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Everybody needs love — especially those sexy shapeshifters, gentlemen ghosts, misunderstood demons and witches, and intergalactic leaders. You’ll find all of these otherworldly heartthrobs — and the strong, sexy women who make their perfect matches — in this captivating collection of paranormal titles from Crimson Romance.
Of Eternal Life: Micah Persell
Her Ghost Wears Kilts: Kathleen Shaputis
A Demon in Waiting: Holley Trent
The Garnet Dagger: Andrea R. Cooper
The Peacekeeper’s Soul: Candace Sams
Embrace the Fire: Spring Stevens
Swamp Magic: Bobbi Romans
Discovery: Lisa White
Fated Souls: Becky Flade
The Nymph’s Labyrinth: Danica Winters
Chapter One Of Eternal Life by Micha Persell
Abilene Miller, sitting cross-legged on the floor, squinted at the rolls of gauze on the shelf in front of her through the fringe of her lashes. When the gauze blended into something resembling a snow-covered mountain, she sighed with satisfaction and leaned her head back against the wall behind her. The supply closet was the coolest place in the hospital, and with this little trick, she could almost fool herself into thinking she was not in the God-forsaken Mojave Desert.
“Southern California, you lying bitch,” she murmured as she took a vehement bite from her peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Dreams of rolling ocean waves, vibrant night life, and Disneyland had quickly given way to the reality that was Needles, California: a small town of 4,000 outside of the Mojave National Preserve.
Of course, the two military recruiters who had come to her hometown of Aspen, Colorado, right after med school to convince her to come work in their “cutting edge” research facility had played up those very tourist attractions in a way that merited a court martial for perjury. If that was even a thing that could happen. She didn’t know. Military I am not, she thought in amusement as she set aside her sandwich for a baggie of Oreos.
She sighed again, this time in disgust. Top 5 percent of my class at Duke University Medical School, and I get duped. She hadn’t even begun her residency, and these guys had wanted her. Really, really wanted her. Enough to throw an obscene amount of money at her, making “no” an impossibility. And if she had thought it was suspicious that they wanted to hire her before she had even seen the facility, the pull of finally being on her own had overshadowed the oddity.
She snorted. “On her own” was proving to be an elusive concept. In fact, she felt as though every step she took was measured. She lived in a military dormitory with the four other women who worked in the labs. They all carpooled to work each morning, and the head of the hospital, Major Taylor, seemed to lurk around every corner, as aware of her movements as her overbearing parents.
Abilene knew she’d made a mistake in taking this job. She just so badly needed to prove herself. What was that old adage? If it sounds too good to be true, don’t effing move into a military compound?
“Abilene, you in here?”
She gave an unfeminine grunt in response and returned her attention to her Oreos. The door edged open, and Dahlia looked in.
“Oh, Abi, hon, are you fantasizing that the gauze is snow again?”
“Among other things,” Abilene replied.
Dahlia shut the door behind her and sank down to the floor beside Abilene, reaching over and snagging an Oreo from the baggie. She turned her warm caramel-colored eyes toward Abilene.
Abilene met her friend’s gaze. “Dahlia, how many patients have you seen today?”
Understanding lit in her friend’s eyes. Dahlia had been at the facility longer than Abilene. She had been recruited straight out of the University of Pennsylvania, also before her residency, and had been working here for nearly ten months. From their talks, Abilene knew it had been a long ten months.
“Abi, I haven’t seen any patients today. You know that.”
Abilene nodded. Both women had come to this hospital in part because they believed in the cause. According to the military recruitment team that had visited each of them, the government was conducting an experiment in which they planned to refurbish small, abandoned military buildings in rural areas. These facilities would be for the local population as well as for the processing of the armed forces’ medical tests. The facilities would employ civilian doctors, but they would be funded by the government and sanctioned by the military.
It was nice in theory; however, the largely Native American population in Needles viewed any help from the government with suspicion, understandably so, and avoided the new hospital as though they still used plague-ridden blankets — a reaction the government had to have expected, which lead Abilene to wonder what the real purpose of this facility was. It was hard to believe she and the other women were here just to run labs.
“What are we doing here?” Abilene pushed a hand through her short blonde curls in frustration. “Damn it, I want to see patients. I want to save lives. I want to do something.” Dahlia broke eye contact and looked at the floor.
Abilene blew out a breath. “Sorry.” She offered a smile. She’d gotten carried away again. “Jeez, I’m sorry, Dahlia. I know you’re frustrated, too.”
Dahlia gave Abilene’s knee a squeeze. “Hey,” she shrugged, “the government is paying us to run labs and make friends. What’s to complain about?” She rose to her feet in effortless grace, turning to offer Abilene a hand up. “Come on. Treat you to a Diet Coke from the vending machine?”
This was turning into a tradition among the women at the hospital. Whenever one of them had a meltdown, it always ended with Diet Coke, which, personally, Abilene loathed. The other women sucked it down like ambrosia.
“Oh baby, you know just what I like,” Abilene said in a breathy voice, grasping Dahlia’s proffered hand while shoving thoughts of her disappointing career aside. She rose to her feet, much less gracefully than Dahlia. “You and your weird Swan Lake moves suck, you know,” she grumbled.
Dahlia chuckled and glided out into the hall.
• • •
Awareness flooded his senses so quickly he choked on his gasp of air. For several moments all he could do was gulp as his body took over in its need for oxygen. His lungs burned. He could hear his ragged breaths echoing around him, bouncing around an empty cavern.
Where am I?
His instinct urged him to take in any details he could. He heard a measured beep. His frantic mind wouldn’t place it. In fact, he couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything but that hysterical pull of air. Panic crept into the edges of his consciousness, causing his heart rate to thump.
Where was he? What was happening? Why was he … afraid?
God, not fear.
His mind clamped down on him. Fear was dangerous.
Regulate breathing. Determine surroundings. He clenched his teeth behind closed lips. Slowly, steadily, he drew a measured breath through his nose. The debilitating fear in his chest abated. Again, an internal voice whispered.
He pulled another breath through flared nostrils, this time blowing it out between parted, parched lips. As the panic receded, he noticed the incessant beeping slowed. In an instant, he discerned the beeping: his own heart rate.
A medical facility.
I’m hurt? He took mental inventory of his body. The sudden awareness of his limbs brought an onrush of pain. His bones felt crushed, agony knifed through him, and he groaned in the back of his throat.
Pain. Familiar pain. He was not a stranger to this anguish. He eased his eyes open. An involuntary moan escaped his lips, and he squeezed his eyes shut against the bright lights.
“1457, subject is stirring. Shows signs of light-related visual pain.”
Intense, animal fear arose at the sound of the clinical voice above his head. At the alarming reference to a subject.
As in test subject? Ah, God …
He held his breath as he processed this new information, what the presence of that voice meant.
I’m not alone.
For some reason, instead of calming him, this revelation ratcheted the terror tighter, to the snapping point. The inner voice whispered urgently:
This man is dangerous.
A lock fell from a hidden cache of information in his brain. He recognized the voice that whispered to him. The Voice had been his constant companion since this nightmare had begun. Now, the Voice whispered the identity of the other person in the room: The Tormentor. The beep above his left shoulder sped up as panic rushed in again. The muscles in his arms and legs clamped down as his mind scrambled over fight-or flight.
This involuntary movement caused more pain to slice through him, and he just stopped another moan from rising out of his chest. He could not let himself make any sounds of distress. Another revelation from that hidden instinct: Hide your suffering. He loves it.
Oh, God. How did he know that? There was no doubt in his mind that he knew that from personal experience. This newest revelation solved his fight-or-flight dilemma: flight.
He moved his left arm infinitesimally to determine how much pain he would be dealing with when he fled. He became aware of the cold, cutting metal impeding further movement.
A new flare of panic. Oh, no. Not that. He moved his arm again and met the same immovable restraint. He tried to move his feet. He was shackled. The sharp edges of the metal binding his wrists and ankles bit into his skin, adding to the buffet of pain, but his terror would not allow him to cease his struggles.
His mind screamed at him, urging his body to do the impossible.
“1500, subject is showing usual onset of panic at regained consciousness. Thrashing has opened wounds at the sites where he is restrained.”
The last of his confusion melted away. He remembered. He remembered everything, and knew he was lost. There would be no escape, just as there had been no escape for the past eight years. He’d been through this before. The panicked awakening. The fierce pain swamping every corner of his existence. The dawning horror of remembered tortures.
When he forced his eyes open, ignoring the sting of the bright operating room lights, a familiar figure approached.
“Always such a fuss, hmm, Eli?” The Tormentor tsked. Eli recoiled. His name was not safe with that man. He never heard it without being reminded that he had no control over himself or his situation.
His struggles against the metal restraints now resulted in a rather satisfying cacophony, but still only caused blood to drip down his arms and pool beneath his feet. The Tormentor approached, eyeing the damage Eli had done to himself with a sadistic leer that turned Eli’s stomach.
“Blood is strength, you know.” The Tormentor shook his head in mock-sorrow. “What a pity that you seem to hold it in such low regard.”
A feral growl resonated in Eli’s chest, and he punched his head up from the stretcher to glare into the Tormentor’s eyes. “I’m going to kill you.
I’m going to make sure everyone knows what you’ve done here, and then,” he paused to ensure the Tormenter was looking at him, “I’m going to kill you.”
The Tormentor cocked an eyebrow and raised a recording device to chin level. “0817, subject is displaying the symptoms of aggression that have heretofore been associated with memory recollection. Has threatened death. Again.” He clicked off the recording device and slipped it into the pocket of his scrubs.
“‘What I’ve done here,’ hmm?” He leaned down until his face almost touched Eli’s. “What I’ve done here is what you signed up for, soldier.
Nothing more, nothing less.” He straightened with a sneer and turned toward the door.
One of the two guards on the other side of the see-through barrier keyed a code into the door, and the hiss of released pressure and a grinding of gears announced that the door was unlocked. The Tormentor paused with his hand on the handle and turned to announce over his
shoulder, “Number 140 begins in four hours. Perhaps you should use this time to gather your strength instead of waste it.” He twisted the handle and left the room.
In just four hours they were going to conduct their one hundred fortieth experiment.
Number 14: gunshot wound to the chest. The cold feel of steel pushed against his sternum. The force of the bullet driving his body into the unforgiving metal at his back. Gunpowder stinging his nostrils as his teeth chattered from the cold caused by his bleeding out.
Number 58: asphyxiation by smothering. Excruciating burning in his lungs. The flailing of his limbs as he fought the restraints in a need to knock the oppressive hand from his mouth and nose. Stars dotting his vision as his brain fought the lack of oxygen.
His heart rate sped up to match his ragged breathing. Number 100: dismemberment. He couldn’t stifle the moan that memory dredged up, hearing in his mind the buzz of the bone saw, feeling the heat of whirring metal on flesh. His Tormentor had informed him that they had wanted to make the one hundredth “special.”
He was panting like an animal now. Four hours. In four hours, they were going to kill him.
For the one hundred fortieth time.
Micah Persell, winner of the 2013 Virginia HOLT Award of Merit for her first novel Of Eternal Life, holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a double master’s degree in literature and English pedagogy. She is an avid reader of all types of literature, but has a soft spot for romance. She currently teaches high school English classes in Southern California. Her paranormal romance series, Operation: Middle of the Garden, and her “wild and wanton” editions of Austen’s Emma and Persuasion are available now through Crimson Romance.
As a moonwulf, Daciana never expected to fall in love with a human. Hell, she never imagined that she’d abandon her pack, endanger everyone around her, and break the worst rule possible. But she did.
A rogue werewolf is killing Daciana’s friends, and she sets on capturing the creature. She’ll do whatever it takes to stop the beast. The police and her boyfriend, Inspector Connell Lonescu, are starting to question her involvement in the murders, which is endangering the pack’s secret existence. But when the pack alpha kidnaps Connell, revealing the awful truth about the creature and its connection to the pack, Daciana must choose between saving the man she loves and saving her pack family from certain death.
OPENING OF CHAPTER 4
The phone’s strident ringing woke me up, and I glanced over at the bedside clock blazing
5:13 A.M. Too damn early for anything.
Tempted to dive back under the covers, I checked the caller ID: Connell. Crap. The previous night’s events came pouring back: me turning into a wulfkin outside the full moon, running with the pack all night, collecting my keys from the woods, and ditching Connell again. On top of that, I never retrieved the old books for the elixir. Double crap.
I pushed my legs over the edge of the bed, scrunched the sheet in my fist and answered the call. “Hi.”
“Where are you?” The panic in his voice turned my stomach.
“What happened to you last night?”
My throat dried up as my mind whirred with excuses. “I uncovered something in my research and got stuck into it, not realizing it was past midnight when I checked the clock. I didn’t want to wake you and went straight home. I’m sorry.”
“I suspected you wouldn’t come. Looks like I was right.”
“Come on, Connell, give me a break. I’m working on something majorly important.
When you’re on a case and spend nights in the office, I don’t give you shit about it.”
“That’s not what pisses me off. It’s that you never tell me anything. Send me a message if you’re going to be late or not turn up, anything to let me know what’s going on. It feels like you’re only staying with me on until something better comes along.”
“That’s not true. I only want you.”
I lowered my head and stared at the dirt beneath my toenails from the previous night’s run.
“I don’t want to talk about this now,” he said. “We found two more bodies this morning. The victims were located on the opposite sides of the city.” He paused. “Why would a wolf bolt across the city after a kill? They attack in packs, don’t they?”
A shiver rippled down my spine, the possibility of two more dracwulf kills made me furious. There was no convincing myself the attacks weren’t related to the others; I felt the truth in my gut. Worse yet, I wondered whether the dracwulf was simply hungry or territorial, and Sandulf had to know. I flopped onto the bed and curled into a ball.
When I gave no response, Connell continued. “I need you to review the reports from the previous attacks today and visit the new scenes to see if you believe it’s the same animal.”
I cringed at the innocent wolves who could lose their lives over Sandulf’s stupidity.
“Your team can test the evidence and see if it’s the same predator without me.”
“We have limited testing resources in this country, so we need your expertise to move things along.”
The way he said “your” sounded full of contempt, and it pained me to hear him talk like that.
“The chief wants a hunting party issued this weekend, preferably with Romania’s Animal Research Institute’s approval. He’s already spoken with your boss, Vasile.”
I climbed up and paced the room, shaking my head. Typical Vasile to agree to anything the cops asked.
“If I could leave you out of this, I would, but I can’t. Trust me, I tried.”
“I appreciate that. Where should we meet?”
“Piaţa Square. Half an hour?”
“I can do that.”
He hung up.
A snarl ripped past my throat at the terrible start to the day. Who could blame Connell for being upset? I’d be livid if he kept avoiding me.
I threw on a pair of Levi’s, boots, and a gray hooded top. The bathroom mirror reflected gray wolf eyes from my recent transformation, and already the silvery color was fading into a darker shade. I pulled every strand of my nest-style hair into a ponytail and rushed outside into the morning twilight.
T.F. Walsh emigrated from Romania to Australia at the age of eight and now lives in a regional city south of Sydney with her husband. Growing up hearing dark fairytales, she’s always had a passion for reading and writing horror, paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult stories. She balances all the dark with light fluffy stuff like baking and traveling.