The Netherworlde Book 1
by Sara Reinke
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Jason Sullivan has everything he could have wanted in life — his own business, the perfect girlfriend and the perfect opportunity to ask her to marry him.
Then, in one violent, unexpected moment, he loses it all.
Murdered in cold blood, wrongly condemned and enslaved to a sadistic demon, Jason must fight to reclaim not only the life and love he’d once known, but also his soul.
Sam didn’t talk to Jason at either the transit stop or once on board the streetcar. Standing deliberately and conspicuously apart from him, she refused to even look in his direction. As they bounced and jostled in the crowded trolley cab, he saw her reach into her pocket, pulling out her cell phone. She hooked her arm around a nearby pole to steady herself while holding the phone up to her head with one hand, hunching her shoulders and plugging her ear with her fingertip with the other.
From between tourists jockeying for window-side seats, he saw her shoot him a sudden glance. He had no accounting for her expression, a mixture of anger and bewilderment, and wished he knew who she was talking to and what they might be saying.
Probably Dean again, he thought, looking down at his feet, at the puddle of his shadow beneath him, merged and tangled with dozens of others surrounding him. Trying to convince her I’m nothing but a con artist out to sue the hospital. And once he finds out about the gun, he’ll try to tell her she’s in danger with me. Never mind the fact I’d never hurt her. Never in a million…
His thoughts trailed off and he watched in nearly mesmerized fascination as his shadow seemed to spread, stretching out in thin rivulets and slender, crooked seams, seeping into neighboring shadows and widening from there, devouring them, swallowing the distance between him and Sam across the cab.
When it slipped and slithered its way beneath people’s feet and between their legs, at last reaching Sam, he could suddenly hear her. More than this, he could hear the other side of her phone conversation, too, as if he was taking part in it.
“…never seen anything like this in my life,” Bear was telling her. “There’s no crossover point, no bifurcation, no typelines, deltas, nothing.”
“Speak English, Bear. I don’t understand,” Sam said, practically yelling into the phone because it was that noisy on the streetcar. Which made it equally that impossible that Jason could hear her. “Is it Jason’s fingerprint or not?”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” Bear said as the streetcar came to a jolting stop at the next depot, knocking Jason forward into the people jammed in front of him. The doors screeched as they folded open at both the rear and aft of the car, and Jason was banged and jostled again as people struggled to either board or disembark at the stop.
“It’s no one’s fingerprint,” Bear continued. “I know it was dark in the room when I took them, but I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years. I know the routine. I took his prints, but there’s nothing there. Nothing, Sammi. Now maybe he’s been burned or something, or had them surgically altered somehow, but even then, I don’t…”
Bear’s voice faded into garble as Jason was distracted by a sudden, strange feeling, an icy, prickling stealing down his spine. He’d felt it before, just that morning in fact, when the priest, Gabriel Darrow, had come to visit Sam at the bar. He glanced toward the front of the streetcar, lifting his head and straining to look over the crowd of hats and heads just as a man stepped into view, boarding the cab.
With a black durag wrapped around his head and a long black trench coat enveloping his lean frame, he towered over the rest of the riders. His skin was pale, a cadaverous hue accentuated by his dark clothes, sharp features, thin mouth and dark eyes ringed in thickly applied black liner. Just above the bridge of his nose, half-hidden beneath the hem of the scarf around his head, was a mark like a smutch of soot or a burn, a wide-mouthed V, a black chevron etched into his skin.
He might have been just another Goth hoodlum. The city was full of them, along with a wide variety of other derelicts, society’s lost or forgotten underbelly from every far-flung corner of the country, drawn to the city by its year-round mild temperatures and the promise of certain fellowship. Mostly teens or young adults as well as drug addicts or drunks, they’d panhandle in the street by day and prostitute or party at night. Jason had undoubtedly seen thousands of them in his lifetime.
The guy getting onto the streetcar might have just been another, but he wasn’t. Jason knew it, because he’d seen him before in what he’d thought was only a dream.
You belong to me, Sitri had told Jason after the Eidolon had attacked him, overpowered him, overtaken him.
Oh, Jesus, Jason thought in sudden, blind panic. He rushed forward, shoving his way against the throng to reach Sam.
“Maybe you’re looking at it wrong,” she said to her uncle, her finger plugged in her ear as she spoke. As she said this, Sitri looked over her head to meet Jason’s gaze, and as he did, the corner of his thin mouth lifted slightly in a crooked smile. “People don’t just not have—”
She yelped, her phone tumbling to the floor as Jason reached out, grabbing her by the sleeve, yanking her toward him. “Hey!” She frowned, trying to pull away as he dragged her toward the rear exit of the streetcar, knocking past people. “Jason, let go. I dropped my phone. Let go, I said!”
The door began to fold closed once more and Jason’s heart seized in bright panic. Throwing himself forward, he shoved his arm out and caught the door against the inner crook of his elbow. For a moment, it pressed against him, then with a shudder, it receded, folding open again in accordion-like fashion. Still hauling Sam behind him, not pausing to check on Sitri’s progress through the crowd, Jason lunged forward, scrambling down the steps and all but spilling out onto the depot platform below. He heard Sam’s shoes skitter against the pavement behind him and she staggered against him. Less than five seconds later, the streetcar door closed again and it was off, rattling down the track and on its way once more.
“What’s wrong with you?” Sam planted both hands against his back and shoved him hard enough to nearly knock him over. “My phone’s on that train. Damn it!”
She ran down the platform even as the streetcar pulled further and further away. When she reached the iron railing, she stopped, staring after the car with her fists balled. “Damn it,” she yelled again. Turning around, she marched smartly back to Jason, shoving her way past other patrons waiting for the next train.
“My life was on that phone,” she cried, giving him another hearty push. “All of my contractors’ contact information, my email, calendar, address book, everything.” She looked around wildly, red-faced and furious. “This isn’t our stop. I don’t even know where the hell we are! Jason, what were you thinking? Why did you pull me off the train?”
“There was a man,” Jason said. “A man got on the train, Sam.” His eyes traveled over the top of her head and across the street. “Oh, Jesus.”
“Well, fancy meeting you here,” Sitri said as he stepped down from the curb and began to cross the street toward them, his hands tucked in his coat pockets, his pace slow and leisurely, his mouth still curled in that thin, enigmatic smile.
Sam yelped in surprise as Jason jerked her behind him, then sidestepped to stand protectively in front of her. “Jason, what—?” she began, her voice a hiccup and then she uttered another soft, startled cry as he reached behind him, pulling out the gun.
“Stay away from us,” he said, his voice hoarse and shaking as he leveled the business end of the Beretta squarely at Sitri’s nose.
“Jason, what are you doing?” Sam gasped, frightened, pawing at the back of his sweater. “Oh, my God, are you crazy? Put that away.”
“Is that any way to treat an old friend?” Sitri asked, pretending to look wounded. “What, are you going to shoot me? In front of all of these people? And after everything we’ve been through together?”
“Put the gun away,” Sam exclaimed, tugging at Jason more fervently now. “Jason, what are you—”
Her voice cut off sharply in a scream as a speeding streetcar plowed into Sitri. The sound of the impact was a horrific, heavy thing, a loud thunk that was quickly drowned out by the screech of brakes screeching, metal grinding against metal, wheels locking against the iron bars of the tracks. Sitri bounced and rolled away from the train, and Sam screamed when he came to a stop nearly at her feet, his face a battered, bloody mess cleaved by a tremendous, gaping fissure running from his brow nearly to his chin. His arms and legs rested at unnatural, broken angles, like a rag doll tossed haphazardly into a corner.
Sam shrieked, staggering back, her pallor ashen with shock, her eyes round and haunted and stunned. “Oh, my God!”
“Come on.” Jason caught her by the hand and dragged her through the crowd, abandoning the platform. He didn’t know where they were going and at the moment, didn’t give a shit.
Someplace where Sitri can’t find me, he thought. Someplace safe, if there’s anything like that left.
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About the Author
“Definitely an author to watch.” That’s how Romantic Times Book Reviews magazine describes Sara Reinke. New York Times best-selling author Karen Robards calls Reinke “a new paranormal star” and Love Romances and More hails her as “a fresh new voice to a genre that has grown stale.”
When she’s not writing, Sara is probably dreaming up her next fictional adventure, driving one or both of her kids to or from school, trying to keep her house from looking like a hurricane ripped through it, or working full-time as a registered nurse. During her free time, she’s likely to be found with a margarita or glass of Moscato in hand, failing miserably to replicate a recipe she saw on an episode of The Pioneer Woman.