Authors: Jocelyn Adams
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Urban, #Romance, #Suspense
Finalist in the romance category of the 2011 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest.
“It’s a roller coaster ride of emotions that builds up and then goes up more before it gives you a breather as you zoom down the other side of the hill.”
— Aimee Laine, author Little White Lies
“The characters of The Glass Man were fantastic and well developed … [they] could have practically walked right off the page … although in some cases with the creepier ones, I’d be terrified if they really did.”
— Burning Impossibly Bright Blog
“Jocelyn Adams has such an elegant simplicity to her writing, I found myself easily sucked in and pretty much unwilling to leave once she had me there.”
— J.A. Belfield, author Darkness & Light
“It has everything a Fae fantasy requires: lust, danger, compassion, excitement. Adams writes [The Glass Man] as witty, arrogant and strangely charming, while still forcing you to loathe him.”
— The Bawdy Book Blog
The Glass Man
J. Taylor Publishing
THE GLASS MAN
Published by J. Taylor Publishing
Copyright © 2011 Jocelyn Adams
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, events, locations, or any other element is entirely coincidental.
ISBN 978-0-9834058-2-5 (Paperback)
ISBN 978-0-9834058-3-2 (EPUB)
First Printing: October 2011
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For my baby girl. You inspire me every day.
I plunged my knife into a log and pried against the bark, hoping for a squirming morsel to quiet my rumbling stomach. The thought of choking down another fat grub or crunching on a cricket made me gag, but berry season had ended a few weeks before, and I couldn’t find anything else. Autumn in the north was pretty, but the cuisine sucked.
A scream pierced the silence. My hand flinched, causing the knife tip to break through the rotten wood and stab into the side of my other hand. “Shit!” I applied some pressure to stop the bleeding until the skin knitted back together.
The sound came again—a piteous, frightened cry.
Damn. What now?
My presence alone could put an entire town in danger, but if I didn’t check the source, my conscience would chew at me for weeks. With a sigh, I folded my jackknife before slipping it into my pocket. After shouldering my backpack, I stuffed my hair beneath my black cap and tossed a handful of leaves over the matted grass I’d knelt on.
Instinct pointed me west.
A third instance of the call stabbed at my heart.
I sprinted through a thick stand of trees crowned with golden leaves, clinging to a small hope the problem might resolve itself before I arrived. No amount of wishing ever made it come true.
After running for several minutes, the forest thinned out. Light cut wider swaths through the dense shadows along the ground. I picked up the pace until I broke through the edge of the woods and stopped on a ridge.
A sprawling farm sat at the bottom of a deep valley, sporting a black barn, silo and an old fashioned house with a giant wrap-around porch. Acres of gnarled apple trees stretched beyond it as far as I could see.
Who’d put a farm in the middle of nowhereville Pennsylvania?
I’d happened upon lots of orchards in the populated part of the state, but I hadn’t seen a town for days, only wilderness not fit for girl or beast. Power lines snaked along the southern ridge. I shouldn’t have been anywhere near a town unless I’d somehow veered off my intended course. The downy hairs on the back of my neck took notice and sent a prickle along my back.
I bent down to pluck a flock of burrs from my shoelaces while I scanned the buildings for signs of movement. Nothing stirred or made a sound to disturb the quiet evening.
The scream had to have come from down there; my instincts were never wrong.
Maybe my wish had come true for once, and I wouldn’t have to intervene? I’d wait just in case and satisfy the nag that occupied the background of my thoughts.
I crouched in the damp grass. The sun edged closer to the jagged line of conifers on the western ridge. Half an hour slipped by with nothing more exciting than a squirrel cussing me out from a nearby maple. I shrugged.
Civilization’s descent toward anarchy had made it hard for me to remain in obscurity even from nature’s own creatures.
I headed south along the rim of the valley, reminding myself of my own rule: don’t draw attention to self. Before I made it ten paces, energy, like a warm kiss upon the wind, pulsed through the air.
Endorphins flooded my body in a delicious wave. My knees buckled. A drunken giggle bubbled in my throat, but I swallowed it down. I’d happened upon barely perceptible ripples from a few people I’d met over the years—just never as strong. Giddy excitement brought a carefree smile to my face—something I hadn’t experienced since childhood.
The inevitable battle between my voice of reason and curiosity ensued. On one hand, the sun wouldn’t set for another few hours, so I didn’t have to worry about the one who hunted me. I could salvage some apples from the orchard, so my little detour wouldn’t be a complete waste. It would irritate me forever if I left before figuring out where the energy came from. Who lived down there? Had I found someone like me at last, another soul who didn’t fit the standard human mold? Twenty years old, and I still didn’t know why the air trembled when my energy spiked. Maybe someone down there did?
On the other hand, it was a bad idea to investigate. A whole clan of crazies might be camped out in that old house, and who knew what steaming pile of trouble I’d land in.
Who was I kidding? When it came to my oddities, curiosity always won.
I stalked along the tree line, stepping around the smattering of copper and crimson leaves. The power grew stronger with every step, quickening my pulse as I descended into the valley.
When I reached the basin floor a few minutes later, an invisible spiderweb brushed across my skin, but nothing was there. The energy I’d been following disappeared along with the endorphins. I staggered. My head buzzed as if I had a hangover without the pleasure of tasting the wine. A deep breath cleared the dizziness.
The scent of ripe apples and freshly cut grass perfumed the damp air. I scrutinized the two-story farm house in front of me but found nothing unusual about it or the barn beyond. Clippings scattered around the fenced-in yard, and the rose bushes lining the house appeared to be well tended. The whole place had a welcoming, homey presence—serene and quiet. My sharp senses didn’t pick up a trace of anything to set off alarms.
Maybe whatever had emitted the energy had moved on and left an echo behind? I jammed my hands into the pockets of my jeans. No, that wasn’t it, either. It couldn’t have been from a single person, and nothing else would have made it into the woods without me hearing it.
A door slammed in the distance. A man’s voice rang out a moment later, but I couldn’t make out what he said, only the fractious tone.
My pulse thudded in my ears as I crouched behind a thicket of spirea bushes. After a calming breath, I parted the yellow foliage enough to peer through. A boy, maybe fourteen, burst out the door of a grey shed and bolted toward me. A man with dark slicked-back hair pursued him, holding what looked like an axe handle in one hand. He had a semblance of deranged glee about him, complete with a malicious grin. Eyes wide, the boy’s face pulled tight as he ran as if he’d seen the gates of hell open and spill out a demon.
With clenched teeth, I released the branches and dug my fingers into the grass.
Had everyone in the country become a nutcase, or did I just have shitty luck?
I couldn’t shake the image of the boy and the terror on his face, so I parted the bushes again. My fingers balled into fists when the man tripped the young blond and rode him to the ground. The boy’s shrieks knotted my stomach, pulled my muscles taut until they hurt. Rules or no, that man needed his ass kicked.
While I debated what to do, I listened for signs of my hunter and scanned the surrounding trees. Only the hills, painted in shades of tangerine from the sunset, looked back at me.
The boy screamed again, the sound invading my soul like shards of glass.
Screw the rules.
I jumped up and ran. Passed the white porch. Across the yard, gathering my energy as I sprinted. When I arrived within a few feet of the man—readying to bring a stick down on the boy again—he looked up.
I dove at him. My forearm caught him across the chest. He crashed to the ground beneath me, cursing and sputtering.
Fighting to contain the volcano of energy building within me, I pressed my knee into the guy’s chest and turned to the boy. “Run!”
He scrambled up from the grass, but he stood there blinking at me. Blood trickled from his nose, and his bottom lip oozed red like juice from a ripe fruit. Bruises blossomed beneath his large green eyes.
The man beneath me snickered. His dark eyes drank me in, conveyed far more intelligence than I’d expected out of some red-necked hillbilly.
A chill crept down my back. “What’s so funny, shithead?” My upper lip curled in a sneer.
When he made a move to get up, I thrust my knee against his throat, grabbed his wrist and twisted until he moaned.
His eyes rolled up enough I could only see the whites. His lashes fluttered. “You’ll see.” His thin lips stretched into a satisfied grin.
The shunk-shunk of a pump action shotgun lodged my heart in my throat.
I assumed the gunman was a guy by his rugged scent, but given the world’s destruction, even toddlers and grannies seemed to be packing.
Either my finely tuned senses had failed or he’d been stealthy for a farmer to have been able to sneak up on me.
“You stand up, nice and slow,” a deep voice said. He thrust the frigid barrel into the back of my neck.
I raised my hands and stood, my eyes glued to the creep in front of me. As he climbed to his feet, his brown stringy hair fell to his shoulders. Still wearing an infernal grin, he picked up the axe handle again. Tongue pinched between his lips, he stroked a hand over the wood, gazing at it the way a man watches his lover.
I stifled a shudder. “I’m Laura.” I cleared the tightness from my throat. “I was hoping to find work for a few days.”
“Why’d you attack my men?” The one behind me shoved the gun harder into my neck.
“I didn’t attack your men. I defended this boy because Mr. Psycho over here was beating him with that stick he’s now fondling.”
The gunman took me by the shoulder and spun me around to face him.
I shrugged him off and kept my arms wide so I wouldn’t spook him. If someone shot me, I wanted it to be for a good reason, not a misunderstanding. I backed far enough away to keep them all where I could see them.
The one with the gun had at least three days’ worth of scruff on his tanned face. I had to look down at most men, but not him. He stood a good few inches taller than me. Rotten apples smeared his jeans, and he wore a coating of dirt on his upper half like a snug brown shirt.
“That true, Rourke?” He sent a glare toward Mr. Psycho, his gun hovering between Rourke and me. So he wasn’t a moron. I liked him better for that.
“We were just messing around, Liam.” Rourke’s green weasel eyes found me. “Weren’t we, Garret?”
The boy nodded, but continued to stare at the ground. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his khaki shorts but not before I saw how they trembled.
“Bitch here thinks she’s
.” Rourke rubbed his chest. “Knocked the wind clean outta me.”
“Get on back to the shed now, the both of you.” Liam lowered his gun to point at the grass, but his fingers gripped the stock with enough force they had turned white.
My mouth fell open. “What? You can’t send the boy with him.” I pointed a finger at Rourke. “He’s a certified nutball.”
Rourke adjusted the black boxers on his narrow hips. The way his eyes locked onto my chest induced an urge to peel off my skin—a shower just wouldn’t do.
“Got a lotta nerve comin’ into my place and bossin’ me around, Laura.” Liam turned to the others. “Get on, now, the two of you. You touch him again, Rourke, and you’re done here. Understand me?”
My hands dove into my pockets again so I wouldn’t smack Mr. Psycho in his smug face. He shoved Garret along in front of him, whispered something to the boy that caused him to stumble. I watched until I couldn’t see them. The compulsion to go after him sent me forward a few steps before I stopped and cursed under my breath.
Liam blocked my view of the boy’s path. “What’s a girl doin’ lurkin’ round the woods this close to dark?”
“I left the road a few miles back to find a river so I could fill up my canteen, but I got turned around.” My shoulders heaved up in a shrug. “I saw this place and thought you might need a hand for a few days.”
A woman once told me I could lie more convincingly than I could tell the truth. I finally agreed with her. Not a drop of perspiration or a twitch of my nerves gave me away. I hated lying, but even more, I hated knowing I did it so well.
“That really your name?” His inquisitive eyes looked me up and down as if he’d never seen a woman before.
“Yeah, that’s really my name.”
Liam gave a disbelieving grunt.
I used a different name wherever I went.
I found my hand reaching for him before I tucked it back into my pocket.
Why did I do that?
Curiosity? He was good looking, I’d give him that, but that had never swayed me before. The energy must have screwed with me more than I’d thought. I added it to my growing pile of head-scratchers.
“Don’t normally put a gun on a woman, but the way you came creepin’ down the hill like that, and the way you tackled Rourke …” He shook his head. Maybe I’d come closer to getting shot than I’d thought. “You’ll get yourself killed doin’ shit like that, what with how things are these days.” He extended his hand but pulled it back. “Name’s Liam Conner. Can’t pay much, but I could use a picker for a few weeks. Come on up to the house, and I’ll fix you somethin’ to eat.” His hands scrubbed against his jeans. “Well, after I wash up.”
“Where are we, exactly?” I’d lost my map in a river a few days before, so I wasn’t sure.
He raised an eyebrow. “Ricker’s Ridge, Pennsylvania.”
How did I get so far north?
I should have been nearing the southern border, but somehow I’d made it almost back to New York.
What a waste. Three days hike for nothing.
I’d have to risk a trip into a town to steal a map before heading for Virginia.
Liam gave me a crooked smirk. He didn’t show up as trouble on my radar, but something about him tweaked my curiosity. No backwoods barber cut that chestnut hair. It looked too modern, standing up a little on top as if he’d fingered some gel through it. The accent in his mellow voice sounded farther south than Pennsylvania, and he didn’t scream ‘redneck’ like a typical farmer.
Countries all over the world exploded into rubble several years before, and speculation about the hows and whys led to a world pandemic of paranoia. I usually chose safety over food. His acceptance of me sneaking around his place was too quick, and Rourke set off every alarm bell I had in my head, but the thought of real food tantalized me. Besides, like that squirrel that I’d pissed off, I needed to fatten myself up for winter and build energy to stay ahead of my hunter.
I hung back while Liam walked toward the house with the shotgun propped against the muscular swell of his shoulder. He turned and called back, “C’mon now … ’less you’re not hungry.”