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Chapter One





Although it was instinct to throw the word out, it rarely did any good. I could always hope.

A spiky tale whipped around the desk I crouched behind. I kicked it with every ounce of force I could muster and took a shot—even though I knew my pistol might not be the best weapon against whatever creature had commandeered the station. Saint’s Grove seemed to be a beacon for the paranormal, and most of the citizens turned a blind eye, putting a lot of hope in their town’s finest.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I envisioned the room and slowed my breathing. I’d been in that room nearly every day for most of my life, and the layout was seared into my brain. My gut told me to go to the left around the desk, as if a director just off the scene plotted my movements. I stood, and the creature whirled toward me, its tail clipping a chair that ripped across the floor, hitting the opposite wall with a deafening thud.

“Sheriff,” it hissed through fanged teeth. “Ah, I face the mighty Alyx.”

Why do these creatures love to talk? I raised my arm and put a bullet between the thing’s eyes. Its head jerked backward but then slowly rose, the hole in its forehead closing as the bullet was pushed back out, falling to the ground.

Bullets might not have stopped the tailed-beast, but they slowed it down. As soon as I pulled the trigger again, aiming for its mouth—if nothing else it would shut the beast up for a bit—I moved toward my office where the special lockbox with non-standard police tools waited. Since the academy never covered what to do when a bullet between the eyes only caused a delay in the attack, I mentally thanked Dad for all his wisdom as I raced to the box, brushed my fingertip over the pad on the side, and waited for the lid to pop open as I tried to calm my pulse. 

Officer Dylan, my longtime friend and partner, rushed into the room.

“Toss me something!” he yelled as glass shattered and a tail swung through the space.

I chucked a sword at him, hilt first, and he caught it and swung, narrowly missing.

“Nice try, you piece of shit.” The creature sent Dylan flying across the room with one flip of the spiked appendage.

Springing into action, I grabbed my bow and arrows, pumping three into the creature’s chest before it could react. I had to get to the sword, so I ran to Dylan, who seemed to have a sense for what I needed—like he always did—and kicked the weapon to me.

“Watch out!” he screamed.

But I already knew how close the creature was; in fact, I counted on it. I threw the bow to the floor, bent to pick up the sword, and pivoted on the ball of my back foot to face the beast. Its clawed feet scraped the ground with each movement toward me.

“How cute. She has a sword,” it said.

An image of my daughter filtered into my brain, and that meant one thing: she was nearby. Just then, I felt my phone vibrate in my back pocket. I knew she’d be there any moment. We had an intense connection, much more than the typical mother-daughter bond.

Whatever the son-of-a-bitch creature in front of me was, it had to die before my daughter arrived. I could feel Dylan’s fear, in sharp contrast to the creature’s anticipation, flooding my senses as I let the vile thing get close enough to bend over me. 

“Where’s that pretty daughter of yours?” Drool slid out of its mouth as it spoke.

I let my hand slip down to my thigh and then eased it toward my back pocket. “Don’t talk about my daughter,” I said through gritted teeth.

“What are you gonna—”

With a swift movement, I yanked the dagger from my back pocket and flung it into one of the nasty thing’s eyes. As it snarled and threw its hand over the wound, I stood and tossed the sword from my left to my right hand for better accuracy. One fluid movement later, the beast’s head fell to the ground with a thump.

Dylan was by my side in seconds. “Are you all right?”

Before I could answer, I saw the blood spreading on his uniform top. I reached over, laid a hand over the area, and looked up to meet his eyes. “The better question is… are you?”

He nodded. “Just a flesh wound. Damned tail. It just had to have spikes.”

His humor was one of his best qualities. I couldn’t help but grin. “Right? If you’re sure you’re okay, could you please run to the front door and head off Val? Don’t let her see this,” I said. “I’ll call Bobby to help me clean up. Can you tell her I was detained and take her for some ice cream or something?”

I couldn’t let her see the gore. She’d witnessed too much in her life as it was.

“My dad’s with her, I’m sure, so he’ll know what you’re doing and go along with it.”

Dylan hesitated, taking my hand in his. “I’m sure your dad can handle this if you want me to stay, but you know Val won’t buy it.”

“But she’ll go.” We both understood my daughter and her abilities—at least what she’d figured out up to that point. I knew, deep down, we hadn’t realized their scope. “I’ve got this.” I broke eye contact after the first word and moved toward my evidence collection kit to begin the process of cataloging—although never officially with anything non-human—the creature. I made the call to Bobby because I knew he’d help me with details both as the official county coroner and as another lifelong friend.

Although I didn’t hear Dylan leave, I knew he would. He’d been in my life as long as Micah, being his best friend throughout high school. Dylan wanted to be more than I could ever allow another man to be. Nobody would ever be Micah, and I couldn’t break anyone’s heart like mine had been broken.

Damn, it’s not the time for thoughts of him. It had been ten years. One of the few cold cases I hadn’t solved. His and my mother’s. One missing, one dead. No! I slammed my fist on the desk. I had to focus.

“Ooh. This one made you mad,” Bobby said as he entered the room.

Startled, I threw my hand to my chest. “Dammit, Bobby, don’t sneak up on me.”

“Sorry. I didn’t even think it was possible.” He chuckled.

Truth be told… I didn’t either. Thoughts of Micah had clouded my abilities, and I couldn’t afford to be off guard. Something was building. Not to steal from Star Wars, but there was a disturbance in the force. I’d been feeling it for days.

“So, what do we have here?” Bobby asked as he slipped on his medical gloves and bent to get a closer look.

“Not sure. Haven’t seen one like this before. Is it me, or are the creatures getting creepier and more frequent?” I asked, pacing the room as I spoke. I’d taken out a vampire and two were-things the week before, one a panther and another a cheetah. Usually, I only saw a few paranormal cases a year.

“Halloween’s only about a week away, so maybe the freaks are coming out early.”

“Then we’re going to be busier than normal,” I said.

It was my sworn duty to protect the citizens of Saint’s Grove, and in doing so, I had to keep the freakish creatures of people’s nightmares out of the local paper or, God forbid, even bigger news outlets.

Bobby went about his procedures taking blood, skin, and tissue samples. He’d send them off to a buddy in the FBI who knew how to keep things quiet. They kept their findings to a very small group—most of whom grew up in Saint’s Grove and were like family. Once, that had included Micah.

I had to shake off thoughts of him again. When will it stop being a daily occurrence?

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