While undercover agent Emily Baptiste is investigating a rash of disappearances in rural Kentucky,
she discovers something that strains the limits of credulity. The kidnapped are being hunted for sport.
When she is also captured, Emily discovers an insane truth. The missing are taken through an inter-
dimensional portal to a place where fantastic creatures reside, predominant among them are a race of
vampires. The vampires use other species to hunt as well as for sex and slave labor.
Now Emily is among the hunted. Her only hope is Sheriff Jenna Yang from Woeful Pines, Kentucky.
Unfortunately, Emily and Jenna hardly know each other. Will Jenna even realize Emily is missing?
If she does, will Jenna be willing to risk everything to cross into an unknown land and face enduring
hardship to rescue a virtual stranger?
Ebook copies are available through Flashpoint Publications
Paperback copies are available through Bella Books. As always many
thanks to the readers. Without you, writing would be pointless.
DRIVING HAD BECOME unsafe. The interstate wound through the mountains, rolling on like the drive to infinity. There weren’t any lights along the shoulders in this segment of the Kentucky blacktop and heavy rainclouds as dark as charcoal inside a grill obscured any sign of a moon, full or otherwise. Wipers failed to shovel the relentless downpour from the windshield, forcing Emily Bannon onto an access lane just a short distance from the main roadway. Warning lights from construction barricades flashed some distance ahead, illuminating a battered sign that announced her arrival into the weather beaten burgh of Woeful Pines.
A chill of foreboding corkscrewed down her spine and Emily attempted to shake it off by speaking aloud. “Cheerful name, why didn’t you call it Devil’s Backbone or Hell’s Half Acre? I wonder if that explains the welcoming committee.”
There wasn’t a soul in sight, though she could hardly blame them. The weather wasn’t even fit for ducks, much less two-legged, featherless, furless humans. The reduced speed went a long way toward improving visibility but that wasn’t really saying much. As fast as the wipers cleared the rain, the glass fogged instead. Tall trees scattered the monotonous strobe from the barricades. Overall, the scene was far from cheerful but it was enough to reveal a paint-bare sign, the name all but obscured: Danny’s Garage.
“What do you know; a real live service station.”
Emily’s dry sarcasm was a familiar habit she adopted when unsure of a situation and she fell back on it now. The Chevy’s tank was half-full but fuel wasn’t her priority. The garage would provide an overhang and brief respite from the deluge. Maybe if she was lucky, Emily could find an all night café and get something decent to eat. The closed Dairy Queen a few miles back at Lebanon Junction was the only restaurant of any type she’d seen and Emily was hoping for a Denny’s or IHOP to come her way. She could definitely go for a stack of blueberry pancakes.
She had spent the last week at Pine Mountain Park enjoying her favorite past time, hiking. Emily planned to spend the rest of her somewhat forced vacation at a rustic cabin in the Kentucky hills. The bureau owned it but so far, she wasn’t having the best of luck locating it. The cabin should have only been a few hours’ drive from the park, but the storm had started almost as soon as she climbed behind the wheel. Now darkness was pressing in and with the force of the rain she had to concede to a night spent sleeping in the car.
Finally, Emily located the ramshackle station. The concrete pad it rested on was cracked and weeds had forced their way up through the openings. She steered the Tahoe into the parking lot next to the defunct pumps and out of the storm. With the rain no longer pounding directly on the roof, the weather didn’t seem quite as bad and she looked around curiously. Boarded up windows masked the interior of the service center. Now that she studied the scene more closely, the whole town seemed deserted. No lights shone from any of the buildings she could see and there weren’t any street lamps. Emily recalled the sign announcing her arrival into Woeful Pines was also rather worn and battered. Had she somehow stumbled into a deserted mining town?
It was possible, but not likely. Emily figured the residents had probably all gone home when the lightening started. No doubt, the owner of this particular non-functional business was just another victim of the economy. She wasn’t concerned. As a backpacking enthusiast, Emily was familiar with small, backwoods towns that time had all but forgotten. In the morning, the sun would be shining and barefoot kids wearing coveralls would be running all over the place. As long as the temperature didn’t drop too drastically, she’d be fine. It was warm enough now, even with the storm, and one more night of roughing it wasn’t going to kill her.
Emily shut off the car, unbuckled the seatbelt, and pushed the unruly dark curls away from her face. She slid out from behind the wheel and climbed over the seats into the back. She was in the mountains and it would probably get cool with the engine off. There was no sense in letting the warm air out just to walk around to the back of the car and slide in again.
Lithe and muscular, her physique was a testament to the high conditioning required for her job. She was grateful for that now as she opened the cooler and pulled out a plastic soda bottle. The ice had melted but things inside were still cold, drifting in a sea of frigid water. After a meal of corn chips, a turkey sandwich, and Pepsi, she settled into the sleeping bag. Quarters were tight but she was exhausted from the week’s activities and drifted off in seconds. Emily slept easily, her body relaxing into the quilted down. While never completely unaware of her surroundings or the dangers presented from sleeping in a parked car, she could still manage a few hours of restful slumber.
THE TWO HIDING behind the old blacksmith’s station utilized the cover provided by the huge trees. They did nothing to draw attention to themselves, a deliberate tactic to avoid detection. As they watched in silence, they saw the vehicle pulled into Danny’s and heard the engine shut off. With a glance of mutual understanding, they agreed to wait to see if the occupant stayed the night. This was a familiar routine enacted so many times the need to speak was rare. The identity of the driver didn’t matter, man or woman. The only concern was that the targets were healthy and unimpaired by physical disabilities. By watching how their intended victim moved through the Chevy to climb into under the sleeping bag, both requirements were satisfied. It was just a matter of patience now. They would eliminate the target if for any reason their prey surprised them by not meeting the criteria. The vehicle was a newer model and was in itself worth the effort of acquiring.
Almost an hour later, the rain came to a grudging halt. It continued to sprinkle for another twenty minutes, but finally the two decided it was time to move. One man, older and more seasoned, led the way. He was the risk taker. He was the one who was always confident and sure of their right to do exactly what they wanted. Blessed with a lean and athletic body, he easily avoided the worst of the puddles and stayed on firm ground. The slightest noise could wake their target and the game might end before it got a good start.
The other smiled at his companion briefly and then his eyes fixed on the Chevy. Their movements were silent and well coordinated. He moved around behind the car while his partner moved directly to the rear driver-side door. When they were both in position he looked down and found the doors locked, but he’d come prepared. He carried a Slim Jim. If he had to, he’d smash the window, but if he did, speed would be required to subdue their victim and things could get ugly very quickly. On the other side of the vehicle, his partner knelt down near one of the rear wheels.
The crunch of tires on gravel alerted them seconds before a brown Jeep Patriot maneuvered through the trees. Bullitt County Sheriff’s Department was clearly emblazoned on the door. As a precaution, the pair crouched and scuttled back over to the blacksmith’s building. They both expected that the vehicle would drive out of sight and they would be free to continue unimpeded. The storm had started up again and rivulets of rainwater cascaded down their faces and soaked into their clothing.
Instead of driving on, the law enforcement vehicle pulled in next to the white SUV. Mike Kurth watched his younger brother’s expression turn to one with which he was all too familiar. He called it Joey’s whiney face. He raised a hand, motioned for Joey to be quiet, and watched to see what would happen next.