End of Days

End of Days

by Mae Clair

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Overview

Generations of Jillian Cley's family have been tasked with a strange duty-tending the burial plot of Gabriel Vane, whose body was the first to be interred in the Hode's Hill cemetery. Jillian faithfully continues the long-standing tradition-until one October night, Vane's body is stolen from its resting place. Is it a Halloween prank? Or something more sinister?

As the descendants of those buried in the church yard begin to experience bizarre "accidents," Jillian tries to uncover the cause. Deeply empathic, she does not make friends easily, or lightly. But to fend off the terror taking over her town, she must join forces with artist Dante DeLuca, whose sensitivity to the spirit world has been both a blessing and a curse. The two soon realize Jillian's murky family history is entwined with a tragic legacy tracing back to the founding of Hode's Hill. To set matters right, an ancient wrong must be avenged...or Jillian, Dante, and everyone in town will forever be at the mercy of a vengeful spirit.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781516107315
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: 01/15/2019
Pages: 230
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.52(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

October 21, 1799

They were coming.

Men with dogs and guns. Men he'd once called friends and neighbors.

Gabriel Vane wiped sweat from his face and zigzagged deeper into the woods. A sliver of moon shadowed him, ghost-white behind the frantic scuttle of spider clouds. The limited light helped him weave unnoticed through dense pillars of trees, but not without cost. He'd lost count of how many times branches nicked his skin or tore his clothing. On another night he would have dodged the obstacles with ease, but the fever made him clumsy. He tried to vault an overturned tree but misjudged the leap in the darkness. His leg buckled on landing, and his ankle twisted beneath him. Sprawling to his hands and knees, he inhaled the mold of decayed leaves, the peat of hard-packed soil.

Get up!

He forced himself to move, slipped on the leaf-strewn ground, and climbed unsteadily to his feet. The wind carried the sound of baying.

The dogs were closer, gaining on him. If only he could think. Clear his mind of the fever. Convince Atticus he wasn't responsible for the deaths in the village. Couldn't they see he was sick — that the fever would claim him as it had the others, including his beloved Dinah? Her eyes, green as the emerald she'd folded into his hand, still had the power to haunt.

"It will protect you," she'd said, closing his fingers over the stone.

But it hadn't. It wouldn't.

He hobbled forward, lurching faster despite the pain splintering from his ankle. The sound of crashing exploded behind him, men and animals trampling through the woodland. Someone shouted, commanding him to stop. A musket ball winged past his ear and blew the bark from a tree five feet away.

"Don't shoot!" Atticus Crowe's order resounded from the shadows. "We need him alive."

For how long? He was slated to die — if not by gunfire or the scourge of sickness, then by sacrifice.

"They will kill you," Dinah had said as he'd cradled her in his arms. "My father has convinced the men of the village you are possessed by a demon. He has lost all sanity to grief. Do not let him have the emerald. I fear how he might use its power."

Gabriel slowed, his energy ebbing, body wracked by chills. He could no longer see for the sweat in his eyes. Perhaps the illness was fey, as Atticus proclaimed, but killing him would not end the disease.

"Gabriel!" Atticus sounded close.

He heaved a breath, knowing his strength had reached its end.

I will be with you soon, Dinah, my love.

Undone by the fever, he swayed. Behind him, Atticus and the others spread in an arc, torches blazing, blocking his escape. Gabriel turned slowly, the flickering light illuminating the faces of his pursuers — Thaddeus Keel with three coon hounds. Andrew Whitley, who restrained two ragged mutts by their collars. Only last month, Gabriel had helped Cyrus Herman shore up his porch, and now the man hunted him like a criminal.

There were others, too. Everett Donner, who he'd called friend. Farley, the tanner. Ira Blake. And of course, Atticus. Whipcord lean, stern-faced, unforgiving. A man Gabriel had once believed would be his father-in-law.

Breaking from the others, Atticus stepped forward. "I want my daughter's pledge."

The emerald.

"She gave it to me."

"She should have given it to her brother. He might be alive if not for her foolishness." He extended his hand, palm up. "I will have the gem, Gabriel."

"I do not have it." He'd taken steps to ensure no one would.

Atticus motioned curtly to Cyrus and Farley. "Search him."

Gabriel withstood their pawing in silence, pain radiating from his ankle, cold sweat matting his hair to his brow.

"He speaks the truth," Farley said. "He does not have the jewel."

Atticus passed his torch to the man beside him. He stepped close to Gabriel. "What have you done with it?"

"I have hidden it."

"Where?"

"Where you will never find it."

"You fool!" Atticus cracked him across the face, the blow hard enough to make Gabriel stumble. The men beside him held him upright, rigidly locking his arms behind his back when he would have fallen.

"We did not come for a jewel," Keel said. "Your emerald means nothing to us, Atticus. The demon must die. We will have the sacrifice, and we will have it now."

"Very well." Atticus's mouth thinned in a sneer. "Perhaps my daughter's pledge is lost, but it matters little, given she will never bestow it on another. When you are dead and buried, Gabriel Vane, I will raze your house to the ground and find where you have hidden the stone." Reaching beneath his frock coat, Atticus spat on the ground, then withdrew a long knife. The blade was crudely hammered but gleamed with a rim of silver in the pale moonlight. He edged nearer. "You understand what is required of you."

Gabriel's mouth had gone dry. Even with the fever blurring his vision, his body burning with cold and heat, fear curdled his stomach. "If you do this thing — you will curse the spot upon which we stand for all eternity. No good will ever come from this place."

"What do I care for these wretched woods, when people die on our farms and in our village? My own daughter and son have been taken from me. And for what? For this!" Grabbing a fistful of Gabriel's shirt, Atticus ripped it from his shoulder. The scratches from the wolf were only partially healed, red with pinpricks of blood where skin had broken open.

Gabriel shivered as the air struck his exposed flesh. "I hunted the beast to protect the people of our village."

"And so you shall protect them — in the next life. As these men bear witness ..." Atticus edged in a circle, letting his gaze rest briefly on each of those gathered. "Yours will be the first body set in the ground." He shifted to face Gabriel. "You know what is expected of you."

Anger shot through Gabriel. "I am not a dog to be treated this way. Nor a demon."

"Say what you will. Possessed or not, you will protect us from the demons to come." Atticus plunged the dagger into his chest.

* * *

Present Day

"Come on, Blizzard. Time for a walk." Jillian Cley hooked the leash to the collar of her two-year-old husky, then opened the front door and stepped outside. A gust of air, tainted by the chill of autumn, cleared her head of a day spent hunched over the computer. Eli Yancy wanted a website to reflect his personality, but she was having a hard time pinning down the character of a man who'd spent his previous career cloaked in an ambiguous role at Wickham.

No surprise he'd chosen the nondescript brick building for his new enterprise. After an initial meeting to discuss design, she'd pegged him as too withdrawn to be a successful life coach. But a paying customer was a paying customer, and she needed the work. Business had been slow. She'd even toyed with the idea of taking a part-time job at the library where her neighbor, Maya Sinclair, worked. Three weeks ago there'd been a general services opening that didn't require a degree. Jillian had dragged her feet, hemming and hawing until the position was filled. Too many people. Too many stray emotions.

Blizzard whined impatiently.

"Okay, I get it." She let the husky lead her down the steps, away from the six brownstones tucked into the south end of Hode's Hill. Following her usual route, she crossed the road and picked a path running parallel to the Chinkwe River. The water carried a slate gray cast this late in the day. In another few weeks it would be Halloween, followed by the end of Daylight Saving. Her evening walks would be blanketed in darkness rather than the diffused twilight creeping from the horizon.

She was fond of autumn — vivid colors and smoky scents — but could do without the hasty onslaught of night. It would mean earlier trips to Hickory Chapel Cemetery to keep up her duties as promised.

Blizzard stopped to poke around a clump of dry ferns. Nose to the ground, he pattered into the grass, snuffling as he roamed ahead. Jillian kept his leash looped around her wrist, hands in the pockets of her black pea coat. Across the narrow trail, the wind sang through maples and oaks, scattering rust-red leaves from knobby branches. If she walked far enough, she'd pass the North Bridge. Farther still, the remains of the Old Orchard Truss Bridge.

Last June, a drifter who suffered from an abnormality that made his skin blue committed suicide by leaping from the crumbling central pylon. At least, that was the official version, but Jillian had always suspected there was more to the story. Rumors hinted Eli Yancy had been involved, but she'd never been able to pin down his connection. If she dwelled on the association, she'd end up questioning whether she wanted him as a client. Technically, he'd done nothing illegal. Ethically, he made her skin crawl.

The sad reality was that she needed the money. Especially with the cost of Madison's treatments skyrocketing and insurance only stretching so far. There was still hope for her sister, no matter what traditional medicine said. If Jillian was forced to live on peanut butter sandwiches between clients, it would be worth every scrimped penny if Madison would only smile.

"Hi, Jillian. Hi, Blizzard."

She swiveled in time to see a thin boy with straw-colored hair extend his hand to the husky. Blizzard happily nosed his palm, then bumped closer, tail wagging in greeting.

"Hi, Elliott." Jillian smiled as the boy knelt to rough Blizzard's fur. She knew his mother, Tessa, well enough to pass pleasantries — a casual hello or comment about the weather — but kept her new neighbor at arm's length. If Tessa was offended, she'd never allowed her resentment to show.

"No schoolwork tonight?" Jillian asked.

At twelve, Elliott was small for his age. Tessa once absently confessed she hoped he'd make friends in his new school. Even without her empathic nature, Jillian would have pigeonholed him as awkward and shy. He'd since come to trust her, but it was Blizzard who'd created a safe buffer between them.

"I did it in school." Standing, Elliott swept his bangs to the side. "Think I'm gonna drag my telescope out when it gets dark." Behind the thick frames of his glasses, his eyes were the color of coffee beans, often worried, always serious. How many nights had he spent looking up at the sky? Jillian didn't doubt he liked stargazing, but any activity was better with friends. There had to be kids in school he could connect with.

Maybe she should talk to Tessa, suggest that Elliott join an astronomy or science club. Find a way to fit in. She understood the stigma of being a loner, could sense the familiar pain of isolation seeping from him and reawakening —

No!

Mentally, Jillian clamped the conduit shut.

"Hey, are you all right?" Elliott's mouth fell open as he stared up at her. "You look ... you look kind of — " "I'm fine." She forced a smile, ignoring the cold sweat on the back of her neck. Always in tune with her emotions, Blizzard whined and pulled on the leash. "Just a little tired from all the work I did today. I should probably get going. Blizzard needs his walk."

"Yeah, okay." Elliott stuffed his hands in the pockets of his sweatshirt and scuffed a sneaker against the ground.

Poor kid was bored, but it wasn't her problem. He couldn't be her problem. She had enough of her own. And yet —

"Want to walk with us?"

The smile that blazed across his face made the invitation worthwhile. "That'd be great. Mom said dinner won't be ready for fifteen minutes. Our cousin is coming over for meatloaf." Another flash of a smile. "Maybe you could join us sometime. Mom doesn't have many friends since we moved."

"I'm usually tied up." A lie. "And that's not true about your mom." Jillian started walking, letting Blizzard lead the way. The husky trotted ahead, tail in the air, tongue lolling from his mouth. "Your mom has become friendly with Maya Sinclair."

"I guess." Elliott shrugged as he fell in at her side. "But she seems lonely. Ever since Dad left —" His face twisted as if he'd stumbled over something ugly. His despondency oozed into the air and tugged at Jillian's heart.

Divorce wasn't easy, children often the ones who suffered the most, but Elliott had a mother who loved him, a grandmother who lived two doors away and doted on him, and the potential — from what Jillian could see — to be a top student. Maybe his lack of friends made the divorce a harder pill to swallow. Given he was lonely, he probably imagined his mother harboring that same emotion.

"You know what?" Jillian tried to steer the conversation elsewhere. "Your mom is doing just fine. It takes a while to get settled into a new town, but you've got family here. I think it's great your mom was able to rent a place so close to your grandmother."

"Yeah." Elliott's voice was soft. "It's just hard adjusting, you know?"

Jillian wasn't sure if he referred to his parents' divorce or the move. She shifted to the side as a jogger passed by. Up ahead, Blizzard had wandered off the path to nose in the grass again. Cars kept up a steady pace on River Road, the traffic signal at the entrance to the North Bridge holding on green. The soft ripple of the Chinkwe underscored the hum of tires, the chatter of walkers passing on the trail, the hiss of a bus braking two stops down — familiar sounds. City sounds.

"Hode's Hill is a good place." She didn't know if Elliott believed her, or if perhaps he fit more comfortably into the small beach town that had been his home for twelve years. What boy wouldn't want to live where the shoreline stretched to the Atlantic and the bay offered long summers filled with fishing and boating? "The Chinkwe isn't saltwater, but you can still boat and fish. Some of the bigger islands are great for docking, too."

"I don't have a boat." He sounded glum. "Dad always took care of stuff like that. Mom doesn't know the first thing about boats. Or fishing."

"Maybe she'll learn."

"Do you fish?" He glanced at her hopefully.

"No." It had been years. She had no intention of taking him fishing, or of getting involved and becoming friends with his mother. Getting involved was how people got hurt. How Madison ended up with a shattered mind and a life spent staring at four walls.

Jillian's heart ratcheted faster, the sights and sounds of the city fading. Her hands grew clammy, her breath hissing quick and short through her lips. She tightened her fingers on Blizzard's leash, barely aware when the dog whined and nudged against her.

Somehow, she managed to pull the city back into focus — the smell of bus exhaust, the raucous blare of a car horn. She blinked, the sting of light a telltale sign her pupils had dilated. She reached for the cord around her neck, but her glasses were missing. Foolishly, she'd left the tinted lenses at home.

"We should go back now."

"Oh. Okay." Elliott studied her queerly, but she couldn't blame him. She had to be a sight — long blond hair hanging in a thick, waist-length braid, face pinched and pale, pupils obliterating the green of her eyes. He probably thought she was a freak.

She didn't have the guts to tell him he was right.

"This way." She gave Blizzard the lead, letting the husky guide her home.

* * *

"How's that?" Dante DeLuca darkened the pupils of the creature's eyes then slid the drawing across the table. Far from his best work, especially when jotted on a paper napkin, but it should impress a twelve-year-old.

"Wow, I wish I could draw like that." Elliott held the sketch closer. "You draw better than anyone I know, Dante."

"He paints, too." Tessa held out her hand. "Can I see?"

Dante watched as his cousin examined his work. She still had the same smattering of freckles across her nose as she'd had when they were kids, but her eyes — black as India ink — showed the wear of starting over after thirteen years of marriage. Tightening his fingers around his pencil, he tried not to think of the dickhead who'd left her for a fling with a twenty-year-old.

"I see you still like monsters." Tessa's mouth curved with the hint of a smile.

Dante traded the pencil for a fork and speared a piece of meatloaf. "It's an alien. You know — outer space? E.T.?"

"Yeah, Mom. It's got antennas."

"I'm teasing, Elliott." Tessa passed the napkin to her son. "Dante used to like to draw monsters when he was a little older than you."

"Really?" Elliott's eyes grew wide behind his glasses.

"Would you draw me a monster sometime, Dante?"

"Sure. Any reason why?"

"I don't know." Squirming slightly, Elliott dropped his gaze to his plate.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "End of Day"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Mae Clair.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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