For your reading pleasure, here's an excerpt from the fourth book in our series, The Body Hunters. Titled, The Body Hunters: The Lazurus Effect, this is the opening chapter. You can expect it to hit Amazon within the next few months. As always we'll keep you posted. Enjoy!
”Well, if you’re not willing to send us a payment, Mrs. Avery, we will have no choice than to pursue further legal action; up to and including garnishment of your wages.” Swiveling in her office chair, Jesse faced the backdrop of downtown Savannah. Still talking on her headset, she turned, watching the denizens of the city scurry about like ants.
“But I told you.” The woman on the other end of the phone wailed. “I’ve been out of work for a year and I just started another job two weeks ago. I haven’t received a child support payment from my ex-husband in months. My kids need food. Just work with me.”
Jesse smiled as she soaked in the euphoria of having dominion over her clients. “I truly sympathize with you, Mrs. Avery, but I have a job to do just like you. My hands are tied.”
The desperate woman on the other end unleashed a ragged breath. “I-I guess I could send something. I’ll see what I can do.”
“I’ll be expecting a payment in the next two days or we’ll be forced to proceed legally.”
“There’s a special place in hell for people like you, you heartless bitch.” The woman told Jesse before clicking off the line.
Smiling contentedly, she pulled the headset off, tousling her long mane of vibrant red hair. She’d rose above the common call center agents several months ago. Jesse’s debt negotiation skills had afforded her several promotions and a corner office at ACS Collections. Her supervisor had once boasted to his colleagues that she could draw blood from a stone and gave her the moniker of the grim reaper, because she was good at closing accounts.
Her fairly new appointment had also scored her leagues of haters. Most of the catty women at the office couldn’t stand her, though she could care less about what they thought of her. She hurled a scowl at one of the office tramps who strolled by looking at her like she was on display at the zoo.
“Can I help you?” Jesse’s voice confronted the woman.
The tramp kept walking on those stilts she called legs, squinting at Jesse as if the sun was in her eyes.
“You’d better keep walking.” She muttered under her breath.
That distraction out of her face, she returned to the Avery case, leaving detailed notes that the client had promised to pay in two days. There were several avenues Jesse could have taken, other than threatening to garnish the woman’s check, but she didn’t care. The woman accumulated the debt so she had to pay it, besides, the other avenues wouldn’t have helped Jesse’s numbers. This job was about revenue, not coddling customers who couldn’t pay their bills.
Typing up her notes, Jesse glanced down at the framed photo on her desk. The man who was the subject of the photo had no idea the snapshot of him even existed. She’d caught him unawares on the street in the downtown area and took advantage of the photographic opportunity. She sighed, reflecting on his gorgeousness.
“That bitch has a lot of nerve taking my man!” Jessie fumed under her breath.
Earlier that day, Jesse had been following, not stalking like her friends so often pointed out, the man she cherished, Aiden Stone.
She and Aiden’s whirlwind courtship had begun several years ago in Washington D.C. at a nightclub. Sitting at a table with her girlfriends, she’d seen him the moment he walked in.
To say the man was fine wouldn’t do him justice. He was six foot four of raw masculinity and muscle, with stunning blue eyes that could make even the strongest woman swoon. His features were exotic, with traces of Polynesian, African American, and Irish, ancestry blending together in perfect harmony. A native of Hawaii, his skin tone was the soft brown of damp sand on a Hawaiian beach.
Once she saw him, she knew she had to have him. And have him she did. They spent one night together in reckless abandon and it was the best lay of her life. When her eyes opened the next morning, he was gone without leaving any way to contact him. He just seemed to vanish from the face of the earth.
Fate intervened a year ago, when she found him licking his wounds in a bar in Savannah, Georgia, over his ex-girlfriend, Danny. The fact that she went by a boy’s name was a clue that the witch was wrong in the head. Seeing her man in distress, Jesse fed him and provided him shelter in his hour of need.
Her friends told her she was a fool, that he was on the rebound and would go back to his girlfriend given the chance, but they were just jealous. They wanted him for themselves and that wasn’t going to happen. She and Aiden were soul mates.
Things between her and were Aiden fine for a few months, though he couldn’t get him to stop talking about his ex. No matter what she did for him, everything that came out of his mouth was ‘Danny this’ or ‘Danny that’. Jesse’s friends of course had to stick their noses in saying that he wasn’t over his ex, and he was just using her to make the woman jealous, but she wasn’t interested in what they had to say.
Just as her friends had forecast, the day did come when the witch decided that she wanted him back.
Try as she might, Jesse couldn’t break the spell the voodoo witch put on him. Things escalated out of control when Jesse confronted Danny at the wedding of one of her snooty friends. The skank couldn’t even fight her own battles, siccing her blond bimbo of a friend on her while she watched from the sidelines. Two months later Jesse was still sore from that brawl. Worse yet, Danny had gotten the police involved.
After a couple months of laying low and staying away from her beloved, Jesse was back to her previous routine. She made a point of driving by their house at random every day, just hoping to get a glimpse of him. Last night, she got an eyeful.
He and that tramp were apparently just coming back from a date. That viper slithered up to him and practically had her forked tongue down his throat. Seeming for some reason to enjoy it, he swept her into his arms and carried her into the house.
Thankfully, her job as a call center debt collector was there to take her mind off things. There was nothing like a customer begging for mercy to get her out of a funk.
A full day of work behind her, Jesse was ready to call it a night. With a bucket of ice cream to drown her sorrows and some trashy reality TV to take her mind off her man problems, she’d be just fine.
“Jody!” A concerned Jesse called for her roommate as she entered the apartment. Jody was supposed to report to work that afternoon, but never made it. It was out of character for her friend, since she hadn’t even bothered to call in.
Mostly a solitary creature, Jesse had let a down on her luck coworker move in a month ago. She and Jody got along harmoniously since she was quiet and tended not to judge Jesse’s personal life.
Jesse slipped out of her heels at the door, flexing her exhausted feet on the plush carpeting. With only the light from the adjacent living room to guide her, she headed toward the kitchen.
“Jody! Are you okay? Why didn’t you call into work? They were looking for….”
Her bare heel slid on something warm on the linoleum and she smacked her butt on the floor. “Damn it, Jody! Why didn’t you clean up this mess you made?”
Still yelling at her roommate, she washed her hands in the sink.
“What did you drip meat all over the kitchen?” She asked, watching the red swirl down the drain.
Huffing, she swung open the refrigerator door, perusing the shelves. In the center of the fridge was a large glass jar filled to the brim with cloudy red fluid. In the bottom of the container was a large chunk of red meat the size of a fist.
“Jody what the hell did you put in my…”
The door was slammed on the back of her head, knocking her out cold.
Pinpricks of light in a starburst pattern formed behind Jesse’s eyelids as she awakened. The back of her head was aching like it wanted to detach itself from her body and crawl away. Her limbs were heavy for some reason and she wasn’t able to move anything but her neck.
“What the hell are you looking at?” Jesse slurred, drool dribbling down the corner of her jaw. “Stop looking at me.”
Attempting to move, Jessie found that her hands and feet were bound to the bed. Her arms were almost painfully stretched above her head.
Her head listed to the side, Jesse’s focus was on the woman with the dark eyes who was blatantly ogling her. For some odd reason the woman was in Jesse’s room, hiding in a corner that was filled with shadows.
“I wouldn’t worry about her.” A man’s voice entered the room.
Dressed in black, he grabbed the staring woman by the hair and brought her face out to the light. Her brown eyes were lifeless, a jagged red streak across her pale throat. The young woman was devoid of a shirt or bra a gaping black hole had been opened below her ribcage.
“J-Jody! What did you do to Jody?”
He threw her back into the corner like an old rag doll. “If it’s any consolation, I regret having to dispatch your roommate. You were the intended target after all.”
Jesse’s anger bubbled to the surface. “You’d better get me out of here you sick son of a ….”
The man continued talking as if she hadn’t uttered a word. “But your roommate did give me a chance to perfect my method.”
He proudly held up the jar that had been in her fridge and thumped a finger against it like it was an aquarium. Sitting in the bottom of the jar was Jody’s heart.
Jessie’s eyes registered pure horror. “Oh my God! Help somebody help me! This psycho is going to kill me!”
Irritably shaking his head, the man covered her mouth with duct tape.
“As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted; when I tried to remove the heart from my first victims, it took more time than I was comfortable with and of course the noise from the saw attracted too much attention. I finally realized what I was doing wrong; the secret is to make an incision here.”
The man pointed to where his diaphragm would be. “And reach upward. That way you avoid the ribcage and you retrieve an undamaged specimen in mere seconds.”
Mascara streamed down Jessie’s face as she begged for mercy behind the tape.
He paid her no mind. “Now your friend’s heart, I’ll be adding to my collection. Your heart on the other hand I’m going to give as a gift.”
Reaching into a duffel bag, he extracted a syringe filled with a clear fluid and a pair of scissors.
“I’m giving you a local anesthesia so you won’t feel a thing.” He told her before stabbing the needle into her abdomen.
Her howl was muffled, sobs wracking her body.
“Now, now. It will all be over soon.” He soothed. “You should be honored. I think your heart will be the perfect present for her.”
While the pain killer snaked its way through her veins, the man used the scissors to cut through Jessie’s blouse and bra at the same time. Once he made his symmetrical cut through the material, he ripped it apart, exposing her naked ribcage. Going back to his duffel bag, he brought a sinister looking blade to the bed.
“This isn’t really personal.” He said over Jessie’s weeping as he made his first incision. “I’m just a man who believes in symbolism.”
Not satisfied with the way the blade was cutting he dipped his blood soaked hands into the bag and pulled out a knife with a serrated edge.
He got back into his gruesome work, sawing through her torso. “The girls I killed. They’re symbols of what she did to me. Oh, she hurt me, she really did; the pain was excruciating. She practically ripped my heart out of my chest and stomped on it. Now I wouldn’t stomp on a perfectly good heart, but you get what I’m saying. Giving her your heart is my way of showing her how I really feel.”
After carving a hole big enough for his hand to slip through, the man reached into the cavity. Jessie thrashed on the bed as he reached upward.
“Ah, here we are.” He whispered, biting his lip.
He grabbed the still beating organ and twisted. Her brain still functioning, the last thing Jessie saw was her heart beating in his hand. Whether from delirium or her approaching death, she found it humorous that she really was a heartless bitch after all.