Series: Order of the Spirit Realm
Author: K.C. Blake
Genre: YA (Paranormal Romance)
Synopsis. There are monsters in the closet.
Children everywhere refuse to go to sleep until their rooms are checked. Parents roll their eyes. Most closets are empty. At sixteen, Bay-Lee is in for a surprise. She has a late night visitor. A reaper gives her a grim warning. It kills you on your birthday.
Now, with a mystery to solve and a mentor who hates the sight of her, she is invited into Van Helsing’s school for hunters. Her plan for vengeance is set into motion. Step one: train hard to become a great hunter. Step two: kill the werewolf pack that murdered her mom. Step three: buy a boat and sail around the world for the rest of her life because there are no monsters at sea.
The only thing that can destroy her plan at this point is falling in love. No problem. Bay-Lee has her mind firmly focused on revenge. Then she meets unbelievably hot Nick Gallos, a tormented hunter with a dark past and a bleak future. She’ll have to make a choice. She can either have love or revenge. Will she make the right choice?
Chapter 1: Monster in the Closet
At some point during the night a stranger crawled into Bay-Lee’s bed while she snored softly, unaware. The mattress springs squeaked. He reclined on his side and stared down at her face in the moonlight. It bothered him that she continued to sleep. After all the stories he’d heard about this girl, he expected more from her. Shouldn’t she be able to sense danger?
This was Van Helsing’s daughter? She looked insignificant, vulnerable beneath the green sheet. He could snap her neck so easily—and maybe he should. The world would continue on, undisturbed, but the dark cloud hanging over his head would finally dissipate.
A fraction of moonlight filtered through partially open curtains. The lack of light didn’t matter. Although he couldn’t see her clearly now, he’d seen pictures of the girl in Van’s office. Her features were burned into his retinas. Every time he went into the office he tried not to look at the photographs, but his gaze inadvertently drifted to them. He tried to tell himself it was done out of curiosity, that it was because she was Van Helsing’s daughter, but there was more to it.
There was something about her, something unsettling which inevitably pulled him back to stare at her reproduced image. She looked like an average girl. A pretty face framed by dark hair that nearly reached her waist, parted in the middle and layered. Of Brazilian descent, her eyes were the darkest of browns, nearly black. They hid a mountain of secrets. The girl had attitude to spare and the camera caught it, recording it for future historians. (If the prophecies were correct, they would want to study her.) She had a ‘bite me’ expression that must drive vampires crazy.
Fortunately, he was not a vampire.
Her mouth bothered him the most. Full lips haunted his dreams with a secretive smile curving the ends. Her bottom lip begged to be nibbled on. Sometimes, when he wasn’t carefully controlling his thoughts, he wondered what she would taste like. In his dreams he kissed her without ceasing. He wondered what would happen if he kissed her in real life.
Would it stir something deep in his soul? Would the prophecy come true? Would the world end?
Something hard lodged in his throat. He tried to swallow. It was a near miss, so he swallowed again. Kissing her shouldn’t even be a blip on the radar. This girl was the reason he didn’t have a home or a family. It was her fault he’d grown up on the outside looking in, her fault people whispered behind his back, and her fault he was destined to die young. Bay-Lee stirred in her sleep. Mumbling, she pushed against his chest with one hand. “Go ‘way.”
Cute, like a box of kittens. For a second he forgot to hate her. His heart momentarily softened—not for long. The new sensation was enough to wipe the smile from his face. Delivering a mental kick to his brain, he reminded himself this girl was the last person in the world he could let his guard down around. She was worse than trouble. If he wasn’t careful, this seemingly harmless meeting would lead to his total destruction.
Ready to wake her, he leaned in close to her face and whispered her (fake) name. Like him, she was forced to live under an alias. Michelle. ***** The knowledge she was no longer alone in bed should have scared the crap out of Bay-Lee and normally it would have, but she was still floating on the fragments of a blissful dream. The soft caress of a lover’s hands surfaced with her consciousness. She’d been dreaming about being in love, the kind of love that inspired people to die for each other, the Romeo and Juliet sort of love. Nothing else seemed real to her.
An odd smell pierced the veil of sleep. She wrinkled her nose. Jack Daniels?
The next thing to grab her attention was the feel of a hard body crowding her on the narrow mattress.
Warm breath lightly blew a trail down her face from forehead to mouth like the soft wings of a butterfly brushing against her skin. Fingers slid up one arm to curve around her shoulder. Her eyelids fluttered open, and she smiled. Fantasy wove a complicated tapestry with reality.
The dark-haired boy’s gaze settled on her lips. She could practically read his mind. He wanted to kiss her until neither of them could breathe. Still living on the leftover residue of an imagined love, she was going to allow it. A tingling sense of anticipation had her nearly breathless already.
She closed her eyes again, ready for it.
The bed creaked as he leaned in to give her what she desired most. His hot breath teased her lips. The smell of whiskey intoxicated her. She clenched her hands into tight fists, grabbing and holding bunched up bedding, and silently willed him to hurry before she came to her senses. Outside of this moment nothing existed, not school, not her boyfriend, not the troubling circumstances that forced her to constantly move from state to state, nothing.
When her lips remained cool and untouched, she opened her eyes to find the boy staring down at her with pure contempt. A menacing light emanated from his eyes. A soft growl parted his lips, reminding her of a werewolf. Her blood ran cold and she froze. Her mind raced, desperately searching for truth. Could he be a werewolf?
“You ruined my life,” he whispered in a semi-harsh tone, accusing.
Wide awake now, facts hit her like an avalanche. A stranger was in her bed, her gun was in the dresser, and he was big enough to overpower her. Feeling vulnerable made her sick to her stomach. It also filled her with unquenchable anger. How dare this stupid boy invade her bedroom, her bed, and threaten her.
Speaking in a firm tone without the slightest quiver, she asked, “How did you get in here?” He rolled off the bed, no hurry, while she pulled the sheet higher to hide the bunny pajamas. They were ridiculous, sky blue with fluffy scampering white rabbits. Knowing her hair was a mess, she automatically reached up to fix it. At the last second she stayed her hand. Why should she care if he thought she was pretty? She frowned. “Did Connor let you in?”
Her uncle wasn’t known for having the greatest judgment in the world.
The intruder grinned and took a few steps back until beams of moonlight exposed his left half. Tall and muscular, the guy was built better than any of the boys she went to school with. If she had to guess, she would say he was between eighteen and twenty-two. Utterly masculine, he also had a lot of features girls would be envious of like long lashes, thick hair, and beautiful eyes. They were the most amazing shade of green, like a place deep in the forest after a violent thunderstorm.
He grinned. “I thought it was every teen girl’s secret fantasy to have me in her bedroom. Was I wrong?”
It was then she recognized him: Tyler Beck, lead singer for the notorious band Bad-Rock. There was a rock star in her bedroom. Gulp! For a moment she forgot to breathe. How was it even possible? Why would a rock star come to her bedroom in the middle of the night? Was she on a reality prank show?
He picked up her CD collection from the edge of the white wicker dresser and carelessly flicked through them, lips twisted in disgust. A few of the CDs wound up on the floor.
She blinked. “I must still be asleep. Am I... dreaming?”
“No.” The grin changed to a smirk. “I break into the homes of random girls all the time... just to talk. Being a rock star doesn’t keep me busy enough.” He raised an eyebrow and held up a CD. “Seriously? I wouldn’t listen to this if someone had a gun to my head. Your taste in music sucks.”
Although the CDs in his hands were a mixture of Country and Jazz, she loved Classic Rock like her dad. The CDs didn’t belong to her. Nothing in the room did with the exception of a few sentimental items she carried with her from place to place. She wasn’t going to explain her life to him. If she wanted to bare her soul, she’d go to a therapist. Knowing it was a dream didn’t make her feel any better about him going through what he thought were her personal belongings.
“Why did you kill those people?” she asked, turning the tables on him as she intruded into his private life. An image of dead bodies on a night club floor surfaced in her mind. It took effort not to shudder. “What did they ever do to you?”
He laughed, throaty and deep. It was a sexy laugh that dried the inside of her mouth. She clenched her teeth. What was wrong with her? She hadn’t felt this way about a guy before. Why now? Why this murderer?
“Nothing,” he replied. Then he pointed a finger at her. “You, on the other hand, ruined my life.” “Stop saying that. I don’t even know you. Before you killed all those people I didn’t even know we were on the same planet.” “Ouch.” A wry smile curved his mouth. “So you aren’t one of my many adoring fans?”
Why was she arguing with a figment of her imagination?
He put her CD collection back on the edge of the dresser and reached for the tiny television set next to it, flipping it on without seeking permission. An old sit-com with a noisy family brought the square screen to life. He said, “We could watch a show to pass the time.”
“Pass the time until what?”
He shrugged wide shoulders, no comment.
In her sixteen years she hadn’t felt such an overwhelming attraction to anyone. Why now? Why Tyler Beck?
She shook her head to clear it, answering his earlier question. “No, I am not a fan. I don’t follow you online or turn the volume up when one of your dumb songs comes on the radio. I never think about you. Why are you in my head?”
“You tell me. It’s your—”
“Dream.” She cut him off. “I know. You don’t have to keep repeating yourself. I get it already.”
“Until this... dream ends, what do you want to do?”
He grinned at her. His eyebrows bounced in a comical leer, letting her know what he wanted to do without words.
Naughty thoughts tortured her. She could do whatever she wanted with him. Although she hated his music, she had to admit he was totally gorgeous. It was a dream so no one would ever know. No one would get hurt. She could kiss him, tease him, drive a dagger deep into his heart if she felt like it, anything. For once, she could just let go. The possibilities were delicious. Her tongue remained in knots. She couldn’t speak.
Tyler Beck, the hottest rock singer on the planet, the boy every girl fantasized about stared at her with hungry eyes. He planted a knee on the bed near her foot. His hand landed next to her upper thigh. The other knee and hand joined them on the bed. Slowly he crawled up her body, careful not to touch her until he was once again hovering over her mouth. In a husky whisper he repeated, “What do you want to do? Talk? Fight? Make out?”
The challenging tone sent a chill through her, a bad sort of chill. Doubts surfaced. What if this wasn’t a dream and this boy was not Tyler Beck? Maybe a monster had crossed over from the Spirit Realm to kill her. She needed to do something quick. If she died, it would be her own fault for being so stupid.
Her hand slid under the pillow behind her head to grab the ancient dagger she slept on. Gripping it hard, she prepared to attack. Something in her eyes tipped him off. Before she could bury the blade in his chest, he leaped off the bed without warning. Flying backwards, he stumbled and hit the wall near the dresser. A picture of two cats rocked sideways before falling.
“Another time then,” he mumbled before disappearing.
Bay-Lee blinked at the empty space where his body had been. A shaky laugh escaped her open mouth. She was dreaming. There wasn’t a monster out there that could vanish into thin air. Relaxed now, she collapsed on the mattress, breathing hard. Something was seriously wrong with her, having a hot dream about a psycho rock star. Maybe she should seek therapy. *****
“Rock star Tyler Beck is dead at the age of twenty,” the news anchor said, unable to keep a drop of excitement from her voice. “A nationwide manhunt for Bad-Rock’s front-man ended in tragedy earlier this evening when Beck lost control of his vehicle during a police chase. Band members could not be reached for comment. The rock star’s publicist has issued the following statement.”
Bay-Lee frowned in her sleep. Horrible images infiltrated her mind, twisted metal and a body burned beyond recognition. The frown deepened. She had fallen asleep with the television on again. It was the only logical reason for the intrusion of a loud female voice. Her hand slapped around the mattress, blindly searching for the remote in the fervent hope she wouldn’t have to open her eyes.
The news anchor read the statement.
“Tyler’s family and close friends request privacy and understanding in this difficult time as they grieve for a talented life cut too short. Although Tyler was accused of a horrendous crime earlier this week, we are confident his name will be cleared. In the meantime, we ask that...”
Giving in to the inevitable, Bay-Lee parted her eyelids in a painful squint. Light from the television nearly blinded her. Her head snapped around so she was facing the darkened side of her room. The remote was on the nightstand next to the alarm clock. Grabbing it, she switched the set off.
Cool darkness settled over her bedroom, bringing instant relief. She closed her eyes again, breathing easier. Silence gave her a much needed break as she listened to the rest of the house. There wasn’t a single sound. Nothing. Her uncle must have gone to bed.
The news anchor’s words took a second trip through her mind.
They had been talking about Tyler Beck on the late night news. That’s why she’d been dreaming about him. Mystery solved. There wasn’t anything wrong with her that couldn’t be fixed by turning off the TV before going to bed.
All week long his face had haunted her. A person couldn’t turn on a television or pick up a magazine without seeing his image. Following a Sold Out concert last Friday night he had gone to a party thrown in his honor, and he’d massacred sixteen of his biggest fans. What sort of person murdered their own fans?
According to police, there was enough evidence to convict. Tyler Beck was caught with the smoking guns still in his hands. There was also a matter of a video on the Internet that had gone viral—five million hits in one day. It was shot by a teen outside the club and clearly showed Tyler exiting the party before police surrounded him.
The rock star had been running from the law ever since.
She sighed, a hundred percent awake now. Frustrated, she kicked at the sheet and struggled to get comfortable. She punched her pillow a few times. Stupid Tyler Beck. She was sick of hearing his name, and now the jerk was apparently going to ruin a good night’s sleep with his sudden demise. It was ridiculous. Before this week she hadn’t even noticed he was alive.
Now she couldn’t stop thinking about him.
In fact, Bay-Lee went back to sleep with Tyler Beck’s face firmly planted in her mind. He starred in her dreams, a bad boy with movie star looks and a terrible reputation. *****
The temperature in her bedroom plummeted thirty degrees. She shivered and flipped onto her stomach. Dark hair caught beneath one shoulder, pulling painfully at her scalp. She winced. The sheet proved a poor barrier between her skin and the Arctic air. What was going on? Had the heater stopped working?
Knowledge returned. Experience helped Bay-Lee’s tired brain connect the dots. The cold was due to a supernatural occurrence. It had been a warm evening when she’d gone to bed. What could change the temperature so drastically? She bolted upright.
At the same time she reached behind her, sliding her fingers beneath the pillow, and grasping the hilt of the ancient dagger, a rumbling sound came from the closet. The dagger was a gift from Van for her sixteenth birthday. The raised design pinched the tender flesh of her palm, but she barely felt it. Her fingers tightened. Simply having it in her hand had the power to calm her.
The urge to call for her uncle drove her lips open. She gathered a breath. White light seeped through the cracks around her closet door, outlining the tall rectangular plank. She had a visitor. It was too late to yell for Uncle Connor. The monster from the Spirit Realm would hear her.
Bay-Lee swallowed as she tried to remember every lesson Van had taught her about self-defense over the years. She purposely slowed her breathing. It would be better if she had the advantage. With that in mind she went down on the mattress and closed her eyes. Let the thing think it had caught her asleep and unaware. She held the dagger against her chest beneath the sheet and waited. Nothing was going to kill her, not in her own bedroom, not tonight.
The light died, her closet door opened, and a shadowy figure swept into her bedroom. A floorboard creaked beneath the unexpected weight. Her entire body stiffened beneath the sheet, knowing the thing was there to kill her.
With her eyes closed she couldn’t see the monster coming towards her, so she strained her ears to pick up on the slightest noise. Instead of footsteps, a disturbing dragging sound rested on the air. Her hand tightened around the dagger. The monster swished closer. It was almost to the head of the bed now. She held her breath. A plan of attack played like a silent movie in the back of her mind. She knew what to do.
The monster bent over her. Its breath stank of smoking ashes and decaying flesh. Bony fingers reached for her.
Now! She rolled in the opposite direction, leaped off the bed, and pointed the dagger at the intruder. Draped in a black cloak with tattered edges and a hood pulled down to conceal its face, the thing was obviously a Reaper. Although she’d read about Reapers in one of Van’s books, she’d never seen one in person.
Reapers could see better in the dark than a cat. She felt vulnerable in the silly bunny pajamas. There was a fuzzy robe hanging on the inside of her closet door. If she could have a single wish granted, she would want to be in that robe. But there was no point in asking the Reaper to allow her to get it. The Reaper wouldn’t give her time to put it on. They weren’t known for their patience.
She swallowed hard before reaching down deep to find her voice. “Are you here to reap me? Am I dying?”
The thing spoke to her in a voice that sounded like gravel in a blender, a mere whisper in an otherwise silent night. “I have not come to harm you.”
“Then why?” Everything she knew about reapers flitted through her mind, nothing useful. They collected souls and crossed them safely over the dark plains of the Spirit Realm. It was their only job, priority one. If the thing wasn’t in her room to collect her, then... “What do you want?”
The monster’s eyes began to burn, yellow at first and then red. That was the only part of its face she could make out in the smothering darkness. It spoke slowly, enunciating every word with excruciating detail, and it hissed on the letter S, reminding her of a snake. “I can s-see into your s-soul. Do not fear. Your s-secrets are s-safe with me.”
What the hell? Her own voice quivered. “You have thirty seconds to tell me why you’re here before I cut your tongue out.”
“We both know that isn’t possible.” To prove its point, it remained silent for an uncomfortable length of time. By the time it spoke again she was ready to scream for backup. “You do not know who you are or the importance you will play in the s-scheme of things. Your s-soul is a mess of contradictions. Every time you move to another location, they give you a new part to play. S-sometimes you s-stand in front of the mirror and s-stare into your own eyes as you s-search for your true s-self.”
The dagger in her hand trembled. Quickly she took control of her body and stopped the involuntary movement. How could this thing possibly know what she did or how she felt? Had it been spying on her?
The idea that this thing knew her deepest most private thoughts made her sick to her stomach. Wrapping herself in an air of false bravado, she said, “For the last time, tell me why you’re here. Then get out of my house or I will find a way to tear your face off.”
Did reapers have faces?
“S-soon you will know who you are, who you truly are. All of your questions will be answered. You will find your other half, your destiny.” It paused before adding, “They are keeping s-secrets from you?”
“Your uncle and... your father. They want to keep you from your destiny, child. Open your eyes. S-see the truth.”
Things from the other side lied more often than not. She wasn’t prepared to believe it and yet she had to ask, “If they’re keeping secrets from me and you know what they are, tell me.”
The monster shook its head beneath the cloak. “I am bound by rules, child. I can only give you a hint.”
She waited, saying nothing.
“Follow your heart. Love what you want to love. Be who you want to be.”
“That’s it? I could find that in a fortune cookie.” Clenching her teeth, she said, “Get out.”
The thing remained statue still. Then he said, “There is more.”
Her frustration grew. If it was possible to kill a reaper, the thing would be dead on her floor. “What?”
“Why must I tell you everything? You must s-sense it. S-something is coming. S-something bad.”
“Something worse than you?”
It chuckled. “Beware. It kills—.”
“Newsflash, buddy. Everything from your side kills. That’s what I’m here for, to stop them.”
“It kills you on your birthday.”
“That’s depressing.” She wondered if monsters understood sarcasm. Her eyes narrowed on the creature. “Why bother to warn me? I know The Order wants me dead.”
“S-soon, yes. But not yet.”
“Why not?” They’d been on her trail for years. Why would they suddenly send her a warning? Could monsters lose their minds?
It didn’t bother to answer her question. The monster disappeared into the closet before she could swallow. A light flashed around the edges of the door. Darkness once again stole over her bedroom. It was gone.
Her flesh itched to chase the monster down and torture answers out of it. Problem was she couldn’t remember if Reapers felt pain. Following it would be stupid. Getting caught on the other side without an arsenal would be doubly stupid. She turned for bed. Her gaze swung back to the closet door. She didn’t want another visitor. The next one might kill her instead of handing her a useless warning.
Bay-Lee got on the other side of her dresser. She pushed, scooting it across the floor until it blocked the closed door. Let something try to enter her room now. On her way back to bed her gaze found the cat picture on the floor. The breath caught in her throat. If she’d been dreaming before, how had the picture gotten knocked off the wall?
She’d had two visitors tonight.
What was going on over there in the Spirit Realm? Had someone opened a doorway between there and her bedroom? Had they put a sign out front saying This way to Van Helsing’s daughter?
Adrenaline pumped through her veins. The encounter with the two monsters had her body burning extra hot. Too bad she hadn’t been able to fight one of them. A good fight might have helped calm her. Now she was too wound up to return to bed. Maybe she would listen to some music or read a book. It took hours for her body to relax enough to sleep.
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