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GUARDIAN OF THE GRIMOIRE

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Now Available in ebook
Category: Paranormal with romantic elements
Length: Novella; $1.99
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Magic, mystery and romance combine in a gothic story that sees a peaceful, small-town library turned into a supernatural battleground. In the library’s basement a dangerous book lies hidden somewhere in stacks of old crates, and librarian Jess O’Rourke is caught in the middle of a battle between a demon and the book’s mysterious guardian for possession of it...

 

 

 

Guardian of the Grimoire

Blurb: Librarian Jess O’Rourke already has her hands full with her father’s declining health and the under-staffed, under-funded library she runs. A new preacher in town waging war on her books is just an annoyance at first, but an attractive mysterious stranger warns her that there’s more behind the reverend’s campaign than she can guess. The new preacher is a human possessed by a demon and he’s searching for an old grimoire that’s part of an uncatalogued collection of books stored in the library’s basement.

Gabriel Sutton has been the guardian of the book for a long time, a very long time, he claims, since that has been his penance for crimes he committed as a soldier during the Civil War. He convinces Jess that she needs to find the grimoire and use it to return the demon to where he belongs.

Their time gets short when the reverend realizes she’s searching for the book and resorts to desperate measures to either retrieve or destroy it.

Chapter One

The gargoyle over the library’s main entrance twitched its wings and leaned down to look at her as she rushed up the steps.

Jess O’Rourke stopped and blinked at it. She shook her head, staring upward. No movement now. Of course not. It was a stone statue. It must have been a pigeon or a crow flitting around that fooled her into thinking the gargoyle had moved.

She was running late and her father’s deterioration had shown itself all too brutally that morning. Distraction had almost caused her to rear-end another car on the way there. That discombobulation surely explained the illusion. It couldn’t have been that outlandish thing watching her.

She must’ve been more rattled by the morning than she knew. Her imagination embroidered a bird fluttering around the figure into the thing itself moving. Ridiculous illusions. Just as ridiculous as putting the statue there in the first place.

Whatever had possessed the architect to include a gargoyle in the plans? It didn’t fit at all. The library building was a plain brick box with a simple porch and classic pediment above the front door. It showed no hint of gothic other than the ugly winged creature hunched over the pediment, its big ears spread wide, eyes trained on the road in front of the building, snout open to show its sharp teeth. It sat there, forever brooding on the visitors who climbed the six steps to the entrance.

The breeze swirled around her, stirring up some of the dry oak leaves on the steps. Maybe the movement was just an autumn leaf drifting down over the figure. She shook her head again and hurried inside.

The chaos of the day continued here. Lisa, her part-time assistant, managed the library by herself three mornings a week while Jess cared for her Alzheimers-afflicted father. The woman all but pounced on her as she entered, making Jess stop at the desk before she could even get to the office in the back to hang up her jacket and lock her purse away.

“Jess! Glad you’re here. More trouble this morning. This was tacked to the door when I got here.” Lisa jumped up from behind the checkout desk, then went back to reach under it and bring out a piece of letter-sized white paper.

Jess turned it around, read it, and realized she and Lisa should both have been more careful about how they handled the sheet. Could the cops still get fingerprints after they’d both touched it? Would they even bother? Crude hand lettering covered the page, writing so large that only a couple of sentences would fit.

Jess read it aloud. “Ungodly books are a curse on the entire town. ‘If thy hand offend thee, cut it off.’”

She slapped the paper back down on the desk. “Ignorant assholes are the real curse on this town. I’ll bet it’s the same people who’ve been writing the letters to the editor about our fantasy books and some of the biology texts.”

“It sounds kind of threatening,” Lisa said. “That bit about cutting a hand off.”

“It’s from the Bible,” Jess answered. “Makes me wonder…What do you know about that strange group that’s been meeting at the old Presbyterian church on Winwood?”

“Some of my neighbors have gone there. Doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, though. All that fire and brimstone stuff.” Lisa shuddered. “You think it’s them? Could be, I suppose. Weren’t they the ones that held the rally on the square? Where that Reverend what’s-his-name gave the speech about evil books and the sins of the world? Their God doesn’t sound like someone I’d really like to meet. I mean I know God is supposed to be great and awesome and all that, but theirs sounds like he’s also mean and spiteful and no fun at all.”

Jess grinned despite her worry. “I don’t know that he’s supposed to be fun, but he is supposed to be good. The God I grew up with seemed like he was more concerned with the big bad stuff—the major sins, like people killing and torturing and stealing from others, rather than people reading things that might make them think.”

“Yeah, that too,” Lisa agreed. “Should we call the sheriff?”

“He ought to know about this, even if it’s nothing but bluster. The preacher that started that group at the old Presbyterian church has been bringing people in to check out books the last few weeks. They seem to be going for the fantasy novels and the science texts. And they don’t seem in any hurry to return them. That’s bad enough, but this is almost like a direct threat. I’ll give him a buzz.”

The person who answered the phone at the sheriff’s office didn’t seem overly concerned when he heard there was no immediate danger, but he promised to send a deputy to look into it. The official didn’t get there until almost four, long after Lisa had left for the day, so Jess could only relate what she’d been told about the note being tacked to the door when Lisa arrived that morning. The deputy did her the courtesy of taking it seriously--or at least acting like he did, but he added that there was little they could do since it contained no overt, specific threat. He did suggest she keep it somewhere safe and to let them know should they have more incidents.

As usual on weekday afternoons, there were only a few people in the place, giving her a chance to catch up on shelving and paperwork between the occasional checkout or inquiry about the latest best-seller.

Jess considered bringing up a couple more of the boxes in the basement. They really needed to get those sorted and catalogued before the books all moldered into dust. In that surprise, uncatalogued legacy, she’d already turned up a few rare first editions, and she still had dozens of unopened cartons to sort through. Of course those first-edition gems were the needles in the haystack of hundreds of ruined or schlocky books crumbling into a blizzard of paper flakes. The thrill of the hunt just barely outweighed the bother of dust and dirt.

Given the vague threat from earlier, she didn’t want to leave the place unguarded long enough to go down to the basement to get the boxes. And it was such a messy business, it was better left for the odd hour outside the library’s open times, anyway, or at least when Lisa was around.

The evenings tended to draw more visitors. Since Lisa had specified she only wanted to work early in the day while her daughter was in school, Jess had gladly accepted the help of a teenaged volunteer from a program sponsored by the local high school.

This year she had Carrie, a definite winner. Not only was the girl bright and responsible, she enjoyed the job and was fun to have around.

That evening, as Jess returned from her dinner break, Carrie looked up from the computer at the main desk and said, “Your boyfriend just came in.”

Jess turned to where the man sat in the corner.

“Boyfriend” was Carrie’s teasing nickname for him. The man was a complete stranger. She knew absolutely nothing about him except that he’d started showing up regularly each evening a few weeks ago. He always sat quietly in the same corner, reading and occasionally glancing up at her. And every night he left on his own just before closing time. So far, he hadn’t attempted to check out a book or say more than “hello” and “good night” to her.

At first she thought him just a lonely newcomer to town, but he made no attempt to connect, or even communicate, with anyone else either. She’d also considered the possibility he was a homeless drifter, but his clean clothes and decent grooming suggested otherwise.

As usual, he held a book open in front of him, but he looked up frequently to stare at her in a way that suggested both hunger and sadness. He had dark hair streaked with silver, though his otherwise youthful features said he couldn’t be more than thirty. His gray eyes seemed permanently lost in shadows. Not quite handsome. The face was too angular, drawn too tight for that, but it was compelling, nonetheless. His demeanor was tense, wary, constantly on alert.

A man haunted by unfinished business. She wanted to laugh at herself. Where had that come from? Jess turned back to the desk, but Carrie gave her a cheeky grin and added another possibility to her endless series of speculations about the mysterious visitor. “Maybe you accidentally picked up something that has super-secret information and he was sent by the CIA to retrieve it.”

Given how mysterious and compelling the stranger was, they had fun trading outrageous fantasies. They both recognized him as wildly out of place here. His air of constant wariness and his tall, lean, muscular build made him the sort of man you’d expect to find hanging out in a gym or a sports bar or club—not in a small-town library.

Jess nodded to Carrie. “I think it’s time to learn a bit more about our mystery man.” It was past time they moved from nods, tight smiles and the occasional greeting to actually saying more than a few words to each other. She wanted to know his name and why he spent every evening here. Did he have any connection to the threatening message tacked to the door this morning? Why did he spend so much time watching her? He didn’t seem the kind to crush on a small-town librarian.

She summoned a smile to cover a flutter of nerves as she approached him, but she wasn’t prepared for the expressions that flashed on his face. Alarm followed a spark of delighted pleasure, fading into wariness as she got closer.

Then a commotion behind her caught his attention and his gaze swung to her left and his eyes focused beyond her. The alarm on his face changed to a combination of dread and anger. Jess turned around to look. Unease stirred in her and not just the contagion of the man’s reaction. Other than the visits from the nursing homes and retirement communities, five adults rarely came in at the same time, clearly together. Worse yet, one of them was the Reverend Damon Ryder, the man who’d probably left the sign on the door that morning.


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