Saturday, September 27, 2008
The Accidental Demon Slayer - Angie Fox
The Accidental Demon Slayer
Author: Angie Fox
Publisher: Dorchester (Love Spell)
Genre: Paranormal romance
Copyright: Angie Fox
Published date: August 2008
Where it can be purchased: Barnes & Noble, Borders, any independent booksellers, Schnucks, select Target and Wal-Mart stores
Blurb about the book:
It's never a good day when an ancient demon shows up on your toilet bowl. For Lizzie Brown, that's just the beginning. Soon her hyperactive terrier starts talking, and her long-lost biker witch Grandma is hurling Smuckers jars filled with magic. Just when she thinks she's seen it all, Lizzie learns she's a demon slayer-and all hell is after her.
Of course, that's not the only thing after her. Dimitri Kallinikos, a devastatingly handsome shape-shifting griffin needs Lizzie to slay a demon of his own. But how do you talk a girl you've never met into going straight to the underworld? Lie. And if that doesn't work, how dangerous could a little seduction be...?
When I opened the door to greet my grandmother for the very first time, I’m not sure what I was expecting. I know I hadn’t envisioned an apple-shaped woman in a Kiss My Asphalt T-shirt, with windburned cheeks and a sagging tattoo of a phoenix on her arm. But what I really didn’t bargain for was a brief hug, followed by a forceful shove that had me landing firmly on my butt on the cold, black-and-white checked floor of my hall bathroom.
"Let me out of here!" I twisted the bathroom doorknob until I wrenched my wrist. How the frig did this happen? One minute I was answering my door, and the next I had landed booty over tea kettle on tile that was about two weeks overdue for a good scrubbing.
“Buck up, sugar cake.” My grandma’s chunky silver rings clinked against the other side of the door, and her gravelly voice sounded like she’d spent the last century breathing semi-truck exhaust. “This is for your own good.”
My own good? In what world could she know what was good for me? I’d never even heard from my mom’s mom until she called me the day before. The next thing I knew, she was flying to Atlanta to meet me. I had assumed that meant air travel, not the hot pink Harley parked in my driveway.
I kicked the door with all my strength. “Ouchie!” I hollered as pain seared my foot. Dang it all. Three years teaching at Happy Hands Preschool and I couldn’t even cuss right. I limped in circles, the pointed toe of my simple black heel curled up like an elf shoe.
Why tonight, of all nights, did this have to happen?
Grandma chuckled. “Why, Lizzie Brown – kickin’ and a hollerin’. Thank heaven my grandbaby has spunk. I know you’re hacked to Hades, princess. But trust me. If I let you out now, you’d wreck all your pretty furniture.”
She’d obviously cracked her head on the pavement one too many times. As for ruining my Pottery Barn knockoff furniture, my pathetic excuse for a watchdog would take care of that. Pirate, my Jack Russell Terrier, tended to piddle at the first sign of trouble. I pounded against the door until my hands throbbed. Of all the dumb things to do, I had to let a stranger into my house.
Was I that desperate for affection?
Probably. My adoptive parents, Cliff and Hillary, meant well. But they weren’t exactly warm and fuzzy. They didn’t even like to touch each other. So, sue me, it felt good – even if it was a little forced – when my biological grandmother hugged me for the first time.
“Levitis cadre. Familio, madre,” she chanted like a deranged monk.
“Cut it out! Today is my thirtieth birthday, and I’m going to be late for my party if you don’t open this door. Now!” Let’s face it. I couldn’t go out much on my salary. Happy Hands Preschool wasn’t exactly raking in the big bucks. And the one night out of the year where I could count on all of my friends to be dateless and available, this geriatric biker had to take me prisoner.
She rapped her knuckles on her side of the door. As if I were going anywhere. “Lizzie dear? You have ridden a bike before?” she asked, as if I’d taken Hog 101 in high school.
Had she seen my cream-on-white front room? “Yeah, um. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m more of an indoor girl.” Not that I was against motorcycles, in theory. But if Grandma thought I was going to hoist my rear end up on the back of her hog, a pot hole had knocked something loose in her head.
“Well, Lizzie, the thing is…” She paused to find the right words to say whatever it was I was sure I didn’t want to hear. She cleared her throat. “Our coven’s on the run.”
Oh lordy. “You think you’re a witch?”
“Am a witch, darlin’. So was your mother. And if I wasn’t such a damned good witch, all hell wouldn’t be after us. I don’t have time to spell it out for you right now, but let me ask: You own any leather chaps?”
Yeah, hanging right next to my white capri pants. “No!”
“Well, that bites,” she said. “Life on the road can chafe your thighs.”
I gulped. She’d better not even think of kidnapping me. That was it. “Pirate! Watch dog! Attack!” He didn’t even have the courage to whimper. Useless beast. Last time I was buying him Silky Bones Pet-sicles.
“Less than one minute to go, by my watch. You were born at precisely 6:43 p.m.” She rubbed at the other side of the door like she was comforting a spastic kitten in a crate. “I found you just in time.”
“Oh yeah, that makes sense.” If I could get her to open the door, I could bolt past her and be free faster than I could say whack job. Our reservations were at 7:30. If she let me out now, I could lock her out of my house, out of my life and, of course, make a mad dash to my flipping birthday party. I rubbed my temples. Oh, to be less desperate for a night of fruity drinks and debauchery.
We were supposed to be heading to Fire, one of Atlanta’s newest bistros. I’d slipped into my sapphire party dress and twisted my inky hair into a stylish updo for the occasion. Now I could just feel curls escaping.
“Times like these I wish my hog watch had a second hand.” Grandma snorted. “And hey –” She rapped on the door, clanking her rings. “Try to stay clear of anything flammable.”
The woman was delusional. And I still couldn’t figure out how she’d locked the door from the outside.
“A few of these little beauties…” she said to the sound of jars being unscrewed. “You know, I would have been in your life sooner, but we lost track of you. Never would have recognized you in that Audrey Hepburn-looking getup.”
Audrey Hepburn my rear. I bought this dress on clearance last week at Ann Taylor. And what was I doing even listening to fashion advice from a senior citizen in rhinestone-studded skinny jeans? “Why me? Why now?”
“My spell only allowed me to locate you when your power had grown strong enough.”
Spell? I groaned under my breath. This is exactly why I hadn’t searched out my birth parents. Somehow, I knew my biological family would be a bunch of nut jobs.
And was that incense I smelled?
The pungent aroma of ginger and clove seeped under the door. Oh, no, no, no. “You’d better not be lighting things on fire out there!” Decision made. I mustered a few calming yoga breaths and tried to stuff my hair back into its polished updo. The further I got away from this branch of my family tree, the better.
“Listen, lady.” I said as I struggled to bring my temper down a notch. “I mean, Grandma. Listen, Grandma. Let me out of here and you can whip up whatever spell you want.”
After I remove you from my house and my life.
I searched under the sink for a weapon and came up with a toilet brush and a bottle of Purple Prairie Clover sanitizing spray.
Was I really going to shoot my own grandmother?
“Open the door and let’s talk.”
She began to hum. It sounded like a church hymn.
“Grandma? Come on, now. Look. It’s not just that people are expecting me. He’s going to be there,” I said, as I used my thumb to pop the top off the sanitizing spray. “Hot Ryan Harmon from the gym,” I explained, as if she was supposed to know who that was. My girlfriends certainly did. “It’s taken me months of flirting on the elliptical machines to screw up the courage to ask this guy out, and you are not going to ruin it for me.” I deserved to date once in a while, didn’t I?
“Lizzie, you stay away from him. That man is a troll.”
“And you know because…” Crazy and opinionated. What a lovely combination.
I needed this shot at Ryan because – newsflash – I didn’t know many single men over the age of four. Hot Ryan Harmon was all I had going.
“Don’t take it personally, lover girl.” She pulled the door open a crack, her long gray hair swooshing as she shook her head. “Trust me.”
I whipped up my sanitizing spray and fired just as she slammed the door.
“Gak!” The air around me erupted with Purple Prairie Clover mist. I breathed in a metallic taste. The room smelled like I’d fallen head first into a vat of wildflowers.
“Until what?” The flowery spray was going to my head. Bright spots dotted my vision. Stumbling, I smashed my already sore toe into the cabinet under the sink. “Mother Fudrucker!” I braced myself over the sink as my stay-slim rice cake and peanut butter pre-dinner rumbled up the back of my throat.
Maybe I’d poisoned myself. My tongue thickened and my head felt like it was stuffed with packing peanuts. The room swirled and my legs buckled. A hot flash seared up my spine, through my limbs. I could have sworn I saw my hands melt into the faux marble countertop. Steam bubbled inside me and rose from every pore.
“You are the Exalted Demon Slayer of Dalea. Or at least you will be in four seconds. Three…!”
The place reeked of melted plastic and Purple Prairie Clover. I had to be hallucinating. Standing seemed like too much of an effort. My legs gave way and I slid down the door, my head coming to rest near a forgotten smidge of Extra Brite toothpaste on the floor. The room – no, the air itself – gleamed. The black-and-white tile practically sizzled under my body.
I felt something approach from behind. It gave off a funny clicking sound, like high heels on hardwood. And, phew, it smelled like I’d gone from a bad bonfire straight into the outhouse.
My grandma threw open the door. “Now we – ”
The look of terror on Grandma’s face made me think missing the party was the least of my worries. Her eager greeting melted into a scream. I turned and immediately wished I hadn’t. I choked back a shriek while my heart did the samba.
A shrunken, razor-toothed, man, no – thing perched on the top of my toilet bowl. He existed in a swirling gray cloud that clung to his essence like a shroud. A gold ring wound through his flared nostrils until the heavy ball of it rested against rows and rows of spearlike teeth. His hide crinkled, as jagged as desert earth after a drought. It crackled as he tapped a single clawed toe against the white porcelain. Worst of all, his scarlet eyes seemed to have only one target – me.
He bowed his head and cackled low in his throat, sending a shiver straight down to my toes. Run! My mind screamed in horror. My blood pounded in my skull and my hands flopped helplessly. Run! I dug my heels into the tile and managed a pathetic half circle. Oh my God. I was going to die right here on my bathroom floor.
Grandma whipped her hand forward. “Go to hell, Xerxes!” she screamed, sending a wave of energy shrieking over my head. Her turquoise choker glowed around her neck. The air itself vibrated. Xerxes didn’t even blink. Instead, he lifted a skeletal finger and pointed it at me. I wanted to cry. Keep it together.
Grandma clasped both hands around her necklace. She began to chant, her raspy voice repeating a single word, “Digredior. Digredior. Digredior.” Xerxes snorted and the acrid smell of sulfur seared the air.
I stared down at my own fingers, steaming on the tile. Run! Impossible. It was like my body was trapped in a thick sludge. I fought back a wave of panic. If I couldn’t escape, I had to think. I puffed the hair out of my face and focused on the geometric white tiles in front of me. Be logical.
Somewhere, there existed a reasonable explanation for what was happening. I just had to find it. Had I inhaled some of the sanitizing spray? Naturally. Yes. That could explain a lot. Please. This had to be a warped Prairie Clover Mist head trip.
“This is a hideous side effect,” I pleaded with everything I had. Life seeped back into my arms and legs. I sniffed, wiped at the sweat tickling down my face. “Monsters do not, not, not exist.” My whole body shook as I ventured a peek back at my toilet bowl.
Xerxes hissed, spittle clinging to his blackened lips. Vapor swirled through his fingers and gathered into a thick smoke. It loomed toward me, a wave of ash, boiling upon itself. Stale, dead. My heart slammed in my throat. I fought the urge to gag. This was real.
Grandma focused, heart and soul, on the beast. “Digredior. Digredior …”
I had to get out of here. Grandma too. Whatever she was saying to that creature, it wasn’t working. And just because she was crazy enough to face him didn’t mean she deserved to die. My body ached as I inched toward the doorway. I prayed he didn’t notice. But who was I kidding? I could taste the dark mist approaching, feel his red eyes burning into my back. I had to turn. Had to look.
Xerxes’s claws clickety-clacked as he snaked down from the top of the toilet. Shock drilled through me, pinning me to the floor. Xerxes bobbed his head once, twice. One side of his mouth twisted into a smirk. “Stay, Lizzie,” he said slowly, his Greek accent punctuating each word as his dark cloud embraced me.
“How did you know my na – ? Hmm.” Warmth washed over me. Oddly enough, I found myself smiling at him. This can’t be right. But darned if all my concerns didn’t seem to be – whoosh – falling away.
I stifled a giggle. Time to axe the Cheshire cat grin, if only for Grandma’s sake. She’d aged a century in five seconds flat.
Strange. I hated him. He was evil and foul and he smelled like rotten cheese.
But I liked cheese, especially with crackers.
He lowered his head and hit me with the sweetest smile. His cracked skin showed character. It molded to his sleek, muscular frame. I wanted to touch him.
My grandma said something or other.
The pupils of the demon’s eyes began to shift like a kaleidoscope. Fascinating. So that’s what he was. A demon.
I stumbled. “Would you look at that?” I didn’t even remember standing up. I found myself strutting toward him, closing the space between us. “Xerxes, I’ll bet you are just the Brad Pitt of the underworld.”
Then Xerxes did something quite rude. He shot darts out of his eyes. It’s so uncomfortable when you meet someone and five minutes later they invade your personal space. Even more frightening, the shimmery green darts headed straight for my neck. What was this guy trying to do? Chop my head off?
The old lady behind me, whatshername, started wailing.
Not good. I slowed things in order to get a good look at the darts. They shone like miniature glow sticks. I touched one and it sizzled on the end of my fingertip. Warm, but not painful. I pulled it out of the air and it hummed in my hand. I gingerly touched the tip. “Ow!” Sharp as broken glass. “The trick is to grab ’em by the side,” I said to myself. I gathered them up like I was plucking tomatoes off the vine.
“Whaddaya think about that, Mr. Xerxes?” I held out a handful of green sizzly things.
The demon seemed almost frozen in time. My grandmother stood with her eyes transfixed, her mouth gaped open.
“Biiiiitttch!” The demon screamed.
Like he was one to talk. “How would you like it if I tossed magical lawn darts at your head and called you names?” I launched the barbs back at him.
They crashed into his forehead and he exploded into a million flecks of light.
I shielded my eyes as the world ratcheted back into focus. Grandma’s scream pierced the haze in my head.
“Ak!” What had I done? My arms sizzled from the electricity in the air, and every hair on my body stood on end. The room itself tasted bitter. Grandma and I gaped at each other for about a half a second. Then she snapped her mouth closed and dashed out into the hall.
“This is real,” I said to my wild-haired reflection in the bathroom mirror. What a terrible thought.
Grandma hurried back juggling a half dozen Ziplock bags full of heaven knew what. “Get out.” She shoved past me, dumped the bags on the floor and drew a circle on the tile with ashy, gray chalk.
“What?” I choked. Handprints – my handprints – burned into the countertop like a brand. I stared at my palms. There wasn’t a mark on them. My fingers throbbed like they were asleep. I rubbed them on my dress to get the circulation going again. “Are you going to tell me what just happened here?” I grabbed the bathroom towel to wipe snot, tears and heaven knew what else from my face.
She paused, chalk quivering. “Yes. But first I’m going to slam the door on these bastards. Xerxes only wanted a look at you. There’ll be more.”
A look? I didn’t believe that for a second. “In case you didn’t notice, he fired green pointy things. At my neck!”
She slipped on a pair of silver-framed reading glasses with rhinestone clusters in the corners. “You’re right. He did decide to kill you.” She began rifling through a collection of glass vials. “Demons can be impulsive.” She harrumphed. “Like yo-yo grandchildren who touch what they shouldn’t.” She choose a vial of olive-brown liquid and stuffed it into the front pocket of her jeans. “I don’t know what you were thinking, grabbing his fulminations.”
“No time,” she said, rifling through her bag again. “But don’t think for one second that you’re off the hook, slick. I’m gonna ride you ’til next Sunday.” She handed me a Smuckers peanut butter jar filled with a canary yellow sludge. “Can the questions. Keep this with you. And for the love of Laconia, let me work.”
“Okay…” A demon wants me dead, so I get a Smuckers jar. Shouldn’t we be running? Hiding? Where, I didn’t know, but Grandma’s Harley was sounding better by the second. Even if we ended up some place like the Laconia motorcycle rally. My fingers slid over the greasy glass of the jar and I darn near dropped it. What was I supposed to do if another demon showed up? Throw this at his head?
“Ey-ak!” I squealed as she popped open a Ziplock bag that smelled like dead mouse. She ignored my distress and began rubbing tiny circles of mush onto my bathroom floor. “Tell me that isn’t poop,” I said, as she ground the foul substance into my grout.
“Raccoon liver. Now get out!” my grandmother ordered without looking up from the mess on my bathroom floor.
“Gladly.” I had no idea what had just happened and I was not at all opposed to getting as far away from her as possible. I tripped over Grandma’s animal hide bag and what had to be about a half dozen Smuckers jars in the narrow hallway outside the hall bathroom. They were filled with various brackish liquids, plants and at least one possum tail. Road kill witch craft. Fan-frickin-tastic.
I slumped down at the kitchen table and buried my face in my hands. “Face facts, Lizzie. Xerxes the demon just tried to chop your head off.”
What would Cliff and Hillary have to say about that?
I didn’t know what to think anymore. That thing was real. No question about it. He came for me. And he would have killed Grandma too.
An hour ago, I wasn’t even sure I believed in hell. Now it was after me. Xerxes probably tracked me like my Grandmother had. Worse, he’d gotten inside my head without even blinking. How could I defend myself against a creature who could control me like a Muppet? I had no idea what he – or my Grandma – could possibly want from me.
When my Grandma had called, I figured she was interested in what I’d been doing the last thirty years of my life. I’d tell her about my friends, my teaching job at Happy Hands Preschool. She’d tell me about herself and her family. Make that my family. At last, I’d learn about my mom, any brothers or sisters, who I was, where I came from.
Now I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. I could be dead right now. Killed by a demon in my very own bathroom.
Claws scurried across the ceramic floor in the hallway.
“Grandma!” I leapt from the chair, on instant high alert.
She shot out of the bathroom as I realized my would-be attacker was, in fact, my Jack Russell terrier. Pirate was mostly white, with a dollop of brown on his back that wound up his neck and over one eye. He scampered around the corner into the kitchen, slid three feet and nearly thwacked his head on the side of the refrigerator.
“Pirate.” The tension oozed out of me and I about collapsed on the floor in front of him. He leapt into my arms and licked wherever he could reach. I hugged him close, his wiry hair tickling my nose. “Where have you been, boy?”
His entire body wriggled with excitement. “Alone! Locked in the backyard! Alone! But I dug under the fence. And then I ate through the screen on the front door. And I’m here now! I’m here! What’d I miss?”
My blood froze. “Oh no, no, no.” I scrambled away from him like an oversized crab. “There’s a demon in my dog!”
Pirate danced in place. “Are you kidding? It’s me! I burrowed, I ate screen, I ignored Mrs. Cristople’s tabby cat. I’m here to save you!”
Grandma scrubbed her hands on her jeans, leaving an oily smear behind. “Pirate is fine. A little impatient.” She grabbed a vial of silver powder from her back pocket and uncorked it with her teeth. “I told you to keep quiet until I had a chance to speak with Lizzie.”
Pirate let out a high-pitched dog whine.
“I don’t want to hear it,” she said, eyeball measuring a bit of silver powder into her palm. “Now, Lizzie. I have to finish this containment spell or we could have another Xerxes on your toilet bowl.” She gave a worried snort. “Or worse…” She disappeared back into the bathroom.
I stared at Pirate, who promptly began licking himself.
He ignored me like he always did.
“Well hallelujah. At least some things don’t change.”
But, oh God, what had just happened?
I didn’t feel any different. I did a quick once-over in the mirror above the living room couch. I didn’t look any different. But there had been a demon in my bathroom. And he knew my name. I wasn’t up on my demon lore, but something told me that wasn’t good.
As for Pirate, I didn’t know what to think. I took a deep breath, counted to three. There had to be a logical explanation for all of this.
“Hey.” Pirate ran his cold nose along my ankle. “How ’bout you feed me? I swear I haven’t eaten in a year. And screen door doesn’t count.”
I stared down at Pirate, who spun three times and sat.
He cocked his head. “Why the face? Am I drooling? Oh geez. It’s the doggie pellets. I think of doggie pellets … I drool.”
“What?” I stammered. What are you? That didn’t sound polite. I rubbed my temples.
Get a grip.
“Why, Pirate?” Each word was a battle. “Why are you talking to me?”
“Because,” he said, mimicking my stilted tone, “I am hungry.” We stared at each other for a long time. “Now.”
“This isn’t happening,” I said. I turned back to the mirror and started shoving my hair back into place. I needed something to be normal. Anything. Even if it was something as trivial as a hairdo.
“Come on, Lizzie.” Pirate licked my leg. “Lighten up. And hey, if you don’t want to feed me that dry stuff, I’ll take the fettuccine from last week. Back of the fridge, to the left of the lettuce crisper, behind the mustard.”
Yeah, right. Instead, he got dry kibble and a fresh bowl of water. Then I set about canceling my thirtieth birthday dinner. I didn’t know what I was going to tell my friends.
Sorry, guys. I couldn’t wait to celebrate with you. Believe me. But then my long-lost biker grandma locked me in my bathroom, a demon tried to kill me and now my dog won’t stop yapping.
I dialed my friend Yvette and settled for a simple excuse instead.
“A problem with the dog?” Pirate harrumphed after I’d hung up the phone. “You owe me one.”
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