, spreading a surge of heat
through his body. A fist to the gut. That would show the arrogant prick he
had something to worry about, rattled through his mind. The ringside bell
shattered Bayfield’s thoughts, bouncing him to his feet. Turlock came
out swinging, and Bayfield pivoted while throwing a right hook, catching the
corner of Turlock’s jaw. Turlock countered, landing a jab to
Bayfield’s chest. The blow forced the air from Bayfield’s lungs,
his body folding in half. But he quickly sprang upright, shaking off the
sting, and fired off several consecutive punches straight into
Turlock’s gut.

Turlock wobbled back and the crowd roared, shouting, “Way to go,
Bayfield!” Bayfield bounced back and forth on his feet, tapping his
gloves to the crowd’s cheers.

Turlock’s own pulse battered against his eardrums. Where was the
respect? He was a champion, and these morons had the nerve to cheer for a
nobody, some kid who’d happened to land himself a good manager.
Adrenaline tipped the scales on the fighter’s rationality. Cognitive
thought ceased. The whites of his eyes blazed as he hurtled his body like a
weapon, slamming his skull against the kid’s.

A crackling of bones ricocheted inside the ring, causing an eerie silence
to fall over the area, before shouts from the crowd came from all sides. The
ref barged in, spewing spit as he held Turlock back. Turlock’s gaze
traveled over the ref’s shoulder, colliding with the kid’s
vacant stare. He knew that look; like no one was home. He’d seen it in
his grandpa’s eyes before he’d taken his last breath. An icy
chill scurried down Turlock’s spine as the kid crumpled to the mat.
Turlock stood still as medics, judges, and more refs flooded the ring,
surrounding the kid’s lifeless body.

“I can’t find a pulse.”

“Start compressions.”

Coach pushed his way through the chaos to Bayfield. “Jonathan, can
you hear me?” Coach’s voice shook. “Stay…” He
blew out a breath. “Stay with me, buddy.”

Bayfield’s eyelids flew open, and with one push, he was on his feet.
A weird and wonderful lightness affected his body, which made no sense,
being as he weighed 200 pounds. Sounds rushed back, bouncing against his
eardrums and forming words—Coach’s words.

“Hold on, Jonathan. The ambulance is on its way.”

Bayfield focused his attention on Coach. “Ambulance?”

“Just hold on. 

Bayfield laughed. “What are you talking about? Coach, I’m
standing right behind you. Turn around.”

Coach made no attempt, his focus centered on something in front of
him.

Bayfield’s tone rose an octave. “Coach, what
gives?”

No answer came, not from Coach, nor from any of the other people hovering
around him.

Bayfield skimmed the faces of the crowd, searching for a clue or hint to
enlighten him on what the hell was happening. Why was everyone ignoring
him?

“Step aside, people,” security broadcasted with authority,
herding the crowd back. “Let the paramedics through.”

“Paramedics? Who got hurt?” Bayfield’s gaze darted to
Turlock, where men in dark blue suits surrounded him, escorting him toward
the locker room. Bayfield let his gaze grow distant. He had no memory of the
fight ending, and his boxing gloves were missing. No one acknowledged him.
None of it made sense. He gave his head a good shake. “Gotta be an
explanation for all this.” As his vision cleared, it centered on the
paramedics rolling a lifeless body away on a stretcher—his body!

His brain skidded to a stop—no pause, no rewind, no press play. Just
a complete stop. Was he being punk’d? Was this some kind of sick joke?
His gaze followed the stretcher, catching the tail end of it slipping inside
the ambulance. Coach followed, his hands running through his salt and pepper
hair. The look of sheer terror etched across Coach’s pale face slammed
against Bayfield’s brain. This was no joke. This was real, and that
ambulance was about to take off with his body.

Bayfield launched across the ring, catapulting over the ropes and sailing
inside the ambulance seconds before the doors closed and the siren sang out.
He plopped down next to Coach, his gaze transfixed on his own body lying
across from him. One massive, purplish bruise swallowed up his bloodied
forehead. Bayfield couldn’t explain it—couldn’t understand
it. “I’m sitting here, but also lying there. How is that
possible?” In a momentary shift, his eyes found Coach’s, thirsty
for an answer. None came. The silence sent a chill down Bayfield’s
spine.

A paramedic with tattoos blazing down his arms informed, “Got a
pulse,”—his intense blue eyes narrowed—“but
it’s thready.”

The paramedic behind the wheel, sprouting a six o’clock shadow,
lobbed a reply over his shoulder. “Letting dispatch know we’re
five minutes out.”

Coach gripped his hands, squeezing the blood from his knuckles.
“Getting a pulse, even a weak one, is a good thing,
right?”

The tattooed paramedic waited a good minute before saying, “For now,
yes.”

About the Author

LAURA DALEO is the author of five books. She is best known for her
storytelling of the vampiric persuasion. Her most recent work, The Vampire
Within, is the third book in her Immortal Kiss series. The series is an
interesting twist on the Egyptian pantheon being the original vampires. Her
current project, The Doll, is her first sci fi tale, with a touch of
mystery. She lives in sunny San Diego, California, with her three dogs,
Stuart, Morgan, and Dexter.

 

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