Authors: Jana Oliver
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance, #Action & Adventure, #General
who opened the door
Hell is empty and all the devils are here.
All the hard work comes down to this moment. Trust me, this is the fun part!
First a big hug and a heartfelt thank-you to my dear friend P. C. Cast, who kept murmuring “young adult” in my ear when I was first thinking about this book. Her daughter, Kristin, offered sage advice and made my teens sound their age, rather than like, well, old. All of this effort would have been for naught if my savvy literary agent, Meredith Bernstein, hadn’t believed in my stories and found them a home. Jennifer Weis, my editor, and her assistant, Anne Bensson, along with editor Hilary Teeman and production editor Lauren Hougen, deftly herded this author through her New York debut experience and made this the best story possible.
Thanks also go to Ilona Andrews, who shared writing tips, and Gordon Andrews, who helped me establish Denver Beck’s military background. William McLeod made Master Angus Stewart sound like a Scotsman and Oakland Cemetery provided the perfect backdrop for my series. A round of applause (and a stiff drink) is needed for my long-suffering beta readers and critique partners Nanette Littlestone, Aarti Nayar, Dwain Herndon, and Jeri Smith-Ready, along with Jean Marie Ward and Michelle Roper, who supplied me with manuscript advice and all those “no, your book doesn’t suck” pep talks. And finally a moment of sincere gratitude that the great city of Atlanta hasn’t suggested I move to another state. At least not yet.
Since the beginning I’ve had one man in my corner and that’s my husband, Harold. I wouldn’t be here without him. Dreams are always richer when they’re shared.
Riley Blackthorne rolled her eyes.
“Libraries and demons,” she muttered. “What
At the sound of her voice the fiend hissed from its perch on top of the book stack. Then it flipped Riley off.
The librarian chuckled at its antics. “It’s been doing that ever since we found it.”
They were on the second floor of the university law library, surrounded by weighty books and industrious students. Well, they’d been industrious until Riley showed up, and now most of them were watching her every move.
Trapping with an audience
is what her dad called it. It made her painfully aware that her work clothes—denim jacket, jeans, and pale blue T-shirt—looked totally Third World compared to the librarian’s somber navy pantsuit.
The woman brandished a laminated sheet; librarians were into cataloging things, even Hellspawn. She scrutinized the demon and then consulted the sheet. “About three inches tall, burnt-mocha skin and peaked ears. Definitely a Biblio-Fiend. Sometimes I get them confused with the Klepto-Fiends. We’ve had both in here before.”
Riley nodded her understanding. “Biblios are into books. Rather than stealing stuff they like to pee on things. That’s the big difference.”
As if on cue, the Offending Minion of Hell promptly sent an arc of phosphorescent green urine in their direction. Luckily, demons of this size had equally small equipment, which meant limited range, but they both took a cautious step backward.
The stench of old gym shoes bloomed around them.
“Supposed to do wonders for acne,” Riley joked as she waved a hand to clear the smell.
The librarian grinned. “That’s why your face is so clear.”
Usually the clients bitched about how young Riley was and whether she was really qualified to do the job, even after she showed them her Apprentice Demon Trapper license. She’d hoped some of that would stop when she’d turned seventeen, but no such luck. At least the librarian was taking her seriously.
“How long has it been here?” Riley asked.
“Not long. I called right away, so it hasn’t done any real damage,” the librarian reported. “Your dad has removed them for us in the past. I’m glad to see you’re following in his footsteps.”
As if anyone could fill Paul Blackthorne’s shoes.
Riley shoved a stray lock of dark brown hair behind an ear. It swung free immediately. Undoing her hair clip, she rewound her long hair and secured it so the little demon wouldn’t tie it in knots. Besides, she needed time to think.
It wasn’t as if she was a complete noob. She’d trapped Biblio-Fiends before, just not in a
law library full of professors and students, including a couple of seriously cute guys. One of them looked up at her, and she regretted being dressed for the job rather than for the scrutiny. She nervously twisted the strap of her denim messenger bag. Her eyes flicked toward a closed door a short distance away. “Rare Book Room.” A demon could do a lot of damage in there.
“You see our concern,” the librarian whispered.
“Sure do.” Biblio-Fiends hated books. They found immense joy rampaging through the stacks, peeing, ripping, and shredding. To be able to reduce a room full of priceless books and manuscripts to compost would be a demon’s wildest dream. Probably even get the fiend a promotion, if Hell had such a thing.
Confidence is everything.
At least that’s what her dad always said. It worked a lot better when he was standing next to her.
“I can get it out of here, no problem,” she said. Another torrent of swear words came her way. The demon’s high-pitched voice mimicked a mouse being slowly squashed by an anvil. It always made her ears ache.
Ignoring the fiend, Riley cleared her suddenly dry throat and launched into a list of potential consequences of her actions. It was the standard demon trapper boilerplate. She began with the usual disclaimers required before extracting a Minion of Hell from a public location, including the clauses about unanticipated structural damage and the threat of demonic possession.
The librarian actually paid attention, unlike most clients.
“Does that demonic possession thing really happen?” she asked, her eyes widening.
“Oh, no, not with the little ones. Bigger demons, yeah.” It was one of the reasons Riley liked trapping the small dudes. They could scratch and bite and pee on you, but they couldn’t suck out your soul and use it as a hockey puck for eternity.
If all the demons were like these guys, no big deal. But they weren’t. The Demon Trappers Guild graded Hellfiends according to cunning and lethality. This demon was a Grade One: nasty, but not truly dangerous. There were Grade Threes, carnivorous eating machines with wicked claws and teeth. And at the top end was a Grade Five—a Geo-Fiend, which could create freak windstorms in the middle of shopping malls and cause earthquakes with a flick of a wrist. And that didn’t include the Archdemons, which made your worst nightmares look tame.
Riley turned her mind to the job at hand. The best way to render a Biblio-Fiend incapable of harm was to read to it. The older and more dense the prose, the better. Romance novels just stirred them up, so it was best to pick something really boring. She dug in her messenger bag and extracted her ultimate weapon:
. The book fell open to a green-stained page.
The librarian peered at the text. “Melville?”
“Yeah. Dad prefers Dickens or Chaucer. For me it’s Herman Melville. He bored the … crap out of me in lit class. Put me to sleep every time.” She pointed upward at the demon. “It’ll do the same to this one.”
“Grant thee boon, Blackthorne’s daughter!” the demon wheedled as it cast its eyes around, looking for a place to hide.
Riley knew how this worked: If she accepted a favor she’d be obligated to set the demon free. Accepting favors from fiends was
against the rules. Like potato chips, you couldn’t stop at just one, then you’d find yourself at Hell’s front door trying to explain why your soul had a big brand on it that said “Property of Lucifer.”
“No way,” Riley muttered. After clearing her throat, she began reading. “ ‘Call me Ishmael.’ ” An audible groan came from the stack above her. “ ‘Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.’ ”
She continued the torture, trying hard not to snicker. There was another moan, then a cry of anguish. By now the demon would be pulling out its hair, if it had any. “ ‘It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, of regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul…’ ”
There was a pronounced thump as the fiend keeled over in a dead faint on the metal shelf.
“Trapper scores!” Riley crowed. After a quick glance toward a cute guy at a nearby table, Riley dropped the book and pulled a cup out of her bag. It had the picture of a dancing bear on the side of it.
“Is that a sippy cup?” the librarian asked.
“Yup. They’re great for this kind of thing. There’re holes in the top so the demons can breathe and it’s very hard for them to unscrew the lids.” She grinned. “Most of all, they really hate them.”
Riley popped up on her tiptoes and picked the demon up by a clawed foot, watching it carefully. Sometimes they just pretended to be asleep in order to escape.
This one was out cold.
“Well done. I’ll go sign the requisition for you,” the librarian said and headed toward her desk.
Riley allowed herself a self-satisfied grin. This had gone just fine. Her dad would be really proud of her. As she positioned the demon over the top of the cup, she heard a laugh, low and creepy. A second later a puff of air hit her face, making her blink. Papers ruffled on tables. Remembering her father’s advice, Riley kept her attention on the demon. It would revive quickly, and when it did the Biblio would go into a frenzy. As she lowered it inside the container, the demon began to twitch.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” she said.
The breeze grew stronger. Papers no longer rustled but were caught up and spun around the room like rectangular white leaves.
“Hey, what’s going on?” a student demanded.
There was a curious shifting sound. Riley gave a quick look upward and watched as books began to dislodge themselves from the shelves one by one. They hung in the air like helicopters, then veered off at sharp tangents. One whizzed right over the head of a student, and he banged his chin on the table to avoid being hit.
The breeze grew, swirling through the stacks like the night wind in a forest. There were shouts and the muffled sound of running feet on carpet as students scurried for the exits.
The Biblio stirred, spewing obscenities, flailing its arms in all directions. Just as Riley began to recite the one Melville passage she’d memorized, the fire alarm blared to life, drowning her out. A heavy book glanced off her shoulder, ramming her into the stack. Dazed, she shook her head to clear it. The cup and the cap were on the floor at her feet. The demon was gone.
“No! Don’t do this!”
Panic stricken, she searched for it. In a maelstrom of books, papers, and flying notebooks, she finally spied the fiend navigating its way toward a closed door, the one that led to the Rare Book Room. Ducking to avoid a flight of reference books swooping down on her like a flock of enraged seagulls, Riley grabbed the plastic cup and stashed it in her jacket pocket.
She had to get that fiend into the container.
To her horror, the Rare Book Room door swung open and a confused student peered outward into the melee. As if realizing nothing stood in its way, the demon took on additional speed. It leapt onto a chair recently vacated by a terrified occupant and then onto the top of the reference desk. Small feet pounding, it dove off the desk, executed a roll, and lined itself up for the final dash to the open door, a tiny football player headed for a touchdown.