For those who may not know, I write urban fantasy. Here's the first chapter from my manuscript, Zombie Love, which is currently making the agent rounds. Enjoy!
My transformation to the undead started with a pregnancy test stick.
A used pregnancy test stick.
Not mine, thank you very much.
I slammed the plastic zippered baggie, used pregnancy test stick enclosed, down on my boss’s desk in triumph. “Here’s your proof! Jessie Alton is knocked up. Her housekeeper confirmed it.”
Ralph O’Malley recoiled in disgust. His blue eyes narrowed, and he snarled, “Jesus, Ridgeway, get that thing off my desk!” He poked at it with his pencil, pushing it away from him, until I scooped it up in my filthy hand.
I didn’t blame him. I wasn’t real thrilled about dumpster diving for the proof just because a major TV star peed on the dang thing, but I also didn’t want my editor destroying valuable evidence. Legal would want the little stick for DNA testing in case Alton sued.
The A/C kicked on, but the weak circulation did nothing more than stir the lingering cigarette smoke in Ralph’s tiny windowless office. Despite the ban on indoor smoking in Los Angeles, the publisher of the National Scoop ignored Ralph’s predilection for cancer sticks.
“Have the copy on my desk in an hour.” He eyed my grime-laden clothes. “Make that two. Get a shower first.”
I hesitated a moment.
Ralph guessed at my question. He shook his head and said, “When I told you and Bill I’d have my decision on the assistant editor position on Friday, I meant on Friday.” He snatched up the cigarette smoldering in the overflowing ashtray and took a puff before he added, “You’ve got one hour and fifty-nine minutes.”
That wasn’t the question I was going to ask, but a cheap thrill filtered through my aching muscles. Bill hadn’t bested me out of the job.
So I focused on my pitch.
“I want to do a follow up story on the private investigator-” With the baggie still in one hand, my fingers made awkward bunny ears. I suspected the man was a merc, not a PI. “Brent Poole hired to rescue his girlfriend-”
My watering eyes blinked under the double assault of his smoke and my clothes. “What?”
“I said no.” Ralph’s bulging orbs and quivering jowls resembled his bulldog, Emerson. At least, Ralph didn’t drool all over my leg when he visited my desk.
Someone could have knocked me over with the test stick. “This guy rescues Jessie Alton, the highest paid, most popular actress in television history who’s knocked up by Brent Poole, the highest paid, most popular movie actor-”
“You got garbage in your ears, Ridgeway? I said no.” Pink crawled up Ralph’s neck and invaded his cheeks. “Now, have you and Agnes discovered what rehab center Sierra Mallory’s holed up-”
I ignored his blatant change of topic. “She’s kidnapped by some doomsday cult and saved-”
Ralph rose to his feet, teeth chewing on the butt of the cigarette.
I ignored the warning. “-by someone Poole hired, and you don’t want a follow-up?”
A growl filled the room. My editor was actually growling at me. I took a careful step away from the desk.
“I said no, and I meant no!” Twin columns of smoke blew from his flared nostrils.
The gray haze quivered as we matched glares. Then air seemed to whoosh out of him, and he collapsed back into the ancient leather chair. Glancing at his watch, he muttered, “You’ve got one hour and fifty-five minutes if you want the fucking cover.”
Damn, he knew how to push my buttons. The cover story was too good to pass on out of sheer pride.
“Fine, boss.” I pivoted and charged out the door, careful not to slam it on the way. What the hell was going on? Ralph never nixed one of my ideas. Okay, that wasn’t true.
Two years ago, I’d snapped the Sabretooth’s power forward and the lead singer of a certain boy band having damn good time in a hot tub. Even though Ralph ran my initial story, he refused to let me pursue the rumor of a stalker threatening the outed basketball player. His negation now made about as much sense as it did then.
A smile stretched my lips. Good thing I’d already started on the story, or maybe I would’ve walked away like I had at the time. I may be a slow learner, but I did learn.
I strode through the bullpen, ignoring the gagging and retching sounds in my wake. Everyone backed away from my aroma, except for…
Damn. No way could I dodge the lanky woman headed straight for me. Agnes Durley, AKA Agnes of God, because the rest of the staff agreed only the Almighty could love the crazy bitch.
“Samantha, I need to talk to you.” Agnes’ idea of a whisper carried through the huge room. The snickers started close to us and quickly spread. At least she wasn’t wearing her tin foil hat today.
“I’m kind of in a hurry.” I tried to slide past her, only to be nailed by Agnes’s claw-like grip and the pungent scent of garlic. I swallowed my impatience and a little nausea as the garlic aroma mixed with the cigarette smoke and garbage wafting from my clothes and hair. She may be missing a few screws, but no one could match the woman’s research skills. And she had saved my ass on more than one occasion. Besides, Ralph needed someone to write the Elvis/alien baby stories.
“This is serious, Samantha.” Agnes lowered her voice only a couple of decibels. “You need to be careful. The streets are dangerous.”
“So’s Ridgeway’s smell,” someone muttered from behind a cubical wall.
Tell me something about Los Angeles I don’t know. Too many murders had been happening lately, way too many for even Los Angeles, and no one was sure what prompted the new round of turf wars. Two of the more notorious gangs had actually called a truce through a network affiliate in order to proclaim their innocence.
I breathed through my mouth since the combination of smells overwhelmed even my junk-food-hardened stomach. “Agnes, please, can’t this wait? Ralph wants my story now.” I patted the hand digging into my upper arm and tried not to wince. The woman had a grip that rivaled the Governator’s. “I promise I’ll come talk to you in two hours.”
Agnes leaned closer. “People are disappearing. Kidnapped by bad vampires.”
Great. Another one of her conspiracy stories. The last one involved the FBI covering up the fact the former vice-president had been possessed by doves. “Agnes,” I began while prying her fingers off my bicep. “Vampires don’t kidnap people. They eat them.”
Agnes shook her head, the greasy, graying strands whipping wildly. It was hard to believe she’d once been a beauty queen contestant. The porcelain skin over gorgeous cheekbones didn’t counter the wild-eyed look she gave me.
“The good ones don’t eat us.” She yanked a strand of garlic bulbs out of her safari jacket pocket and thrust the aromatic veggies at my head. “Wear this. It will protect you.”
“Ridgeway doesn’t need those. Her reek would drive away any self-respecting vampire.” Bill Morton, my office nemesis, hung over his cubicle wall, smirking at us. A noticeable silence fell over the bullpen.
Eyeing the forty-something definition of kiss-ass, I mustered a bored look. If the rest of the guys saw me getting pissed, their jibes wouldn’t stop. I didn’t have time to deal with their crap. Not with a deadline in less than two hours. “Geez, Morton, just because you didn’t get laid last night doesn’t mean you have to take it out on the rest on us.” Gales of laughter followed my comeback, and Bill slunk back down in his chair, his lips pursed in a sour grimace.
I turned back to Agnes and tried to give her a reassuring I’m-taking-you-seriously smile. Otherwise, Agnes would hound me the rest of the afternoon, and I wasn’t about to miss my deadline. Not with the cover bonus. I needed that cover bonus. “If I wear my grandmother’s silver cross, I think I’ll be okay, won’t I?”
She eyed me suspiciously for a couple of seconds, her gaze boring into my skull. I tried not to flinch. Maybe Agnes really could pick up thought waves without the damn foil hat on and knew I was lying.
Finally, she nodded and said, “Silver should be sufficient.” She grabbed my arm again. “Just be careful on the streets at night. They have Normal help.” With her bizarre statement, she released me and marched back to the closet that served as her office. It was sadder than her hat. She’d requested the damn closet and had lined the walls with foil too.
Normal? As opposed to what? Zombies?
I sighed and shook my head. It wasn’t worth missing a deadline to figure out what the heck Agnes was blathering about. Not to mention I had to plan a way to convince Ralph to print the follow-up on Poole’s hired gun.
I headed for the ladies’ room amid another round of chuckles and snickers.
Selene Antonius strode down the antiseptic hallway of Mallory Labs toward the section converted into an ICU. The staccato clicks of her heels echoed against bare tile. The vampire guard at the door bowed slightly, but she ignored him in favor of the man standing vigil at the observation window. The set of Tyrone Mallory’s shoulders was one she recognized
One she remembered all too well despite the passing of the last two millennia.
A death watch.
“How’d the trials go?” he asked as she halted by his side. He didn’t look at her.
She folded her arms and stared into the room at the still figure on the bed. The girl’s pale neck blended into the white blankets covering her. It might as well have been a funeral shroud. Despite the airlock, Selene’s sensitive hearing could pick up the soft beeps of the EKG unit and the muffled hiss of oxygen. “When did they put her on the ventilator?”
“An hour ago.” The despair in his voice nearly drowned the last remnants of his hope.
She could feel Mallory turn his piercing grey eyes away from his only child. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“The results with the chimpanzees look promising.” The last thing she wanted was to lose the gifts the vampire virus had granted her. Unlike her asinine brother, she wasn’t throwing her immortality away on a cure. Someday, he’d learn his lesson the hard way when his little witch whore staked him in the back. And if she found a way to let Duncan walk in daylight again, maybe he’d forgive her.
“Promising?” Mallory stepped closer to her. “My daughter has days, maybe hours, and all you can say is promising? This research is the only chance she has.”
She turned to face Mallory. The guard flicked a questioning look. A slight shake of her head deterred him. A Normal could hardly be considered a threat to her. Mallory’s lack of fear where she was concerned was one of the appealing things about him.
“Do you want to use Sierra as the human test subject?”
The stubborn set of his jaw gave her his answer. His gaze shifted back to the dying girl. “You could-”
Her sigh whispered through the air. It always came down to that request, didn’t it? “Is that what you really want for her?” She waved her hand between her and the guard. “To be one of us?” She shook her head. Pain stabbed through her heart. The girl couldn’t even give permission. Another lesson learned the hard way. “There’s no guarantee she’d survive the Turn, Tyrone.” There’s no guarantee she’d still love either of us if she survived. But there was no gain in burdening him with that knowledge. She knew from bitter experience he wouldn’t listen to reason at this stage. No grieving family member ever did. “It’s been two years since we started the V-Prime Project. Give the team a few more days.”
“Fine.” His attention returned to the girl struggling to hang onto life. “But if Sierra dies before they’re ready, I’m feeding the entire science team to the prisoners.”
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