CARVED IN STONE
Six year old Rachel Vandermere didn’t believe in monsters—until she saw one kill her parents. Now all grown up and an INTERPOL investigator, Rachel has quietly amassed an impressive collection of evidence to support the existence of preternatural creatures. But she dares not go public with her beliefs until she can produce a living, breathing abnormal being to show the world—which she is certain she can do if only she can convince the enigmatic Nathan Cross to help her.
Disavowed from the Chicago congregation of Gargoyles, Nathan has given up life as a guardian of mankind for a quieter, more human existence. But when Rachel shows up at his door spouting her crazy theories about monsters, he is thrust into the role of protector once again. For Rachel’s theories aren’t as crazy as some people might think, and her diligent pursuit of the truth might just get them both killed if the wrong people find out what she knows.
With an ancient evil force gathering on the horizon to destroy them, Rachel and Nathan must both come to terms with the secrets of their pasts before it’s too late for them to save their future…together.
Read an excerpt from CARVED IN STONE
Rachel Vandermere clutched Mr. Mott, the pink rabbit who’d been missing one ear ever since her boo-boo with Mommy’s sewing scissors last year, to her chest. Her toes curled off the smooth, wood floor as she danced on the balls of her feet. The ruffle of her sleeveless nightgown bounced around her knees, and she hiked it up in one fist. It was a hot night. The smell of the rain Daddy said was coming and the rosemary bush Mommy had planted outside fluttered through her window on a breeze as sticky and sweet as cotton candy.
Daddy closed the door to her closet, having verified it as messy, but monster free, and knelt by her bed to inspect the dark space beneath.
Rachel giggled. She didn’t really believe in monsters, but bedtime was the only time she got Daddy all to herself since her little brother Levi was born, and she wasn’t ready to give him back yet.
She might give Levi back, though, if they would let her.
Daddy lifted the pink bed skirt and bent his head. “No monsters here, either.” He stood, pulled back the pink bedspread and patted the pink pillowcase. At six years old, Rachel was definitely into pink. She had a pink bicycle and pink roller skates. But she didn’t want to go to bed yet, even if it was in a pink bed.
Instead of climbing under the covers, she jumped up in the air and landed in a fighting crouch. Feet spread, knees bent and both arms outstretched, Mr. Mott dangling from her grip on his one remaining ear, she pointed an accusing finger at the foot of her bed. “The toy box!”
Daddy gave her a look, but opened the lid and squinted inside anyway. Rachel chewed her lip and glanced around, wondering where else monsters might hide. If there was such a thing as monsters, which there wasn’t. Unless…
“Daddy, can monsters be invisible?”
“Invisible? No honey-bug, there’s no such thing as invisible–”
His eyes went suddenly wide. He swatted at the air, ducked and swatted again. “Hey! Stop that!” He swung at nothing, fell against the bed and staggered toward her, yelling. “No! Ahhhhhhhhhhh, no!”
Rachel’s eyes stretched open until she thought they would pop out of her head. She tried to scream, but her throat stuck closed. She tried to run, but her feet froze to the floor. Daddy twirled, tripped toward her. He picked her up by her stiff arms, his face still all twisty, and–
–he tickled her.
Laughing, he dumped her on the bed and pulled the covers up to her chin.
Her throat opened. She gasped in a humongous breath and socked him in the arm. “Daddy!”
Daddy threw his head back and howled. “Listen up all you monsters, invisible and otherwise. I am the biggest, baddest and only monster allowed in this house. All lesser creatures are hereby banished forthwith!”
Rachel wasn’t sure what that last part meant, but she hoped the monsters listened.
Not that there was any such thing as monsters.
Yawning, she snuggled down in the puddle of cool sheets. Daddy tucked Mr. Mott next to her and planted a sputtery kiss on her forehead before he left. At the door, he paused and flicked off the light. “Sweet dreams.”
“Don’t forget to leave it open a crack.” Rachel wasn’t afraid of monsters, but she was afraid of the dark. She didn’t have to worry, though. Daddy never forgot to leave her door open a couple of inches so the hall light could get in.
Which is why, when she woke up hours later, yawned, dug a fist in one eye and peeled back the other eyelid to find there was no reassuring glow coming from the hall, her chest turned cold and tingly and a whimper pushed up her throat.
Thunder rumbled overhead–just clouds bumping together, Daddy had told her once, but the wind was moaning tonight, too. Trees scraped against the house like bony fingers. The storm and the darkness pressed down on her. She wanted to cry out for Mommy and Daddy, but she wasn’t a baby anymore. She wasn’t the baby anymore. They had Levi now, and he did enough crying for both of them. Besides, her throat had closed up again. Dark air was harder to breathe. She could hardly make a squeak, much less yell.
A beam of light slashed across her ceiling from outside, and she heard people out there, their voices as angry-sounding as the storm.
In the hall, Mommy and Daddy shouted in loud whispers. “We have to get out.”
“It’s too late.”
Footsteps pounded toward her bedroom. Rachel pulled the covers up and squeezed Mr. Mott so tight she’d have strangled him if he’d been a real bunny. Her door flung open and a dark shape loomed over her, snatched her from warm covers into damp air. She shivered, gasped, then smelled a familiar spicy smell and relaxed in the strong arms.
“Daddy–” She reached for Mister Mott as Daddy pulled her against him, but the rabbit fell. The toe of Daddy’s boot kicked him under the bed.
“Hush, baby,” he said.
She bounced sleepily in his arms as he jogged through the house. In the living room, candlelight flickered on the walls.
She thought he was taking her to bed with him and Mommy ‘cuz the ‘lectricity was out, and she smiled, ‘cuz she didn’t get to sleep with them much since Levi was born, but then Daddy stopped next to the little door under the stairs, almost invisible in the paneling. It was their secret place, the spot where they hid Mommy’s birthday presents.
Rachel’s smile crumbled as Daddy opened the creaky hatch and lowered her inside. She reached up to him, her lips trembling. “Daddy, no!”
“Please, baby. Do what I say.”
Mommy leaned over with Levi in her arms. She looked at Daddy once, her eyes all shiny, and handed the baby to Sophie. “Take care of your little brother. And please, please don’t make a sound. No matter what.”
Then Daddy closed the door and left her in the musty smelling cupboard.
In the dark.
Rachel gulped down her fear, trying not to cry and trying to remember how to cradle the baby. Mommy had never let her hold him without help before. She didn’t want to break him.
Outside, thunderclaps mixed with the pounding of fists on the front door. There were shouts, men’s voices, and then splintering wood. Daddy yelled for Mommy to run. Glass shattered.
Rachel wanted to scream, needed to scream, but Mommy had said to be quiet. Very quiet. Tears rolling over her eyelashes onto her cheeks, she jammed a fist into her mouth and bit down hard. The darkness in here made her ribs all sticky. She couldn’t breathe. She needed light, just a little sliver.
Squatting with the baby balanced in one arm, she leaned forward, reached for the cabinet door. Her palm slid over rough, unpainted wood. She chewed her lip, her heart doing jumping jacks in her chest. The voices she’d heard outside were inside now. Saying bad things. Scary things.
But the dark in here was scary, too. Hand shaking, she pushed on the wood. The door opened an inch and candlelight slithered in. Shadows oozed like puddles of oil across the slice of dining room wall she could see. There were three figures, her momma’s shorter shape and two bigger ones, one of them she thought was her daddy.
“Get out of my house!” he yelled.
There were lots of voices in the background, murmuring and hissing like snakes, but she could only make out the words from one. “…don’t belong here.”
The shadow she didn’t know raised an arm, pointed something at her daddy’s shadow. Daddy’s shadow jumped toward him. They mushed together into one bigger blob and crashed to the floor.
Mommy screamed. “No! Please–”
A big bang, like a firecracker, made Sophie’s shoulders jerk. Mommy’s shadow fell down.
For a moment all was quiet. Levi snuffled in Rachel’s arms and she rocked him and waited for Mommy to get up and tell her it was okay, the bad shadow was gone, that it had all been a dream. But it wasn’t a dream, because she didn’t wake up.
Something screeched like a cat that got its tail caught in the door, only louder. A new shadow rose up. The dark figure was shaped like a man but huger than anyone she knew. The watery candlelight made it look like horns sprouted from each side of his head, and his fingers grew longer and longer until they looked like big claws. When he lifted his shadow arms, they weren’t arms at all, but wings.
Rachel’s heart tripped. She wanted to shut her eyes, but she couldn’t. All she could do was squat in her hidey-hole and shake as the monster shadow rose until it’s feet–claws–no longer touched the floor, and then flew through the air with the slow whump, whump, whump of heavy wings.
Someone Rachel couldn’t see screamed. Others cursed, grunted. Footsteps scuffled across the wooden floor. Something heavy, like a piece of furniture, fell over. For a moment the light in the cupboard dimmed, then she heard a whoosh, and the room got brighter again. Rachel smelled smoke–not the waxy smell of a candle, but the bitter burn of a real fire.
Lightning flashed through the room, and that’s when Rachel saw it–not the monster’s shadow, but the real thing.
She stopped breathing. Her heart stopped beating. She didn’t want to look at it, look into its shiny black eyes, but she couldn’t look away. A forked tongue flicked from its pointy beak. Blood matted the gray tips of its wings, dripped from its claws as it swooped past her hiding place, knocking the cupboard door shut with its scaly, three-toed claw.
She crashed against the far wall of the cabinet, crammed herself into the darkest, tiniest corner. Eyes squeezed shut, ears ringing with the echoes of people wailing and more firecrackers popping, she clutched Levi against her chest and recited the only prayer she knew, her lips moving but unable to make any sound come out.
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake…