Series: Code of Shadows , Book 1.0
By: Carolyn Crane | Other books by Carolyn Crane
Published By: Carolyn Crane
Published: Oct 30, 2012
ISBN # 9780988313101
By: Carolyn Crane | Other books by Carolyn Crane
Published By: Carolyn Crane
Published: Oct 30, 2012
ISBN # 9780988313101
Word Count: 102,000
Available in: Epub, Mobipocket (.mobi)
DescriptionThe woman of his dreams…with the secret agent of his nightmares
Alix Gordon is a woman who doesn’t take life too seriously. What’s the fun in that? So when she stumbles across occult software that can bring any computer image to life, she conjures up lots of awesome outfits and accessories. And then, on one drunken, horny night, she conjures up Sir Kendall, the sexy TV ad spy . . . who looks exactly like Paul, the hot martial arts teacher who kicked her out of class three years ago.
Fighter Paul Reinhardt has good reason to hate Sir Kendall, the character he brought to life to land a part in a TV ad; he’d do anything to forget him. A cross country road trip seems just the thing . . . until Paul finds himself inexplicably drawn to Minnesota and is shocked to discover Sir Kendall - in the flesh - with the girl he’d once loved from afar. He barges into Alix and Sir Kendall’s love nest, determined to stop the madness - somehow.
But is super spy Sir Kendall transforming into something more dangerous anyone can imagine? And what will Sir Kendall do when Paul and Alix finally give into their mad lust for each other?
Reader Rating: Not rated (0 Ratings)
Sensuality Rating: Not rated
Excerpt:When Alix Gordon returned from a tromp in the woods with her dog, Lindy, she spied a sparkling little something on her porch—a piece of jewelry. She quickened her pace up the steps.
Her bracelets jangled as she scooped it up. It was a beautiful necklace with blood-red jewels looped in lavish crisscrosses. She felt thrilled, like she’d found treasure. She turned it in the light, enjoying the weight of the cool stones draped over her fingers and how they looked glittery and soft at the same time. So beautiful…and so familiar.
She stiffened when she realized why she recognized the necklace: she’d copied the image from a website and saved it onto her computer desktop some time ago. And just yesterday, she kept clicking on it by accident, meaning to open the file next to it.
Who would leave such a thing? She didn’t have a friend for miles. Certainly not a boyfriend. Was it even for her? Of course! Who else would it be for? She lived alone in the middle of nowhere.
The piece had a certain sultry glamour, like the costume jewelry she would’ve worn back in her old life in Minneapolis. Only this wasn’t costume jewelry; it was a ninety-thousand dollar necklace. Which was why she’d settled for a jpeg image instead of the real thing.
Was somebody out there watching her? Her pulse raced. “Hello?” she called.
Tree leaves whispered. Sounds from a distant highway.
It was probably fake rubies—ninety thousand was a lot of money. But still! What kind of person left any necklace on a woman’s porch and hid? It seemed a little creepy.
A June bug droned. She patted her thigh, a signal for Lindy to come close. Lindy trotted up, panting, watching her. Lindy didn’t seem to think anyone was out there.
How would anybody even know she liked the necklace? Unless they’d gotten into her computer.
She shivered, feeling quite alone. And a little bit invaded.
Once in a while, kids would sneak through the forest to throw eggs at her house. A rite of passage left over from when her Great Aunt Veronica—a supposed witch—had owned the house.
She eyed the forest edge, pulse racing. Her impulse was to run inside and slam the door. But that’s probably what they wanted—to show they knew things about her. To scare her.
Like hell she’d give them the satisfaction.
Alix had a lot of poses and attitudes that fooled a lot of people. There was “capable Alix,” “responsible Alix,” even “brave, knowledgeable Alix.” Standing alone there on her porch, she placed her hand on her hip and took on a slouchy stance. This was “confident tough-girl” Alix.
In her most insolent tone, she yelled, “Olly-olly-oxen-free!”
She clenched the necklace in her fist. In the four months since she’d inherited the rambling old place, Alix had felt lonely and bored and even discouraged—opening a bed and breakfast required a lot more than finding cool furniture and muffin recipes. But she’d never felt frightened.
She pulled Lindy inside, locked all the doors and windows on the first floor, shut the curtains, and pulled the shotgun off the wall.
The shotgun was a rusty Russian antique that she and her best friend from Minneapolis, Karen Alderman, had found at a flea market. They’d put it up as a joke: Alix’s new country life, complete with a shotgun…for varmints and critters!
It didn’t seem all that funny now.
Who would do this? Maybe as a relative of a supposed witch, Alix was deemed a witch, too. It probably didn’t help that she had platinum-pink hair in this very rural place. Still, why leave a necklace?
She looked down at the joke of a gun in her hands. There was a knife attached to the end; a bayonet, it was called. She and Karen had made jokes about that, too—like, you know your shooting skills suck when they make you have a knife at the end of your gun. That joke didn’t seem so hilarious anymore, either.
It was during times like these that she always pictured the stern glower of Hardass Paul, her former martial arts teacher, along with the words he’d uttered just before he’d kicked her out of his class. You think everything’s fun and games, but someday you’ll find out it’s not! Four years later, she could still picture him perfectly, all hot and manly with his tank top hanging loosely around his shoulders, hair dark with sweat, pointing at the door with his taped-up martial artist hands.
She certainly didn’t see this necklace incident as a game. No note, no explanation, but there was a message all the same: I see you. I know what you do at your computer.
Alix peeked out the side of the curtain.
She scratched Lindy’s head. Poor Lindy had only three legs, but she made up for it in spirit. She was black with a snowy-white bib and big enough to have a nice big bark, but she was not much on the attacking.
“Fine,” she mumbled. “Don’t show your face. Jerk.”
She checked every room and closet in the whole house, locked the basement door, and then headed to her office with the gun. She almost always used her laptop at her desk with her back to the wall—no chance the stalker had window-peeped.
She ran a malware check, but it turned up nothing. She opened up the jpeg image of the necklace, thinking to trash it, and what she saw stunned her. The necklace was gone from the picture, yet the black velvet it had lain across was still there. It was like somebody had used a graphic design program to painstakingly cut out just the necklace parts, leaving a blank white space behind.
“What the hell?” she said to Lindy.
Not only had the stalker known what she had been clicking on yesterday and put the very thing on her doorstop today—freaky enough—but he’d erased the image from the file.
Madness paired with resourcefulness. Not a heartening combination.
She felt like she’d spent the whole summer fighting—fighting electrical problems, plumbing problems, regulation mazes, the attitudes of people back in Minneapolis—Crazy Alix, trying to start a bed and breakfast. But now this?
“Screw you,” she said aloud to the computer. “Screw you!”
And with that, she went and grabbed a Kit-Kat bar from her freezer.
After gnawing through most of it without even tasting it, she called the Malcolmsberg sheriff, who suggested she put up ‘no trespassing’ signs and maybe call the post office to see if the mail carrier had dropped it. Insanely unhelpful, but she thanked the man anyway.
She nibbled at the edges of the remaining rectangle of Kit Kat, expertly removing every last chocolate bit from the wafer surface, trying to decide what to do next. You can handle this, she said to herself. When she had the wafer part perfectly bare, she stuffed it into her mouth. Then she called the number from the website where she’d found the necklace image. Maybe somebody had ordered one in the last twenty-four hours.
“I don’t know what you found on your porch,” an irate jewelry artisan named Xing said, “but my necklace is a one-of-a-kind creation, and I happen to be staring at it in the case as we speak.” He assured her that if her necklace resembled his, then it had to be leaded glass, not rubies. “Rubies like this require weeks of cutting,” Xing said. And he had more important things to deal with—his website had been hacked.
Xing told her that somebody had messed with an image. Goosebumps crept up her spine.
As soon as they hung up, Alix went out to Xing’s site and discovered that the necklace had been knocked out of the picture there, too.
Why? What did it mean?
She called around to tech places, and finally a guy at a used computer store in Paupesha, the largest town around, agreed to see her computer right away.
She dropped the necklace into her purse, piled into her old Volvo with Lindy and her laptop, and drove the forty miles out. No way was she leaving Lindy alone in that house.
The tech guy was youngish, and if you looked hard, you could see a hint of Bradley Cooper behind those glasses. He scanned for every known malware and spyware, but all he could come up with was “ratty power levels.”
“Are you sure you didn’t download anything weird from the Internet?” he asked with a playful twinkle in his eyes. He was thinking porn, she guessed. Hoping porn.
She knew what he saw—a girl with hair just a little too wild and a shirt just a little too sexy for rural Minnesota.
“Cross my heart!” She smiled. “Though, I did get an old floppy disc converted recently.”
He watched her a beat too long. “A floppy? Like a three-and-a-half-inch? Or are you talking five-and-quarter-inch?”
“Five-and-quarter,” she said. “Some lab in California transferred it onto a CD for me, but it turned out to be a lot of nothing.” She mumbled something about researching family history.
“Nothing you get off an old floppy is going to take over your machine or interface wirelessly. They didn’t have wireless back then. That was the Pong era. I mean, Pong.” He typed more commands. The laptop whirred. “This’ll take a bit.” He sat back and smiled again. He really wasn’t so bad. If she didn’t feel so freaked out about this mystery, she’d think about doing him. She’d strut to the door and flip over the “Back in 30 minutes” sign and say something daring. It might even take the edge off of all the weirdness.
And she loved to see the grateful amazement on a guy’s face when he realized she’d do him right then and there. A man’s grateful amazement always gave her a lift, made her feel complete.
Like she was enough.
Pathetic, maybe, but what the hell, it felt good! Even when the amazement lasted only a moment, it still made her feel so good. When a man’s lips were on her neck, his hands warming her skin, at those moments she really was enough. More than enough; she was everything in the world. Guys were fabulous like that, how easy it was to thrill them.
She dragged her finger along the metal counter edge, feeling his eyes on her breasts.
Having fun, enjoying guys, being daring—that was something of hers. Her brilliant, athletic sisters could keep their work-a-holic ways, their high-achievement lives. She had pleasure and fun.
“You’re into family history, huh?”
“Not really,” she confessed. “It was actually just…being nosy.”
He raised his brows, like she was a naughty girl—a familiar game. “Nosy?” Guys like this often started off with exciting sternness, but they rarely took charge, even when she practically commanded it; they always seemed to want her in the lead, playing the seductress.
His energy intensified. “Sort of?”
Yeah, he knew what kind of girl she was. Men had a Spidey sense about that.
She straightened a counter display, feeling wistful, suddenly. “I had this great aunt who left me all her worldly possessions, including her house. The floppy was under one of the computers in her dusty old computer room, and I thought it might contain memoirs or something. I mean, she left me everything. So awesome. I wanted to know about her.”
“I never heard of that happening in real life. The great aunt bit.” Again he smiled. Again she was tempted.
“Apparently I met her when I was a kid, but I don’t remember it. She got cut off from the whole family.”
“Harsh.” Just then the machine beeped. The guy typed in more commands.
Great Aunt Veronica had been shunned by the Gordon family for “dabbling in the dark arts and cavorting with strange men,” as her mother had put it when Alix showed her the letter from Veronica’s estate. “She wouldn’t tone it down, and we didn’t want you children exposed to all that devilry, so we cut it off with her.”
Alix would’ve laughed at her mother’s use of the word devilry if she hadn’t felt so very angry that this poor elderly woman had been cut off from the family. And she lived just two hours away from Minneapolis! Apparently, Aunt Veronica lived with a man friend who’d died a day after she did. So sad. It steamed Alix to no end to think that she knew nothing about Aunt Veronica, and that she hadn’t gotten the chance to meet her and get to know her. Friends and relatives cared for each other and helped each other no matter what. Alix would’ve helped her.
Instead, this unknown aunt had helped Alix.
She’d given her a chance to escape from her mistakes. To start over.
The guy tapped a few buttons and sat back. “So nothing? On the floppy?”
“Weird symbols,” she said. “My friend thought it was some kind of old code.”
“And she had a dusty old computer room…” He tilted his head, lips quirked. “You know, those old computers are getting valuable. I could take a look at them. I would be happy to come over.”
In fact, there was a lot of 1970s and 80s-era hardware in the basement, including mini supercomputers, as her friend Karen had called them, all hooked together in a circle. Somebody had taken a sledgehammer to them at some point and smashed them all up. They wouldn’t be worth anything.
But it wasn’t really computers that they were discussing now.
She thought about it a little, how that blast of attention would feel. The gratitude, the excitement, the dare of it all. But she had a mystery to solve. “Nah, sorry,” she said. “It’s impossible. But thanks.”
He nodded, understanding her meaning, and turned back to the computer, hitting a few buttons.
“Your laptop’s clean,” he said officiously. “Twenty bucks. Want me to turn it off?”
She nodded, wondering how long he’d been done.
He powered down and shut the lid. “I hate to say this, but do you think someone might’ve come into your home and messed with your machine directly?”
Gulp. She hadn’t even considered that. Surely Lindy would’ve barked. “No way,” she said, handing over the check.
The guy raised his eyebrows. “Hold on, you’re out on KE past Malcolmsberg? Is this that brick house on the bluff?”
“The witch house? We’re talking about the witch house here? Dark witch of evil manor? That was your aunt?!“
Outrage heated her face. “Seriously, what year is it? This whole place shuns a poor old woman on the grounds of being a witch? Just because she was eccentric and into non-traditional things, it doesn’t mean she was evil.”
“Is it evil to bring back the dead? Your aunt could do that. She could make things appear out of thin air. My dad saw it firsthand as a kid. And he’s not one to tell tales.”
“If a kid said it, it must be true,” she snapped.
“You ask anyone. Plumes of smoke. Crows—”
“I asked you for computer advice, not mystical advice.” She gathered up her purse and computer.
“All I’m saying is that if something’s unexplained out there…” the guy raised his eyebrows, as if no more needed to be said on the subject.
She left in a huff, feeling new sympathy for her aunt. Alix knew firsthand what it felt like to be the object of everyone’s asshole opinions.
True, she’d found some pretty crazy things cleaning out the house. Aunt Veronica was definitely into some occult stuff. Was there anything to it? Alix believed in karma. And in ghosts. Why not magic? The world was full of unexplained things. Was it possible something magical was going on?
The idea excited her.
On the way back home she got ahold of Karen on the phone.
“You pack a bag right now and drive to Minneapolis,” Karen instructed from her convention hotel room. Karen had a big-gun job these days with a tech firm. “Some freak has invaded your online privacy, trespassed on your porch, and left you a gift that says look what I can do.“
“Is it some freak?” Alix asked, watching Lindy’s ears flap in the rushing air from the open window. “There was no spyware on my computer. And, seriously, in 24 hours, can somebody hack a site, make elaborate graphic design changes to the images, manufacture a stunning copy of a ruby necklace, and get it onto my porch?” She was starting to warm to the magic idea. Her heart raced.
“What are you saying?”
“Think about it—we know Aunt Veronica was into black magic in some way, all those crazy books, and her jewelry tastes, those symbols we scrubbed off the basement floor. What if she was really onto something?”
“You think it’s magic?”
“If it defies explanation…” Alix said.
“Then that just means you look harder. Jumping to a magical explanation—”
“I’m not jumping to it. I’m going to run a scientific test. I’m going to repeat exactly what I did with the necklace with something different, and use my web cam to record the whole thing. And then we’ll see.”
“Stop. Think it through. You could be dealing with somebody dangerous.”
“I am thinking it through. Sure, maybe it’s a bauble-leaving freak, I’m not ruling that out. But maybe, just maybe, I could discover something mind-blowingly awesome. The guy at the computer store asked if I’d downloaded anything suspicious. Well, I did. Remember when I got that old floppy converted? All that crazy code? What if it did something to my computer?”
“Oh my god,” Karen said.
“A magical computer? Is that where you’re going with this?”
“What were my aunt’s two main hobbies? Witchy stuff and computers. It’s exciting! Think through this with me, Karen. I mean, what if it’s real? It would be beyond winning the lottery. We could literally have anything we wanted. But first we’ll do this test. What should I order for it? We should think of something really challenging for the next task.”