Thanks so much Marcia for allowing me to participate in your Excerpt Week promotion! Following is the blurb and excerpt from Round Trip Fare. —Barb
Excerpt week: ROUND TRIP FARE by Barb Taub
Warden Carey Parker’s to-do list is already long enough: find her brother and sister, rescue her roommate, save Null City, and castrate her ex-boyfriend. Preferably with a dull-edged garden tool. A rusty one.
Carey knows superpowers suck, her own included. From childhood she’s only had two options. She can take the Metro train to Null City and a normal life. After one day there, imps become baristas, and hellhounds become poodles. Demons settle down, join the PTA, and worry about their taxes. Or she can master the powers of her warrior gift and fight a war she can’t win, in a world where she never learned how to lose.
And then there is… him. For the past two months, a dark stranger has persistently edged his way onto the mental game board behind her eyelids. Well, whatever trouble he’s selling, Carey Parker is not buying.
She just has a few details to work out first. Her parents have been killed, her brother and sister targeted, and the newest leader of the angels trying to destroy Null City might be the one person she loves most in the world. And her sexy new partner’s gift lets him predict deaths. Hers.
It just would have been nice if someone told her the angels were all on the other side.
EXCERPT —Round Trip Fare
March 2011: Pike Place Market, Seattle
Carey slid low in the seat as Iax finally came out of the restaurant and turned toward the waterfront. To her surprise, the two watchers continued to stalk…him. So he hadn’t posted them to watch for her. Interesting. She slid from the jeep and shadowed the followers.
The attack came as Iax stepped around construction equipment at a building site in the next block. He spun around a second before the first one’s bow released, but the arrow must have missed as he was already ducking low and coming up with a knife. She narrowed her eyes. Probably too far for accuracy, but his throw managed a glancing slash on the attacker’s arm. Impressive. The knife wound was enough to cause the bow to droop as Iax sprinted toward him.
By then, the second tail had come around the far side of the giant yellow earthmover and was in position. But Iax wrapped arms around the first assailant and whirled him into the path of the new arrow. Not missing a step, he dove for the dropped crossbow, loaded from its attached quiver, and without taking any apparent time to aim, lodged an arrow in the second attacker’s throat. Very impressive. There was just one thing he missed.
Iax was bent over the second assailant when the third dropped from the scaffolding above him and hit the ground head-first with a meaty thump. “You missed one,” Carey told him. “You’re welcome.” She moved across the street until she was standing in front of him. “Excuse me? Can I get by?” Their eyes locked as each quietly palmed a knife, before he moved aside. She rolled the third assailant over and removed the knife from his throat, wiping it with the dead man’s shirt. “It’s one of my favorites.” Returning the knife to her boot, she turned and headed back to her jeep. “You coming?”
He got in heavily, and she started the engine. “Where to?”
When he didn’t answer, she turned to see him slumped against the door. The front of his jacket was wet. Guess that first arrow wasn’t a total miss after all. Well, hell. Marley would never let her hear the end of it if they had to replace the upholstery. Again.
The phone rang until the recording picked up, so Carey was already irritated as she waited through Marley’s greeting. “Come on, Marley. I know you’re there. Pick up. Now! If you don’t hurry up and pick up this friggin’ phone, I’m going—”
Carey let out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding. “Oh, good you’re there. What took you?”
There was a pause that went on just a beat too long. “I’m not exactly alone.”
“Oh, come on! I thought we talked about that. You promised…”
“He just called and said he was bringing pizza, and I was hungry and one thing led to another and… I don’t have to tell you any of this.”
Carey put her head against the steering wheel and banged softly.
“Carey? Are you there?”
“Listen, Marley. You have to get out of there. Both of you. I want to cut my tongue into little bits for saying this, but you both have to go to his place or a hotel or somewhere and not come back until I tell you. I’ll be there in ten minutes, and you have to be gone. Understand?”
She heard muffled voices and a struggle. Finally a deep voice she knew too well rasped, “Carey? Are you…okay?”
“Why me?” she moaned.
“I’ll take that as a yes. We’re leaving now, but you have to promise you’ll call me if you need any help.”
“If I say yes, will you go?”
He laughed. “Yes.”
“Then yes. Now get. Sir.”
She disconnected and turned to the man slumped in her passenger seat. “Can you hear me?” No answer. “Well, that’s just great. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find car detailers who can get blood out without going straight to the police? Okay, it’s not that hard. But it is expensive.”
Wonderful. She was babbling again. She placed a hand over the pulse at his throat. “Fast, but you’re not dead yet. And I don’t see any spurting, so I’m guessing no arterial damage. All right, big guy, I’m going to do a quick arrow check, and then we’re outta here.” Her hands ran down both arms, then chest. She pulled him forward and checked his back but it was dry.
She was just moving down to his waist when he mumbled, “Not tonight, baby.”
“Oh, you’re funny, you are.” Frowning, she buckled him in and started the jeep. Not for the first time, she wished she could just glance in her rearview mirror like those Hollywood heroes and tell if she was being followed, especially if the tail was part of a professional team. But the quick and dirty fallback was to take four right turns and see if anyone did the same. So far, so good. She made one more right turn and cruised for home at a sedate five miles over the speed limit.
Four more rights took her in a circle around her block before a quick turn into her garage. Most of the other Craftsman cottages in her neighborhood near the University of Washington—affectionately known to locals as U-Dub—had carports. But if the walk-in closets and remodeled baths had sold Marley, the garage had been her selling point. She thumbed the finger scanner on the garage-door opener, and the door rolled up as she pulled into the driveway. As the steel-reinforced automatic door closed behind her, she stepped over to a wall-mounted cabinet that had started life in the kitchen. The scuffed avocado doors hid state of the art monitors showing video feeds covering all angles around the property.
Normally, she would have watched for longer, but she had her jeep’s upholstery to consider. After an all-clear glance at the monitors, she opened the inside door leading to the laundry room and hallway. Originally, this had been the kitchen, until a previous owner added a bright kitchen onto the back wall where it could face the garden. As soon as the door opened, Bain leaped into the garage, greeting her with the desperate all-body wag of an Aussie separated from his human for any stretch of time exceeding sixty seconds. Dog at her heels, she came around to the passenger side and opened the door. The muzzle of the gun pointing directly at her forehead was rock steady.
“Okay, Rambo. You have three choices. You can shoot me for rescuing you. You can say, please excuse my bad manners and would you mind holding this gun for me? Or—and this my personal favorite—we can both stay right here while you bleed out, and then I’ll get back in this car and dump your sorry bloody ass back with those three losers at Post Alley. What’ll it be?”
She heard a chuckle that sounded way too close to a gasp for her taste, and the gun was lowered. Dark eyes considered her for a moment and then closed.
It took longer than she would have liked to haul him into the house. Marley had left a pile of clean towels near the door leading from the garage to the house. Sometimes it’s useful to have a roommate who knows you that well. After lining their less-than-hygienic wheelbarrow with the towels, Carey stepped closer to Iax and put her fingers to his neck again. He might have passed out, but at least he was still breathing. She brushed his hair away from his face and softly said, “I’m sorry, big guy. But there just isn’t any dignified way to do this.”
“D’wha…?” he muttered.
Positioning the wheelbarrow next to the jeep, she rolled him out and down. He landed hard, and she winced at his groan. Folding his arms and legs into the barrow, she backed it into the house.
“Welcome, fun seekers. We thank you for joining this evening’s tour. As a reminder, passengers are requested to keep arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. To your right, I’d like to draw your attention to the bedrooms which you will not be entering. The one that looks like it’s channeling Martha Stewart’s teal period belongs to my roommate. There are matching cushions she calls throw pillows. Apparently, that’s because she throws them at my head when I make fun of them. Next we have my room, which she says looks like the trailer park after the tornado. That from the woman who deliberately commits throw pillows with fringe. And tassels.” She shuddered.
“Next we have my roommate’s bathroom which we will not be going into even though it’s bigger than mine and scary clean. But she’s kind of got this judgey hangup about strangers bleeding in her personal space, so we’ll proceed along the hallway and to our final tour stop, a little hotspot the locals call Hell’s Kitchen, at least on nights I’m doing the cooking and my roommate hasn’t hidden my Texas Revenge Habanero Sauce. Again. Please remain in the vehicle until the ride has come to a complete stop. Thank you for touring with us today, and if your future plans include getting shot and bleeding like a stuck pig, we encourage you not to consider the Carey Express.”
She noticed his eyes were open and staring at her in amazement. His voice was barely a whisper. “Am I in…wheelbarrow?”
“Oh good. You’re awake. If you knew me better, you wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to hear it’s not the first time our wheelbarrow has been used as a gurney. But don’t worry about making a mess—we never liked the linoleum here in the kitchen anyway. So I’m just going to take off your clothes, scrub you down, slap some bandages on you, and then, if you don’t mind staying awake just a little bit longer, torture you until I get some bloody idea of why you have my brother’s photo. Nothing personal, you understand.”
One side of his mouth quirked slightly. “Nothing…personal.”
“Much better!” Her tone was admiring. “You sounded almost human. Just keep that up, and we’ll have you screaming in agony in no time.” Her hands were busy, gently pulling away his coat and then unbuttoning his shirt.
His voice was a whisper, but that mouth quirked again. “Does Kurt Jeffers know you treat his friends like this?”
“Di-rec-tor.” She peeled the shirt away and began dabbing at the blood on his chest with a warm wet towel. “Why don’t you people get that his first name is Director? I don’t want to hear any more of this ‘Kurt’ crap.” Wiping revealed a deep slash straight across his chest and a deeper puncture to the outer muscle of his left shoulder, both still bleeding sluggishly. She paused thoughtfully when the towel uncovered still more blood seeping from what looked like a recently stitched knife wound high on the same shoulder. Her eyes met his, but she just shifted the towel up to blot that as well.
“So, Rambo. Good news is that this unbelievable tattoo that covers half your neck and chest, one arm, and—although I’m very sad to say I can’t see it—your probably very excellent backside is just fine. The bad news is the rest will need to be stitched, and I’m guessing that lovely little knife wound you brought to the party will need new stitches too. Are you one of those he-men who will pull the needle through using your own teeth, or would you prefer to have me do it?”
“Starting…torture?” he managed faintly.
“Yeah, that’s it.” She stepped away to throw the towel into a bucket and moved to the sink to wash her hands thoroughly, raising her voice over the sound of the running water. “I figure if I start at your shoulder, the closer I get to your groin, the more you’ll want to tell me everything.”
“Maybe…like your…hands…down there.”
She turned from the sink to give him a searching look. “Maybe you’d like something for the pain first?”
He moved his head in an infinitesimal negative. “Stay…awake. Might find…us. Protect you.”
She was loading a tray with items from a cabinet that looked more like a medical clinic than a medicine chest, so she didn’t even look up. “Yeah, that’s a plan. Because you’re in such good shape for defense right now. I feel safer already.”
Next to the wheelbarrow, she set down what looked like a large footstool. Pushing a button, she stepped back as it unfolded and inflated itself to form a full-sized bed that took up most of the available floor space. “I just never get tired of seeing that one.” She gave the bed an admiring pat before covering it with several disposable surgical pads.
One hand brushed his hair off his forehead again while her eyes looked straight into his. “Sorry, Rambo.” The other pushed the tiny needle into his arm. “Good night.” His hand clamped her wrist, and they stared into each other’s eyes for a heartbeat until his hand and his eyelids dropped.
“I hate to tell you, big guy—” She tipped the wheelbarrow until he rolled bonelessly onto the mattress. “—I never got my merit badge in stitchery. At least I’m fast. We should have you nicely sewn up by the time Claire’s magic sleepy-maker wears off.” She brought over the prepared tray of antiseptic, swabs, and bandages, tearing open a box of sterile pre-threaded sutures. With a final check of his pulse, she pulled on surgical gloves and got to work.
Urban Fantasy (with romance, humor, a sentient train, and a great dog)