As promised, here is the first chapter of Grave, Book Two in the Curtain Chasers Trilogy. There are some spoilers for Alley (Book One) in the excerpt so be aware. Grave is available for pre-order right now.
Forthcoming June 15, 2015
When Clay Devlin receives a call from his lover, Jacob Hunt, he hopes for a tryst that might rekindle their fading relationship. Instead, he gets hired.
Jacob wants Clay to help a young boy who is bound to a curtain in much the same way Clay had recently been. Only, this curtain is home to another entity as well, one far more dangerous.
As Clay hunts for a way to save the boy, he finds himself rediscovering the easy companionship and heightened passion he’d shared with Jacob. Just this time with the constant reminder that Jacob might be planning on leaving him behind once the case is closed.
But when the situation turns deadly, Clay must choose between giving up the freedom he’d fought so hard to gain or losing Jacob completely. And time is slipping away with every agonizing step forward.
Warning: This novella features a lost grave, hidden heartache and takes place where death and violence breed powerful beings and not everything is as it seems.
The call came while Clay was stepping out of the shower. He let it go to voicemail, thinking it was Donnie seeing if Clay still planned on stopping by the pub tonight. In fact, he’d dressed, ran the slightest bit of gel through his hair, pretending not to notice the couple that had gone gray near his ears, and was searching through the fridge for leftovers when he remembered.
And he only remembered because his phone rang again.
This time he picked it up to answer, his heart giving a one-two thump out of rhythm when he saw who it was.
“Jacob,” he said, unsure whether the pleased pulse that warmed his heart and lifted his cock was still appropriate. It had, after all, been a while since they’d spoken. Two months or thereabouts if you didn’t count that single awkward email exchange.
“Morning, Clay. How’ve you been?” Jacob’s voice sounded strained, his normally deep rumble that always sent suggestions of lovemaking through Clay’s mind a little off-kilter, higher than usual.
Because wasn’t that always the truth. Seemed to be the truth for the entire world nowadays. Too busy for each other. Too tired to talk. Clay’s nights filled with hunting. Jacob’s days filled with research. Neither of them in the same state for more than a day or two at a time.
They hadn’t drifted apart so much as been tugged in two different directions, especially after Clay had finished preliminary training and stepped into an actual partnership, albeit of the junior variety despite his partner being a good decade younger. It wasn’t that he didn’t want Jacob, he always wanted the man, but it’d become increasingly difficult to find time that worked for both of them given they lived in two separate states and were both constantly on the move.
Eventually, they’d just ceased trying. Clay didn’t like to think he gave up on them, but he suspected that’s exactly what had happened.
“Yeah,” breathed Jacob. “Can you talk? Or are you busy right now?”
Clay left the chicken on the counter and purposefully sat on his couch, ignoring the jolt that came when one of the feet popped off for the millionth time. “I’ve got time.” All the time in the world actually, at least for the next forty-eight hours. After his two days off, who knew?
Jacob blew out a sigh, the sound like a gust of heavy wind in Clay’s ear. “I was looking into something north of Baltimore, only a few hours away from you.”
Clay’s groin tingled at those words, anticipating a request for a tryst. It’d been two months, yes, but they’d never left anything on bad terms. They’d never truly left anything at all, in reality. Just let things fade naturally. So possibility hovered between them. There for the taking.
“Thing is,” continued Jacob, “this one has some disturbing similarities to what happened to you.”
Immediately, the warm feeling that had been gathering in Clay’s lower half disappeared.
Around nine months ago, Clay had been stuck in an alley, his soul attached to a curtain that linked into the otherworld and his ability to physically manifest self-taught and limited. It’d been a prison, laid out by a man named Owen Brennan who had insisted on revenge against Clay’s accidental killing of Owen’s cousin. For three years, Clay had a lived a life that couldn’t conceivably be called a life.
Then Jacob Hunt had walked into his alley. He’d come with swagger in his hips and dimples in his cheeks and managed to convince Clay that freedom was inevitable. It’d been touch and go there for a while after Owen had shown back up, but Jacob had come through, bringing a woman named Summer Corder from BAH, the company Clay now worked for, to help free him.
But Clay didn’t hold any illusions as to why he’d been helped. Summer, and most of the company, had cared little for him as an individual, but everything about the fact that a real, live person had been attached to the otherworld, had lived within the otherworld for an extended length of time, and now continued to breathe air and walk the earth as a fully human entity with no resemblance to the born-agains that formed from the distorted souls of the dead.
“What kind of similarities?” asked Clay carefully.
“A human, linked to a curtain. He’s eight years old, living in a subdivision called Liberty Elms.”
“The story someone submitted to me talked about seeing the shimmer of a hotspot within a two-story house within the development. The place had been standing empty because it’d been considered a crime scene and hadn’t yet been released by the police. But, you know the police…”
“Yeah, I know the police.”
In the time Clay had begun work, he’d learned quickly how useless the police could be in varying situations. They had the best of intentions—usually—but the worst of responses whenever it came to the born-again. In occasional cities BAH would get lucky and have a member of the informed working within the force that they could pay to provide them with much needed support. Most places, they had to work around the police, which could be tiresome depending upon the problem.
“So I went to check it out.”
“Of course you did,” said Clay. He hadn’t meant to sound quite so judgmental, but couldn’t pull the words back once they were out there.
Jacob didn’t respond for a moment, the silence heavy, as if the miles and time between them had suddenly come crashing down. When he spoke, he ignored Clay’s barb completely, though undoubtedly hadn’t forgotten it.
“The hotspot shows signs of being man-made. Death signatures nearby, but the layered energy makes it difficult to individually examine everything. The spread is distinct, ending around the outside walls of the house. The curtain itself is cleanly cut, chest height, very similar in nature to the one you were linked to.”
“And the boy?”
Jacob chuckled, the noise of it reminding Clay of Jacob’s deep dimples and how’d they pop whenever Clay made him laugh. That familiar ache pulsed within his heart again, reminding him of all the long, lonely nights he’d spent in hotel rooms imagining he could catch the scent of Jacob’s cologne if he just breathed deep enough.
“I’d easily bet that he’s the reason why the police haven’t released the house. You see, the kid’s still there, living by himself in that place. I saw him. Spoke with him. Thought he was a neighbor kid at first who’d snuck into the house to play. Then, when I asked him whether he’d been friends with any of the kids who’d lived there, he blinked out, like you used to. I could still see him of course, but when I continued to speak with him, he freaked on me and crossed the curtain.”
Clay rose and strode to the window. The clouds hung dark and heavy in the sky, overcast and promising rain at some point during the day. When he leaned close to the glass, he could just see the top of the pub. The bright space next to the pub was what drew his eye. The alley that had once been his prison. He shuddered internally, horrified at the thought of being attached to the otherworld at the ripe old age of eight.
“How do you know he’s not a born-again?” asked Clay.
“Because,” said Jacob, slightly breathless. “He’s not dead.”
Jacob had been able to tell that about Clay too. From the first moment they’d met. Clay turned around and leaned his head against the window. “And what do you want me to do about it?”
“I want to hire you to save him. I can’t just write something up and let people drain the hotspot until he’s dead. I just can’t.”
“You could have contacted Summer, just like you did with me.”
“Clay, he’s eight. And he hasn’t show any indication of being able to control power from within the otherworld. I can’t imagine Summer is going to care one way or another, not when she already has you.”
Something in Jacob’s tone as he said that last sentence sounded almost resentful, but Clay wasn’t used to hearing that emotion leak from Jacob so he wasn’t sure. Before he could replay the words to get a real handle on what Jacob might not be saying, Jacob had already rushed on.
“Plus, there’s something more to this. Another kid was killed here, and a couple more removed when the parents were locked up. When I researched this boy, he’s listed as missing. Been on milk cartons even. That’s how I know for sure he’s not dead. And he looks a little older than the pictures I’ve seen of him, so it’s obvious that he’s grown in the two years since the hotspot was created.”
“Why not call BAH direct and hire from there?” asked Clay. He knew why, but a guy liked to hear it sometimes, even if he was unwilling to ask the question straight.
Jacob let out that chuckle, the one that was more breath than sound. The one Clay heard in his more erotic dreams of late. “Because I want you.”
* * *
They drove a rental since it was only a few hours north. Or, more accurately, Clay drove. Danica Morris, his partner of not quite four months, sat in the passenger seat tapping away on her phone and reading out loud from the articles she found.
“This one claims the mom was a meth addict. Hmm, and the pictures seem to back that up. Busted a couple of times in her teen years, but that’s just hearsay until I get her file from Ella. She had six kids. The father of the first two managed to snag custody. Good for him. The other four… Let’s see…”
Clay glanced at her.
Danica Morris was twenty-nine, had an elongated face and wore three pairs of diamond encrusted gold-plated studs wherever she went. She also was an amazing shot, could brighten auras faster than your average quick draw and found a morbid enjoyment out of dissecting born-agains before they could completely dissipate into the otherworld. She’d grown on him, ever since that first job where she’d poked the barrel of her rifle at a poltergeist and asked him whether he wanted a pet.
With the GPS reading only ten minutes from Liberty Elms, Danica finally said, “Here it is. Ella’s being slow today. Aiden Kent is the name of the kid listed as missing. His mother is Jessica Lane and his father is Randall Kent, both still incarcerated. Lane is awaiting trial. Kent got life with the possibility of parole in the murder of Madison Kent.”
“How old was she?” asked Clay.
“Ten, at the time. Two other children, both having suffered abuse and neglect, have been pulled and put with the grandparents on the Lane side of the family. They are Ricky Kent, ten now, and Mandy Kent, thirteen now.”
Clay exhaled sharply as he took an exit off the interstate. “Okay, so Aiden was the youngest.”
“Is the youngest,” said Danica. “Since your friend says he’s still alive.”
He glanced at her without malice at the snarky way she enunciated the word “friend.” Then he stared out the windshield again. “No mention of the hotspot in the report?”
Danica snorted. “Of course not. I don’t even have to read it to know that. If one of the officers did notice it, it still wouldn’t have made it into writing. Ella’s checking to see if we’ve got a contact, but she’s doubtful. We’ve got a guy within the Baltimore PD but this is too far out of his jurisdiction.” She slapped her phone against her thigh. “You really think this is going to be a case like yours?”
Clay remained silent for a moment, replaying the barely concealed worry in Jacob’s voice. “No,” he said. “Honestly, I think it’s going to be something worse.”