It’s hard to keep a good Ghoul down. Coming in August, if all goes well, That Ghoul Ava Sacks the Quarterback will be released. So, now is as good of a time as any to offer up a sneak peek. Enjoy.
“You moon-faced idiot!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. Every bit of fury I possessed was focused on that one solitary black and white striped monster that seemed both oblivious to my scorn as well as unconcerned.
I glanced over at race and saw the agitation etched in his face as well. While I might be considerably more vocal with my displeasure, I rested in the comfort that Race Mitchell was on my side of this little outburst.
A cascade of noise showered down on the monster as he took ten very deliberate steps. Without a care in the world, he placed the prolate-spheroid on the green surface and then turned to face my direction.
“Holding, number fifty-seven on the offense. That is a ten-yard penalty from the spot of the foul…and fourth down.” He blew his whistle and wound his arms in a circle to signal the start of the clock.
I turned to Race, making every effort to keep my switch digits as well as Sharkmouth from making an unwelcome appearance. “But we had the winning touchdown!” I pleaded, my voice dangerously close to that whining pitch that I hate in myself almost as much as I loathe hearing it in others. “How is it that every time we have done something positive on this drive, that stupid ref comes up with some mystical sort of call?”
“Haters gotta hate,” he said with uncharacteristic venom.
I don’t know which had me more taken aback. The tone of malice in his voice, or the fact that he had pulled out a pithy and common phrase like that and used it so deftly. It was sorta like sitting next to the president and hearing him let one rip.
My eyes shot up to the scoreboard. I could not choose where to maintain my focus as my glance bounced back and forth between the players scrambling on the field to get to the line of scrimmage and get the play off before the clock reached zero; or the clock itself which marched un erringly downwards.
“Hut!” I heard a voice above all the others bark.
The ball was in the quarterback’s hands and he was dropping back. I saw our Treyvon Webb shooting down the far side of the field. He was making no pretense of even glancing back as he zoomed towards the end zone. On the side nearest me, Tony Percy was doing the same thing. Both of the players had two members of the opposing team right on their heels.
I found the quarterback again as he ducked under the outstretched arms of a man that easily had a hundred pounds on him, and thus, lacked both the speed and the dexterity to catch the elusive Derrick Malone. The agile man stopped on a dime as a second defensive player lunged at him. He sprung straight back and was running laterally almost faster than my eyes could track…and that is saying something since I am a ghoul with more than a few enhanced powers at my disposal.
The clock had hit double zeroes and that meant that this game was all over after this play. I felt something jostle me and I tore my eyes from the clock to see Malone being dragged down from behind…but not before he heaved that football with all his might.
When had I stood up? I wondered as my eyes tracked the ball in flight as it arced up, reached its apex, and then began its missile-like decent. It was coming down towards the hands of Treyvon Webb and a member of the visiting team.
There was a single moment just before the ball reached the end of its journey where time seemed to freeze. In that instant, only two outcomes were possible. If Webb catches the ball, our little upstart indoor football team remains undefeated and enters the playoffs with home field advantage throughout the playoffs…or he misses it and the zero under the loss column changes. That would put an official end to the “Quest for Perfection” which had become out team’s rallying cry three weeks ago when one of our players—the stupid kicker of all people—had made the statement on camera that there was not a team remaining on the schedule that had the chance of knocking us off.
Obviously the kicker had not looked at that schedule and seen the hated squad from Arizona as the final home game before we entered the playoffs. Did I mention they were three-time repeating champions of the league?
There was a split second of silence as the ball vanished in between Webb and the defender. Then…Webb leapt into the air and thrust the ball skyward just as the official raised his hands to signal the touchdown. My eyes did a quick scan of the field. No signs of any more of those pesky little yellow flags.
“We did it!” I spun to Race and grabbed him in a hug. I felt my feet leave the ground for a second as he squeezed me tight and pulled me off the floor.
The crowd was going wild and blue, red, and silver confetti rained down on the field, showering our team as they all gathered together with their hands raised in victory. The team from Arizona was trudging away, heads down for the most part. A few stopped to shake hands with some of our boys, but most of them just vanished into the tunnel that took them to their locker room.
Eventually, the euphoria receded and the team began to depart—many having to climb back over the barricade after coming out to join the fans in the celebration. Race and I turned and started to file out into the night with all the other fans. Shouts echoed throughout the arena as people chanted the team’s name or just let out whoops and hollers in exclamation of a great victory.
“I really did not think you would get into this,” Race snickered as we exited the double doors and joined the throng of people searching for their cars.
“Me either,” I replied with a laugh.
Seriously, I was really dubious when he said that he had season tickets to the local indoor football team’s games and asked if I would like to join him for a game or two. After the first one, I told him I was in for the duration. It might have had something to do with the fact that we were down in the fourth row and on the second play of the game, one of our players crashed into the opponent and sent him flying over the wall.
I should probably give you a few more details. You see, in the front row were these two bimbos wearing way too much makeup and way too little clothing for a night out at a sporting event. Basically they looked like hookers. Anyway, they were also visible intoxicated and making total fools of themselves by calling out to every player that passed by with various offers that only furthered their similarity to a street walker.
Both women had the largest and most over-priced of the stadium beers in their hands. When the collision happened and the opposing player got checked into the wall, I could tell that the momentum was going to take him over. When his feet slammed into the two large beers and sent up a miniature tidal wave of amber liquid…I started laughing.
Watching it played in slow motion on the massive screen hanging over the field only made me laugh harder. I seriously doubt that a single drop of that beer made it to the floor. Both of those women got it square in the face…and hair. I would guess that they had probably spent a few hours each getting their hair to look that perfect. And in just a matter of seconds they both had what resembled a stringy, bleached blond mop hanging down in their faces. Also, I don’t think they sprung for the waterproof mascara either.
I laughed so hard that the human version of me would have probably wet her pants. One of them spun around and shot me what I am sure she believed was her nastiest glare. I laughed harder. Also, I might have let my dark glasses slip down just a bit to reveal my jet black orbs.
I never did see those two again. No worries, though. By the end of that first game, I was actually hooked on the sporting aspect of the event.
We stopped at the big black van and Race opened my door for me, gave me a hand as I climbed up and in, and then shut the door and came around the front to his side. I guess I wasn’t really paying attention to anything specific…that is probably why that gigantic man ended up right beside my window without me realizing that he was there until he knocked on the glass.
Whether it was due to all the effort I’d used keeping my special talents like my switch-digit finger and toenail and Sharkmouth, or just the simple act of being spooked, I went what Race refers to as “full-ghoul” mode.
Spinning on the person, I heard my own little sound of surprise matched by a yelp. Race had just opened his door, but in a flash he had a blade in his hand that I had no time to actually wonder where it’d come from.
“Are you Ava Birch?” the man asked, foolishly ignoring the angry Templar that was skirting back around the front of the van,
I took a moment to really get a look at this guy. He was pretty big. I’m not talking giant-like, but for a human…big. His skin was a creamy sort of brown and I saw black dreadlocks hanging around and past his shoulders under the big coat he was wearing. I guessed him to be at least six and a half feet tall and nearing the three-hundred-pound mark…but he was not fat. His eyes were a chocolate brown and looked a little bloodshot. I didn’t need my super sniffer to tell that he was a little bit tipsy.
“What the hell?” I whispered.
I had just realized that the normal smell of dying that all mortal humans give off was lacking here. This guy smelled like…rocks? Hmm…no, rocks don’t really have a smell, do they.
“Half-troll,” the man said as he reached out and caught Race’s arm as he tried to grab him by one arm. “My moms snagged my pops when he was out on a hunting trip with his buddies. She gave me over to him when I was just a little guy to be raised among the humans.”
“I have a hard time believing that you were ever little,” I said as I rolled my window down.
My eyes caught a flash of blue under the big overcoat and it struck me where I recognized the man from. “You’re Anthony Riddle…the starting defensive lineman!” I tried not to gush, but seriously…this guy sacked more quarterbacks than any other two linemen this year and had set the league record around the halfway mark in the season. “I love watching you beat up offensive linemen who foolishly try to stop you.”
“Yeah…” his voice sounded funny when he replied, and I could see his eyes darting around with what I could only guess to be nervousness. “Look, I have a problem, and the word is that you might be able to help.”
I was puzzled. How on earth could I help this guy. My knowledge of football was at a pretty basic level.
“If I can help…I will,” I finally said.
“Then meet me tomorrow night at—” Anthony started, but Race cut him off.
“If you are meeting with Ava, then you will do so at a place of her choosing…not yours.” My big strong Templar was scowling. He was still rubbing his arm where the half-troll had grabbed him. He quit as soon as he saw me looking. Men can be such morons.
I reached in my purse and pulled out a card. They had been Lisa’s idea of a joke, but the joke was on her. Ever since the word had gotten out in the Supernatural community about how I’d dealt with those Valkyries, I’d become quite popular.
Morgan had commented on a few occasions that it might not be such a good thing, but I think she is just jealous. Plus, now that I am getting all these jobs, I am not as reliant on her for the scraps and such that she throws my way whenever she encounters something that she feels is beneath her.
Okay, maybe I am being a bit petty…but I think I’ve earned that right. I’ve saved her butt more than once, and actually, this new semi-celebrity status is practically her fault. She is the one who set me up for that job in Dallas with that roller derby team. Well…her and that fanged nuisance Belinda.
He is part troll, Ava, Blodwen’s voice piped up from inside my head. Be careful.
The old gwyll had a point. None of my experiences with trolls up to now had gone very well. I’d been swallowed whole by a lake troll and don’t get me started on that nasty little mud troll in the basement of the former Dallas Psychic’s house.
Of all the current residents that lived inside my head, Blodwen was the only one that I pretty much gave free reign. She was like having a living Supernatural encyclopedia connected to my brain. Of course, she was also the one who kept the unruliest denizen of my mind under control.
To those who may not know about this little gem of history, she apparently gave Roman emperor Nero fits. That is the short version. Oh…and she is also apparently the first female ghoul…at least that anybody knows about. Her current address is some deep, dark box in a corner of my mind.
(Hopefully this will be the only Ferris Beuller moment in this book: I could recap all the stuff that has led to this point, but seriously…who starts a book on the seventh volume? If you grabbed this book on a lark, either return it or go back to the beginning…this story will still be here when you catch up.)
“We can meet, but you need to tell me how a troll is pulling off being human and playing professional sports. Don’t they have blood tests or something?” I asked, shooting a look over at Race that I hope conveyed the fact that I am a big ghoul and can take care of myself. Opening my doors is fine, but I handle my own fights, thank you very much.
“I am part human, and that means my blood is just like any other human. The differences would either not show up or not be anything that the doctors would be able to detect.”
“Okay. So how about you come out to my place and we can meet.” Yeah, it wasn’t a question. I didn’t fear this guy, but I am not stupid.
“Can I bring a friend?” Anthony asked, and he got a sheepish look on his face. “She’s kind of a fan.”
I heard Race do a terrible job of holding back a snort. I chose not to dignify his reaction with so much as a glance. And he could make all the noises he wanted, I was becoming known around our little community. After all, The Queen of the Zombies, a few giants, a couple of Psychics, a Valkyrie warrior, a powerful creature that is a member of the faerie line, and yes…a gigantic lake troll and a squishy mud troll have all fallen to me. Those are just the highlights.
“Sure, bring whoever you like.” I nodded to the card he held in his hand. “The phone number will put you in touch with one of my people that will give you directions.”
He nodded and turned around to walk away. I saw Race glare at the man’s back until he vanished through a door back into the arena. Apparently satisfied, he came around and climbed into the driver’s seat.
We were on the freeway headed home and driving in some pretty uncomfortable silence that I felt the need to break. “We’re going to the playoffs!” I squealed.
“Maybe now this city will pay attention,” Race grumbled.
That had been an issue for him all year. Apparently the local sports media did not take indoor football seriously. There was little to no coverage. I wasn’t entirely sure what the big deal was, but it sure bugged the heck out of him. He always muttered something about how Portland was a sports-ignorant city that cared for nothing except basketball and soccer. I didn’t have the heart to remind him that both basketball and soccer were sports.
“So, is the rumor true?” Race asked as we turned down the long, dark road that would eventually lead to my new house…or fortress to be more accurate.
“Depends on the rumor,” I replied. I didn’t need light to see perfectly, but glancing over, I could not help but get butterflies. His chiseled jaw and rugged face was even sexier in the green glow of the dashboard lights.
“I hear that Betty has returned.”
I did everything in my power not to show any expression. I know that Race and I are just starting to read into that whole dating thing, but he is still a Templar. I am still a ghoul. His order was sworn to wipe all female ghouls out a long time ago. Our degree of trust has to contain different boundaries that say…Brad and Angelina.
“I don’t know where you heard that, but if she is back…that is news to me.”
Despite the potentially romantic relationship building between the two of us, there were certain things I was not yet ready to divulge to Race. I mean, we hadn’t even ‘sealed the deal’ so to speak.
“Is that how you want to play this?” he muttered.
And it didn’t look like tonight was going to be the night either. Another peek over at him and I could see the clench in his jaw…plus his chin was sticking out just a bit more than normal. He was taking on his role of hard-ass Templar.
“I’m not playing anything,” I harrumphed. Okay, I am totally lying my butt off, but now that I’ve made my bed…
“Jesus, Ava, when are you gonna figure it out that I’m on your side?”
“When you stop interrogating me.”
“Interrogating?” he shot back sarcastically. “I can assure you that there is never a doubt when I am interrogating somebody. I simply asked you a question.”
“Find out who is making those little ray guns yet?” I turned to face him, crossing my arms over my chest.
I am pretty sure that I felt the van swerve just a teensy bit. I already knew the answer to that question, so yeah…I’m setting him up. Turnabout is fair play.
“I told you that I would keep you informed.” His eyes were now very intent on the road ahead of us.
Unless the person responsible just happens to be your best friend, I thought as I let the lie hang in the air.
To think that some low level Templar stationed over in Barcelona had developed an energy gun that was lethal to all varieties of Supernatural was almost funny. That was the first thing Betty told us last night when she’d returned home to my new elven-built fortress that I now called home.
When the name of the person was revealed, Lisa Jenkins, fellow Templar to Race and my best friend, let out a little gasp. That was when she filled us in on the fact that Darwin Locke, creator of this terrible weapon, was one of Race’s best friends. He had been recruited and trained by Race.
“And how do you know this?” I’d asked in my best I’m-not-at-all-suspicious voice.
“He was my first sparring partner when I started training,” Lisa had replied. “I feel like such an idiot.”
“I am sure there is a good reason,” Betty said with what might have been sarcasm or fatigue.
“About two weeks before he left for his new post to Spain, I walked in to the gym as he and Race were talking. I guess they didn’t hear me.” Lisa pinched her lower lip as she dredged up the details. “Darwin said something about Project Omega being ready for testing and wanted to know if Race was still against the idea. Race said something about how this could be seen as the human equivalent of the nuclear option and that it might solidify the entire Supernatural community against the Templar’s if the word got out.”
“At least he was against the idea of the weapon,” Morgan had said flatly after Lisa appeared to be finished.
“So was Oppenheimer,” Betty quipped.
The trees parted and up ahead in the massive clearing, my home came into view. I had not been entirely on board with the idea of this fortress being built, but I had to admit…the elves did good work.
On the surface, it looks like a regular home. Well…almost. It looks like a multi-millionaire’s regular home. It is a sprawling three-story affair. The driveway is flanked by dense woods for almost a mile before you reach the clearing. There is a massive fountain that the driveway wraps around and there are two small lanes that shoot away from the drive. One of them leads to a six-car garage and the other to a series of small cottages.
I still haven’t really seen the entire thing. Seriously, just the upper three stories contain fifteen bedrooms total. It even has circular turrets jutting from all four corners. Then you get to the nine levels below ground and it just becomes a little obscene. The best part about those lower levels is that I don’t have to worry about getting hit by sunlight.
Oh, speaking of sunlight, the elves threw in one seriously nice touch. The rooms on the lower levels have what were explained to me as enchanted windows. They look out onto beautiful scenes of nature. The extra cool part is that these are actual places in the world and the windows show those locales basically in real time. The neat part is that it can be sunny and I can stand at the window without being harmed.
Yesterday, I dropped my ‘Thank You’ card in the mail to Queen Kari. Yeah…and actual and physically tangible card that required a stamp. Remember the days when a trip to the mailbox was not just bills, coupons, local pizza joint flyers and “Have you seen me?’ cards? Very few people take the time to send little things like a card expressing thanks these days.
“We’re here,” Race announced.
“Okay, well…” I did not want us to part ways pissed at each other, but I’m pretty sure he started it. And if he didn’t, I bet I can find a way to make it seem like he did if I talk in circles long enough.
“I’ll give you a call as soon as the playoff schedule is announced and we know the date of the next game.” Race looked at me out of the corner of his eye, but he didn’t take his hands off the steering wheel or make any move like he was going to try for a goodnight kiss.
“Fine,” I huffed. It didn’t look like he was going to open my door for me…he must really be angry. I grabbed the handle and almost broke the damn thing.
“Ava?” he said as I hopped out.
A little too late for that now, fella, I thought as I slammed the door behind me and stomped for the house. I heard the crunch as the tires started rolling. That was a good sign that he was not going to get out and follow me to try and smooth this out.
I held out hope until I heard the van accelerate and head away up the long driveway. Doing my best not to actually stomp my feet, I stormed for the large double-doored entry. I was just reaching the steps that led up to it when the doors both flung open wide and a massive beast stepped forward to almost fill the opening.
“Welcome home, Ava,” Theodore the owlbear said in a rumbling voice that held a hint of unease.
Of course, that is not a new tone for the eight-foot-tall creature. For something so large and powerful, he is kind of a wimp. I guess he wasn’t treated all that great when he was living under the roof of Claude Mortier, the former Dallas Psychic.
“Thanks, Theo,” I said as I climbed the stairs.
I was almost to the top when I noted a problem. I stopped in my tracks and took a step back. My eyes drifted up and down the furred and feathered torso of the owlbear. I had to bite the inside of my check to contain myself and not make the situation any worse than it apparently was.
“I wish you would tell the goblins that the upstairs kitchen is off limits,” the big guy said, sounding a lot like Eeyore.
“Have they been watching Cutthroat Kitchen again?” I asked, not really needing an answer. There looked to be flour, egg, and something that might be peanut butter (at least I sure hoped so) matted and splattered on Theodore’s furry and feathered chest.
“May I go on record as saying that perhaps you should look into what sort of monster this Mr. Brown might be…surely he can’t really be human.” Theodore stepped aside and ushered me in.
“Nose Wart!” I called.
“Welcome home, Just Ava,” a familiar voice called from the kitchen.
A moment later, a dozen goblins filtered into the room. The little herd only got about three steps into the entry foyer when they all froze; looks of what might be fear, if goblins truly feared anything, contorted the dog-like faces.
Nose Wart looked down at the hardwood floor and the smeared tracks of whatever was probably all over Theodore and most likely my kitchen. Goopy footprints marked a clear trail back through the open arch.
“What have I said about making messes outside of the goblin warren?” I crossed my arms, jutted out my left hip and began tapping my right foot in my best impersonation of an angry mother.
“The warren is off limits to the males at the moment, Just Ava,” Nose Wart replied weakly, a large dollop of something that appeared to have the consistency of quick drying concrete hung from his nose and the wooden spoon in his hand had a gob that could no longer defy gravity as it punctuated his statement with a loud plop when it landed on the floor.
“I don’t—” My reprimand was cut off by a scream that made every head turn.
Faster than even my eyes could track, the goblins were gone. All that remained to indicate they’d been here were the tracks that went off in every direction…including up my stairs to the carpeted second floor. Somebody or bodies were in a lot of trouble…but at the moment, I had other problems.