Read Ghostland Online

Authors: Jory Strong

Tags: #Man-woman relationships, #Fantasy fiction, #Paranormal, #Fiction, #Romance, #Fantasy, #Erotic fiction, #Revenge, #Erotica, #Demonology

Ghostland

Table of Contents
Aisling wrapped her arms around Zurael’s waist . . .
It had to be wrong to lust for a demon. But she couldn’t seem to stop herself from wanting him, from yielding a little bit more of herself each time he touched her. “We need to leave,” she whispered, almost grateful to be going somewhere where she wouldn’t be alone with him.
His hand left her neck and swept down her spine. She moaned softly as he ground himself against her. He made her ache in a way she’d never ached before. He made her fantasize about things that shouldn’t be allowed to happen. . . .
She turned her head and kissed his neck.
“Aisling,” he said, and the sound made her swell and part in readiness for him. Her hands moved up his sides and around to find his nipples. They were hard points against her palms. She rubbed over them, and thrilled at the way he panted lightly and cupped her buttocks so he could pull her more tightly against him.
“Tell me, Aisling. Can I pass for human?” There was a dark amusement in his voice that made her shiver. . . .
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
 
This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
 
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
 
Copyright © 2009 by Valerie Christenson.
 
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SENSATION and the “B” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
 
PRINTING HISTORY
Berkley Sensation trade paperback edition / April 2009
 
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Strong, Jory.
Ghostland / Jory Strong.—Berkley sensation trade pbk. ed. p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-101-02976-3
I. Title.
 
PS3619. T777G56 2009
813’.6—dc22
2008046956
 
 

http://us.penguingroup.com

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Without others, the dream
Ghostland
represents would never have been realized. Thanks to my parents, Neal and Joy Howard, and my husband, Paul, for their unfailing support and encouragement on the long, often-painful road from unpublished author to published one. Thanks to my agent, Ethan Ellenberg, for finding just the right home for
Ghostland
. Thanks to Cindy Hwang, for falling in love with the project and being enthusiastic about a sometimes-grim, post-apocalyptic world. And thanks to Sue-Ellen Gower, who has helped me and challenged me to become a better writer with each story I’ve crafted.
One
FEAR rolled through the San Joaquin farmland with the rumble of a heavy truck. Children were called in from their chores and women abandoned their laundry without putting it on the lines. Heavy doors and barred windows were closed and locked as prayers were said to whatever gods might still linger in a world altered forever by war-born plague.
A cold knot of dread formed in Aisling McConaughey’s stomach as she ran toward the farmhouse. Beyond it she could see some of the others slip into the barn, but she was too far away to make it there and into the well-concealed safe room.
The front door opened. Aisling hurried past Geneva, the woman whose doorstep she’d been left on as an infant.
She raced down the hallway and slipped into the storage closet, then into the small hiding space between it and the kitchen pantry. Her throat closed with dismay when she saw she wasn’t the only one who hadn’t made it to the barn. One of her youngest sisters sat with her knees hugged to her chest, her eyes dark with fear.
Aisling scooped the girl up in her arms and claimed the spot on the floor. “It’ll be okay,” she whispered as she hugged the child. “They’re probably driving through to make sure the orchards are being taken care of properly. Maybe they’re bringing workers. You know the new mayor doesn’t let people stay in the city if they can’t earn their keep.”
The floor in the safe room vibrated as the heavy truck drew closer. Since The Last War and the plague that ended it, only the rich or those on government business had been allowed access to fuel for their vehicles.
Thin arms tightened around Aisling’s neck. “What if they want one of us?”
“It hasn’t happened yet,” Aisling whispered, wanting to soothe her sister’s fears with a lie, but giving her the truth instead.
After war and plague killed so much of Earth’s population, the supernaturals had emerged from hiding. In the decades since, territories had been carved out. Stockton and the surrounding farmlands were controlled by humans who feared vampires and shapeshifters as well as anyone gifted with supernatural abilities.
The screech of brakes sent a fresh wave of fear rushing through Aisling. The pounding on the door, coupled by a man’s voice demanding entry, made her breath grow short.
Shuffling footsteps marked Geneva’s slow progress toward compliance. Others, orphans without abilities to mark them as different, scrambled and rustled as they took up positions around the house so everything appeared normal.
“Come in,” Geneva said, though the tread of boots telegraphed that their unwelcome visitors were already inside.
Nausea radiated out from the tight knot in Aisling’s stomach as the house was searched. She closed her eyes and envisioned the room she shared with several other girls. Her chest tightened just as a voice called, “Captain. In here.”
In her mind’s eye she followed the heavy footsteps into her bedroom and over to the dresser where the unfinished amulet rested.
The captain’s next words sent ice sliding down her spine. “Where’s the shamaness?”
Aisling knew then that they’d come for her. The amulet could belong to a witch or an artist. Many of the non-gifted humans hedged their bets by buying talismans and fetishes for protection. But for the guardsmen, the fox carved in abalone was confirmation of what they were looking for.
She hugged her sister again, before extricating herself and moving to the small door that led to a closet seemingly packed with stored clothing. In the room above them the guardsman asked again, “Where’s the shamaness, old woman?”
Aisling expected to hear the telltale click of a bullet being chambered or the sound of physical violence. For the rich and well connected, life was much different; freedom and equality were something they took for granted. But for the poor, especially those who didn’t own the land they worked, civil rights were something to be found in history books and dreams.
She eased the hidden door open. Some of the tightness left her chest when she encountered nothing but darkness. There’d been only a cursory opening and closing of the closet door when the guardsmen searched the house. She suspected their actions were done for show, to intimidate rather than with the expectation of finding someone.
In the hallway a different voice said, “Ms. McConaughey, we don’t want to harm you or any of those in your care. The Church is aware of your good work. Unfortunately, more is at stake here than a woman and her family of orphans. I have been directed to find a shamaness and take her to the Oakland diocese. My search has led me here, to your home. It would be best for everyone concerned if you cooperated.”
Aisling closed the hidden door. She took a deep, steadying breath before slipping through the long raincoats and blankets hung to cover the entrance to the hiding place. Her fingers smoothed over the small leather fetish pouch she wore underneath her shirt. There was no choice but to surrender herself.
The guardsmen could kill everyone here and claim they were eradicating disease or defending themselves. As long as the orchards and gardens and livestock weren’t destroyed, there would be no protest, no outrage.
She stepped out into the hallway and climbed the stairs of the old wooden farmhouse. When she reached the top, the dark-robed figure of the priest turned. Their eyes met. His flashed with satisfaction and perhaps a hint of relief.
He stepped forward, his body language conveying friendliness. She allowed her hand to be engulfed by his.
Her palms were rough, her fingers callused against the baby-softness of the priest’s. Aisling forced herself to relax, to pretend she accepted his overture and didn’t view him with suspicion.
“Your name?” the priest asked.
“Aisling.”
“Come,” the priest said. “Gather what’s necessary. Your services are needed.”
“I’ll be able to return?”
There was just the barest flicker of hesitation before he said, “Of course, but I don’t know when. Clothing and food will be provided. There’s no need to pack either of those.”
Fear tried to claw its way out of Aisling’s throat. Panic filled her at the idea of being without her larger fetishes, the ones that remained in the barn safe room except for those times when she traveled deep into the ghostlands and required them for protection.
She couldn’t retrieve them, not with the police and the priest here. “I’m ready,” she said, unable to keep the shakiness from her voice.
The priest frowned. Creased eyebrows telegraphed his worry. A small flower of hope blossomed in Aisling’s chest. He was knowledgeable. Perhaps her lack of stronger protections would make her appear weak to him, unsuitable for whatever task had led him to her.
“You’ve got everything you need?” he asked. His eyes went to her neck and wrists, to the flat pockets of her working pants and the thin belt that was free of amulets and fetishes.
“I’ve had no formal training as a shamaness,” Aisling said.
It was the truth. What she knew, she had learned on her own or from the spirit guides who aided her.
For the wealthy, or for those living in communities where supernatural gifts were embraced, there were apprenticeships to be had and formal education available. She hadn’t benefited from either.

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