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A Tasty Morsel: A Humorous Paranormal Romance

 

 

 

 

 

A Tasty Morsel

 

A Quirky Paranormal Romance

 

 

 

By Ronda Del Boccio

Amazon #1 Bestselling nonfiction and fantasy author

Goodreads Author

 

 

 

Copyright © 2013 by Ronda Del Boccio

 

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this manuscript may be copied or transmitted in any format, including physical or digital version, without expressed written permission of the author.

 

Ronda can speak to your book club or organization through the magic of technology. Call 575-737-8679 or email [email protected]

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Ever since I was a toddler, I’ve told stories. I made up skits and plays while playing with my stuffed animals, all with no involvement from my parents. I could entertain myself for hours! At that young age, I wanted to have a way to catch those stories and keep them in a treasure box.

As a “legally blind” child (meaning a girl with very poor eyesight), I received daily torturous bullying, because I had to hold books up to my eye in order to read (still do), because I was fat, and because I saw the world so very differently from other children.

How grateful I am for all these experiences—yes, the blindness and the bullying too—because they gifted me compassion, perseverance, and boundless creativity. Since I have to adapt everything I do compared with how a fully sighted person would do it, my ability to “think on my feet” and be innovative is amazing.

Books and stories became my best friends. I became a voracious reader and an avid writer of stories. I wrote articles and then became the editor of our school paper in 8th grade. At my high school, I started writing Doctor Who fan fiction, poems and fantasy stories.

A few of my poems and stories made it into journals, newspapers and magazines. Then for quite a while, I didn’t write much of anything.

Ah, the soul of the storyteller is my nature, and writing is how I follow my bliss. So I decided to dedicate many enjoyable hours to writing and bringing my creations into the world,

Now I laugh every day, because the “you’re so weird” qualities about which kids teased me during those 12 years of torture known as school are now my livelihood. Oh how I LOVE my 1-minute commute past the coffee pot (to make a latte).

Help for Writers of All Genres

No matter what you write, I can help you. My 5-part BLISS Butterfly system teaches you to write on purpose and follow your B.L.I.S.S. Connect with me on my site or through social media (as TheStoryLady) most everywhere. You can see each aspect of the BLISS Butterfly means at WriteOnPurpose.com/about/bliss.

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A Tasty Morsel: A Quirky Paranormal Tale

 

 

The Story Behind the Story

 

I live in the Ozarks, which is a beautiful area populated with fun hillbilly/redneck characters, tourists from all over, and, in my imagination at least, a host of undead, immortal, mystical and mythical beings. Oh who am I kidding? They’re real!

I set this story at one of my very favorite places, Dogwood Canyon. When I was taking a tour, our guide said someone had just discovered a cave hidden in the rocky hillside. And there was really an elk with a horn grown over its eye, as you’ll soon read in the story.

My storyteller’s brain went into hyper drive. I thought, what if someone discovered a vampire in that cave? This story was born. It is the first of a collection of connected tales you will see from me.

 

 

 

Novella: A Tasty Morsel

 

Ellie caressed the damp, rough wall of the cave. Her free climb up the vertical rock face had invigorated her, and now she relished the coolness of the place she herself had discovered nestled in Dogwood Canyon. Working there as a trail and tour guide gave her unlimited access to climbing the challenging rocks and its caves. The more fun she had, the more she could give her tourists a unique experience, and the better her tips. A win-win all around.

She couldn’t help but feel a little smug that she, a college freshman, discovered this well-hidden cave on her own. Not the Morris Foundation people. Not the geologists or biologists on staff. Not the older and more experienced guides. The cave had revealed itself to her.

How long has it been since anyone crawled through the well-concealed opening and investigated its secrets?

She smelled and tasted the earthy darkness as she moved her hands around the rocky landscape of juts, crevices and cave popcorn.

A smooth area at chin level captured her attention. The size of her palm, an oasis amidst crags and crevices, it felt out of place but welcome as a change of texture. When she touched the cool imprint, a deep groan echoed. A surprised squeak jumped out of her against her will, and she popped back, darting her gaze all around. Her heart pounded and her breath quickened, also to her dismay.

Startled. Not scared. Who would expect a secret door to open?

Creaking on rusty hinges, scraping damp stone, a chunk of wall jerked inwards, revealing a musty odor and more blackness.

What’s there? A passage? A room? A cavern?

All Ellie knew for certain is that she had found a dark zone behind a secret door that someone had made.

What the what?

Heart pounding, she picked up her small lantern and stood at the stony doorway. A new layer of dampness from inside the chamber assaulted her nose. Startle past, curiosity lifted the corners of her mouth along with her spirits. Something new to explore.

Ellie took one step into the mysterious space and stood, assessing. This place had been sealed off for a very long time, judging by the dank stink. No bats moving. No air currents. No trickling sound. Flattish, at least here where the door opened. The amber lantern light cast oddly shaped shadows around what she could now see was not a passage but a room. She felt like a detective on a tough case as she noted each nuance of rock.

Would this one have paintings? Last year she found a cave with ancient paintings of successful hunts on the walls. She always believed that such drawings were mental visioning and preparation rather than a prehistoric newspaper of past events, as she had been told in school.

Still just inside the secret stone door, Ellie illuminated the floor. Her smile broadened of its own volition. This would be a new adventure, and her breath quickened in anticipation whenever a new adventure presented itself.

As she cast the yellow orb before her, a shape she did not wish to see made her hold her breath.

Was that a human foot?

Her heart thudded. Finding fossils or stone knives was one thing. Discovering a body was quite another. She inched forward. A foot, a leg, a hand – a man? Yes. A pale and emaciated man lay with a pole through his heart.

“Oh, fantastic. I would be the one to find this.” Her voice sounded strange in her ears. She would have to report this discovery to the Morris Foundation. Frowning down at the body, she decided maybe if she could close the wall again, nobody would ever know about the burial chamber. If that’s what it was. But this couldn’t be a burial chamber. Could it?

Tempting as it might be to close the wall and say nothing about the secret, curiosity gnawed at her. Something very strange about this body. Besides the obvious fact that she’d never discovered a corpse and didn’t want to, ever. Part of her wanted to get out of there; she told that part to shut up as she knelt beside the man.

Calling on what she learned in biology classes, she mentally catalogued the specimen: Male, about five feet, eight inches tall, long brown hair, small frame, no sign of decay, no dried blood, odd clothes giving a feeling that he dropped in from the past. Cause of death, could be starvation. He looked like skin on bones, but that stake through the heart must have killed him. Murdered – or starved then murdered. Because who could pound a stake through their own chest? Getting through the sternum was no easy feat.

“I’m missing something. Probably something obvious.”

Mom would have said she could smell the smoke coming out of Ellie’s ears as she rifled through her brain in search of the answer. Then it hit her. A dead body decomposed. This man was perfectly preserved. How could he look like he might start breathing any minute?

She looked into his face, wondering what kind of man he might have been. His skin belonged to a porcelain doll, not a person. She had always found the rugged look attractive. The thought of running her hands through his hair appealed. Well, it would appeal if he were alive and breathing. This gruesome and gorgeous man repulsed and compelled her at the same time.

What kind of work did he do? The clothes gave no clue and his hands looked smooth. Who was he and what kind of life did he live? Oh, that hair. She was a sucker for long hair on a guy.

“Ack! What am I thinking?” She looked away from his face, ashamed for thinking a dead man handsome. Her gaze fell on that awful pole protruding from his chest. Why wasn’t there any sign of blood? The sight of it sticking out of him horrified her so much that she braced her foot on his chest. With a grunt of effort that bounced around the cave, she yanked the pole out and tossed it aside. The mountain depths swallowed the sound as if hungry for company.

What happened? How did this poor man get here? Who put him here? Why did they ram a stake through him? The myth about putting a stake through the heart of a vampire crossed her mind. She dismissed it with a nervous laugh. Vampires came from horror writers with vivid imaginations, not from reality.

“Back to science.”

How long ago was he killed? She studied his clothes more carefully. They were in good condition, except for the hole. Maybe linen, but she didn’t know anything about fabric except that you make clothes from it. Science had always been her passion. She had failed home economics after throwing knitting needles across the room and burning a pan of brownies. Give her a climbing or spelunking expedition and she was in her element.

He looked like he belonged in the past. Or maybe he had been in a play, or maybe a movie that was set a couple-hundred years ago. No zippers and field trip to the museum look. She loved his boots. They were made for rough ground but looked good too, with thick, durable soles, hard leather around the toe and heel, and a soft leather shaft with black laces and silver decorations. The silver, not surprisingly, had tarnished.

Was someone watching her? She had the strangest feeling of being observed, but that wasn’t possible. Self-conscious, she looked around and behind her to see, no surprise, everything you’d expect in a cave and nothing more. She looked into his pale face and saw one eye half open.

My mind must be playing tricks on me.

She looked away then back again. Now the other eye, too, was partially open. A hand reached toward her.

Ellie screamed and jumped back, forgetting her surroundings. Her head crashed into a slick stalactite. Though her lantern lit the tiny chamber, her world became black as she slid down the narrowing stony structure and fell unconscious to the slimy, rocky ground next to the mystery man with luscious long hair.

 

***

 

Awakening through haze, hunger eclipsed all else. Awareness of the world around him seeped into him slowly. Dampness. Cold stone beneath him. He cracked open one eye to see a sun in a midnight sky. No, the light of a lantern in a dark place. Stalactites meant a cave. Breathing. A heartbeat. The sweet aroma of life tickled his nose. A Living offering with a young fresh scent.

He wanted to move but could only manage to lift a hand toward his salvation. A lovely morsel of a woman with large brown eyes and red hair. The lass was kind enough to remove the stake from his heart. A rescuer. How wonderful. But her terror fouled the smell. She shrieked and fell to the ground. Blood. Sweet, tangy blood. The delicious smell of vitality tantalized him.

If he could have pounced, he would have drained her in one beat of her fragile human heart. Why should he care if she were afraid? Weakened as he was, the mere thought of getting up to take the food exhausted him. The smell of fresh blood draining out of his savior powered his resolve. He moved weakened limbs with difficulty and clambered to his hands and knees.

The sweet salvation of fresh lifeblood moved him, but motivation and desire only took him so far in his famished state, and in the end he had to crawl over to her. He shambled as quickly as he could manage and looked at its source, a petite, plump woman with hair like fire lay on the ground. He wanted to leap to her throat and drain every drop.

He looked at her lovely face, slightly narrower at the chin, head conveniently turned to expose the pulse steadily throbbing in her throat. He poised himself over her, ready to feast. The feeding frenzy came upon him as he felt his hunger, a desperate demand. His teeth poised for the draining just over her tender neck.

Dear Mira, can it be you?

Too starved to be certain, he beat back his red-hot need, trying to regain mastery of himself. She is under my protection, and I am no fiend. I could never take Mira.

He could not feed on her, but without some sustenance he would fall back into unconsciousness. He would lick the blood from the damp cave floor and suck it out of her wavy hair. That or sink back into the stupor of starvation.

Those few life-giving drops allowed him some brief clarity of thought. He could not kill the mortal woman he loved, but hunger drove him wild. Next to her, the imprint of where he had lain, a dry place on the damp cave floor. Beside his shape lay a stake as sharp as a vampire’s tooth.

Such a weapon should not be left here. He stepped on the thick shaft, sure he could crush it underfoot, but it remained whole.

Why can I not break the shaft?

No time for mysteries now. Tangy blood-rage drew him wild. He must at least break the point. He stepped on it and put the broken tip into his pocket to discard somewhere else.

He turned to Mira, bloodlust and desperation overriding his vow, but his mind shouted at him.

No, never Mira!

Feeling shaky, he turned toward the opening, every movement an excruciating effort. He grabbed the stake and leaned on it to stagger toward the main chamber. Too weak to walk unaided, he crept along leaning on both the shaft and the cave wall. The shortest path would mean forsaking the wall’s support. Feeling he had no viable choice, he took several wobbly steps across the cave to reach it.

All he could think of was blood. Rich, warm life. Dusk graciously deepened into blessed darkness as he reached the rough mouth. He looked out to discover himself high above treetops on a full moon night. Profound weakness made him question his ability to arrive safely on the ground.

If I leap, I shall land in a heap, there to wait for a hapless creature to come near.

He paused at the brink and peered down onto the rocky ground below. No animals or people.

He smelled large creatures near, but not near enough to land next to one and drink its blood immediately. He called out urgently in his mind,

Come to me, wild one.

Would his thoughts reach them in time? Those few drops of Mira’s blood would not hold him for long. If a creature did not come soon, he might fall into the stupor that threatened to overtake him and tumble to the ground.

At last he smelled blood and heard slow, plodding steps. A large bull elk with one antler covering his eyes stopped directly below. He skittered down the rocks, reached the beast and sunk his teeth into its muscular neck. Sweet, sweet life warmed his chilled body. Delicious vitality. Tangy blood and musky elk scent became his world until the last drops filled him.

Strength and power restored for the moment, he explored the woodlands in search of other prey. The moon-kissed blooming dogwoods and sparkling stream that frolicked in its gentle light held no interest for him now, for he had to feed again soon. Such a large beast would suffice well under normal circumstances, but coming alive after starvation required greater sustenance.

Why am I here? Where am I?

As he hunted, patchwork memories of his life crept into his awareness.

Mira. Beautiful Mira with her deep brown eyes and luscious lips. Shall we be together at last?

 

***

 

Ellie awoke to throbbing pain. She shivered and wondered where she was until her mind cleared enough to recount the events that had caused her to be in the hidden vault within the cave. She reached up and felt her head. Dried blood covered a jagged cut. “Why isn’t there more blood from this?” Head wounds tended to be among the messiest. She sat slowly, cradling her pounding head.

Memory of the moving dead man gave her a snowball-frigid feeling in the pit of her stomach. She looked between tousled strands of hair at a man-shaped mark on the floor where the porcelain stranger had been.

“No. I must be imagining this.”

Ignoring the throbs of pain, she crawled to the spot where he had lain. Snail slow, she reached out a finger and touched the dry ground.

“At least I’m not seeing things.”

Maybe she was not intellectually sound after that knock on the head.

“Or I’m suffering from concussion and don’t know any better. Let’s see, I’m Ellie Mae Harris. It’s a Tuesday in April, and the president is Obama.”

Pleased to have passed most of the severe-brain-injury tests, she dug in her backpack for painkiller and her bottle of water. She never knew the date without looking at her smartphone, so not knowing it now felt normal.

“Of course, there’s nobody here to ask if I’m right about all that, but I think I am.” She laughed at herself. “I certainly haven’t lost the habit of talking out loud to myself. I’ll take that as a good sign. Beats the alternative.”

She leaned against a cool, moist stalagmite, closed her eyes and waited anxiously for the meds to make her head stop hammering. Waiting for pain to abate was about as useful as watching a pot of water come to a boil, so she began considering what might have happened to Porcelain Man.

How could anyone staked through the heart find the strength to move? No doubt he had gone to search of food. She dug in her pack again for a snack. She always carried a protein bar and some trail mix because who wanted to stop climbing to go get a meal? He had not disturbed her pack.

“I wish he would have taken my food instead of climbing down. Good thing he didn’t decide to eat me.” Her nervous laugh bounced around the cave in search of the previous one.

She fingered the jagged cut again and wondered how she had managed to shed so little blood. The thought that maybe he lapped it up like a hungry hound crossed her mind, but she dismissed that chilling notion with a shiver.

“I’ve read too many horror stories.”

How long had she been unconscious? Had he already made his way to the ground? She would go look when her head had stopped imitating a whirling dervish. Remembering the man’s dead eyes looking at her made her wonder. Did the conk on the head knock her out, or did she actually pass out from fear? She truly wasn’t the squeamish type. She wrapped her arms around herself against a shiver.

“But that was the creepiest thing I have ever seen in my life.”

Where was the skewered stranger now, and what should she do if he came back? More pressing was the thought that she had to get herself out of the cave.

“If I tell anyone I saw an un-decomposed dead man get up and walk out of the cave, nobody will believe me. I don’t believe me.” When she felt steady enough, she would hug the rock face like a lover and get herself to the ground.

Anxious to escape the horror novel scene, Ellie got to her feet and tested her balance.

“Good. No more dizziness and I’m fairly steady.” Maybe it was adrenaline, but she decided to leave the chamber and go to the cave mouth to peer over the edge. She paused at the panel that had opened the secret door and wondered whether to close it. A muffled animal sound from below, perhaps an elk, caught her attention.

Leaving the panel and door as they were, she walked to the vertical slit that served as the cave mouth, knelt and peered into the moonlit night. A large shape lay on the ground below

“If that is an elk, what’s it doing in this part of Dogwood Canyon?”

The large animal preserve was almost two miles away. She knew full well she should not scale the rocks after hitting her head but didn’t feel she had a choice. She would simply take it slowly and carefully. Normally she climbed like a mountain goat, but with the injury, she didn’t want to take any chances

Following her own sound advice, she embraced the rocks like a lover as fingers and toes hungrily sought each new crevice on the way to the ground.

Soon, anxiety trumped reason and hastened her probing steps.

“Mira, wait. I shall come for you.”

The side of a cliff is a very bad place to be startled. She told herself a split-second too late to lean forward and hold on. As the moonlit mountainside zoomed past, she tried without success to catch hold of anything to break her fall.

“Fear not. I shall catch you.”

Fear not? What century is this guy from, and why do I care at this moment as I plummet to the rock-strewn ground?

The person attached to the voice was as good as his word. He caught her in an indelicate yet effective manner, with one arm around her chest and the other between her parted legs.

Ellie landed with a startled “Oh.” She looked over her shoulder to see the pale face of the stranger. Still in his grasp, she writhed and kicked at him.

The man laughed. “Feisty as ever, Mira.”

“Put me down. Now.”

“How can I set you on your feet when you are thrashing like a beast?”

Ellie stopped fighting his steady grip. “Good point. Now get your hand right out of my crotch and your left out of my boobs.”

“If you wish me to catch you more delicately, next time you might consider landing more artfully.”

His ethereal laugh made her shiver. “Funny. Wordy, but funny. Creepy, but funny.”

The man took his hand from between her legs but wrapped it around her and pressed her to him with frightening ferocity. “My beloved, I thought I would never again see you.”

Gasping for breath in his tight embrace, Ellie reached back and grabbed his privates while trying without effect to stomp on his instep. Though considering that her feet dangled above the ground, it was no surprise that she could not find that tender spot. Unable to catch a breath, she thrashed and pounded him. Finally, the crazy-strong stranger loosened his grip. She gulped air. He should have screamed in agony when she squeezed his manhood.

Laughter poked through his words, “Now I am forced to make the same request of you that you recently made of me.”

“Why aren’t you screaming in pain?”

“Were I still a mortal man, surely I would be wailing like a babe by now.”

Wailing like a babe? Wait. “What do you mean WHEN you were mortal? And why do you keep calling me Mira?”

“Release me, then I shall set you gently on your feet. After that, we can discuss our identities like civilized people.”

Ellie snatched back her hand and blushed. “Sorry.” But she wasn’t. Not only the fall and timely catch quickened her heart. The lilt of his voice, for sure, but that wasn’t all.

He set her down gently as promised and turned her to face him. “Now, it must have been a long time since our last tryst, but do you not remember me?”

“Our last tryst?” That was a word she hadn’t heard since her history and Medieval English classes. Not one you hear today, for sure. The look of love and longing she saw in his face nearly made her weep.

Too bad I’m not Mira. He must have worshipped her.

“I am not Mira, and I have no clue who you are,” other than an incredibly handsome man with skin pale as death. Who I have the hots for. Ick, this isn’t like me.

She reached out a tentative hand and pressed it to his heart, but did not feel it beating. Her stomach knotted as her own pulse quickened with mingled fear and desire.

He studied her from head to toe, reached out and touched her nylon multiple pocket vest. “Pray tell me, dear lady, what year this is.”

Her eyes widened. Pray tell me? Maybe he hit his head. “Two-thousand-fourteen.” She could feel color drain from her face.

“I believe I have been indisposed for a very long time.”

“Indisposed?” She remembered the stake through his heart but decided not to go there just now. “How long?”

He passed a hand over his eyes. “My memory is foggy, you see.” He cocked his head. “I suppose you could not be Mira, but the resemblance is uncanny.”

“Never mind Mira. Who are you? And how did you get into the cave? And what about that stake through your heart? And what’s this about not being mortal anymore.”

Having just decided not to mention the stake, it slipped out in the barrage of questions anyway.

“You ask a lot of questions.”

“The list keeps getting longer. Let’s start with this. Who are you?” She waited. He looked blankly at her. This is like Sunday at the nursing home. He was here, but he’s losing it. She wondered if he would get violent.

“My name is Ellie. What’s yours?”

“I am called by many names.” He looked as if he was searching his memory for his identity.

Ellie watched his eyes lose their fire. She stepped to flatter ground n case she had to run and wondered if she could outrun him if necessary.

“Many names? Fine. Pick one.”

Oh no, I’ve rescued a psycho.

She wondered if she would live long enough to get help for them both.

He smiled boyishly. “You are a persistent woman.”

“Yep. Now let’s have that name.” Those teeth gleamed white and his long, pointed canines made her think of a vampire. Vampires weren’t real. She felt she’d just entered the Twilight Zone or the X Files, both of which she know were TV shows and no more real than vampires and unicorns. Was she suffering some weird hallucination from the concussion? Somehow, he looked less emaciated than he had before.

The death-cry. Earlier she heard the bellow and saw a shape from above. Recent events had completely distracted her. Not waiting for the man to reveal a name, she dashed to the dark form.

“Who did you kill?”

Dead on its side lay an old bull elk. One horn had grown in gnarled this season so that it covered his eye. The rest of the herd had ostracized him, and he had lost weight. Ellie’s tear fell onto the elk’s twisted horn. “This poor elk suffered so much.”

“No. No, I took him quickly. He barely felt anything.”

“I mean he suffered so much this season. Since his horn grew wrong. The other elk treated him badly and he didn’t eat much.” His pleading surprised her. She looked up at the vampire, into his beseeching eyes. “Thank you for ending his suffering.”

“Not the feast I had hoped to enjoy.”

His stance changed ever so slightly, and Ellie jumped to her feet, ready to run.

He looked around with increasing vacancy, but soon he stiffened and staked her with sharp hunter’s eyes. No more lover’s gaze of adoration or vapid nursing home stare. Ellie saw and felt the change come over him as some animal force took hold.

The tantalizing, terrifying stranger shook violently, leaped forward with fangs exposed. She wanted to run, but there was no time. She knew she was about to die. He would kill her, and no reasoning or determination would change her fate. Then a strange thought crossed her mind.

No, this must not be my day to die. I’m not seeing my life flash before my eyes.

She realized that, although she didn’t want him to kill her and she didn’t want to die, she was not afraid of dying.

A large animal thundered toward her from behind. She started to run, but the crazed toothy man caught her arm. What happened next surprised her more than anything else that had happened thus far.

He sniffed several times, released her arm, and shook violently. “No, I must not. I must not.” He stared at her, mouth wide open. “You must run, Mira. Please, I beg of you; leave me.”

“I just tried that but you grabbed me.”

“I know. Please forgive me.” She could see his inner battle to make her a meal or to let her escape.

Maybe running would cause him to chase. Ellie backed away.

Porcelain man crouched and began foaming at the mouth. Running would only set off his predatory instinct, and she doubted she could outrun a crazed man, fit though she was.

Something hard hit her head and she heard a rough male voice say, “Oops.” Splashes of colors and starbursts like the finale of a fireworks display filled her eyes. Then blackness snapped the brilliant images away.

What have I gotten myself into now? She toppled to the ground.

 

***

 

“Houston, we have a problem.” That was the gravelly voice that said oops earlier.

“You watch too much television. Is that why you’re late? I had a hot date planned, you know.” That a testy female voice through a speaker, like a walkie-talkie.

“How could I forget about your love life, Mave? It’s all you talk about when you’re not dealing with harpies, vamps and wacko ban-shees. I got waylaid by a stupored vampire.” Oops guy again.

”You sure he’s stupid?

“Very funny. I said stupored.”

Stupored vampire?

“You could’ve left him to feed, you know. Mortals aren’t our problem.”

“If it was just a meal I would’ve left him to drain her dry. Trust me.”

A young sexy male voice chimed in through the walkie with, “Are you two going to bicker all night? Mave, if you want to be relieved of duty for the night, you’d better let Pran bring in his prize. With the moon you know we’re going to be busier than usual. Patient’s condition?”

“Stable. I got him on rich red and sedatives now so he won’t go nuts on us. Prep a treatment room for me.”

“Understood.” That was sexy voice, probably the doctor.

Ellie’s head hurt badly. She smelled a mixture of sulfur and strong animal stink, worse than buffalo or elk. She wanted to open her eyes and make sense of everything but doubted the reality of any sense to be made. Feeling her chest push against her backpack strap made her realize she was, in fact, breathing. Not dead.

“Am I really breathing, or am I dead and only think I’m breathing?”

“Could you breathe without talking?” Pran asked.

“Did I say that out loud?”

“Unfortunately for you, yes. You’d better pretend you’re still knocked out and keep your eyes closed or I may have to eat you.”

“What?” Ellie opened her eyes and saw a lab coat, black pants and hooves.

Hooves?

She couldn’t see his face. His back was turned to her as he bent over Porcelain Man, who lay much as she had found him.

“Keep your eyes closed or you’ll regret it.”

“Too late.”

Hooves turned toward her. “I better ask you some questions. Did you find him roaming around out here?” He gestured with a three-fingered hand. His face was a cross between human and animal. Very distracting.

“No.” Her head throbbed hard when she sat up. Now with a better look at the strange creature, she almost forgot to breathe. His eyes glowed red and he had a sharp set of teeth in his half-open mouth. She didn’t dare try standing just yet.

“You just had to look, didn’t you? If you scream, I will definitely have to eat you. And just so you know, humans taste way better alive than dead.”

“I would only give you indigestion.”

To call the sound he made a chuckle was like calling a hollering baby’s cry a tickle.

The creature nodded at her. “Good one. For a human.”

“A demon in a lab coat?” Her tendency to blurt things out became unstoppable when she found herself in unusual situations, and this certainly topped the growing list of unusual. In fact, it jumped lists altogether to the bizarre and frightening.

“Yeah. Pockets are useful when you’re a nurse.” Demon nurse Pran lowered over her. “He tried awfully hard to resist draining every drop of blood from your body under compulsion of raging hunger. Why do you suppose he did that?”

“I dunno. Wrong blood type?” Bad time to be flippant. Why do I do that?

“Cute. A mortal with a sense of humor. I still may have to eat you.” He turned back to Porcelain man and examined him. “How do you know him?”

Ellie got to her feet and tried to keep her knees from knocking together. “I don’t know him. He thinks I’m someone else.”

“This is your lucky day, then, because you were almost an appetizer.”

Ellie laughed, knowing full well she was close to hysterical.

“Don’t start feeling lucky just yet. It’s still early. Who did he think you were?”

“His lover.”

“Lucky you.” Hooves looked at her over his shoulder. “What brought you to that conclusion?”

“The look in his eyes when he called me by her name, Mira.” Her face heated. She hoped the moonlight hid the blush. “He was obviously confused.”

“Obviously. Did this confused fellow happen to mention his name?”

“He couldn’t remember.” She told him about the cave and the stake.

“Why didn’t you leave him alone? Would’ve saved me a lot of trouble.” He cocked his head and peered at her with one eye half closed in an expression she interpreted as quizzical.

“I’ve wondered that myself more than once already. I Tried. But I couldn’t stand to see him that way.”

“Stupid move.” He sneered at her and turned back to his patient.

The other male voice came through the walkie-talkie again. “Pran, don’t eat her. I need her.”

“Cant I at least knock her out and leave her here so she’ll think she had a nightmare or fell off the rocks or something?”

“You knocked me out once already, and I don’t need a third head injury tonight.”

A sigh came through the walkie-talkie. “Bring her in.”

Ellie considered running, but her gelatinous legs would never hold her up. She probably couldn’t outrun them anyway. She heard a whoosh that turned out to be the ambulance, and like everything else tonight, it threw the whole concept of normal out the window.

Four horses that looked like the embodiment of darkness galloped across the sky. Their hooves did not touch anything or make any noise, but the sleigh-like vehicle behind them did. The vehicle resembled a hearse, but without windows. In place of the cherry on a normal ambulance, the light flashed between infrared and blacklight.

The horses should have kicked up dust as they came to a sudden stop, but they suspended a few inches above the ground. One of them looked at Ellie, snorted and flared its nostrils.

“Get in quick. They don’t like mortals.”

The horses stared at her with red glowing nostrils and lips curled back.

“Uh, I don’t think I should.” Ellie normally got on fine with animals, but these? Clearly not.

Pran roughly pushed her inside, giving her no choice. She landed in a heap on the gurney.

“This day just gets better and better.” She scrambled to her feet a heartbeat before the ghoul slid the bed out from under her. Now that she was inside the vehicle, the horses stopped snorting.

While Pran worked with Porcelain Man, Ellie looked around the moonlit interior. If daylight ever tried to enter, it would have been smothered in the darkness. Most definitely a place for creatures of the night. A small eerie bluish light provided the only illumination, and she wondered how a medic could see to work with its patient. Plus, along with the needles and IV bags she would expect, all sorts of unfamiliar nasty-looking instruments gleamed on shelves and in bins. Ellie wondered what they all were, especially a particularly long, sharp needlish one, more rapier than lancet.

“What other things do you treat?”

“We’re not things.” The ghoulish nurse shot her a lethal look.

“Yeah, sorry. What other…um…beings do you take in this…special hospital?” A ghoul who expects me to be politically correct?

Ran shrugged. “Just your standard creatures of darkness, like werewolves, vampires, and ban-shees. All the people you humans don’t think exist.” He said it as if he’d just announced today’s dinner specials.

“I just had to ask. Why can’t I keep my mouth shut?”

“Great question. You should definitely try it though.” He jumped in and slid the door closed. Without jostling them or the creepy medical instruments, the floating horses took off. She knew because she could feel some motion.

After what may have been five minutes or a half hour in this twisted cross between Santa’s ride and an ambulance, they arrived. The horses backed the ambu-sleigh into a darkened garage. A pair of grey cat-like orderlies with glowing yellow eyes took the gurney out and stared at Ellie.

“Back off, guys, I had to bring her. Doctor’s orders.” Pran pulled her by the arm into the hospital for the undead.

“Take him into Room Three.” Ellie recognized this as the doctor from the walkie-talkie. He ran his fingers through his disheveled long dark brown hair looking as if he’d been in a fight. “I am Dr. Pearce.” He reached out his hand to her.

“Ellie Harris.”

An ear-splitting, soul-shaking scream of “Nobody listens to meeeeeeeee!” made everyone but the unconscious one cringe.

“That’s a ban-shee having a bad day,” the doctor explained.

Unlike the antiseptic white, bright look of any hospital she had ever seen, this place came straight out of a nightmare. Pools of blacklight cast eerie bluish shadows onto dark grey and black walls and floors. She saw no white or light anywhere. She wanted to pull a flashlight out of her bag. Instead, she followed in Pran’s footsteps and yelped as something wrapped around her right wrist.

“Shut up. I figured you might need some help through the dark since you’ve never been here before.”

She used her free hand and realized he had wrapped his tail around her wrist. The doctor and Pran moved the patient onto a bed.

Dr. Pearce asked, “What’s wrong with him?”

The nurse pushed her into the room and closed the door. You’re probably safer with us, but stay out of the way or—“

“Or you’ll be forced to eat me.”

“You got it.”

The doctor tisked as he examined his patient. “Pran, don’t harass her. Humans have their uses, you know.”

“Yeah. Late-night snacks, appetizers, munchies for when you’re watching Netflix.” He counted them off on his three fingers.

Ellie couldn’t help but laugh at that. “What will happen with him?”

“”He’s stable for now, but he’ll wake up disoriented. He may be in a fog for a long time, but his memory may come back more quickly if you’re around because he thinks you’re his lover.”

“Are you keeping me here?” Ellie felt the color drain from her face. How much did she want to get involved? The ghoul growled deep in his throat. “Not a bad idea, doc.”

Ellie protested, “I have to go to work in the morning.”

The doctor’s only response was to say he would be back as he and his nurse left.

Still protesting, Ellie tried the door but found it locked. Too tired to consider sleeping, she explored the medical implements. An intravenous bag and needle, a drawer with tools and magnifiers and other things that looked normal to her. The ban-shee’s wail from some other room made her hair stand up on end. The sound cut off suddenly, as if someone had forced her into silence.

“Mira?” He sounded like a child who had awoken from a nightmare.

What to do? Play along or tell her real name? No. Skip the whole name thing entirely.

“How are you feeling?”

He reached out a hand and motioned for her to sit on the bed. “Where am I?”

“You’re in a hospital.” She stayed in place, then acquiesced when he patted the bed more insistently. Best to keep him calm.

“I am so glad I did not kill you.”

“Me too. What’s the last thing you remember?”

His eyes lost their focus as he stared off into memories. He clutched her hand. “I have only flashes.”

“Such as?” She tried pulling her hand away, but he held it in a vice grip.

“Fleeing. Someone telling me to hide for a couple of centuries.”

Ellie pulled back against his grip. “If you squeeze my hand any harder you’ll break it.”

“I forget my strength.” He let go but rested his hand over hers before she could pull it back.

“Who were you running from?”

He shook his head. “I remember our last delicious night together.” He drank her in again with that piercing, longing gaze that instantly melted her, despite the eew factor and the fact that she knew it wasn’t her he wanted.

“What do you remember?” She blushed with no idea why.

Dr. Pearce dashed into the room. “Ah, I see our patient is awake. Are you going to be good? I don’t want you eating the woman who was kind enough to rescue you.” He plopped into the chair and spun to face the patient.

A look of mistrust came into the vampire’s eyes and Ellie wondered if he would go nuts. She backed toward the door.

The crazed patient got out of bed. “I should go. Thank you, kind Doctor, for your ministrations.” He stalked toward the door.

Dr. Pearce reached under the desktop. The door clicked locked and something hummed.

The vampire studied Ellie. “You are afraid I will harm you?”

The thought had definitely crossed her mind. No matter how friendly he acted at the moment, he was clearly confused, and a confused vampire could not be a good thing.

The doctor palmed a syringe and filled it. Probably a sedative, and not a good sign. Maybe she could help diffuse the situation before the doctor ended up in another fight.

Ellie put her hands on her would-be lover’s shoulders. “Why don’t you just lie back and take things slowly. Nobody is after you now.” He put his hands up as if to push her back.

Since he considered her a lover, perhaps she could turn on the charm. But how to turn on a vampire? Always the nerdy scientist, she wasn’t exactly an expert on guys. What would happen in a romantic comedy? Maybe run my hands through his hair?

Fortunately, it had the desired effect.

He settled back onto the bed. “Perhaps you are wiser than I, Mira.”

“Of course I am. I’m the woman. You have been away from us for a long time. Rest now.”

Dr. Pearce laughed. Pran rumbled.

Nameless pulled Ellie into the bed on top of him and wrapped his arms around her.

The doctor stood, arms crossed over his chest, a grin wiping away the night’s stress. “You have a wonderful bedside manner, Ellie. We may have to hire you.”

Ellie knew he saw her blush because he laughed, which only made her blush harder. She tried without success to get out of the vice grip. She shot he doctor a pleading look, but he only walked to the door.

“I knew bringing you in was the right decision. Thanks for playing along with his delusion. You probably just saved us having a wild vampire episode to go along with the insane ban-shee and the raging werewolf who’s stuck in human form on a full moon night.”

“Gee, that’s really comforting. Except that I’m a tour guide putting myself through school, not a nurse for wacked-out creatures of the night, and I’m supposed to go to work in the morning.”

“I think your plans have just changed. If you try to leave and he wakes in a stupor, things could get messy. And that would mean you definitely won’t be getting to work, or anywhere else, for that matter.”

“Until tonight, I thought vampires and werewolves were only in horror stories and fairytales.”

“Welcome to my world.” He shrugged.

She squirmed under his scrutiny.

Awkward.

She tried contracting her ribcage and slinking backward as if crawling out of a tight spot inside a cave, but that didn’t work.

Pearce asked, “What is it about our man here that gets you so excited?”

“Excited?” This would be the perfect time to make an exit. She squirmed again, but he did still not release her. “He doesn’t get me excited. It’s just that…”

Oh who am I kidding?

She looked up at the doctor and decided that he excited her much more than the creepy convalescent.

He grinned. “Your pulse just jumped and you blushed brighter than a poppy.”

She spluttered before managing to say, “The guy wigs me out. But he looked at me as if I was the reason the world rotated on its axis. Even though I also think he’s disgusting, it’s hard to overlook that kind of passion.”

“You’re taking a sick day unless he lets go soon. You won’t be able to go anywhere while he’s got hold of you.” He took out a different syringe and stuck it into her arm.

She yelped in protest. She had wanted to ask him to clean her head wound, but now was not so certain she could trust him.

“Don’t panic. I just need to know how he resisted his natural urge to drink you dry, aside from your obvious charms.”

Ellie felt simultaneously queasy and warm inside as she watched her blood fill the vial. Weird. The doctor had a nice smile, and that hair. It must look great when he wasn’t working ER graveyard shift.

“I’m only taking an ounce for testing. You get to keep the rest.”

He had a point. Under different circumstances, she might have enjoyed lying in bed with a long-haired man. Like if he were breathing—or human—for instance. And if the ban-shee thing wasn’t screaming and the stuck werewolf wasn’t howling and beating the walls. Oh, and if she could move.

The doctor had the most vibrant green eyes she had ever seen. He grinned down at her.

“Stick him with this if he gives you any trouble.” He set the sedative within reach, left and locked the door.

Maybe she should join the others and start screaming. It might be a nice release. Her mind brought up the most inconvenient question it could possibly ask:

What happens when I have to pee?

Not a good thing to think about. Having no viable option, she laid her throbbing head on his not-throbbing chest. How could you drink blood as a way of life and not breathe or have a pulse?

She squirmed. “Next time you find a secret cave, leave it alone.”

He muttered in his sleep, and she was able to get a few answers, including his name, before she herself fell asleep.

She awoke in the air held by two superhero-strong hands.

“Get away!” Vrane threw her across the room.

That was a bad way to wake up.

Pran caught her in his front legs or arms or whatever they were but then dropped her onto the floor.

“Stay back, Human, the vamp’s gone postal.”

He’s gone postal? How did a demon know that phrase? It had been several years since she herd anyone say that. She would have left the room, but it was locked. Various body parts hurt. Her stomach growled.

“I’ve saved your undead ass once too often already tonight.” Pran pinned the vampire’s arms to his sides.

The two wrestled. Ellie could see in Vrane’s clouded eyes that he was looking into his past. She threw her backpack at him and yelled at him to stop.

Bad move. Lost in some past fight, he fought his way toward her with bloodlust. She backed toward the bed and grabbed the syringe.

Pran caught his breath and lunged. He matched Vrane’s strength, but clearly it wouldn’t last long. The intent vampire brought him to his knees.

Ellie inched her way back to the bed where moments ago she had been sleeping on a lumpy Vrane. Her fingers closed around the syringe, and she pressed the long needle into his arm.

“I hope that’s where you do it on a vampire.” Apparently it was, because he drooped atop the ghoul.

Panting, Pran flipped Vrane off himself, set him onto the bed and strapped him in with iron restraints. “Good thing I didn’t eat you.”

Dr. Pearce came in and surveyed the room’s disarray. “I see we’ve had a little adventure tonight.”

Pran rubbed his right shoulder. “She got some 411 out of Vrane, though.”

“A name, for one thing.” The doctor motioned for Ellie to sit in the chair.

Her interest in men with long hair had gotten her into a world of trouble, and she was ready for her normal life again. If that was possible.

“How did you get him to talk?” asked the doctor.

“He talks in his sleep. Someone named Seldon was hiding him in the cave from Gorn.”

Pran rumbled. “A lot of us tried to steer clear of Gorn. He was bad news.”

“He must be bad news if a demon is afraid of him.”

Pran pounced in front of Ellie and towered over her. “Who said I was afraid of him?”

“Do I have to sedate you?” The doctor sighed melodramatically. His eyes rolled then gazed skyward. “I used to think human nurses were more trouble than they were worth, but they are angels compared to this miscreant bunch of ghouls I’m stuck with.”

Pran backed up as if he had been slugged and snarled.

Ellie decided that the next time he threatened to eat her she would mention angels and watch what happened.

“I have your bloodwork results back.” Dr. Pearce beamed at her.

“And?” He had combed his long brown hair and put on aftershave

“Do you know your ancestry?”

“Yes. Mom and I have been working on our genealogy.”

“Anyone named Mira?”

“No. Wait. Back a few centuries ago there was a Miranda Greensleeves.”

He pointed at Vrane. “That must be her. A little of his blood runs in your veins.”

Ellie hugged herself. “So I’m part vampire?”

“Not exactly. It’s not genetic.” He shrugged. “That usually happens when a vampire gets intimate with a human and claims her under his protection. There’s an exchange of blood involved.”

Eew.

“Did Mira become a vampire?”

The doctor put his hand on hers. The warmth of his touch reassured her, especially after a few hours of Vrane’s frigid embrace. “No, or you wouldn’t be here. Vampires cannot breed. Not in the usual way, but that blood bond saved you from being Vrane’s dinner.”

“Just barely.” A shiver darted along her spine.

Pearce nodded.

Pran scowled. “I didn’t realize the fangies could do that.” He scrutinized Ellie from head to toe with a ghastly version of what may have been a smile, or maybe a sneer. “Me personally, I always thought humans were better as a snack than a lover.”

Ellie cocked her head. “You’ll never find me anywhere near your bed. And as I told you, I’d only give you indigestion.”

“I can believe it.”

The doctor examined Vrane. “Pran, what do you know about this Gorn?”

“You two know the time humans call the Dark Ages?”

They nodded.

“Gorn and his pals. The Witch hunts too. Now I’ll admit, those were fun for me, but Gorn was in on that too.”

“Why was he after Vrane?”

Ellie shook her head. “I don’t know. He didn’t mutter anything about that.” She looked over at Vrane’s unbreathing form. “Is he ever going to be…whatever you would call normal for a vampire? I mean, not foaming at the mouth and all that?”

“Normal works. Hopefully, once he is recovered from prolonged starvation, he can be released. But I sure won’t let him loose anytime soon.” He reached for Ellie’s hand. “Come on, my shift is over. Let’s get some fresh air.” He took her hand and led her down a corridor.

Was the sun up yet? She didn’t know what time it was and this place had no windows.

The doctor stopped and turned so suddenly that she crashed into him. “Your wound. I should take care of your head.”

“That would be nice, if you can treat a human.”

“Yes, I can treat a human.”

He took her into an empty treatment room and motioned for her to lie on the table. “I am a fully trained physician. My diploma is on the wall in my office if you care to see it.”

He sounded miffed but took care in disinfecting her wound. He seemed awfully young to be an MD and he said ‘fully trained physician,’ which did not necessarily mean MD, but it didn’t matter. He just needed to clean her wound and put something antiseptic on it. Ellie decided he had been hanging around ghouls too long.

“Dr. Pearce, how did you end up in a place like this?”

“That, my dear, is another story for another day…maybe.”

“Fair enough. But I admit I’m curious.”

“You mean nosy.”

“Yeah.”

He beamed a smile that melted her. “You don’t need stitches.” He helped her up from the table and led her through a maze of passages into the dawning day.

Even through thick fog, the first rays of sunrise stung her eyes. “I guess it’s a good thing it’s not later.” She had shades in her backpack, and she would leave them there for now. She drank in the hazy sunlight as if it were the elixir of life. Best sunrise ever, even through the fog.

Dr. Pearce already sported shades that made him look like a Federal agent. A breeze wafted his aftershave toward her.

“Ooh, nice aftershave. Got a hot date?”

“No, not unless you’ll let me take you to breakfast.”

Ellie stopped in her tracks. “Um.” Was this a good idea?

“Relax. You helped us a lot. The least I can do is feed you after making you sleep on top of a vampire.”

“Regular food, right?”

He nodded. “Yeah, real food like they make at restaurants where humans eat breakfast. Is that OK?”

“After last night I had to ask.” Ellie had to reign in her laughter before it turned hysterical. Too much weird in one night for a level-headed scientist like her. Should she accept the invitation?

Sunbeams began to burn off the ground clouds and shined a spotlight on them. She loved his long hair and aftershave, but wasn’t sure spending time with the peculiar doctor was a good idea.

And where exactly am I anyway?

She turned back to the doorway and saw only mountainside. No visible door.

Dr. Pearce followed her gaze. “Yeah, another secret place hidden in the mountains, but this one’s only a couple steps above solid ground.”

“Where exactly are we? Hard to tell with all the fog.” No markers. Bases of a few trees visible. You really had to know where you were going to find the clinic.

“Not far from where Pran found you and Vrane. So how about that breakfast? I know you’re hungry.”

Her stomach growled loudly, and after such a strange night, she needed some solid food and maybe some normal conversation…or at least semi-normal.

“Thanks. Yeah, I’m starving. Definitely time for an omelet.”

“I know just the place.”

Ellie felt hungry enough to eat two, “Bacon and cheese is my favorite.”

“Millie down at Baxter Country Store makes the best omelets ever.”

 

 

Places Mentioned in This Book

 

If you live in or travel to Southwest Missouri or Northern Arkansas, you might enjoy the beautiful canyon and the fun hillbilly themed restrunt. The story is fiction, but Dogwood Canyon and Baxter Country Store are real. As for that special hospital, my lips, like the secret door, are sealed.

You can learn more about Dogwood Canyon at DogwoodCanyon.org. Their Facebook page is Facebook.com/DogwoodCanyon.

Baxter Country Store and Restrunt (yeah RestRUNT) is nearby. Their website is BaxterCountryStore.com, and their Facebook page is Facebook.com/BaxterCountryStore. Millie really does make a great omelet.

 

 

BONUS Novella Excerpt

 

The story Behind “The Assassin and the Prince”

 

The heroine of this story and almost all of the action literally came to me in a dream. I got up and wrote everything down as fast as I could, then wrote the story. You can read the full tail…uh…tale in my anthology called When Assassins and Allies Conspire, available in Kindle, print and large print on Amazon.

 

The Excerpt from “The Assassin and the Prince”

 

As he read the computerized text of the ancient tale, Crispin imagined he was a knight of King Arthur’s round table fighting for honor and following the Code of Chivalry. He longed for a life of excitement and valor, not the endless meetings, audiences, and royal duties that filled his days. Hearing the chime, Crispin reluctantly set his e-book machine aside. He could hear the annoyance ringing through the tone.

Before he could open his mouth to admit his guest, the chime sounded again and his mother entered with a soft whoosh of satin. She frowned as she scanned his suite, and he knew she was going to launch into one of her speeches about responsibility or how he must prepare to take the yoke of rule upon his shoulders.

“Why is there an unsheathed sword on your bed?”

Crispin jumped to his feet. “Hello…”

She scanned the room with laser-sharp green eyes, targeted the scabbard, snatched it up, whisked the sword into it and tossed it to him in less time than it took him to greet her.

“…Mother.” He traced with his finger the elaborate dragon shooting pewter fire from its toothy mouth with its talons poised to strike.

“Put that ridiculous toy away and come to the audience chamber. Your father and I want to see you.”

Ridiculous toy? Why did she always treat me like a lazy idiot? There was a bowl of fruit on the table next to his mother. He slid the sword from its sheath and sliced an apple perfectly in half.

“Very cute. Now come along.” Her skirt swirled around her long legs as she walked in small quick steps to the door.

Crispin tossed an apple half in the air and caught it in his teeth as he followed in her wake.

 

Seeing a castle in a picture or hologram did not compare to standing at the thick iron gate between two stalwart stone pillars. Aree’s long silver whiskers twitched as she took in the strange building. Was this supposed to keep people out? Aree could climb over it easily if she needed to. Claws and agility were wonderful things. But then, this was a human construction. Ridan was a small but significant planet.

Aree stood before the sensor that would relay her image to the gatekeeper. She knew her appearance might be startling to the humans on sheltered little Ridan. A five-foot-tall, brown striped Feline wearing a strappy leather bodysuit might cause a stir. But maybe that is just what the inhabitants of this imposing stone building needed.

A flat male voice came through the speaker. “State your full name and your business.”

“I am AreeLaradi-prr-Kyree. I am here to apply for the bodyguard position advertised in Warriors, Assassins and Renegades Weekly.” Aree scolded herself. Even though she spoke Common, the language that allowed the diverse species of the galaxy to communicate reasonably well, she spoke with a strong Feline accent. These were isolated humans. She had not spent much time among humans, who spoke Common with a distinctly human accent.

Aree waited. A laugh. “Say your name again, please. More slowly.”

Aree cringed. He was laughing at her name. She hated to be laughed at. Didn’t that human realize his name would sound just as strange to her? She tried not to repeat her name through gritted teeth.

“Oh—my apology. You are expected.” The gate opened.

Aree kept her long striped tail close to her body as she walked through the heavy gate. The space between the gate and the immense stone castle was large enough to park a four-hundred-passenger shuttle. The path had decorative stones featuring human faces interspersed among plain ones. The faces probably belonged to past rulers.

Pristinely manicured flower gardens lined the path. These humans must like their world orderly and planned. The entrance was designed to either impress or intimidate, but Aree was neither. She walked with purpose but not with haste to the wide wooden castle doors. The man awaiting her studied her from head to foot with a critical eye. His lips formed a tight straight line. The smell of him made Aree’s stomach turn. She had forgotten how awful humans smelled, but she knew she would get used to it after awhile.

“Here are my credentials and the pass I was told to present.” Aree stood in front of the man and held his gaze with her gold eyes. His shoulders slumped slightly and he took a step back.

The man blinked. “Oh… yes, thank you.” He inserted the small triangular chip that the King had sent her into a matching hole on a console and swiped the sensor of the square identity chip that showed her credentials. “You’re applying for the special assignment?”

“Yes. You sound surprised.”

The man averted his eyes and shuffled. “I suppose I shouldn’t be, but… you’re a cat!”

Aree raised her chin. “The job announcement said nothing about human applicants only. Why shouldn’t I apply?”

“Because you would be protecting—I will let them tell you. It is not for me to decide.”

Aree’s tail started to twitch of its own accord. How dare he judge her because she was feline, not human. “Yes, that would be wise. Where do I go?”

He looked her up and down and frowned. “I am not certain they will admit you. You may recall the instructions you received told you to dress for a royal audience.”

Aree wore little clothing. Being feline and thus covered in fur made garments unnecessary, except to compensate for extreme weather conditions or keep out rain. She wore an ornamental leather body suit with diamond-shaped cutouts. Aree’s tail twitched more vigorously, but after a moment, she forced it to stop. “Oh yes, Ridan is very conservative. But I am, as you see, showing no skin, as I have fur, and my—what is the human euphemism—private parts are covered by the leather.”

“Yes, but…”

“What I am wearing is formal by feline standards.” Aree forced her claws to remain sheathed, but with effort. “Please direct me to whoever is conducting the interview, if you please. Sir.”

Finally, and with obvious reluctance, he called another uniformed guard to escort her through a seemingly endless series of passages to the door of the Royal Audience Chamber. The armed guard at the heavy wooden door must have been of higher rank, because his uniform was red instead of gray and it had tassels hanging from the jacket collar.

Aree handed the triangular chip and credentials to the decorated door attendant, who repeated the same procedure she had already gone through. He, at least, was a lot more animated than the gray-clad gate guardian was.

“Let me save you some trouble,” she told him. “Just present me as Aree.”

A red-faced woman wearing a long green dress burst through the door and stomped down the corridor, muttering as she hastened to wherever her next destination might be. “That miserable louse was practically undressing me with his eyes. Some nerve!”

“Probably because her flesh is spilling over the top of her dress,” Aree remarked. “How could a male human not stare?”

The guard, who had been holding his breath in an obvious effort not to laugh, lost control and laughed.

An authoritative female voice called, “Has our next candidate arrived?”

“That was Her Majesty.” The man sobered with effort and extended a crooked right arm toward Aree.

She looked at the bent arm. “What are you doing?”

“Extending my arm to escort you to Their Majesties.”

“I have not encountered this unusual custom among the other humans I know. What am I supposed to do with it?”

He blushed. “Put your left …front leg … through it and walk with me to the dais at the other end of the room.”

“Since we walk upright, we call them arms, as you humans do.” She held her tail straight up with the tip curved, as she would to show respect among her own kind.

Before leading her, he whispered, “I think the Queen is… not in the best of moods, so it would be best for you to remain silent until someone asks you a question.”

Like everything else on this planetoid that she had seen so far, this large room was designed to impress and intimidate. They walked on a plush red carpet. There were a few people, all human, in seats facing the front of the room. A dais raised the royalty above everyone else. The King, Queen, and young man who must be their offspring, wore ornate garments with gold metallic trim and sat in thick-cushioned chairs. Attendants stood nearby, but behind them. A burly security officer with numerous metal insignias on his uniform stood beside the queen scowling, with his feet wide apart and his thick arms folded over his chest.

Aree was not convinced this situation would work. Maybe things would have gone more smoothly if this were a less backward colony. She would probably be asked to leave immediately, but she was not going to give up without trying. These were strange people, but maybe the assignment would be interesting.

“I present before Your Majesties Aree, applicant for the special security assignment.”

The younger, curly-haired noble stared at Aree with wide green eyes and gaping mouth.

“Manners, Crispin,” the Queen demanded.

Aree’s fur fluffed and she returned the gaze. This yellow-haired youngster had issued a challenge. It took Aree a moment to remember that humans had an annoying tendency to stare, and it did not mean the same thing as it did among Felines. She forced her coat to smooth but stared at him until he yielded and looked away.

Her escort released her arm and whispered, “Bow to them.”

I should have reviewed royalty names in Common Tongue, Aree thought. She did not bow but said, “Greetings King Geoffrey, Queen Eleanor and…” she struggled to remember the proper term. “…Princess Crispin.”

“Hey, I’m not a girl. It’s Prince!”

Several people laughed out loud. The King smirked.

Humans had an irritating need to be coddled. “I beg your pardon, Prince Crispin. There is only one other planet in this sector with royalty, and they have no offspring.”

“And you’re supposed to bow to us,” he added indignantly.

The tip of Aree’s tail twitched, and she could not make it stop. “Prince Crispin, I bow to no one of any race. No Feline does.”

The King ran his fingers through his long black beard. “Diplomacy is not your strong point, but perhaps that is not important.”

Aree replied, “I know I am a terrible diplomat. But according to your job announcement, you are looking for a bodyguard, not an ambassador.”

 

END of excerpt. You can read the rest in When Assassins and Allies Conspire, available in Kindle, print and large print on Amazon.

 

Did you enjoy this book? Check out the SHARING page at the end of this book. It shows you how to share this book with friends who will THANK you for it!

 

 

 

Connect with Ronda

 

Here’s how to find me on the various social networks:

 

Amazon Profile WriteOnPurpose.com/amazonprofile

Website WriteOnPurpose.com

Goodreads WriteOnPurpose.com/goodreads

Twitter @TheStoryLady Twitter.com/thestorylady

Instagram Instagram.com/thestorylady

Pinterest Pinterest.com/writingprocess

Facebook Facebook.com/RondaDelBoccio

YouTube Channel YouTube.com/rockinrondad

LinkedIn LinkedIn.com/in/thestorylady

 

 

Ronda Del Boccio Can Speak to Your Group

 

I can speak to your book club or organization anywhere in the world through the magic of technology. Call 575-737-8679.

 

 

About Ronda Del Boccio

 

 

 

Ever since I was a toddler, I’ve told stories. I made up skits and plays while playing with my stuffed animals, all with no involvement from my parents. I could entertain myself for hours! At that young age, I wanted to have a way to catch those stories and keep them in a treasure box.

As a “legally blind” child (meaning a girl with very poor eyesight), I received daily torturous bullying, because I had to hold books up to my eye in order to read (still do), because I was fat, and because I saw the world so very differently from other children.

How grateful I am for all these experiences—yes, the blindness and the bullying too—because they gifted me compassion, perseverance, and boundless creativity. Since I have to adapt everything I do compared with how a fully sighted person would do it, my ability to “think on my feet” and be innovative is amazing.

Books and stories became my best friends. I became a voracious reader and an avid writer of stories. I wrote articles and then became the editor of our school paper in 8th grade. At my high school, I started writing Doctor Who fan fiction, poems and fantasy stories.

A few of my poems and stories made it into journals, newspapers and magazines. Then for quite a while, I didn’t write much of anything.

Ah, the soul of the storyteller is my nature, and writing is how I follow my bliss. So I decided to dedicate many enjoyable hours to writing and bringing my creations into the world,

Now I laugh every day, because the “you’re so weird” qualities about which kids teased me during those 12 years of torture known as school are now my livelihood. Oh how I LOVE my 1-minute commute past the coffee pot (to make a latte).

 

 

Help for Writers of All Genres

 

No matter what you write, I can help you. My 5-part BLISS Butterfly system teaches you to write on purpose and follow your B.L.I.S.S. Connect with me on my site or through social media (as TheStoryLady) most everywhere. You can see each aspect of the BLISS Butterfly means at WriteOnPurpose.com/about/bliss.

 

 

 

Get FREE Stories, Book Excerpts & More!

 

Want free quirky & transformational tales by best-selling author Ronda Del Boccio? Get free instant access at WriteOnPurpose.com/read

 

 

Ronda’s Books

 

See my Amazon Author page www.Amazon.com/author/rondadelboccio for all my products on Amazon.

 

Nonfiction

 

Mindset Masters: Achieve Anything, Anytime, Anywhere

I am one of 16 authors; each of us teaches our best mindset secrets.

 

Trust Your Heart: Building Relationships that Build Your Business

These chapters by successful entrepreneurs each share relational selling secrets.

 

[+ The Impact Factor: How Small Actions Change the World+]

This book by Ken McArthur and me relates what big difference small actions make.

 

The Peace Seed: Personal and Global Transformation through storytelling

Within YOU is an innate seed of greatness. Just as the mightiest tree grows from the smallest seed, big changes begin with one tiny seed – YOU!

 

The Instant VIP: Insider Secrets to Fame, Freedom and Fulfillment as an Expert Author

This book reveals the steps to write a book AND build your empire around it.

 

I’ll Push You Steer: The Definitive Guide to Stumbling Through Life with Blinders On, co-author Bonnie Tesh

This book of inspirational stories will make you laugh, cry, and get off your pity pot!

 

“Stop the Time Bandit: Time Management Techniques for Life Mastery” (Kindle only)

Time Management tips & techniques minibook

 

Fiction

 

A Tasty Morsel – a Humorous Paranormal Romance Novella

This humorous novella is the first in a series. You’ll meet a ghoul who’s a nurse for the most unusual hospital you’re ever likely to see, a ban-shee having a bad day, a vampire who hasn’t had a meal in a couple of centuries, and a “regular” (or maybe not?) human woman who gets pulled into a strange new world.

 

When Assassins and Allies Conspire: Visionary Tales, Volume 1

Some allies come in unexpected disguises. Each of the 4 tales in this book brings you into the hearts and minds of people (most of whom are NOT human) encountering unseen perils, ancient secrets, prejudice and fear.

 

DVD / CD

 

Story Power: Connect with Anyone through the Power of Storytelling (85 minute storytelling techniques training DVD)

This is an in-depth storytelling training that teaches you to tap into the power of your own story in a way that magnetizes people to you. It includes the handouts and resources the live participants received.

 

Avoid the 7 Deadly Sins of Storytelling (CD)

This is a lively discussion of 7 common storytelling mistakes that turn people away from you & how to avoid them.

 

 

Share This Book with Your Friends

 

If this book has inspired and motivated you, chances are excellent that it is just what some of your friends and colleagues are seeking. So would you do me a favor and please take a few seconds to share this book and a quick review with them?

Ie’ve made it super simple. Just go to the Amazon.com page for Instant Author Formula

There’s a handy graphic below to show you how to notice the social sharing, write-a-review and Kindle app buttons.

Once on the Amazon Page, you’ll notice social sharing buttons for your favorite networks below the “buy box.”

And if your friends need a free Kindle app, notice that I’ve done everything but put a flashing sign on where that lives on the page.

 

Want to help other readers by writing a review? That’s indicated on the picture as well.

 

[+ +]

 

THANK YOU in advance!

 

 


A Tasty Morsel: A Humorous Paranormal Romance

BOOK DESCRIPTION: A spunky young spelunker finds danger in the form of a HOT stranger hidden behind a secret door in this humorous supernatural romance A Tasty Morsel takes you into a newly discovered cave with a dark secret. Science nerd & college freshman Ellie cannot resist the urge to see what’s behind that secret stone door that grinds open at her touch. What she encounters introduces her to a ghoul, a vampire, a ban-shee having a bad day, and the mysterious doctor in his hospital for what she thought were mythical creatures, among other things. Full of humor, double entendre, innuendo, and quirky characters, this paranormal romance novella will transport you to realms you did not even know existed. Hopefully, you won't take a ride in the ambulance for the undead, as Ellie ended up doing! Ronda Del Boccio is a blind author living in rural Missouri with her gorgeous golden retriever Leader Dog Jemma. She is the award-winning and Amazon bestselling author of The Peace Seed: Personal and Global Transformation through Storytelling, The Story of Impact, and I’ll Push You Steer: The Definitive Guide to Stumbling Through Life with Blinders On. Her short stories, poems and articles appear in over two dozen anthologies across four continents. She has also won awards for her singing, teaching, cooking, and translation of a medieval cookbook. As you can tell, her interests are diverse. Anything she wants to do or experience, she makes happen. Connect with her all over the social web and on her website, Write On Purpose Find author Ronda on the web at WriteOnPurpose.com. Ronda is an author and speaker living in rural Missouri. She happens to be mostly blind, and she does not let that stop her in any way! She believes anything is possible. Ronda loves to cook, read, write, and enjoy animals, including her cat. Her stories vary from humorous to deep, but even the most seemingly light-hearted have a powerful message of transformation. Her preferred genres to write are paranormal, suspense and fantasy. All her life she has loved stories. Now she unites people worldwide through the power of stories and has a mission to empower at least a million people worldwide to share your story and thereby touch every life on the planet in a positive way. She is the author of several books, including #1 Bestseller, Mover and Shaker, The Peace Seed. Her other books include The Instant VIP and When Assassins and Allies Conspire. She loves writing visionary fiction stories that stick with you long after you have finished reading. Connect with her Facebook - Facebook.com/RondaDelBoccio Twitter - twitter.com/thestorylady Pinterest Pinterest.com/writingprocess LinkedIn LinkedIn.com/inthestorylady Tumblr - thestorylady.Tmblr.com/

  • ISBN: 9781311863362
  • Author: Ronda Del Boccio
  • Published: 2016-03-30 23:20:09
  • Words: 12730
A Tasty Morsel: A Humorous Paranormal Romance A Tasty Morsel: A Humorous Paranormal Romance