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Excerpts

Read Chapters 1 & 2 of Iron

ironFinalNot every fairy-tale needs a Prince Charming.

When a troll no one else can see attacks her outside the bar on her 30th birthday, Caitlin Moore thinks someone spiked her drink. It isn’t until a team of faeries rescues her and reveals that she has a special Gift that she realizes it’s something worse: she’s just become the star of her own twisted fairy-tale.

Her newly awakened Gift of the Warding makes her immune to fae magic, something unheard of in a human. Her rescuers are exiled enemies of the High King who has allowed bestial creatures like the troll to cross the boundary that separates their worlds. They promise to right the King’s wrongs, but first they need her Gift to find the key to breaking their banishment.

Unable to a turn blind eye to the danger she now sees in every shadow, Caitlin dives headfirst into their world of crazy. In return for her help they teach her to fight back against the nasties, but she isn’t prepared for the thrill she feels on the hunt. As the normal life she once knew slips further and further away, she wonders if protecting humanity from the monsters is worth the stain killing leaves on her soul.

 

1

Any woman who says she didn’t freak out over turning thirty is a damn liar.

Maybe she didn’t do it all grand and flashy—you know, like that one friend who had to be peeled, bawling, off the bathroom floor in the middle of her own birthday party. Maybe she did it quiet-like, when she was all alone in her apartment with a glass of wine after everyone went home. Maybe she had herself a nice, long “I thought my life would be different by now” mope if not an all-out “where the hell is my life going” cry.

One way or another, at one time or another, though? She did it.

It’s inevitable. It’s a cruel twist of fate. Like reaching for the milk to make that first cup of coffee you absolutely need to help you face the day… only to realize said milk expired two weeks ago… and that might explain why your Oreos tasted funny when you were dunking them in a big glass of it last night. Turning thirty is like hitting your own expiration date. It’s the end of those years where it’s okay to be a little wild, a little lost—hell, even a little stupid. Thirty marks an end to that time when you could make bad decisions and change your mind a zillion times, because you were young and hadn’t found your way yet; hadn’t found yourself yet. You had all the time in the world to get it all figured out. You know; time to build your career, meet Mr. Right, get married, buy a cute little starter house, and maybe even get a dog. All that was what your thirties were for.

Only, one day you turned around to see that thirty was on the horizon and at that very moment you realized none of that stuff had fallen into place. Instead of having any—never mind all—of it figured out, you’re still single and living alone in a crappy, over-priced New Jersey apartment, working a dead-end 9 to 5 office job with no clue what to do next. So, as those final minutes tick down to the dreaded 3-0, you think back to all those little things you should have done differently. Like, maybe you should have finished college instead of blowing it off, thinking you could just work your way up in the real world. Maybe you should have tried harder to build a nest egg instead of buying that cute little burgundy leather jacket that cost you a full week’s pay last winter. Maybe you should have spent more time planning for the future instead of out partying with your bestie, telling yourself tomorrow was “Future Caitlin’s” problem.

Or maaaaaybe that was the fourth glass of wine talking.

It was the dreaded night of the birthday-that-shall-not-be-named. An undertow of depression had me in its clutches as I sat there at the bar, knocking back a few glasses of particularly fine Riesling and waiting for that inevitable moment when the clock would strike midnight. As if turning thirty wasn’t bad enough, I had the doubly bad luck of doing so on a drizzly Tuesday, the night before Halloween. Let’s be honest. No one wants to stay up late to celebrate when they have to get up early and go to work the next day. (Not that I had much of a social circle, really.) So, there was no festive gathering to mark the big moment—or to distract me from it. There was just little getting-old me, parked in my usual seat at Gilroy’s with a magically refilling wineglass, and a bird’s eye view of a timepiece hell-bent on the destruction of my youth.

Okay, that’s not completely true. The glass wasn’t magic nor was it refilling itself with free booze. If either case was true, I’m pretty sure Gilroy’s would have been the most popular bar in Riverview, if not all of New Jersey, instead of being a locals only sort of hole in the wall. I wasn’t completely alone either. Jenni Fisher, bartender extraordinaire and my partner in crime since the era of diapers and the Muppet Babies, was doing an admirable job of keeping her bestie on the edge of sobriety. She was the one who had convinced me to come out to Gilroy’s in the first place when she wasn’t able to get the night off to celebrate with (i.e. babysit) me. I had tried to beg off, but she had made it very clear that my plan of hiding out in my apartment with a pint of rocky road ice cream, wallowing in my birthday blues while watching P.S. I Love You for the fiftieth time, was pathetic with a capital P.

Damn her and her knowing-me-all-too-well logic.

All the same, as I sat there alone at the corner of the bar, I regretted acquiescing. It was close to midnight and Gilory’s was empty of the all but the hardcore regulars. What, exactly, did it say about me if I was among them? The thought of being curled up on my squishy couch in my crappy one-bedroom, slurping down the melty remains of chocolaty-marshmallow goodness while wibbling over some lovey dovey chick flick had a nostalgic charm about it. It certainly seemed more fitting, and a damn shade less sad, than feeling a little too flushed and wondering how steady I’d be in my borrowed stilettos when it came time for me to leave my barstool. At home I also could have covered the glowing digits on the cable-box and ignored the slow countdown to the witching hour. My witching hour. One step closer to being a lonely old crone for Caitlin Marie Moore.

“Uh-oh. I know that look. Come back from the dark side, Cat.”

I looked up, realizing at that moment that I had been giving my empty glass a particularly evil scowl. Jenni stood on the other side of the bar, hands on her hips and a stern look on her face. The “tsk-tsk” after her words was silent but we both knew it was there. Another downside to being attached at the hip for more years than I currently cared to count. There was no point in trying to play it off. She knew I was one more glass and ten minutes away from a major melt-down, the public eye be damned. However, I held it as a point of pride that there was pretty much nothing I could do that would ever come near to her own Getting Old Breakdown. (Refer back to the aforementioned peeling of said friend off of a club’s scummy bathroom floor.) So, instead of saying that I was fine and forcing a smile both of us would know was fake, I pouted and whined. “Getting older suuuuuuuuuucks.”

“Don’t I know it, darling. But wasn’t a certain someone singing the ‘thirty isn’t old’ tune just a few months ago?” She drew out the “old” with righteous derision. At a full three months and four days older than myself, she had no pity for me when it came to the marching orders of Father Time. Instead of consoling me, she picked up my empty glass and wagged it in the air. “Care for another?”

It’s a sad day when a woman’s best pout goes unnoticed. I tilted my head to one side and waited a few seconds for the world to catch up with me. There was a little too much of a delay there for my liking. “Nope, I think it’s time you cut me off, barkeep.” An involuntary glance at the clock made me regret the words as soon as they were out of my mouth. Only five minutes left until midnight. I thought I was supposed to be having fun for time to fly so fast.

Jenni imitated my pout far too well. “Then how about a coffee for the road? Wouldn’t want you passing out in the cab on the way home.”

She had arranged cab rides to and from my apartment for me, in addition to plying me with wine all night. Have I mentioned that I have the world’s best bestie yet? Her refusal to console my irrational fear of aging aside, of course. I heaved a dramatic sigh, hoping it had the sound of one long in suffering, and rolled my eyes heavenward. “Yeah, I guess so.”

I must have perfected my look of utter and complete misery, because she leaned forward and pinched my chin between her thumb and forefinger. She tilted my head down and laid a sloppy kiss on my forehead. “Cheer up, buttercup. It’s not so bad. I survived it. Odds are you will too.”

I scrunched up my nose in reply but she ignored me and disappeared into the kitchen to get me my coffee. I used the damp napkin my wineglass had been sitting upon to wipe the bubblegum pink imprint of her lips off my face. She had survived. Sure; it was easy for her to say that. Spectacular breakdown on the night of the momentous birthday aside, Jenni had her life a hell of a lot more figured out than I did. She wasn’t the one questioning all of her life choices as the clock ticked down. Like a damn magnet, my eyes were drawn to its cruel face once again. Three minutes to go.

Balls.

I glanced over my shoulder (maybe, unconsciously, to see if I could make a beeline for the door and out run time) and felt my breath catch. Now, I’m not a gal to be too taken by a pretty face. My luck with the male half of the species has always been spotty. My most recent string of good on the outside but rotten on the inside online dating hook-ups had caused me to swear off the other half of the species entirely, for the time being. While I accepted my self-imposed perma-single status with cranky resignation, that hadn’t affected my ability to appreciate a fine specimen when I saw one—and the finest I had ever laid eyes upon had just walked in the door.

He must have been at least six foot two, long and lean like a swimmer, and was dressed with that kind of bad boy edge that never fails to make me do a double-take. Worn brown leather bomber jacket? Check. Ass-kicking combat boots? Check. Dark denim that hugged him in all the right places? Double check. Thick, caramel colored hair fell in waves down to his shoulders, framing out high cheekbones and a pouty set of lips that could easily have graced the cover of a romance novel. This guy was the stuff of most red-blooded women’s fantasies. Or, this red-blooded woman’s fantasy, anyhow. His head was turned away from me as he scanned the bar, as if searching for someone, so I let myself stare for a moment. Hell, it was my birthday and I was half in the bag; I could oogle the man-candy if I wanted to.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t alone. A petite little thing peeked out from behind him, her eyes also roving the room. As if she felt me looking at them, her head jerked in my direction and I was surprised to see how young she was. In addition to being short and rail-thin, she had long, pale blonde hair with blunt cut bangs, which made her heavily lined eyes stand out all that much more—and the look those eyes gave me was downright suspicious. I returned her stare with an incredulous look of my own. She didn’t look anywhere near old enough to be that guy’s date, let alone old enough to be out in a bar at midnight but; whatever. I got the hint. It wasn’t my business anyhow. I jerked my head in the distracted man’s direction and gave her an appreciative wink. Her eyes widened and her hand gripped his arm. From where I was sitting, she sounded high and breathy, which only reinforced my opinion of her age. “Kaine, I think that woman can see me!”

I looked away and choked down a laugh. It was a little late for her to be worrying about being caught sneaking in, under age. How had she even gotten past the door in the first place? I glanced over at the door. Rodrigo had his back to me but; nope, he hadn’t left the gate unguarded. If he was getting lazy with checking the IDs again, he was going to be in some deep shit. I rose a fraction of an inch off my stool, full of good intentions, but a clatter on the bar in front of me drew my attention. Mr. Hottie, his jailbait companion, Rodrigos’s laziness—all were forgotten. Jenni had returned but instead of a steaming cup of coffee, she had brought out a big cupcake, complete with a lit candle sticking up from its mound of buttercream frosting. “Happy birthday bestie! Make a wish!”

I glanced up at the clock, open-mouthed with the intent to protest, and froze. The minute hand had already struck midnight. As I watched, it clicked over to 12:01.

I felt my stomach drop.

“Jesus, Cat! You’re white as a sheet—are you all right?”

For a moment, everything threatened to go dark. I kept a firm grip on the edge of the bar while the wave of dizziness washed over me. The room suddenly felt thirty degrees warmer, though a cold sweat had broken out on my palms. A pounding headache slammed into me all like a freight train. The dim mood lighting seemed to grow a million times brighter for just a brief second, lining everything and everyone in a strange, fuzzy golden glow. My stomach churned and, for a moment, I feared it was ready to return Jenni’s generous alcoholic gifts—but I certainly wasn’t going to admit that. I’m no stranger to the Porcelain Goddess and have had my share of nights bowing before her, praying for her to do away with my sorry ass quickly, but I’d never had trouble handling a few drinks. If I wasn’t able to keep down four measly glasses of wine, I would just have to take myself out into the woods and shoot myself.

So, instead of confessing to the wussy way I was handling turning thirty—or, even worse, to holding my liquor—I flashed her a weak smile. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just a little shock to the system, hittin’ that big 3-0. Guess I know now why you spent the first twenty minutes of your birthday locked in a stall at eXstasy.”

Jenni’s eyes narrowed and her lips pursed. Despite the glare, her tone was playful with resignation. “You are never going to let me live that down are you?”

My answering smile aimed for angelic, complete with a batting of the eyelashes. “Nope, not until you do something even more pathetic on your fortieth.”

She rolled her eyes and chuckled. “Bitch. Make a wish and blow out your candle before you get wax in the yummy frosting.”

I’ve always taken things like wishes very seriously. I’ve probably wished on the first star I see in the evening hundreds of times over the years, and I’ve always given a lot of thought to the last thing that crosses my mind before blowing out the candles on my cake—or in this case, the delicious red velvet cupcake. I can remember quite a few birthdays in my youth where my mother would get exasperated over how long I was taking to make the big blow, holding the whole family up from devouring the slowly melting ice cream cake. (That never mattered much to me, as I was never a fan of ice cream cake. I only ever enjoyed the chocolate crunchy bits they used to separate the vanilla and chocolate layers.)

So, making a wish on one of the landmark birthdays in my life wasn’t easy. Especially when there were dozens of things I wanted. It was probably a little late to wish to be taller, but it would be nice to have a car that didn’t rattle like it was going to go to pieces whenever I turned a corner. Or to have a boyfriend who lasted for more than a few months and who wasn’t constantly between jobs, begging me for gas money every week. Oh—and it would be nice if he didn’t call me Lisa on our last night in bed together. That would be great. Maybe even a new job, where my boss wasn’t a useless asshat and I wasn’t bored to tears every day. Or, at the very least, a raise so I wouldn’t have to live off ramen noodles every summer when the office cut back our hours.

So many choices. None of them were really all that realistic, of course, but all were equally important to me. Besides, wishing for a sale at Coach so I could get that cute little red patent leather bag I’d been mooning over for months didn’t really feel like an appropriate wish for such a momentous occasion. Feeling a little reckless—and not to mention still a bit dizzy—I left it up to that bitch called Fate and let my thoughts coalesce on their own as I closed my eyes and blew out the tiny flame: Please let me figure out who I am.

 

2

Huh. Where did that come from?

That had been rather a surprising summation to my litany of pie-in-the-sky wishes. Of course, it made perfect sense, even without the hindsight. Being lost in the proverbial forest of life minus a helpful trail of breadcrumbs was pretty much my M.O. Having a clue what to do next, to maybe finally improve my boring, broke-ass life would be nice. I could be satisfied with a birthday wish like that.

Jenni produced a knife from under the bar. She plucked the extinguished candle out with one hand while the other neatly sliced the cupcake in two.

“Mmm, this is totally the best part of birthdays,” she proclaimed around a mouthful of the sweet treat.

I took a tentative bite, making sure not to miss out on all that gooey frosting, and was thankful that my settling stomach welcomed its deliciousness. The cake was soft and moist, with just a hint of cocoa, and I was a sucker for all that rich, sinfully sweet vanilla buttercream. My half was devoured in a shameful amount of time. “Holy crap that was good. Calories don’t count on birthdays, right?”

“Nope.” To prove her point, Jenni licked the remaining icing off of the candle. Her mouth thinned into a line as she looked at me. “You’re still a little pale. Are you sure you’re all right?”

I shrugged and made a show of looking down at my arms. “Me, pale? How could you tell?” She rolled her eyes at me again but that frown didn’t go away. I said, “I’m fine. Promise. Apparently I’m just too old to be out drinking past midnight anymore.”

“Psh—there’s no such thing. I’m living proof. It’s like riding a bicycle or something. You fall off? You just get right back on.”

“I think that one is about never forgetting how to do something or other, but close enough.” My stomach was happy now that is was filled with the fuel of a major sugar rush, but my headache dug in its heels, threatening to split my cranium open if I moved too fast. The freaky migraine-halo glow around everything had died down, but I sensed a date with a hefty dose of Excedrin in my future.

Jenni disposed of the plate and pulled out a damp rag to wipe up the evidence of our little calorie splurge off the bar. “Can I get you that coffee or do you need to go?”

I pulled my cellphone from my pocket and considered my options. Tomorrow was going to suck, no two ways about it. My boss was going to be her usual useless self, talking about her damn kids all day to whatever poor soul she could waylay, while the rest of our tiny four-person department answered a zillion phone lines. Nothing would change that. An extra hour or two of sleep might help keep me from strangling her with her own headset for another day, however. I shook my head. “Nah, I better go. Besides, I think the shock of getting old has sobered me up.”

Her mock-pout still lacked the sympathy I thought I deserved. She said, “Not old, just older. Gimmie a sec. I’ll call you a cab.”

I turned around in my seat and slowly scanned the bar in hopes that I would catch another glimpse of the nearly forgotten Mr. Hottie’s backside one more time. No dice. It appeared that he and his little friend had ducked out while I had been busy trying not to yack on my birthday cupcake. Perhaps his little friend had gotten cold feet. Fake ID or no, she hadn’t been fooling anyone. Well, except maybe Rodrigo. Which reminded me…

I slipped off my stool and took a moment to curse myself for wearing heels. They were so not my thing—give me sneakers any day—and Jenni’s insistence that I wear them seemed even dumber now, since they certainly hadn’t helped me land any male companionship throughout the night. I retrieved my cute little burgundy leather jacket from the rack at the end of the bar and waved her back over before shrugging into it. “I’m gonna go to talk to Rodrigo for a minute, then I’ll wait outside. Some fresh air might not be the worst idea.”

She came around the bar and engulfed me in a big hug. “Okay. Text me when you get home so I know you got there safe, okay?”

I planted a big ol’ sloppy kiss on her cheek before letting her go. “You bet. Thanks for everything. You’re the best.”

She batted her eyelashes and held a hand to her forehead in her best swooning damsel impression. “I know. I am, aren’t I? You’re just so darn lucky to have me.”

“Totally am. Talk to you later.” After another quick hug, I made my way carefully to the door, stopping to lean casually against the wall of the alcove where Rodrigo was glued to his phone. The sight of a big, burly guy who was tattooed from head to toe playing Angry Birds with furious concentration made me smile. I cleared my throat. “That’s a dangerous game you’re playing there. I’ve heard it’s a hard addiction to ditch once you start.”

Without looking up, he smirked. “Damn right. Blame the wife. She put it on my damn phone.” He scowled at the glowing screen. “Stupid game.” He slipped the phone back into his pocket. “Hey, it’s your birthday isn’t it?”

I groaned. “Don’t remind me.”

He laughed. “Yeah, they stop being fun this late in the game don’t they? Happy birthday anyhow.” Despite my whining, I accepted his hug with good grace.

“Thanks.” I liked Rodrigo. He and his wife Sarah were good people, and they had their first baby on the way. Mr. Gilroy was a pretty easy going boss, from what Jenni told me, but if he caught word of anyone underage in his bar, it would be Rodrigo’s ass on the line. “Hey, I know it’s none of my business, but what was the deal with that girl who came in here earlier? She looked waaaaay too young, no matter what her ID said.”

He gave me a puzzled look. “What girl?”

“She was in here about five, maybe ten, minutes ago, with some tall, not-so-dark and handsome hottie.” I described them both and watched his look of confusion deepen.

“I remember the dude, but he didn’t have a girl with him.”

“Really? Maybe she slipped in after him or something? It definitely looked like she was with him. She got all freaked out when she saw me looking at her.” I was a bit lit, true, but I didn’t think I was drunk enough to start imaging that sort of shit. I turned back to scan the bar again, hoping I had been wrong and they were tucked away at one of the tables in the dark corners. “Sorry, Jenni distracted me with a cupcake. Maybe they left after I spooked her.”

“Shit, that’s all I need right now.” Rodrigo stood and gave my shoulder a squeeze. “Thanks for the heads up. I’ll take a look around and make sure.”

If he hadn’t been so engaged in flinging little red birds at pigs, he might have been more up to speed on who was coming and going—but I kept that thought to myself. Feeling pretty noble for having my good deed of the night, I waved goodbye to Jenni and turned toward the door just as it opened inward. Perhaps if I had been one less sheet to the wind I could have avoided slamming head-on into the poor stranger who came through the door, but that was so not the case given my wobbly state. I grabbed a handful of the guy’s coat to keep from bouncing off his rather solid chest and falling to the floor, though it was a near thing. I righted myself fairly quickly and tried to brush the tangled mess of my hair out of my eyes as I looked up at the newcomer. “Sorry about that! I’m usually not this cl—”

The words died in my throat. Fear alone kept me from jerking back and falling flat on my ass. I went rigid as my mind tried to process what it was seeing. Towering a good foot and a half above me, there was nothing human in the face that looked down at me. Ringed by a shaggy mane of thick, black hair, the proportions of his head were all wrong. The jaw hung too low and the forehead budged like a shelf above deeply sunken, piggy eyes. His deeply wrinkled skin was the mottled blue-gray of a week old corpse pulled from the river. My stomach dropped for the second time that night.

I looked back over my shoulder, trying to keep the panic off my face while hoping to see someone coming to my aid. Jenni and Rodrigo were chatting by the end of the bar, caught up in some tale that involved a lot of spastic arm-waving on Jenni’s part. The couple seated at the closest table returned my stare with puzzled looks of their own for only a split second before returning to their intimate conversation. No one seemed phased by the hulking Neanderthal blocking my path.

My brain screamed Oh my God, oh my God! and tried to run and hide in the corner of my cranium, but a calm, collected center I was surprised to find I still had deep inside took over. It told me to keep my cool and not lose my shit. Something seriously fucked up was going down and, given the calm of everyone else in the bar, I had the inkling that that thing might be me. I turned back. My voice cracked, but I kept it from trembling too much. “Sorry there, sir. Didn’t mean to run into you like that. I might have had a few too many tonight.” It was a struggle to keep my ditzy grin from faltering, but I played it up like a champ.

He cocked his head to the side like a puzzled dog, and I took that moment to edge around him toward the door. He turned slowly, never letting me out of his sight. Those dark, piggy eyes seemed to be all pupils, with no whites to speak of. His massive nostrils flared as he leaned in and sniffed at me, jowls wagging with each deep breath. His mannerisms were so bizarre, so canine, that they made my skin crawl.

“That’s a killer mask by the way. Super realistic.” It had to be a mask, my piss-scared mind reasoned. He was just a day early, that’s all. Must be a real Halloween lover. A pasty, stinky, seven foot tall Halloween lover. All of that was thought in the most hysterical tone an internal monologue can muster, I’m sure. And, of course, I didn’t believe a word of it. It seemed to take forever before I felt the reassuring solidity of the door against my palms. I yanked it hard and kept that smile plastered on my face. “Happy, uh, pre-Halloween. Sorry again for, you know, running in to you and all. Have a nice night!”

I backed out on to the sidewalk and yanked the door shut as quick as I could. My hands remained clenched on the handle, like I was somehow going to hold the damn thing shut against a hulking Goliath like that. My head whipped about, frantically searching for the cab, a cop, a passerby—anything. My former tipsiness was good and gone but my legs were shaking like they would give out at any moment. My fortitude was so not improved by the utterly fucking vacant state of the street. Just me, a handful of empty, parked cars and two street lamps for as far as the eye could see.

Shit, shit, shit.

The door was pulled open and I let go to avoid being sucked in with it. I stumbled back, forgetting my already precarious balance, and tripped over my own feet in a pathetic attempt to keep myself upright. I went down on my ass, yelping from both from the pain and the cold wetness of the puddle I had landed as it instantly seeped through my jeans. Goliath stood over me and I got a real good look at his Herman Munster sized shit-kickers. He glared down at me with those black, beady eyes. Huge, jagged teeth were revealed as it barked something at me. His voice sounded like marbles being crushed in a steel vice. I wanted to throw up. I couldn’t make out a damn word but I was pretty sure he wasn’t speaking English.

I scooted myself back inch by inch toward the street, pain forgotten, trying to put distance between myself and the demonic pyscho. If my eyes had widened any more, my eyeballs would have fallen out of my skull. I was pretty sure if I showed fear in the face of this thing, it would be just as bad as showing it to a wild animal, but I failed to keep the shrill note of hysteria out of my voice. “Look, I’m really sorry but I can’t understand you. I don’t speak… whatever the hell it is you’re speaking!”

Panic, apparently, did not do a damn thing to temper my smart-ass gene.

He let out a deep Rottweiler-like growl and took another step forward. He straddled me with ease and this time there was obvious rage in his tone, though his fast, guttural words were no clearer. I shook my head in small, quick jerks, afraid to take my eyes off him for too long. The remaining foot and a half to the street seemed miles long. Where the fuck was that cab? “I said I can’t understand you, buddy. Please, just let me go. Whoever you are, I don’t want any trouble. I can forget I ever saw you, trust me!”

With another low, angry sounding growl, he reached down for me. A hand the size of a dinner-plate grabbed me by the front of my jacket and hauled me up into the air like I weighed nothing at all. I screamed long and loud, hoping someone—any-freaking-one—would hear me and come to my rescue. I clenched my hands in the lapels of my jacket and yanked on them, struggling to keep it from tightening around my throat. My legs dangled in the air and I kicked at him with all my strength, but it was like kicking a brick wall. I was pretty sure I hurt my foot more than I hurt him.

The creature held me up, his face only inches from mine, and I gagged at the rotten meat stench of his breath. Those large, canine-like teeth appeared again as his fleshy lips spread into what I can only describe as a grin. A horrible, predatory, movie monster grin. The world was spinning. I closed my eyes and held my breath, trying to work up another scream.

“Put her down.”

Goliath turned his head, his ragged, matted mane of coarse black hair blocking my view of whatever brave soul had come out of the shadows. A dark, ugly rumbling rose from inside the beast and it took me a moment to realize that he was laughing. I squirmed with renewed vigor, trying to free myself from my coat while it was distracted, but it was no use. I had the upper body strength of an inchworm and he had me held tight. It was getting hard to breathe. I gasped out, “Please, get help! Call the police!”

Goliath said something again in that broken glass voice, and this time I could have sworn it sounded like he was mocking my unseen knight in shining armor.

The out-of-view stranger was not deterred. “I said, put her down. Now.”

Oh brave, stupid soul. I had the sinking feeling we’d both meet our ends soon, smeared across the sidewalk by this crazy freak of nature. As if some part of my thoughts were heard—and not the good part, either—the meaty paw that held me up in the air opened and let me go. I fell to the concrete in a heap and felt a burst of agony blaze as my head bounced off the ground.

Then everything went dark.

 

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