The Guardian (Excerpt)
An excerpt from chapter one of my novel, The Guardian. enjoy!
There would always be something about a good fight.
Though before the battle began there might be anxiety and doubt, once the adrenaline kicked into gear, none of that mattered. It would become a dance, the steps coming from somewhere almost supernatural, somewhere utterly primal. Sweat and breath and muscle and movement, it would all mesh into a sort of terrifying beauty.
The final ricochet of her favorite sawed-off shotgun echoed through the cavernous warehouse. For one stolen moment, Dover Ellis found herself bemused by a random thought. It seemed that her adversaries were comfortable in any decrepit, abandoned structure, but they always had an affinity for a dingy warehouse.
Though her weapon still smoked in her hand, she slid it into the holster that kept it slung over her back for safekeeping. Thick leather scales she had sewn into her clothing would protect her flesh from overheated metal.
Taking a moment to assess the damage done to her, Dover rolled her shoulders experimentally. The demon got a few good shots in, dinging Dover’s pride more than causing any real damage. Still, demonic venom stung like a bitch and took far longer to heal than plain cuts or bruises. It would begin itching soon, not that she had the time to worry about such things.
Adrenaline had already begun its rapid ebb, replacing the heady rush she enjoyed with that smattering of pain that belied a damn good fight. Three bruised ribs, lacerations on the hip and shoulder, sore muscles, and a decent second degree burn all checked in as present. Dover knew that once she got home, cleaned herself up and infused her body with Light, she wouldn’t even feel the pain anymore.
There were legitimate perks in coming back from the dead.
Her sensitive hearing brought her the heartbeat she sought, along with fear-induced rapid breathing. The young man she had come here to save started out his evening as he might any other, with a trip to a new club with his friends. Of course, he hadn’t expected to get caught in a Lust demon’s web, carted into a nearby alley to be sucked dry of all sexual energy.
The Calling brought her to the heart of Atlanta to save this young life with a familiar sense of urgency. Typically when need pulled her to a Charge, dawdling wasn’t recommended. Dover found the object of her search almost too late, since the Succubus already had her needle-thin fangs dimpling the flesh of his throat.
From the alley the doomed couple occupied, Dover chased them into the warehouse where she’d done righteous battle against a denizen of Hell. As she passed the remains of the demon – reduced to little more than a pile of oily-ash – Dover homed in her preternatural hearing on the Charge she’d stashed behind a stack of decaying pallets in her quest to keep him from becoming Demon Chow.
Talon marks left by the embodiment of lust began their infernal itching, forcing Dover to shift the weapon on her back to find some sort of relief. She didn’t have time to heal herself, not when the fight had probably resulted in more than a few concerned calls to the Atlanta Police Department. Dover stepped lightly over the remains of her prey, holding her hands up in the classic style meant to convey surrender or the lack of ill-intent.
In the few minutes she had before some nervous beat cop stepped into the warehouse, Dover had to convince her Charge of her angelic origin, convince him to come with her, and get him the hell out of here. Sure. That would be easy enough, right?
She could only hope her other Charges managed to stay out of trouble this evening.
No matter how many of her Charges were attacked by demons, it always astonished her by the pure audacity of it. Surely they knew a Celestian creature would be immediately inbound. Could the prey really be worth a Guardian breathing down your neck?
Keeping her hands innocently held aloft, Dover approached the pallet stack as slowly as she dared. Her leather-gloved hands held no weapon, though she had them strapped to just about every inch of her person. The last time she’d moved too quickly in front of a frightened Charge, Dover had almost lost a finger. She still wondered where the woman had gotten that knife.
Deanne. Crazy thing.
“Ok!” Dover called out, her voice reverberating between the walls much as the gunshot had. “Everything’s all right now. I’m Dover Ellis and I’m your Guardian.”
A pause in the rapidity of breathing indicated her Charge holding his breath. At least she knew he had heard her. He continued to hide, probably weighing his options. Dover remained motionless, wondering what sort of picture she made to this normal guy having a normal night until all hell broke loose. Literally.
Dover stood at just over five feet tall, with a strong, slender build she didn’t have to work for. Perks linked to rising from the dead included coming back fighting fit, no matter what you’d been up to in life. She wore her cap of midnight black hair cropped at the chin, wavy now with the perspiration of battle. Her eyes, she thought, were a regular shade of light brown, something a romance author might pretty up by calling them ‘amber’. Her features bore clear marks of her mother’s Latin heritage. The pale complexion of her skin, however, belied Dad’s Anglo roots.
For work as a Guardian, she wore what might have been termed a uniform, since it was favored among her kind. Suits and dresses would only get in the way and denim shredded like paper under the talons of demons. Leather kept Hellfire from scorching her flesh and the heavy plates sewn into the material kept the worst talon-damage from ripping her to shreds. The vest she kept loaded with blades and ammunition gave her arms free movement, while belts that crossed her back, waist, and thighs held the assortment of weapons required for her work.
Tattoos ringed both wrists, a looping Celestian script given to her by the angels. They were complimenting images; one for strength and the other for speed.
“Who the hell are you?”
Her Charge spoke as he jumped from behind his pallet hideaway, brandishing a plank of dusty wood he had collected in his haste to find something, anything, with which to defend himself.
Dover shifted one hand, aware that the peace she’d bought with the life of that demon would likely be broken in minutes by human police. She reached for the thin leather thong around her neck, tugged out the small pouch kept in her vest for just such occasions. Pulling Charges out of the fire typically ended in a fire-fight, which meant the person she needed to protect had a penchant for panic by the end of it. They could be a little trigger-happy, best to err on the side of caution.
“I’m Dover Ellis,” she repeated patiently. “I’m your Guardian.”
Her fingers moved the cord around her neck with practiced ease, the vial inching toward her palm. “We need to go. I can explain everything if you put the wood down and come with me.”
“Right.” Her Charge’s voice heavy with sarcasm. “I just watched you kill someone!”
Dover resisted the urge to roll her eyes toward Heaven. Barely.
“Listen, what’s your name?”
“Jon. No ‘h’. Bennett.”
Dover smiled slightly. “Ok, Jon-no-h-Bennett. You just came about two minutes from being eaten alive and it’s so much worse than it sounds.”
She had done this dance a dozen times. No matter how often she said the words, believing them appeared to get no easier.
“Eaten?” Jon asked, taking a cautious step back. “It was just a girl, man.”
Dover raised one midnight brow, swallowing an exasperated sigh as she noted flashing blue and red lights reflecting in the dirty warehouse windows.
“That wasn’t a girl, honey. It was a Succubus, a lust demon. She was going to eat you alive.”
“You’re shittin’ me.” Jon stammered the words, that Deep South accent seeming to deepen with the force of his shock.
“You know something? I really, really hate that phrase.”
Deft fingers moved before her Charge could react, uncorking the Dust bottle and flinging the contents in the general direction of the startled young man. Silver-blue particles drifted through the air, moving toward her Charge as though he’d been magnetized.
His eyes drifted closed within a heartbeat, the 2x4 in his hands dropping with a muted thud a beat before his body gracelessly crumbled to the floor.
Dover dropped her arms with a sigh, shaking her head at his prone form before she tilted her head back to stare up at Heaven.
“You couldn’t give me an easy one just this once?”