In Molly Harper's witty new paranormal romance, a rare-book expert is delivering a package to Half-Moon Hollow when her plane goes down, and a sexy vampire comes to her rescue. He's clearly got ulterior motives, but does he want to date her...or devour her? Delivering a rare book to a valued customer is definitely part of mild-mannered archivist Anna Whitfield's job description. You know what isn't? Protecting her precious cargo from midflight theft by the very pilot who is flying her to Half-Moon Hollow...while trying to appear as unappetizing as possible to the only other passenger, a vampire. Undead bookstore owner Jane Jameson could be waiting a very long time for her book. Possibly forever. Fortunately, Anna's dashing fanged companion, Finn Palmeroy, helps her fend off the attack but not before their plane crash-lands in the forest hundreds of miles from civilization. Great, now she's stranded with a priceless tome and a rakish vampire whose bedtime is fast approaching. Why does everyone want this book so badly, anyway? Anna just wants to get it to Jane before Finn decides to turn her into dinner - or sweep her off her feet. Okay, the second option is really tempting. But they're not out of the woods yet....
Publisher: Pocket Books
Print pages: 304
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Where the Wild Things Bite
Before you find yourself stranded in the woods with a cranky apex predator, ask yourself: Do I really want to go on a camping trip with a vampire? The answer is probably going to be no.
—Where the Wild Things Bite: A Survival Guide for Camping with the Undead
An evil transportation-hating monster had devoured my plane. And in its place, the monster had left a little, bite-size plane crumb behind.
I stood on the tarmac of the Louisville airport, staring in horror at the plane crumb as my purse, a brown leather tote bag, dangled from my fingers. This was not a momentous beginning to my trip to Half-Moon Hollow.
Despite the fact that I could see crowds of people milling around the airport through the windows, I felt oddly alone, vulnerable. A handful of planes were parked at nearby gates, but there were no luggage handlers, no flight staff. I’d never boarded from the tarmac before, and the short, rickety mobile staircase being pushed up against the side of the plane like a ladder used for gutter cleaning didn’t make me feel more confident in the climb.
When I’d booked my flight to westernmost Kentucky, I knew small planes were the only models capable of flying into Half-Moon Hollow’s one-gate airport. But I’d thought the plane would seat at least thirty people. The vessel in front of me would maybe hold a baker’s dozen, if someone sat on the pilot’s lap. There were only four windows besides the windshield, for God’s sake.
“This is the right plane, in case you’re wondering,” said a gruff voice, which was accompanied by a considerable whiff of wet tobacco.
I turned to find a florid, heavyset man in a pilot’s uniform standing behind me. His healthy head of wavy black hair was counterbalanced by a pitted, sallow complexion and undereye bags so heavy they should have been stored on the nearby luggage cart. A lifetime of drinking had thickened his features and left a network of tiny broken capillaries across his broad nose. Given the sweat stains on his uniform, I might have doubted his current sobriety, but I supposed it took considerable motor control to keep that large unlit cigar clamped between his teeth. His name tag read “Ernie.”
“That is not a plane,” I told Ernie. “That is what happens when planes have babies with go-karts.”
Snorting, he pushed past me toward the plane. The olfactory combination of old sweat and wet cigar made me take a step back from him. I was starting to suspect his pilot’s license might have been written in crayon.
“Well, if you don’t want to fly, there’s always a rental car,” the pilot snarked, climbing the stairs into the plane. “It’s about a four-hour drive, until you hit the gravel roads. You might make it before noon tomorrow.”
I frowned at Ernie the pilot’s broad back. If there was anything I hated more than flying, it was driving on unfamiliar, treacherous roads alone at night. Besides, there were too many things that could happen to the package between here and the Hollow. I could spill coffee on it while trying to stay awake. It could be stolen while I was stopped at a gas station. A window malfunction could result in the package being sucked out of the car on the highway. I needed to get it back to Jane as soon as humanly (or vampire-ly) possible. So driving was a nonstarter.
I gritted my teeth and breathed deeply through my nose, watching the way the sickly fluorescent outdoor lights played on the dimpled metal of the wings. The tiny, tiny wings.
The pilot stuck his head out of the plane door. “Plane’s not gonna get any bigger,” he growled at me around the cigar.
“Good point,” I muttered as I took the metal stairs. One-in-nine-million chance of dying in a commercial plane crash. One-in-nine-million chance. There had to be at least nine million and one other people flying commercial right now. One of them had to have worse luck than me . . . they were probably on a bigger plane, though.
Even though my cargo was completely legal, I still felt the need to look over my shoulder in an extremely obvious manner as I boarded. My superspy skills were supremely lacking. The looks that security gave me as I visibly twitched while sending my bag through the X-ray machine were bad enough. But I’d never hand-delivered an item to a customer before, especially an item of such high value. My bonding and insurance couldn’t possibly cover something that was considered priceless to the supernatural community at large. I just wanted to get it out of my hands and into those of my employer, Jane Jameson-Nightengale, as quickly as possible.
Despite my fervent wish that the plane was secretly a TARDIS, it was not, in fact, bigger on the inside. And except for Ernie the pilot, it was completely empty. This was, after all, the last flight from Louisville to the Hollow for the night, which made it a risky proposition, layover-wise. From what Jane had told me, most Hollow residents didn’t want to risk being stuck overnight in Louisville, so they planned their connections for earlier in the day. But a client meeting had kept me in Atlanta until the last minute, so I’d booked a late flight. It worked better for me to land late anyway, since Jane, an oddly informal vampire who insisted that our relationship be on a first-name basis, would be meeting me at the airport. Pre-sundown pickup times didn’t work for her.
Though minuscule, the interior of the plane was comfortable enough, with its oatmeal-colored plastic walls, the smell of recently applied disinfectant, and its closely arranged seats. Though I clearly had my choice of spots, I took the time to find my assigned berth in the second row. I declined putting my tote bag in the tiny storage compartment at the front of the plane. Despite being the only passenger, I was uncomfortable with the idea of not being able to see my bag at all times. I turned, checking the distance from my seat to the door-slash-emergency exit. Studies showed that passengers were five times more likely to survive a crash if they sat within five rows of the emergency exits.
Unfortunately, this seat also put me directly under a vent for the air system, also known as the “dispenser of aerated bacteria.”
Even as I pulled an herbal immune-support chewable out of my bag, I knew I was being silly. The flight would only be an hour long. What were the chances of the plane crashing when it was only in the air for sixty minutes? And surely I wouldn’t have enough time to contract anything from Ernie’s tobacco-stained germs?
As if he could hear my thoughts, Ernie let loose a phlegmy, rattling cough that seemed to shake the windows. Slowly, I reached up and twisted the vent closed.
Besides, who knew what sort of antibiotic-resistant superbugs previous passengers had sneezed into the ventilation system on earlier flights? I didn’t care what the airline said about its amazing HEPA filters, I pulled the neck of my cardigan over my nose and pulled a pack of TSA-approved hand-sanitizing wipes from my bag. I swabbed down my armrests, the window, and—checking to make sure Ernie wasn’t watching—the vent cover.
And for some reason, while I was wiping down the safety-procedure card with a fresh towelette, the cruel, ironic bits of my brain were running through the list of famous people who had died in small-plane crashes. Ritchie Valens, John Denver, Aaliyah.
I flopped my head back against the seat, jamming my hair clip into my scalp. I was too tired for this. I’d spent almost two hours in Atlanta traffic just to get to the airport in time for this flight. I’d braved lengthy, draconian security checks. I missed my cozy little restored home in Dahlonega. I missed my home office and my thinking couch and my shelves of carefully preserved first-edition books. I promised myself that when I survived this trip, I would reward myself by retreating to my apartment for a week and bingeing on delivered Thai food and Netflix.
I curled forward and rested my head on my hands. My stomach churned, and my head felt all light and swirly. I was too tired to be this nervous. I’d taken my antianxiety meds in the ladies’ room in the airport, timing them carefully so I wouldn’t climb the walls of the plane from the moment it took off. Why weren’t they kicking in?
I heard footsteps on the metal ladder but did not raise my head. Whoever it was moved down the aisle and slide into the seat across from me.
Damn it, did that mean I wasn’t the only passenger on this flight? I was going to have to take another immunity booster. I thunked my forehead against the folding tray table. And then I remembered that University of Arizona study that found that up to sixty percent of the tray tables from the major airliners tested positive for MRSA. So I sat up. Surely headrest parasites were a better option than flesh-eating bacteria.
I didn’t move. Maybe if I didn’t move, he would think I was asleep and leave me alone. Was it beneath me to use possum tactics to avoid politely strained conversation?
“Hello in there?”
Augh. No. The new passenger was a talker, an insistent talker.
I was not one of those “we’re in this together for the next few hours, so we might as well be polite” passengers. I did not make polite small talk. I didn’t talk about what I did for a living or compare my “worst flight ever” experiences with my seatmate. And I definitely didn’t “share a cab” to my hotel with a near stranger, no matter how nice he was during beverage service. People who did that ended up on Dateline.
“Fear of flying?”
I ceased my forehead abuse long enough to look up at him. The other passenger smiled and quirked his eyebrows, the sort of gesture most people appreciated in a fellow traveler.
Oh, the new passenger was handsome, in that polished, self-aware manner that made women either melt in their seats or shrink into themselves in immediate distrust. Unfortunately for him, I fell into the second category.
I did not dissolve at the sight of his high cheekbones. I didn’t coo over his luminous brown eyes or the dark goatee that defined his wide, sensual mouth. The collar of his blue V-necked T-shirt showed a downright lickable collarbone and the beginnings of well-defined pectoral muscles. I did not liquefy. In fact, my initial reaction was to trust him even less than I trusted Ernie.
OK, fine, I did feel these strange little bubbles rise up through my belly, like effervescent butterflies. But most of those butterflies were swatted down by the heavy hand of common sense.
So I might have been a bit more snappish than polite when I responded, “No, fear of awkward conversations before crashing.”
But my curt tone only seemed to make him grin, as if my irritation was amusing. It was a sincere grin, without an ounce of condescension, which made him even more handsome. Some tiny nerve inside me twinged, a counterintuitive flicker in my otherwise steady flow of neuroses. That little nerve made me wish, just for once, that I was the kind of woman who could start a conversation with a handsome stranger, approach some new experience—hell, try a new brand of detergent—without analyzing all of the possible ways it could go wrong.
While my mother had made it clear on more than one occasion that I was not “conventionally pretty,” I knew I wasn’t completely unfortunate-looking. My DNA had provided me with my father’s fine-boned features and my mother’s wide, full lips, though mine weren’t twisted into unhappy lines as often as hers. My eyes were large, the amber color of old whiskey, with an undeserved mischievous tilt. Altogether, my slightly mismatched features made for a pleasant face. And yet men like this, completely at ease with themselves, sent my dented ego into a spiraling tizzy whenever they came near. In other words, my counterintuitive nerve flicker was an idiot and needed to stay quiet.
The handsome new passenger’s smooth tones derailed my train of thought yet again. “It’s too bad the ride is so short. They don’t even have beverage service on this flight. You might have been able to take the edge off.”
“I’m not much of a drinker,” I told him, giving him a quick, jerky smile that felt like a cheek tremor. I nodded my head toward the back of the plane. “Besides, where would they put the beverage cart?”
“Oh, well, maybe I’ll be able to distract you,” he offered, the corner of his mouth lifting again.
The intimate way he said it, the way he was smiling at me, eyes lingering on my jeans-clad legs, sent a little shiver down my spine, despite the simultaneous warning Klaxons sounding in my head. I pulled my book out of my bag and placed it on the seat next to me, like a shield. It was a tactic I’d used before on the rare occasions when I used public transportation. People were far less likely to ask, “Hey, is that book any good?” when it was intimidating classic literature the size of a brick. And those who did interrupt to ask about the brick-sized book were put off by a prolonged bitch brow.
“And how are you going to do that?” I asked him, holding up the well-worn paperback. “You’ve got some very serious competition.”
Thank you, conversational gods, for not letting the phrase “stiff competition” leave my lips.
“Oh, I’m sure I could come up with a way to entertain you.”
And his smile was so full of naughty promise that the only response I could come up with was “Guh.”
The conversational gods abandoned me more quickly than I had hoped.
I blushed to the tips of my ears, but he seemed amused by it, so maybe a red face was considered charming on the Planet of the Narrowly Torsoed.
Given that I was from a very different planet—the home of ladies built like lanky twelve-year-old boys—I doubted very much that our definitions of “fun” matched up. Given the flawless delivery of what was a pretty obvious pickup line, he was clearly a practiced flirt. Men generally practiced this sort of skill at parties, clubs. My idea of a good time was a movie marathon with my best friend and assistant, Rachel, featuring at least five different actors playing Sherlock Holmes and then a debate about who did the best job. That’s right. Anna Whitfield, one-woman party.
“Do you consider Dante’s Inferno a little light travel reading?”
“It’s an old favorite,” I said, without looking up at him.
“Well, you’ve successfully intimidated me, so congratulations.”
I laughed softly, but before I could answer, the door slammed behind us, and the plane started to taxi. A small overhead speaker began to play prerecorded safety instructions, and I relaxed back into the seat. I pulled the safety instruction card from the seat pocket in front of me and began reading along.
“Really?” the stranger asked. I nodded, without looking at him, checking the emergency exit door for opening instructions. It looked like a case of “Pull the big red handle upward and left while trying to contain your terror.” Excellent.
I followed along, checking the location of the oxygen masks (there weren’t any) and running lights toward the emergency exit (also, no). They really needed to increase the amount of safety equipment required on tiny planes. Or at least make safety cards specific to tiny planes so passengers didn’t realize how much safety equipment they weren’t getting.
“You have flown before, yes?” the stranger asked.
I ignored him. I would not die in a fiery plane crash because I neglected the (mostly useless) safety card for a pair of beautiful semisweet-chocolate eyes.
The recorded voice ended the safety presentation. I tucked the card away in the seat pouch in front of me, tightened my seatbelt, and clenched my eyes shut while the plane struggled to lift off from the runway. On the third midair dip, I pressed my head back against the seat, as if holding a rigid posture would somehow get the plane in the air safely.
The first three minutes after takeoff and before landing were the most prone to mishaps. For 180 seconds, I prayed the only way I knew how, visualizing the opposite of all of the horrible potential outcomes running through my head. Breathing deeply through my nose, I pictured the plane lifting off, maintaining a nice straight path through the air, and landing in Half-Moon Hollow with my purse and person intact. I was calm. I was safe. The book was in my hands, and I was presenting it to Jane Jameson-Nightengale, intact.
And when I opened my eyes, my purse was open on my lap, and my hands were swimming through the contents, searching for the package. Across the aisle, the stranger’s head was bent over a magazine. I felt faint, as if I were falling inside myself, separated from my own body as my arm started to lift. I could see myself yanking the package out of my purse, as if I were watching it happen on a movie screen.
What was I doing? I hadn’t pulled the package from my bag since getting through security. Why would I show it to this person I barely knew?
As suddenly as it began, the spell was over, and I practically sagged against my seat. My long, sweater-clad arm was still raised and my hand still stretched as I shook off the strange, dizzy sensation. I’d never felt anything like that before. Was I coming down with something? Had I had some sort of stroke? I didn’t feel tingling or numbness in my extremities. I wasn’t confused, beyond wondering what the hell had just happened to me. Maybe it was an inner-ear problem? Or maybe the veggie wrap I’d eaten at the airport sandwich shop was contaminated? I should have known better than to trust airport cuisine. I probably had some sort of dirt-borne E. coli from unwashed lettuce.
I glanced across the aisle to the stranger, still poring through his magazine, completely unaware of my inner turmoil. I sighed. I was a very special sort of weird. I turned my attention back to my book. While the takeoff was fairly smooth, the rocking of the plane and the dark, quiet space actually made me a little dizzy again, and I wondered if I really was coming down with some strain of bacteria that affected the inner ear. Stupid airport lettuce.
With the stranger distracted by magazine articles about abdominal workouts that would change his life, I traveled through Dante’s rings of hell with the aid of the weak overhead light. After twenty minutes or so, I got tired of the weird, dizzy sensation intermittently flashing through my head and set my book aside.
“Not quite the beach-read romp you were promised?” the stranger asked.
I looked up to find him staring at me again, intently, on the edge of attempted smoldering. And when I didn’t respond, he tipped over that edge into full smolder, and I scooted back in my seat. He seemed surprised by this and leaned forward. Maybe he thought I didn’t have a close enough view of his cheekbones? Was this the sort of thing that normally got him a response from women? Was he one of those guys who flirted with everything that moved because he was trying to score by the laws of probability?
Forgetting every lesson my mother had ever drilled into my head about good manners and eye contact, I gave him the full-on “disapproving professor” face I’d learned as a teaching assistant.
He was not fazed.
He did, however, get distracted by a child’s truck, a toy left over from a previous flight, rolling down the aisle toward the cockpit. (And, coincidentally, that didn’t make me feel much better about the cleanliness of the plane.) Wait, toward the cockpit? The plane’s nose seemed to be tipping downward. I checked my watch. We were only twenty-five minutes into the flight, which was too early to be starting our descent into the Hollow. I exchanged a glance with my handsome seatmate, who was frowning. Hard.
A metallic crunching noise sounded from the front of the plane, catching our attention. After flipping a few switches and hitting some buttons, Ernie the pilot yanked what looked like an important lever from the control panel and stuck it into his shirt pocket. And then he took a heavy rubber mallet from his laptop bag and began swinging it wildly at the panel. He got up from his seat, snagging what looked like a backpack from the copilot’s chair. The stranger and I sat completely still as Ernie eyed him warily.
“What the hell are you doing?” I demanded, as Ernie the Suddenly Destructive Pilot slipped the backpack on and clipped the straps over his thick middle. Some instinct had me reaching for the strap of my tote bag, winding it around my wrist. The plane continued to descend at a smooth, steady pace. “Get back to the controls!”
“I don’t want to hurt you. The Kelleys just want the package you’re carrying. I know it’s not in your suitcase. I checked at the baggage screening,” Ernie told me, raising his hands and reaching toward my lap.
I unbuckled my seatbelt and scrambled back in my seat, jamming my back against the wall. The invasion of space had me grabbing at my bag to feel for the little canister of pepper spray I usually kept clipped to the strap. Of course, that little canister was not currently clipped in place, because that’s the sort of chemical agent the TSA frowned on bringing through security. If I lived through this, I was going to write them a long letter.
I clutched the bag to my chest like a newborn. Why was Ernie doing this? How did he know what I had in my bag? Who were the Kelleys? Hell, how did he manage to get into my suitcase? And what sort of person could bribe a pilot to commandeer a (admittedly underpopulated) commercial flight?
Another wave of dizziness hit me, full-force this time, and I had to fight to keep my mind on my mind-numbing terror. This was it. This was the worst-case scenario. The pilot was abandoning the airplane while trying to mug me. I ran through all of the transportation studies I’d read on flight safety and crisis management to try to come up with some sort of solution to this . . . and nothing. I had nothing. None of them covered purse-snatching, plane-abandoning pilots.
Shrugging off the heavy, sleepy weight that dragged at the corners of my brain, I took a deep breath. OK. I would handle this one problem at a time.
Problem one, no one was flying the plane. And Ernie—whom I was absolutely correct in not trusting, yay for me—appeared to have broken off something important from the control panel, which probably rendered the plane unflyable. So, I could draw the conclusion that Ernie was a horrible person and that he had no plans to land the plane. So I seemed to be screwed on that front.
Problem two, Ernie was trying to snatch my bag. All of the personal safety guides I’d read said you should hand your purse over if you’re being mugged. It would be easier just to hand him my bag. It isn’t worth dying for. I might as well let him have it, a soft voice that didn’t sound entirely like mine whispered inside my head. It isn’t worth dying for.
I could feel my arms lift, my hands unwinding the strap from my wrist. Suddenly, a loud, shrill warning beep sounded from the controls. I whipped my head toward it just as the plane dropped suddenly, throwing me against the seat in front of me. I hissed as Ernie bent and tried to yank the bag away, dragging my strap-ringed arm with him
I was going to die. Whether I handed the bag over or not, the plane was going to crash with me on it.
A heretofore unknown spark of anger fired in my belly. I’d been entrusted to take care of Jane Jameson-Nightengale’s package. Jane was a high-ranking member of the local World Council for the Equal Treatment of the Undead. She’d trusted me with Council business. She expected me to take care of the package for her, to deliver it safely. She was paying me a handsome sum to do so. And this pilot was trying to take it from me, to kill me for it. He’d put me in a terrifying, no-win situation to intimidate me into handing it over.
This was bullshit.
That little spark burned into a full-blown stubborn flame, and I wrapped the leather bag strap around my wrist even tighter.
I wasn’t going to give it up. I couldn’t do anything about the plane crashing, but I could keep Jane’s package from falling into clearly unscrupulous hands. As much as we both loved books, I was sure Jane would rather see it destroyed than dropped into the hands of people willing to kill for it.
Moving with more speed than would be expected in a man of his girth, Ernie yanked at my bag again. But the strap around my wrist wouldn’t give. I tugged back on it with all my might, praying that the leather would hold. All the while, the stranger sat completely still, staring at Ernie.
“Are you kidding me?” I yelped as I swung my bag back and smacked Ernie with all my strength. The bag landed broadside against his face, and the impact knocked him back a step. The plane listed, and he lost his balance, rolling into the aisle on his back.
I could not believe that worked.
Ernie pushed to his feet and pulled something from his waistband. A knife, with a strange black blade that looked like one of those expensive ceramic kitchen knives you get at Bed Bath & Beyond. This was definitely the Beyond.
“I didn’t want to have to do this,” he said, tossing the knife between his hands with the sort of ease that made me think he had some experience with blades. “I just wanted to take the bag without hurting you. But if you’re going to be a bitch about it . . .”
Cue more threatening knife gestures. Ernie advanced on me. I glanced down at the tray table and wondered if I could rip it loose and use it as a weapon. Stupid TSA regulations against sharp objects that could be used as weapons. I would kill for a pair of tweezers right now.
“Well, since I’m going down anyway, I guess I’m going to be a bitch about it,” I shot back.
Even as Ernie advanced, the stranger stared at us, motionless, that same strange cloudy quality leaching into his eyes.
“Are you going to help me at all here?” I yelled.
When the man didn’t move, even as Ernie jabbed the knife forward, I took it as a no. With the blade coming toward my face at an alarming rate, I threw the bag behind me and yanked off the cushion from a nearby seat, shoving it toward him with both hands. The cushion cover split, and the blade sliced through the upholstery between my hands, the tip stopping a scant few inches from my eye.
It worked as a flotation device and a shield.
Ernie pulled back, trying to rip the blade from the cushion, but the hilt was stuck in the fabric. I tugged it toward me, careful not to stab myself in the face, and swung the cushion up, striking Ernie’s temple with the butt of the knife handle. Clutching at his face, he stumbled back with a yelp, giving me time to wrench the knife free of the cushion.
And still, the stranger didn’t move.
“Really?” I barked at him. “You are a useless human being!”
Ernie growled like an angry junkyard dog, hunching over as if he planned to rush me. I held the knife in both hands, the tip shaking as I pointed it at him. Because nothing said “badass prepared to defend herself” like a wobbling knife sandwiched between two sweaty palms.
The plane dove and pitched, making my stomach lurch. Ernie’s gaze switched back and forth between the trembling blade and my eyes. And given the smug expression on his face, I didn’t think he saw me as a threat. He stepped forward, and I clenched my fingers around the handle.
I gritted my teeth, my voice barely audible as I whimpered. “Please, don’t make me do this.”
The stranger finally stood, growling, and I shrieked in shock at the flash of vicious-looking fangs, throwing my arms in front of my face, a stupid thing to do when holding a
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