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|Blood Forever(Blood Coven Vampire,book 8) by Mari Mancusi|
I take a step backward, horrified. I’ve seen enough episodes of The Walking Dead to know exactly what this creature must be.
Project Z. Of course.
I turn to run, but another zombie rounds the corner, cutting off my escape route. A female, from the looks of it, though far from a beauty queen. In fact, for all intents and purposes, she looks like your average seventy-five-year-old grandmother, if your seventy-five-year-old grandmother had a mouth caked with dried blood instead of dried lipstick. From the way her head lolls sideways, I’d guess her neck is broken. Not that this obvious handicap in any way slows her down. As she hobbles toward me on grimy, wrinkled bare feet, I can hear her muttering something that sounds a lot like “brains” under her breath.
My mind races as I try to remember what I used to do to stop the return of the living dead in my Vampires vs. Zombies video game, but unfortunately that usually involved a double-barreled shotgun, and I’m fresh out of those. In fact, I’m fresh out of any weapons at all. I’ll have to somehow slip past one of these beasties and pray they’re not too fast on their feet.
Zombie number one—let’s call him Charlie—takes another jerky step forward, stepping boldly into my three-foot bubble. I suck in a breath and shove him backward as hard as I can, praying he’s as unsteady on his feet as he appears to be—and that zombieism really is spread only by saliva, not skin-to-skin contact.
At first I think it’s going to work—that Charlie will fall and I’ll be able to break free. But the bastard somehow manages to right himself—he’s much more agile than the zombies in Night of the Living Dead, I must say—and keeps on coming. Behind me, zombie number two—Meredith, we’ll call her—gurgles something, then leans over to puke green slime all over my calves. Yum.
Resisting the nearly overwhelming urge to throw up myself, I instead whirl around, extending my vomit-dripping leg to kick Meredith hard in the gut. Luckily, she’s not as agile as old Charlie and she flails, falling butt first on the ground, where she writhes in fury. I can’t help but think of that old commercial.
Help, I’ve fallen but I can’t get up!
Without hesitation, I make my move, attempting to leap over Meredith and run like hell down the street, praying there are no other zombies nearby. But as I jump, Meredith grabs my leg. Seriously, for a senior citizen whose flesh is literally falling off the bone, she’s pretty damn strong, and try as I might I can’t free myself from her grasp.
Charlie takes advantage, lunging forward and grabbing me by the neck, then yanking me backward. It’s a zombie-on-zombie Rayne tug-of-war as both of them try to bring some piece of my flesh to their drooling mouths. In the end, Charlie is the winner, his rotted teeth chomping down on my shoulder, ripping the skin from my bones.
But just as I start screaming, Charlie’s head explodes. Literally. Like brains splattering all over my shirt. His hands slip from my neck and his body goes sliding to the ground. At the same time, I feel Meredith release me as well and realize her head has been separated from her body by an axe.
I look up to find my zombie savior, my jaw dropping when I realize it’s none other than Jareth himself. He drops the axe to the ground and grabs me, pulling me into a fierce embrace.
“Oh, Rayne,” he cries, covering my brain-splattered face with kisses. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“Um, you have?” I repeat dumbfounded. This is getting weirder and weirder. “Seriously? Since when?” After all, last I heard he hated my guts and wished I’d just go away. It’s then that I reach up to touch my shoulder, where the zombie bit me. To my shock and surprise, there’s no wound at all.
“Okay, this has got to be a dream,” I realize, a bit disappointed. I mean, not about the zombie-wound-disappearing part. Believe me, while I love the idea of becoming undead, I prefer the upper-class vampire variety, not the working-class monster.
But when it comes to the part where Jareth is kissing me with wild abandon? That part I really wish were for real.
“Damn. I really need to stop eating all those Fritos before bedtime…”
Jareth reaches out and wipes away a smudge of zombie brain from my cheek. “It’s not a dream,” he tells me. “Well, not exactly.”
I cock my head in question. “What do you mean?”
“Think of it more like…a vision. Or a warning, maybe. I’ve been sent here by Hades to have a talk with you.”
Uh-oh. I cringe. Here it comes. I’m guessing the Lord of the Underworld isn’t so pleased at the mess Sunny and I have managed to make our first few days back.
Jareth leads me over to a small bench that seems to have appeared out of nowhere. He sits me down beside him and finds my eyes with his own beautiful emerald ones. “You were sent here under the assumption that you would help Sunny regain a normal life, as she always wanted,” he begins. “But instead, you’ve managed to put all of mankind in danger.”
“Um, yeah,” I reply, feeling my face heat at his admonishment. “We’re actually still in the process of working all that out…”
Jareth gives me a rueful smile. “I’m sure,” he says. “Knowing you, you probably have a great big plan in mind. But all Hades can see right now is that things have gone to hell. And not in a good way, either. By allowing Lucifent to live, you’ve given him the opportunity to introduce Project Z to Pyrus.”
I glance down at the dead zombies at my feet. “Let me guess,” I say. “Project Z doesn’t stand for Zantac and the plan isn’t to relieve Pyrus’s stomach acid.”