Otherworld Nights: An Anthology

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9780452298347: Otherworld Nights: An Anthology
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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

 

DEMONOLOGY

Talia stared at the painting. A tiny fishing boat caught in a raging storm, swirling in an eddy, the crew members barely managing to keep it afloat . . . while a giant wave swelled behind them. That’s my life, she thought. I fight the storm and I keep fighting, but somehow, I never shake the feeling that a huge wave is gathering behind my back, waiting to make a mockery of my efforts.

Her eight-year-old son, Adam, was sprawled across the office floor doing his homework with his blond head bent over the math workbook, pencil in his mouth, scowling at the numbers as if that could make them surrender their secrets. He’d been quiet for fifteen minutes now, a sure sign that he was dreading this appointment.

In her support group for parents of hyperactive children, the other mothers always rejoiced over their children’s “quiet times,” those rare occasions when their kids stopped bouncing and chattering and sat for more than a few minutes at a stretch. Talia never joined in. When Adam went quiet, it was a sure sign that something was bothering him. These days, he sank into those spells several times a week, more often if that week included appointments.

In the last three months, they’d been to at least a dozen doctors. General practitioners, specialists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers . . . a never-ending parade of professionals all claiming they could figure out what was wrong with Adam. Talia hated that phrase: “what was wrong with Adam.”

There was nothing wrong with her son, and she told him that every day. But the fact that she needed to give constant reassurances proved that even Adam knew something was wrong. How many blood samples could a little boy give, how many questions could he answer, how many X-rays and tests could he undergo, before he stopped trusting his mother’s reassurances?

“Mom?”

Talia looked over and met his brown eyes, the mirror image of her own.

“I’m thirsty.”

She lifted her purse. “I brought juice boxes and animal crackers—”

“I’m more thirsty than that.” He wrinkled his nose, freckles forming new constellations. Then he slanted a sly look her way. “I saw a pop machine down the hall.”

“Did you, now? And let me guess. That’s how thirsty you are: full-can-of-pop thirsty.”

“Please?”

With a dramatic sigh, she opened her change purse and counted out enough for a soda and a candy bar. Yes, she was apologizing for the appointment with junk food, but sometimes you’d do just about anything to make the medicine go down easier. His grin as she handed over the money said she’d done the right thing, whatever the parenting books might tell her.

“Thanks, Mom.”

He bounded for the door and nearly knocked over a student walking in. A blurted apology and a sheepish glance at Talia. Then, as he turned backward to the door, he froze, his gaze snagged on a photo. An aerial view of a forest fire. Adam had noticed it the moment he’d walked in. Yet now he stared as if seeing it for the first time.

“That’s a neat photo, isn’t it?” Talia said. “I wonder how they took it. From an airplane, I bet.”

“Cool,” Adam said, then tore his gaze away and took off, back on target.

Talia moved to the doorway. He shot her a look that said he was too old to have his mother watching out for him, but she stuck out her tongue and stood her ground.

As he ran down the hall, weaving through groups of students, her gaze slid back to the forest-fire photograph. Should she have commented on it like that? Most of the doctors she’d talked to would have said no, that she should either ignore his fascination or distract him from it. Maybe Talia was naive, but that didn’t seem right to her. Treat it as normal—that’s what she thought she should do. Act as if Adam’s fixation with fire was neither positive nor negative, just a fact of his life, like another child’s obsession with cars or trains.

Budding pyromania. That’s what the experts called it. Pyromania. Talia could barely even think the word, as if that gave it a validity it didn’t deserve. Yes, her son was fascinated by fire, but there was a huge difference between staring at a candle flame and lighting your bed on fire. Adam didn’t start fires; he just liked to watch them. And yes, maybe that was a warning sign, but pyromania seemed a simplistic explanation that ignored so many other things.

When Adam struck out in anger, which was luckily very rare, his hands were hot enough to give a physical jolt, like touching fire itself. The last time he’d done that—three months ago, with a bully at school—he’d left a mark on the kid’s skin. That’s when the parade of experts had started.

Now, after months of searching, she’d ended up here. At the office of a different kind of doctor. A college professor. She looked at the nameplate again. Robert Vasic, PhD. Nothing to indicate his area of expertise or even his department. She could have looked that up. She should have. No one could accuse Talia of being anything less than thorough, especially when it came to her son’s care.

But this time . . . When the nurse at the last specialist’s office had taken her aside and slipped her Vasic’s number, she’d made an appointment without even looking him up. She was that desperate.

“Do you think he forgot about us?”

Talia jumped and looked at the student Adam had nearly bowled over.

The young woman smiled. “Sorry, I was just wondering whether Dr. Vasic was going to show up. He can be a bit absentminded.”

“Oh?” Talia said, trying to sound interested as she leaned to look for Adam.

“Last month, we were supposed to have a quiz, and he completely forgot about it.” The girl grinned. “Not that anyone complained.”

Adam was still at the vending machine, trying to make a decision.

“He’s a great prof, though, isn’t he? Enthusiasm makes all the difference, I think. Of course, it’d probably be hard to make something like that boring. When I told my mom I was studying demonology, she almost had a fit. She thought I was taking an occult class.”

Talia stared at the young woman. Her mouth opened, but before she could speak, the student continued, “Then I told her he used to be a priest, and that made her happier. I think she figures we’re learning about exorcisms and stuff. My aunt called last week, asking if I could take a look at my little cousin, check for signs of possession. I think she was joking . . . but I’m not sure.”

Demonology? Former priest? Possession? Oh God, what had she done?

Talia caught sight of Adam bouncing back from the machines, pop can in one hand, candy bar in the other, his face beaming. She held up a finger, telling him to wait. Then she grabbed her purse and his homework, murmured something to the student about remembering another appointment, and raced out.

“Mom?” Adam said as she hurried to him. “What’s—?”

“The appointment was canceled.”

“So we don’t have to stay?” A momentary shadow, then another sly look. “It’s getting late to go back to school.”

She put a hand against his back to steer him along the hall. “Definitely too late. But I think there’s still time for the arcade, and I bet it isn’t too busy at this time of day. No lineup for Pac-Man.”

Another grin. “Cool.”

They’d caught the attention of a slender, bearded middle-aged man. With his towheaded good looks and infectious grin, Adam often won the attention of strangers, but it was usually indulgent smiles and the occasional pat on the head. This man, who’d been rushing down the hall, had stopped and was frowning slightly, as if he recognized them.

“Ms. Lyndsay?”

She almost stopped. Almost turned. Then she realized this man must be Robert Vasic.

“Ms. Lyndsay?” he called after them.

She took Adam’s arm, ignoring his protests, and steered him into a throng of students exiting a classroom. By the time they were through the crowd, Vasic was gone. She gave a soft sigh of relief, and hurried Adam to the exit.

 

 

That night, Talia dreamed of Adam’s father, as she found herself doing more often these days, especially when her quest would smack into another dead end. It made sense, she supposed—that a single mother struggling with a parenting problem would reflect on her son’s absent father. But there was never any anger to her dreams, no “Why am I stuck handling this alone?” bitterness. Instead, she dreamed of their meeting and of their night together.

From the start, she’d accepted that Adam was her sole responsibility. Had she been able to contact his father, she would have—it was only right. But that hadn’t been an option, and she’d never wished it was otherwise.

She’d met him a month into her first college term. There’d been a lot of changes in that month, not all of them good, not all of them welcome. The biggest had been the end of a relationship. When she’d gone away to college, the guy she’d been dating since ninth grade had dumped her.

Maybe “dumped” wasn’t the right word, as it implied a sudden, unexpected end to the relationship. Josh had warned her, starting the day she sent in her college application. Leave for college, and we’re through. Like most of the boys in town, he already had a job lined up at the tire factory, and had his life lined up right behind it. Find a good job with good benefits, get married, start a family, like his father and his older brothers before him.

When he’d learned that Talia’s plans didn’t coincide with his, he’d given her his ultimatum. Go to college and you lose me. She hadn’t believed him. When she was accepted, he’d sulked but continued dating her right until Labor Day weekend. She thought he’d changed his mind. Later she realized he just hadn’t expected her to go through with it. When she did, he dumped her.

A month later, she’d come home for the weekend, planning to talk to him and work it out . . . only to discover he was dating Brandi Waters, who’d been after him since they were twelve. That was the end of her weekend home. And the end of Josh.

She’d caught the bus back to school, though she was sure she could have saved the fare and just kicked herself all the way back. Had she really gone home to try to make up with him? After what he did? She should have booted his ass to the curb the moment he’d given her that ultimatum.

When she got back to college that evening, she’d dropped off her suitcase at the dorm, then headed to the café to drown her sorrows in an herbal tea with scones and jam. They didn’t have scones back in Springwater. They didn’t have herbal tea, either. And they certainly didn’t have any place like the Elysian Café, with its incense burners, abstract art, and Tuesday-night poetry readings. Most times, Talia found the place too So-Cal, but tonight anything that didn’t remind her of home was exactly where she wanted to be.

She’d resisted the urge to bring schoolwork. This night was for wallowing, not studying. So she’d grabbed one of her roommate’s novels. Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. Vampires. If that wasn’t wallowing, she didn’t know what was.

She’d noticed him watching her as she sat down. He was a decent-looking guy. Not gorgeous, but Talia didn’t go for gorgeous. He sat by the fireplace with his chair pulled up to the blaze as if he found the air-conditioning too much. She pegged him at a few years older than her, probably a grad student. Average height, average build, medium brown hair . . . average all around, really.

Only his eyes were noteworthy. A warm brown with coppery glints. When he smiled at her, she smiled back—polite, nothing more. Then she settled in with her book, tea, and scone.

After a few minutes of reading, a shadow passed over her table. She looked up to see the young man. He smiled. A cute, average sort of smile—friendly, nothing more.

“Vampires, hmmm?” he said, nodding at the book. “Do you like vampires?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never met one.”

He threw back his head and laughed as if this was the funniest thing he’d heard all day. His laugh was anything but average, as rich and vibrant as his copper-speckled eyes.

“That’s not the most comfortable place for reading,” he said, gesturing at her wooden chair. “The seats by the fire are much better.”

“Sure, but they’re always full—” She looked over. The chairs were empty, with only a jacket thrown over his to save his place. “Well, they were full when I came in.”

“I scared everyone away for you.”

She smiled. “Thanks. But I’m not sure—”

“You don’t have to be sure,” he said, his eyes dancing with amusement. “I’ll just go back to my chair and move my coat over one for you, and if your chair here gets uncomfortable, you know where you can find something better.”

With that, he tipped his head, the gesture oddly old-fashioned and courtly, then walked back to his chair by the fire.

Talia held out for ten more minutes. Then she looked at him, reading quietly, as anti-Josh as this café was anti-Springwater. She gathered her tea and her book, and went to join him.

They’d spent the evening talking. Just talking, about an endless array of topics. He seemed to know something about everything, but what he wanted to know most was more about her—her life, her interests, her goals. Of himself, he said very little, not even his name. It didn’t matter. Talia was fascinated, and there was something fresh and exciting about being found fascinating in return. Nine years later, she could still see him, leaning forward, the fire making his eyes glitter.

They left only because the café closed at midnight. He offered to escort her back to her dorm. He actually said “escort,” and she’d tried not to laugh, charmed in spite of herself. When they reached the building, they stopped under a tree to talk some more, and he’d kissed her.

In his kiss, there’d been something she’d never found with Josh, and when she’d closed her eyes, she’d seen fire, and felt it blazing through her. Then she did something that she still couldn’t believe: she’d invited him to her room. Talia Lyndsay, the girl who’d made Josh wait almost three years before letting him go all the way, inviting a stranger into her bed. And, to this day, she didn’t regret it.

That night . . . well, she’d had lovers since, but none had come close. He’d been perfect—patient yet passionate. Some nights she could still see the glimmer of his face in the candlelight, feel the heat of his fingers.

That was what she always remembered in these dreams. Those candles and that heat. She’d come from the bathroom to find that he’d lit every candle her New Age–obsessed roommate owned. She’d jokingly asked where he’d found the matches, because Sunny kept them hidden, but he’d only smiled and rose to meet her. And his touch. Hot, his skin like someone with a fever, and his fingertips warmer still.

She’d asked him to wear a condom, and he’d produced one from his wallet. She’d seen him put it on—she was sure she had. As for what went wrong, she could only assume it had broken. She hadn’t noticed until the next morning, rising to find a still-damp spot under her....

Présentation de l'éditeur :

Rare and never-before published short stories featuring fan favorites from the New York Times bestselling series

It’s been more than ten years since Kelley Armstrong began the Otherworld series and drew legions of fans to a realm roamed by witches, werewolves, necromancers, vampires, and half-demons. Many of the novels have become bestselling favorites, but not all of the Otherworld adventures have been easy to find. At last, Otherworld Nights shares short stories that have previously been available only online or in obscure collections. Fans have long been clamoring for this anthology and they won’t be disappointed—they’ll find plenty of surprises are in store.

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Description du livre Plume Books, United States, 2014. Paperback. État : New. 200 x 134 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Rare and never-before-published short stories featuring fan favorites fromthe #1New York Timesbestselling Otherworld series It s been more than ten years since Kelley Armstrong began the Otherworld series and drew legions of fans to a realm roamed by witches, werewolves, necromancers, vampires, and half-demons. Many of the novels have become bestselling favorites, but not all of the Otherworld adventures have been easy to find. At last, Otherworld Nights shares short stories that have previously been available only online or in obscure collections. Fans have long been clamoring for this anthology and they won t be disappointed they ll find plenty of surprises are in store. N° de réf. du libraire AAS9780452298347

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