Authors: Katt Grimm
Tags: #paranormal romance
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Published by The Hartwood Publishing Group, LLC,
Hartwood Publishing, Phoenix, Arizona
Copyright © 2016 by Katt Grimm
Digital Release: August 2016
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination, or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Something dark lies just beneath the surface of the old gold rush town and it is stirring.
Rhi Brennan has heard the voice all of her life, pulling her across the country to build a home and a career as a blackjack dealer in Cripple Creek, Colorado.
Jack Blackthorne has been a vampire and member of the Brotherhood of the Gate since the Crusades and he is tired. Tired of fighting a war to protect the Thirteen Gates of Hell. A war that has cost him his human existence, his brother, and his beloved wife.
Cripple Creek has always been special. Once the greatest gold rush camp in the world, now a gambling/tourist destination, the city has always been a magnet for the…unusual. Bigfoot, alien abductees, ghosts, witches, vampires, the locals have seen it all. But forces are gathering in the Colorado Rockies, stirring in the clear air above the gambling mecca behind Cheyenne Mountain. Ghosts openly stroll the brick sidewalks, tommyknockers haunt the woods looking for fresh meat, and vampire knights and one very fashionable vampire madam prepare for what could be the final battle between good and evil.
A battle Rhi wants no part of but seems to be stuck with. Accompanied by a ruggedly handsome immortal knight who has been carrying a torch for her for a century, her gun-happy best friend, her faithful bloodhound Ellie Mae, and a mixed bag of characters she wishes she only imagined, Rhi must face her own destiny. A destiny irrevocably bound to Blackthorne’s, a choice that might mean Heaven…or Hell for Rhi and everyone she loves.
This book is dedicated to my bestie Georgia Woods. A good friend will help you move, but a best friend will help you move a body. Georgia would show up with a pickup truck, plastic garbage bags, a shovel, and a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Cripple Creek, Colorado
Selecting a proper human sacrifice was always such a chore, the dark figure observed absently. He sat balanced on the flat roof of the Palace Hotel with his favorite demon for company.
He kept one eye on Cripple Creek’s deserted main thoroughfare, flipping the knife again and again into the wooden billboard above, where it stuck, quivering.
Beside him, the naked figure of the demon cowered in the cold. Its wings and body, covered with a mucus-like substance, had begun to ice over in places. The creature, red eyes glowing, edged closer as it tried to cover itself with a corner of its master’s cashmere overcoat. The moment the spindly fingers touched the rich fabric, the knife flickered and impaled the pathetic creature, pinning it to the rooftop.
“Naughty, naughty, Adolph,” the man murmured. He jerked the knife out of the demon and willed it clean.
The demon got up and tottered backward. The black fluid pouring from the cut sizzled as it hit the snow. The flow slowed as the hideous wound healed in seconds. The warmth of fresh human blood was moments away. It could wait.
The sacrifice couldn’t be too fat, too young, or too old. A millennial with a past would get the maximum amount of public horror from the ugliness of the murder, yet would confuse the authorities and give them plenty of suspects.
It would be nice if she put up a good fight, he thought wistfully. Of course he would feed on both her blood and her fear, but terror flavored by adrenaline was four star dining. The little things made his existence bearable.
Below, a distinctly female figure emerged from one of the casinos. She surveyed her surroundings warily before setting off.
“Ahh. There you are my darling,” he murmured. Time to announce his return.
The beauty of the night was seriously flawed when Marie Collier finally stepped out of the Long Arm Casino at shift’s end. She wrinkled her nose. Cripple Creek’s constant cloud of bourbon and cigarette smoke was usually bad enough to gag her, but this evening an unidentifiable smell joined the regular mix. It was a burned metallic stink that made her eyes water. God only knew what some idiot had dumped nearby to create such a stench.
Above her head, the snowstorm was breaking up into patches. She decided to ignore the biting odor. Let someone else investigate. The blackjack dealer job description didn’t include cleaning up toxic spills.
Pausing, she took one last glance at the light that spilled out of the casino’s plate glass windows before setting off into the night. Marie hated the ink black alleyways of the old town. Late at night, the old brick buildings creaked and moaned. The dark side streets sounded like they were filled with something, or someone, unspeakable. Damn the casino owners for making everyone walk so far to the employee lots.
She shouldered her backpack and began the long trek up Bennett Avenue.
Ahead, a male figure lounged near one of the lampposts, attired in gold rush era miners’ clothing, obviously waiting for someone to exit the nearby casino.
Marie gave him a half-hearted smile as she passed. He was wearing a wool suit, a celluloid collar, and a bowler hat. He was probably freezing his ass off. The tourists were crazy about the historical aspect of the town, often adopting gold rush era dress for big events. Marie did not want to get trapped in a conversation with an eager beaver history buff.
The shadowy figure tipped his bowler to her as she passed. She put on a burst of speed and motored up the sloping street, not looking back. Thankfully, no footsteps followed in her wake.
The blackjack dealer’s hiking boots crunched pockets of snow as she trudged past another casino. The laughter of the closing employees and the ring of the slot machines shutting down floated outside. Marie looked up hopefully, but none of the crew joined her on the street. Crap. Still, it was comforting to know that so many “creekers” were still up and about.
Marie caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye. Whirling, she saw nothing. However, the metallic stench had returned, even stronger. A cat, she decided. Someone’s cat was out and had gotten into something nasty. She paused for a moment, considering whether she should go search for the critter. No. Not her cat and once again, not her job. Home. Bath. Bed. Walk faster. No one was there.
New Year’s Eve had been busy, as usual. Dealing blackjack to the masses, who filled the old gold mining town for the celebration, was always exhausting. Marie’s leg and back muscles ached, but her mind was spending the tips she had made that evening. She needed rest and silence after the chaos of the casino filled with lights, slots, booze, and New Year’s Eve revelers. She concentrated on cleansing her senses of the public’s excesses by sucking in bucketfuls of clean air.
Marie looked behind her once more. Silly. No one. Even the history buff down the street was gone. The stealthy presence she felt was nothing. It was the old buildings. It sometimes felt like the brick facades were alive, watching and waiting. Waiting for what, though?
After what seemed to be an eternity of striding uphill, she turned down Fourth Street and descended to the Meyers Avenue employee parking lot. The cold had worked its way up her coat sleeves. She fumbled with the Velcro cuff of her parka while walking briskly toward the lot.
By focusing on the cuff and not where she was going, Marie was rewarded with the privilege of stepping into the center of a smoking pile of fresh burro dung. One of the wild descendants of the miners’ pack animals that roamed the streets at will had deposited the manure recently.
Cursing, Marie stooped to scrape her boot on the curb, trying not to breathe in the nauseating fumes rising from the moss green goo. This partially blocked her view of the sudden movement of a shadow detaching itself from the dark alley behind the Old Homestead Whorehouse. The graceful white brick building was the sole remnant of Meyers Avenue’s main source of revenue in the gold rush years and the shadow-filled alley behind the building was purposefully designed for stealth. But the corner of her gaze caught it, just as the sound of a laugh hit her ears.
The fine blonde hairs on the back of her neck stood out as she spun to see what or who was creeping out of the darkness. Nothing. Then she heard it. One faint breath behind her. It was soft but sounded like a gunshot in the night. Every muscle in her body clenched as she looked up into the shadow’s face and gasped in terror. She lost that breath when she saw what the shadow held in his hand. Spinning, she raced for the security of her Jeep. Her pursuer made no sound as he flew along behind her, a long blade dangling from his right hand.
She unerringly slid the key in the door, turning it as she fumbled with the handle. A black-gloved hand grabbed her shoulder and swung her around to hold her against the door. She couldn’t find her voice because of the vise-like hand around her throat. Silent, her mouth gaped, desperate to scream.
The night hid them both as the steel blade rose and fell, again and again. She crumpled to the ground where she lay, helpless and drowning in her own blood.
Her killer kneeled beside her. He placed one gloved hand on her cheek comfortingly as he cut her jacket away from her body. The cold sliced into her bare chest the same moment he began to cut out her beating heart. She made another feeble effort to scream before succumbing to the spreading darkness.
Holding the heart in one hand, the killer’s sleek black head bent to feed at the fountain he had created. The snow was no longer white.
Cripple Creek, Colorado
Rhi Brennan was the last dealer to leave the Silver Pearl Casino, having volunteered to help count down the blackjack pit and sort the cards from the last decks of the evening.
It didn’t matter if she stayed late. No one was waiting at home for her except the dog. And the dog never waited up for her.
“What the hell was I thinking, moving here from nice warm Mississippi?” she asked aloud as she watched her breath crystallize in the night air. She trudged toward the west end of Bennett Avenue where her Chevy Blazer was parked in the driveway of one of the private homes on the street.
She felt like a damned Popsicle. Thank God her pit supervisor, a Cripple Creek native who inherited his period home from his parents, shared his driveway with her on nights like this.
The overgrown holly bushes to her left rustled in the wind, first softly and then louder. Rhi looked into the mass of bushes, straining to see.
She had stopped to check out her surroundings a total of five times on her walk this evening. Something dark was in town tonight. She could feel it in the air when she left the casino.
Casino life included a certain amount of negative energy. There were days when the gambling around her was what it was supposed to be—harmless fun. Then there were the days that a true gambling addict would come to sit at Rhi’s table, eyes alight with the fever and hands shaking with desperation. She would leave work with their greed and neediness following her like a dark cloud.
Whatever followed her tonight was not needy, however. It was hungry.
Shaking off the feeling as ridiculous, Rhi stopped beside the truck and dug for her keys. She started the vehicle and sat there for a moment to allow the engine to warm up. When the snow on the windows began to melt, she hopped out with a small broom she kept in the vehicle and swept snow off the windows and hood. She worked quickly, keeping an eye on the street.
She finished, jumped into the warm Chevy, and locked the doors. After backing out of the driveway, she began to turn up the street when a sudden crash and a scraping sound made her slam on the brakes.