Authors: Eleri Stone
By Eleri Stone
Private investigator Grace tracks a kidnapped child to middle-of-nowhere Iowa. Encountering a strange creature she knows can’t be a local animal, she doesn’t need her psychic abilities to figure out the sleepy town is not what it seems. When she meets the intriguing Aiden, she’s plunged into a world of Norse gods and fire demons where the Wild Hunt still rides the night.
Aiden needs Grace’s help to cross the portal between worlds and rescue his daughter. Grace is unlike any woman he’s ever met. He’s drawn to her courage, distressed by her vulnerability and doubtful of her motives. But he knows that her visions are the key to defeating the enemy and bringing everyone home alive.
Grace wants a future with Aiden, even if it means she’ll never have a normal life. When a test run to the portal takes a terrifying turn, they must learn to finally trust each other or Aiden’s daughter, and their chance at love, will be lost forever…
In 2012, we’re committed to bringing you an even wider variety of stories. With our January releases, we celebrate the diversity of the genres Carina Press has to offer. We’re publishing books across a variety of romance and non-romance genres, including mystery, cyberpunk, fantasy, male/male romance, paranormal romance, contemporary romance, science fiction, historical romance and more.
I hope you’ll try a book in a different genre and spread the word to your friends and family that Carina Press is a destination publisher for quality books across genres.
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Executive Editor, Carina Press
To my grandparents, aunts, uncles and many cousins who prove the value of a great extended family. Thank you for your love and support.
’Neath sea the land sinketh, the sun dimmeth,
from the heavens fall the fair bright stars;
The Prophecy of the Seeress: Voluspá
The Poetic Edda
Second Edition, Revised
Translated by Lee M. Hollander
Grace tapped her fingers on the steering wheel, trying to decide what to do. Turn back now and find a hotel or push through and finish this tonight? The smart thing would be to start again in the morning. It was getting late and she was driving down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by corn fields with no signal on her cell phone. She was close though. She hated the idea of giving up now even if it was only for the night.
A fat bug splattered against her windshield, making her jump, and she hit the wipers. God, she was tense. Growing up in St. Louis, she hadn’t expected it to be so dark out here. On these back roads, her headlights only lit the road a few feet ahead. The brights, when she tried them, reflected off all the dust kicking up from the dry road and made it harder to see. No city lights. No streetlights. No passing semis. Only the fireflies in the corn and the occasional reflective flash from the eyes of whatever animals lived out here. Paranoia said something was following her, but she hadn’t caught much more than a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye, gone as soon as she turned her head. Her eyes flicked toward the rearview mirror and she told herself to get a grip.
Nothing out here. Miles upon miles of nothing.
Damn it, Mike, I should be in Hawaii right now.
Sun-warmed sand and cool ocean breezes. Mixed drinks. After that last case, she needed time to relax, maybe meet someone else who was lonely but not looking for serious, who wouldn’t ask difficult questions about her job or her past. But no, she was in Iowa. Not a palm tree in sight, and the only thing drifting on the breeze was the smell of manure. Pollen. She flinched as another big freaking bug hit the windshield. Were they locusts?
She sighed and rubbed her eyes. She shouldn’t blame Mike for doing his job. After all, he
send her most of her paying customers, unofficially. A young and ambitious detective with the St. Louis police department, he was smart enough to recognize her…talent for finding missing children. And to realize that too much scrutiny would drive her away. She liked him, liked his devotion to his work and the way he never pushed her too hard. Even with his dangerous and underpaid, empathy-sucking career choice, he still had a big heart. He was a friend. One of her few friends, and so when he’d called asking for a favor—
Come on, Grace. Just take a look at the file. One look. It’ll take you five minutes
—she’d said yes. Sneaky bastard.
He’d hit a dead end in the case of a little girl named Maia Olson. Her mother died a year ago leaving the grandmother with custody, and everything had been going along fine until the child was diagnosed with an unusual form of autism. The grandmother sent a form letter to an old P.O. box requesting the father’s medical history and two weeks later the girl was gone. Just
gone. No witnesses, no evidence. Mike couldn’t locate the father, the primary suspect. The grandmother didn’t know squat about where he might be living, what he’d been doing for the past five years or who he’d been doing it with. Her contact information was limited to a phone number that had been disconnected three years ago and that P.O. box in Arizona. Grace had politely listened to the story all the while intending to turn him away. She’d earned this vacation. Only a few weeks, but she hoped it would be enough time to pull herself back together.
Then she’d looked down at the little school picture paper-clipped to the back of the file and the connection had been so real she could have grabbed onto it like a rope. Or maybe it had grabbed her. White-blond, chin-length hair, arresting blue eyes and a mischievous grin. That exquisitely sharp vision…
Swinging on the swing set in the backyard of an old farmhouse. Red painted barn to the right and unending rows of corn stretching toward the horizon. Strong hands warm on her back. A man walking to the edge of her vision and smiling at her as she soared. Alive. Happy. No shadow of pain or even a hint of fear.
The dad, deadbeat or no, was taking good care of her. And with that one glimpse, Grace knew exactly where the girl was. At least how to get to her. She’d never had a vision so clear and the connection hadn’t faded with time. If anything, the closer Grace got, the more vivid it became.
Right now, the little girl was tucked sound asleep in bed on the second story of an old farmhouse, cheek cradled in her hand, summer quilt kicked to the floor. It was a small room with the bed set under a slanted eave, only one window at the far end that would rattle in a storm. The window was open and a slight breeze made the cotton curtains billow out in gentle waves.
Like a needle on a compass, she could have swung out her arm and pointed to Maia’s exact location. Straight ahead. Grace wanted this done with, so she crept along the dark road, hoping it would open up once she got past the trees.
The trail veered to the right, skirting the edge of the forested patch. She’d thought Iowa was all flat, tidy farmland but this corner of the state was hilly and spotted with woods. When the road passed beneath the first low hanging branches, she caught a flicker of light out of the corner of her eye and glanced out the passenger side window, expecting to finally get a look at her feral friends. But it wasn’t them. Not
them. There was light there beyond the trees, distant and flickering orange like fire, black shadows streaking at the edge of her vision and moving fast, passing deeper into the woods.
What the hell?
Images flitted through her head—massive horses blowing steam from flared nostrils, torches and gray wolves slipping through the trees. Her pulse raced and her breath locked in her chest even while she tried to talk herself down. She was inside a moving car, armed and in the middle of Iowa, damn it.
There was nothing out there that couldn’t be explained in the clear light of day. It wasn’t real. Just the woods. The dark. Just her imagination.
A black shape lurched across the road and she swerved. She had no choice. The thing was bigger than her car and as fast as it was moving she was on a trajectory to hit it dead on. Misjudging how her Focus would handle on gravel, she started to skid, heading for the ditch after all. The car jerked, her stomach dropped and the airbag punched her in the face.
She sat there stunned for a few minutes, disoriented and confused. Her head hurt and when she touched it, her fingertips came away wet. She might have blacked out but it couldn’t have been for long. Injured by the stupid airbag. She hadn’t been going fast enough to do any real damage to the car or herself. It shouldn’t have gone off.
Trying to catch her breath, she pushed the sagging thing away from her face while searching for the seatbelt release with her other hand. That animal was still out there. Whatever the hell it was. Her headlights had lit it up for just a second but she hadn’t seen much, a patch of fur, the spark of reflected light from its eyes. Not enough to form a good mental image but enough to make her insides slide with fear. Right now, she couldn’t see worth a crap through the windows but she could hear
out there. Over the tick and hiss of the car, over the sound of her hammering heartbeat, getting louder—a sharp rhythmic pounding noise.
The seatbelt gave and she dropped forward, sprawled over the wheel. Carefully, she maneuvered until her fingertips caught her purse’s strap in the well of the passenger seat and dragged it over. No signal on the cell. She pocketed the phone and grabbed her gun.
She could wait inside, hoping whatever was out there went away. She could wait here, huddled in the dark praying for help to come.
The idea made her stomach go sour. This wasn’t a fairytale and she’d learned a long time ago no white knight would save her. Drawing a deep breath, she opened the door. It swung easily and she clambered out, barking her shin on the frame. Her foot sunk into about half a foot of water at the bottom of the ditch. She hunched down and tried to get her bearings.
The headlights were still on, one half-submerged underwater. The car didn’t look too badly damaged but no way could she drive it out on her own. With one hand, she reached in and cut the lights. She needed her eyes to adjust so she could see beyond the little circle of light, maybe get a look at what was out there.
And it was then, squinting into the dark with blood dripping into her eyes, frozen in fear and maybe the beginnings of shock, that what she’d been hearing finally clicked. Not her heartbeat after all…
. A horse galloping in her direction down the gravel road. Maybe more than one. She sank against the side of the car, fighting a sudden wave of dizziness while she tried to make sense of that. Little sparks danced in front of her open eyes. She would
pass out. She’d be defenseless out here alone in the dark.
The rhythmic pounding in her ears stopped abruptly. Her vision tunneled. Her fingers went so numb that her gun slipped from her grip, falling with a splash into the ditch. Then she was falling too, a helpless nauseating slide into strong arms that dragged her up from the water.