by D. Thomas Jerlo
Genre: Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy
Mix in a diabolical lawyer and his lover, some Voodoo magic, and it’s a recipe for mayhem and murder. Can Rhune keep Hanna safe, or is she destined to be Hellhound Bound?
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She transfixed him. Fascinated him. He could stare at her face all day and never tire of her. Her scent was a mixture of sweet 1625 brandy and early morning dew on freshly cut grass; so poignant that he wanted to roll himself all over her and keep her close forever.
She hadn’t said a word since they’d left the garage, but the stiffness of her body spoke volumes.
Still, uncertainty coiled in the pit of his stomach.
He’d seen them time and time before—but their intensity then wasn’t like it was now.
Through the mutilated flesh and fountains of blood, he’d sensed those eyes watching him; always filled with fear; always traumatized and swimming with tears. Their unique colors had struck him dumb each and every time he’d seen them. They reached for him; touched him; and quelled the viciousness of his beast. An unquenchable need to protect her had always followed. Now in living flesh, that hadn’t changed in the least.
He now knew for certain what she was. Does she know? he wondered. Unease parked itself deep inside him and took residence.
He pushed aside his misgivings and gave her directions to the outskirts of North Bend. Soon, a parking lot lined with eighteen wheelers darkened the horizon. After she parked, he jumped out and rushed to the driver’s side to hold open her door. Easing his hand into the small of her back, he guided her inside to a booth by a window overlooking the highway. She said nothing as she walked stiff-legged to their table.
Some restaurant patrons shifted in their chairs, but paid them no more attention before returning to their steaming plates of food.
He waited for her to sit first, then he slid into the booth across from her. As soon as his rear made contact with his seat, a sudden rush of something sent icy shivers down his spine, but it disappeared before he could figure out what it was, and why.
She peered out the window, her complexion pale, and her features haggard from sleep deprivation, which darkened the delicate skin beneath both her eyes.
He placed his elbows on the table and pushed forward slightly, but still far enough away as to not invade her personal space. She was a frightened deer looking down the barrel of a gun. And he was that weapon. She was either going to fight—or flee. He prayed for the latter.
“Tell me what you think you saw,” he asked softly.
She turned to him. “Who are you? I mean, what’s your name?”
“Rhune. With an ‘h’. And you?”
“Hanna. Hanna Carmichael. What’s your last name?”
“It’s just Rhune.”
“I was. A long time ago.”
Her face etched with puzzlement.
“What case are you working on?”
“The Drysdale murder.”
“Adam Drysdale? That famous lawyer?”
“Yes. Roger’s deposition was vital to our case.”
“Perhaps the two are connected?”
“Then explain to me why some mutant Fido is out there right now digesting him.”
He flinched at her description and chose his next words carefully. “Maybe it was time to pay the piper for his sins?”
“That’ll read great on a police report,” she snapped.
He leaned back and crossed his arms. “Do you believe in the afterlife?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
She leaned back like him. “I believe there’s places we go after we die.”
“How do you think we get there?”
“Some follow a white light. Some fall into flames. I don’t know. I’ve never died before.”
“How do you think souls travel to their final destinations?” He sensed the wheels turning in her head.
“To be honest, I’ve never given it much thought.”
There were rules against sharing what he was privy to, and he’d never broken one before. So why did he harbor such a compulsion to do so now? I have to make her understand, that’s why.
He took a deep breath and began. “What if I told you that some people can walk between the veils of light and dark, often in dreams, like you?”
“You know how some people can read other people’s thoughts? Or move objects with their minds?”
“Those people have extraordinary skills. They use parts of their brain that usually lie dormant in most. Depending on how they use them, they’ve been touched by either the hand of God—or Asmodeus, the devil. There’s a reason why they’re chosen.”
Her one eyebrow inched up. “Really? What does this have to do with last night?”
“You said you’ve seen that animal before in your dreams, correct? Perhaps you were peering through the veils.”
She threw up her hands. “What veils?”
The customer closest to them lifted his head, his lips shiny from a strip of bacon dangling between them. When Rhune shot him a glare, he was quick to dig back into his eggs with a corner of his toast, more intent on consuming his meal than on eavesdropping.
He lowered his voice. “What do you believe, Hanna?”
Pursing her lips, she glanced out the window again. “I don’t know. I thought you just got sucked into the earth or something.”
He patiently waited until she looked his way again. Then he asked, “What if that thing you saw was delivering Roger to Hell?”
“Like a, a...?”
He nodded, carefully watching her every reaction.
She leaned closer to the table and hissed, “A hellhound? Are you certifiably insane?”
“You’re telling me that...” She stopped and shook her head. “I’m not going to say it again.”
He tried another approach. “Why was that creature you saw the same as in your dreams?”
“Because I was a kid, damn it! Kids dream about monsters.”
This time two different heads swiveled their way. Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea coming here. He’d hoped that if she was in a somewhat normal setting, she’d feel more comfortable. Safer.
He lowered his voice to a whisper. “What if I were to tell you that hellhounds are real? That they deliver souls to Hell? That they work for God, contrary to popular folklore.”
Her cheeks paled to the color of milk as she mumbled, “Bullshit.”
The waitress happened to pick that inopportune time to stop at their table. “What’ll you two be having?” she asked in between the snapping of her gum.
When he forced a smile her way, a flush of pink stained the woman’s leathery cheeks. Yeah, he had a way with women, but, apparently, not with the one sitting across from him. “Give us a few minutes more, please?”
The waitress grinned and batted her false eyelashes. “Sure thing, sugar. Just give me a holler. I’ll be right over there by the counter.” She strolled away with several backward glances.
Hanna hadn’t noticed. She’d turned her attention out the window again.
“What if you have the ability to see, and even travel, between these veils?” Let’s hope that’s all she can do.
“All I know is that I don’t know what I saw, but I have to explain it to my boss. And the authorities. Your theory doesn’t cut it in the real world. Can you see their faces when I tell them, ‘Oh, not to worry, Mr. Police Officer. Roger tried to kill me, but a big, bad hellhound showed up and ate him. Now he’s where he belongs. But wait. When, and if, I sleep tonight, I’ll drop by and ask him all about it’.”
Her sarcasm was thick enough to cut with a chainsaw. But Rhune had a plan already formulating. “What if you don’t have to?”
Those stunning eyes of hers leveled on him again. “What do you mean?” she asked testily.
“You go back to the city and say nothing.”
“No one knows you went to meet Roger, right?”
“After you took his statement, you went and checked into your hotel, and then left to grab a bite to eat, but everything was closed.”
“Dal’s Diner is open all night, or so Roger told me.”
“No, it’s not. When you returned, no one was at the front desk, so you left. At that moment, I happened to come by to drop off your car. I drove you back to my place.” The more he thought about, the more he knew it would work. Judging by the scowling skepticism on her face, he still needed to convince her. “People saw us together yesterday, including Ben Hardy. You could say I asked you out for dinner and—”
“You think pretty highly of yourself, do you?
He gave a sheepish shrug.
She scowled. “And just how stupid does that make me look?”
She had a point. “How about I wooed you off your feet?”
Her face turned fiery red. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out.
“Look,” he continued. “We return to Rio Morden after breakfast and grab your bag. We trash your room and head straight to the Sheriff’s office and tell them your room was vandalized. All you’ll be doing is reporting a break-in. With Roger missing, they might assume it’d been him, and he took off out of town afterwards.”
She was quiet for so long, he feared she’d get up and walk out. Where would she go?
“Okay, just Rhune, I can believe that, but what happens when Roger is called to testify? What am I supposed to do then? What do I tell my boss?” Hysteria edged into her words.
“No one knows about his phone call to you. You met with him yesterday afternoon, took his statement, went to your hotel, and that’s the last you saw of him. Even if they trace the phone records, they’ll know he called you at the hotel, but you weren’t there. Believe me. No one’s going to find him.”
“But that’s lying! Wait. How do you know no one’s going to find him? Forensics—”
“There’s nothing to find. Not a drop of blood. Not a splinter of bone. He never existed. Would you rather explain what really happened?”
“But I don’t know what happened! Holy shit! My briefcase!”
This time, every head in the restaurant turned toward them. Tears brimmed in her eyes before she wiped them away with an angry swipe of her hand.
He inched his hand across the table and took one of hers. Through his touch, he injected her with a sliver of his magic. Her head jerked up. Her eyes widened. She immediately pulled away as if he’d singed her.
“How did you do that?”
He smiled. “It’s a gift.”
“Are you always, um, this warm?” Her face was now fire hydrant red.
He didn’t answer.
“We have to find my briefcase. I dropped it in the alley.”
“Then we’ll go there first and retrieve it.”
“This changes everything. You know that, right? I’m trusting a man I’ve just met. I’ve been a witness to a murder that I can’t tell anyone about. And even if I did, who’d friggin’ believe me? I’m a horrible liar. I won’t be able to pull this off. I can’t. Jesus, what am I going to do?”
Hanna leaned into the cushions of the booth and studied him for the longest time. “Why are you doing this? You don’t even know me.”
“I believe you, Hanna. You shouldn’t have seen what you did.”
Her brow arched. “Really?”
He knew he was stretching the limits of his oath, but he couldn’t help himself. “Because I’ve seen them too.”
“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” -Albert Einstein
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