BTLH Excerpt

I whipped around at the sound of the nurse’s cheerful voice. “Here’s your friend,” she said. “He checked out just fine.”

Galan stood beside her, looking pale and shaky. A fine sheen of sweat shone on his forehead.

“What do you mean he’s fine?” I said. “He looks worse than when I brought him in! You haven’t had time to do a CAT scan or head x-rays…” I took a deep breath. “Have you seen his ears?”

She consulted her clipboard. “I looked in his ears. They were fine.” She walked away.

I trotted after her, tugging on her sleeve. “What about money? Who’s going to pay for this?”

“We’ll bill him. Don’t worry about it.” She pulled her arm free and pushed open a door marked Staff Only.

Bill him?!” I yelled, through the rapidly closing gap. “That’s not even a real address!”

“Can we go now?” Galan asked from behind me.

I spun around and stared at him. He appeared marginally stronger, but that wasn’t saying much. “I’d leave you here flat but you look like you’re about to pass out. Do you have anyone to take care of you? Where do you really live?”

He didn’t answer, just looked over my shoulder, a furrow of concentration between his brows.

I turned to see that my housemate, Jed, had rejoined us.

“He can stay in my room.” Jed pulled on his jacket.  “I’ll sleep on the couch tonight.”

“Am I missing something?” I waved my arms. “Do you know Galan from somewhere? Why would you be willing to let him have your bed?”

Jed shrugged. “I just am. Come on, let’s go home.”

As I watched him walk through the automatic doors and head into the parking lot, I was suddenly afraid to look at the man next to me. Jed, the nurse… People behaved very strangely around Galan.

I faced him, my skin crawling with nervousness. “You’re doing something to them, aren’t you?”

“I have a certain influence on humans. It’s called glamour.” He put his hand on my arm.

I jerked loose and stepped away. “It’s not working on me.”

“I think that’s because we’re linked,” he said, his beautiful face solemn.

I wanted to scream, but he went on.

“Fellseth was in the process of taking my land, and with it, my source of energy. With the bond to my land broken, I should have died. Instead, I somehow linked to you. Maybe it was your act of cleaning up the trash or just the timing. Whatever it was, you saved me, and now we’re bonded.”

I didn’t believe him for a minute. He was either some kind of hypnotist, or I was being set up. Whatever it was, I wanted it to stop. “Fine. I saved you. But why do you think you have to stay with me?” I took a step toward him, my eyes narrowed. “I want you to leave me alone.”

His smile took obvious effort. “Nothing would make me happier, but you’re all that’s keeping me alive. I’m getting what little energy I have from you.”

“That is the biggest load of-”

“Luckily, you’re a very energetic person,” he said, cutting me off. “But I’d eat that second candy bar if I were you.”

I opened my clenched hand and stared at the dents my fingers had left in the wrapped chocolate. My hands shook slightly as I tore it open and took a bite. I really was ravenous.

Looking up, I noticed Galan’s color had returned and he seemed steadier. “So how does this work? You have to stand next to me?” I looked into the parking lot and saw my car’s headlights come on.

“I haven’t determined the exact closeness required.” His tone became urgent. “I know you don’t want to believe me, and usually you wouldn’t have to. I normally use glamour to move among humans undetected.”

He stepped toward me, but I bit off another piece of candy and made a savage noise in my throat. His voice held a touch of desperation. “If you let me come back with you, I’m pretty sure I can prove I’m an elf.”

I considered this. Then I walked back to the receptionist’s desk. “Call the police. This man is crazy, and he’s harassing me.”

Her eyes grew wide with alarm and she picked up the phone. Then she put it down again, and it was as if I had become invisible.

Galan stood beside me. “Please.”

I marched out the hospital’s automatic doors, heading for the parking lot. He followed. “I don’t want to hurt you,” I growled, “but if you lay a hand on me, I will remove it from your body.”

“Erin, I don’t have anyone else. You’ve got to believe me.”

I glanced behind. He didn’t look like a homicidal maniac. He looked like a man fighting terror, and losing.

I got in the car and closed the door. He didn’t try to stop me. “Start the car, Jed.”

Jed sat unmoving in the driver’s seat, his gaze unfocused.

“Start the car, goddamn it!” I screamed. When he still didn’t move, I got out of the car, ran to the driver’s side and opened the door. The lever to push the seat back was between Jed’s shins. I grabbed it, shoved him back, and sat down right on his lap.

I thumbed the automatic locks and turned the key in the ignition. Jed didn’t try to stop me. Through the window I saw Galan leaning against the car next to us. It wasn’t a relaxed lean – more like the car was all that held him up.

I pushed Jed’s feet out of the way with my own before carefully backing the car out of the space, bending sideways so I could see out the window.

When I cleared the line of parked cars, I pulled forward and drove toward the entrance to the street. I looked in the rearview mirror. Galan hadn’t moved. Three cars passed while I waited to turn onto the road. I looked in my mirror one last time, to see Galan stagger away from the car he had been leaning against. Then he fell down.

Jed stirred under me. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Shit.” I stared in the mirror. Galan wasn’t moving.

“Erin, get off me!”

I put the car in park and got out. “Stay there!” I yelled at Jed.

Galan lay sprawled on the asphalt, motionless. I bent down and took his wrist. At first there was nothing, then, without shifting my grip, I felt his pulse start up under my fingertips. “What are you? Some kind of alien?” I whispered.

His eyelids flickered and he shook his head weakly.

“You’re an elf,” I said.

He opened his eyes and nodded, looking at me.

“And you need to stay with me for the night.” He nodded again, and I sighed. “Well, Jed hasn’t been much help, but I still have Thor in the house.” I changed my grip to pull him to his feet. “Let me ask you something. Assuming you’re telling the truth and we really are linked, how would we go about unlinking us?”

He staggered against me. “I honestly don’t know.”

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In a world where humans are displacing elves in alarming numbers, Adlia spends her days working at elf headquarters. But with no artistic talent of her own, and orphaned too young to have known her parents, Adlia is an outsider even among her own elven kind. Only Mark, her human photography instructor, sees that beneath her sarcastic humor lies a vulnerable soul – and a desirable young woman.
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