Monday, February 11, 2019

EXCERPT: Ignite the Flame by Susan Griscom


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When the tragic death of her father brings Addison MacKenna back to the town where she was born, she can't understand the strange sensations that have begun to consume her. Plagued with nightmares of her father's sudden and brutal death, Addie struggles with her anguish and refuses to believe that his demise was accidental.

But that's not the only thing Addie struggles with.

Cael Sheridan may be arrogant and mysterious, but he's also undeniably gorgeous. A member of a secret society, he is sworn to protect the woman he believes to be the daughter of his recently murdered mentor. In the process, he finds it impossible to resist her magnetic sensuality, complicating his efforts to shield and guide her as she learns the secrets she carries.

Fate has brought them together, but will it make them stronger or destroy them in the end?

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The eerie wail of the howling wind sent shivers down Addie’s spine. Pulling her jacket sleeves down over the palms of her hands, she gripped the steering wheel to hold it in place. Thank God the heater worked. The vicious cold air outside mixed with the fog floating in from the ocean, enveloping her truck, filling her with an ominous sensation.

It swirled its way over the landscape, transforming the spectacular terrain into something unfamiliar. Sinister. The late morning haze shrouded most of the highway, snaking its way through the massive redwoods, stirring visions of her nightmare. The roar of the surf thrashing against the rocks emphasized the menacing force.

She shuddered. Her breath quickened. Hot and tingly blood pulsed through her body, swamping her with a sense of dread. The force strengthened and burned as though her veins were on fire.

Addie inhaled, holding her breath for a few seconds before exhaling. “Deep breaths, Addie, slow, deep breaths,” she whispered as the memory of the horrible nightmare flooded her mind.

She concentrated on her breathing, feeling the rapid beat of her heart, determined to steady her nerves.

“Think of something else,” she demanded and glanced down at her camera and tripod. She’d remembered to bring them along today, hoping the sun would come out so she could go to the cliffs during her afternoon break, still determined to decorate her bare apartment walls with pictures of the giant waves crashing against the massive rocks. She grimaced, leaning forward to peek at the sky, perturbed the sun wasn’t going to cooperate.

Addie turned her concentration back to the road. One wrong turn could be fatal if her truck were to swerve and go over the cliff. Her new truck—well, new to her anyway—was sturdy and powerful, exuding confidence and strength, the exact attributes Addie needed at the moment.

She absently tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. “Another cloudy day. I should have taken pictures during the summer months, like any other normal person.” She glanced up at the sky again before bringing her eyes back to the road.

That was when she saw him standing in the center of the highway.

She screamed, grasped the wheel with both hands, and steered to the right. The truck lurched. Her camera and tripod clunked against the passenger door and then fell to the floor. Addie tried to straighten the wheel, but the gravel on the side of the road sent the wheels spinning toward the ditch. She slammed on the brakes, skidding several feet before finally stopping inches from a very steep slope.

“Oh, God … did I hit him?” She’d heard a thump against the truck. “I must have hit him.”

Her hands shook. In fact, her entire body trembled with fear. Forcing her uncooperative limbs to move, Addie shoved open the heavy truck door, held on to support her quivering body, and stepped out. Her rubbery legs buckled under her as the fierce wind blew her jacket open. Steadying herself, she used both hands to keep it closed and crept to the back of the truck, scanned the area, but saw no one. Not even a hint of a body.

She called out. “Hello? Sir, are you all right?”

No one answered. The silence was disturbing, as if something had sucked all evidence of life out of the area, leaving nothing behind except the sound of the wind rustling through dead leaves and the surf pounding against the rocks below. Still holding her jacket closed, she sprinted to the other side of the truck, but there was no trace of the man.

Her stomach knotted. Her eyes fell upon the dents and scratches on the front fender. She studied them for a few seconds, but it was impossible to tell if there was any new damage. Just last week she’d miscalculated a turn and scraped the fender against the dumpster at work.

Keeping her jacket closed with one hand, she held her long dark hair back from her eyes with the other and searched the area the best she could. She didn’t see anyone.

“Where did he go?” She ran back to her truck, pulled herself up onto the seat, and quickly shut the door. Her hands shook as she pushed down on the locks, and for a moment, she just sat, frozen.

“No one was there.” Her eyebrows tightened and tears stung her eyes. Certain there was nothing to do, Addie glanced down the highway before slowly easing the truck back onto the road. With one hand on the steering wheel and the other fumbling with her seatbelt, she glanced in the rear view mirror. Addie let out a long, uneasy breath, and managed to relax some, but questioned her sanity.

Was she seeing things? No, she saw him. Why was he standing in the middle of the road, and how did he just vanish? Where had he come from? She hadn’t seen a car parked anywhere and knew this stretch of the road. There wasn’t a house or any other building around for at least a quarter of a mile.

Addie tried to picture his face after only a brief glimpse of the man. He wasn’t someone she recognized. He wore a tattered black leather coat that hung down to his thighs and his thick black hair, falling just inches above his shoulders, blew around his face. Any more detail was impossible to recall.

The idea of a man standing in the middle of the road and then just vanishing was absurd, but she had seen someone and the whole experience frightened her. She considered the possibility that it was a ghost, but he’d looked so real. Then again, she had never seen a ghost before, so how would she know what a ghost really looked like? No, no, the ghost theory didn’t cut it. He had been real.

She needed a distraction, something to take her mind off the man, and out of habit, pushed the power button on the radio before remembering it had stopped working during an electrical storm a week ago. Frustrated, she banged the top of the dashboard with her fist. The veins in her fingers burned, and as she opened her hand, tiny sparks shot forth from her fingertips.

“Ouch!” She shook her hand as the radio crackled for a few seconds, then began to play. Perplexed, Addie glanced at her hand as though it belonged to someone else and then back at the radio again. She shrugged, deciding the jolt from the sudden stop had somehow jarred the wires.

In an effort to calm down, she sang along with the radio, her voice timid. Every now and then, she glanced in the rear view mirror as if the man were somehow running behind her. She couldn’t help wondering how he’d materialized out of nowhere, and then ... poof, just vanished. Was he a figment of her imagination?

The song changed, luring her back to reality. She glanced at her watch. She was late for work, and Gerry, her boss, would be livid.

Cael Sheridan stepped out from behind a thicket of Manzanita bushes and onto the highway. He looked left, then right, and proceeded to walk along the side of the road, a bit more cautious of oncoming traffic than he’d been a few minutes earlier. She’d nearly run him over. He knew it had been careless of him to be in the middle of the road, but from what he’d remembered, there usually wasn’t much traffic on this stretch of highway, especially this time of year.

It had been several years since he’d been back to Whisper Cape, though he sensed not much had changed. The narrow highway was completely deserted other than the one truck. The swirling wind stung clear down to his bones. He pulled up the frayed collar of his coat and frowned as the loose strands of fabric tickled his chin.

Glancing down the side of the cliff, he paused to admire the roaring surf crashing against the rocks.

“Ah, still breathtaking.” He smiled, then breathed in, as the cool moist air filled his lungs. He reveled in the fresh ocean breeze with the faint taste of salt in the air.

Yes! I love this coast.

Taking in another deep breath, and suffering the bite of the wind, he continued walking.

He hadn’t meant to frighten the woman in the truck, but hadn’t wanted to die either. So he did what came naturally to him and disappeared.

Hiking along the road, Cael willed his thoughts back to business. He was tracking a killer on a hunch—a hunch leading to the sister of his friend, his mentor, Ristéard.

Soon after Ristéard’s death, his sister had left New York and moved out west to Oregon. Cael’s gut warned him the murdering monster, known as Eidolon, might have followed her. Cael was certain Eidolon hadn’t found what he’d been looking for when he’d slaughtered Ristéard. Eidolon was sinister and deranged. Cael knew he would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. He enjoyed the walk into town, but picked up the pace, hoping he’d arrived in time.

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