Read Lightbringer Online

Authors: K.D. McEntire

Lightbringer

Published 2011 by Pyr®, an imprint of Prometheus Books

Lightbringer.
Copyright © 2011 by K. D. McEntire. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Cover illustration © Sam Weber
Cover design by Grace M. Conti-Zilsberger

Inquiries should be addressed to
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Amherst, New York 14228-2119
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

McEntire, K. D., 1980–
        Lightbringer / by K. D. McIntire.
               p. cm.
        Summary: Teenaged Wendy, who has the power to help souls cross over to their final destinations, falls in love with a ghost and discovers horrific, dark forces in the afterlife.
        ISBN 978-1-61614-539-2 (pbk. : alk. paper)
        ISBN 978-1-61614-540-8 (ebook)
        {1. Supernatural—Fiction. 2. Soul—Fiction. 3. Ghosts—Fiction.
4. Love—Fiction.} I. Title.
PZ7.M478454238Li 2011
[Fic]—dc23

2011028713

Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper

T
his book wouldn't exist without a truly awesome group of people. I'd like to thank the amazing AgentJoe—aka Joe Monti—who was willing to walk a newbie through this whole process without once getting grumpy at me. I'd also like to thank the fabulous and mellow Lou Anders, editor extraordinaire and lover of all things geeky. Thank you.

Further thanks go to Nadia Cornier, who is the best sounding board ever, and without whom I probably would have tripped over my own plot holes. To my mother, whose timely help saved my work from going poof! And, of course, my Drafty Ladies: Karen Ramsey, Jennifer Day, Anna Hunt, Elly Hunt, and Christine Panus. You all humble me. Thank you.

Last but not least, thanks go to my husband Jake, and the teenage self he's willing to channel every time he picks up my work. Without you I'd never have time to write. Thank you.

W
hen the last off-key strains of
Happy Birthday
trailed away, Wendy opened her eyes and blew hard. Twelve flames winked out and the waiter clapped politely before retrieving the candles from the cake, leaving the three of them alone with dessert.

The mountain of chocolate cake and ice cream in front of her was nearly the size of her head. Eddie, fork in hand, leaned forward to dig in when his father's fingers on his wrist stopped him.

“Manners, Eddie. Wendy gets the first bite.”

Eddie grinned sheepishly at his father. “Sorry, Dad.”

“It's okay, Mr. Barry.” Wendy grabbed her own fork. “Race you to the plate!” Together they dug in and when the cake was demolished, Wendy tore into her gifts with equal abandon.

While the waiter cleaned up the mess of paper and plates, Mr. Barry helped Wendy clasp the locket her father had left for her around her neck. He patted her shoulder when he was done but Wendy did not miss the sympathy in his eyes. “It suits you.”

“Yeah,” Eddie agreed, spearing one last bite of cake off his plate before it was whisked to the kitchen. He wiped his wrist across his mouth. “It's pretty.”

“You missed a spot,” Mr. Barry said wryly, wetting a corner of his napkin in his water glass and gently wiping Eddie's chin. Eddie rolled his eyes and squirmed but Wendy caught the small smile he gave his father in thanks. She couldn't help a slight pang of jealousy at their closeness, but by now it was a familiar feeling and easily squashed.

Sensing her discomfort, Mr. Barry signed the bill quickly and rose to pull Wendy's chair away from the table. He held her jacket for her as she slipped it on and then offered her his arm. Wendy, feeling very grown up, took it. “When is your father due home again?”

“Next week.” Puffed up and proud, she added, “Dad said that I can stay by myself tonight! I'm old enough now.”

“But the twins and your mother will be back in the morning?” The doorman opened the door with a flourish and they stepped from the warmth of the restaurant into the slushy, drizzling night.

At her nod, he said, “Well, Wendy, if you decide that you don't like spending the night by yourself, you can call anytime and Eddie and I will come get you.” He winked. “Or if you want Eddie to sleep over there, I think we can get along without him for a night.”

Bounding up beside his father, Eddie grabbed Mr. Barry's wrist and tugged. “Really? You mean it?” Wendy grabbed his other wrist and danced a quick jig for joy.

Faced with their beaming smiles, Mr. Barry was lost. He threw his head back and laughed, hugging them both close with either arm. “You two were planning this, weren't you?”

“Thank you, Dad!” Eddie wrapped his arms around his father's neck and hugged tight.

Still chuckling, Mr. Barry held on for a moment and then stepped back, smoothing his son's ruffled hair. “But you have to behave yourselves,” he warned, leading them toward the car. “Only one horror movie apiece. And if you call me at midnight scared out of your wits, I'm not coming over there.”

Eddie sniffed haughtily. “We're not kids, Dad.”

“Right,” his father agreed gravely as they reached his car. A push of his key-fob unlocked the doors; it was Wendy's birthday so she sat up front while Eddie, plotting the rest of the night under his breath, slid behind her, sprawling across the seat on his back.

“Buckle up,” Mr. Barry said to Eddie, cutting off his son's whine of protest with a pointed look. Eddie, scowling, followed orders. Wendy did as well.

The rain drizzling on the roof was soothing and Wendy, lulled by the swish of the wipers and the warmth of the heater blowing steadily across her face, quickly dozed.

Soon the car was too warm, however, and she uncomfortably shifted awake. The only noise was the hum of tires on pavement, the only light the hazy glow of the headlights barely cutting through the mist ahead of them. Mr. Barry was hunched over the steering wheel, craning his neck forward.

Groggy, she lifted her head and started to ask if she could turn the heater down, when a lurching shudder rocked the car.

“SHIT!” Mr. Barry's hand jabbed down, grabbed a lever nestled between the seats, and yanked. The car swerved violently left and right and Wendy heard the scream of tires drowning out her own tearing scream with their wail.

In slow motion the car slid left one lane, two lanes, three; Wendy threw her arms up over her face as a flood of fierce white light cut through the fog right in front of them. Dimly she felt the thump of Mr. Barry's hand slap against her collarbone as his outthrust arm protectively pinned her to the seat. A horn blared, filling the world with noise and the blinding white light.

Years or maybe only seconds later, Wendy opened her eyes.

There was a choppy
whirr-chunk
noise to her right and groaning to her left. Her whole body felt funny, tight and numb, and her mouth was filled with a taste like salt and metal. She spat twice and it helped somewhat, but it did nothing to ease the dreamy sensation of floating. Wendy blinked and realized, very gradually, that she was upside down. The seatbelt held her firmly in place and her hair, loosened from its band, brushed the roof of the car.

Slowly, marveling at the strange sensation of her hair catching on what could only be bits of metal and glass, Wendy turned toward the groaning. Her hand, moving of its own volition, stretched out in front of her, and stroked Mr. Barry's shoulder.

He, too, dangled toward the roof of the car, but there was something wrong. His cheek flapped open, wet and gleaming, torn apart in a wide swath at his chin. Mr. Barry's hand, studded with safety glass, rose up, took Wendy's hand in his own, and squeezed. The touch felt strange, his bones ground beneath the pressure of her fingers, but Wendy didn't let go.

“Light,” he said, turning toward her so she could see the complete ruin of his face, the shattered nose, the misshapen lump of cheek and jaw. He deliriously hacked the words out one by one, stuttering and shivering as he spoke. The bottom curve of the steering wheel pressed into his sternum, cutting off his air. “Pr-pr-omise?”

Wendy nodded. He squeezed her hand again and she realized that his middle three fingers had been bent completely backwards, flopping over her knuckles loosely as he squeezed her hand over and over again, as he tried to soothe
her
, to comfort
her.

“Eddie?” he asked. His words huffed out of him on a fine spray of blood and spit. “Is…Eddie?”

Craning her neck, Wendy felt the first stirrings of pain in her back and shoulders, but no matter how she twisted, she could not see. There was no guiding noise from the back, just the dying
kachunk
of the engine. “He's okay,” she croaked, lying to calm him. She coughed, swallowed, and tried again. “He wore his seatbelt.”

“Good.” Mr. Barry's eyes fluttered closed. His lips moved but no sound came out. Wendy thought they might have formed “Eddie.”

Long moments passed. His body sagged and Wendy realized that Mr. Barry must have passed out. Without thought she loosened her hand from his grip. His arm flopped onto the roof. Wendy, shifting until she could wriggle her leg to the left, kicked weakly at the dangling car keys, careful to avoid hitting Mr. Barry. It was better that he stayed unconscious until help came. On the fourth kick the engine gurgled to silence.

From the back she heard Eddie shift, groan, and mutter, “Dad?”

“He's sleeping,” Wendy said, closing her eyes. In the distance she thought she heard the keening wail of an ambulance. Wendy relaxed, letting the seatbelt hold her weight. She felt herself drift again and welcomed it. “Let him sleep, Eddie. He needs it.”

Time enough for Eddie to see his father broken and bloodied.
Let him sleep
, Wendy prayed silently to herself.
Let him sleep.

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