Stakes & Spurs

Venom Valley Book Two

Stakes & Spurs
Part of the Venom Valley series:

Dex Wells, former deputy of the prairie town of Belkin’s Pass, awakes to the sound of screaming. He is chained to the wall of a cave, prisoner of the powerful vampire Balthazar, who has turned many of the residents of Belkin’s Pass into vampires like him, and used most others as food. Balthazar keeps Dex as bait, hoping to lure Dex’s lover, Josh Stanton, into the caves and capture him. There is something different about Josh, Balthazar senses it, but what that difference is he can’t quite tell.

Josh Stanton can raise the dead. It’s a power he’s always had within him, and something he’s considered a curse. Now, however, he’s discovered that the risen dead can bite through vampire skin and bones. If he can just learn to control the power and, with it, the dead he’s resurrected, he might be able to save his lover, Dex, from Balthazar’s caves. But there’s still a bounty on Josh’s head for a murder he did not commit, and he ends up back in Belkin’s Pass with Glory, a half Indian, half white former saloon girl watched over by a Native American spirit. Together, they gather the few residents left alive and make a stand against the rampaging vampires and the wolves under their control.

The arrival of two members of the US Army, however, throws their careful plans into uncertainty as Josh is taken into custody. Can he convince the Army men the truth of their outrageous claims? And can Dex be saved before Balthazar turns him into a vampire as well?

Excerpt:

The rain had not let up, and Josh was soaked through, cold to the bone, which made the first flush of heat inside of him that much more noticeable. It started in the middle of his torso and slowly spread through him the closer they rode toward town. As the heat slid through his veins and dug into his limbs and organs, Josh swallowed past the fear in his throat and looked at his surroundings, because he knew what the sensation meant.

Death was close.

Staggered towers of rock gleamed dark in a flash of lightning, and he realized with a start the route Sheriff Haden had taken to get back to town so fast. It was passable but seldom used by travelers due to the rugged terrain.

And it would take them right past the Belkin’s Pass cemetery.

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Josh closed his eyes and focused his energy and attention away from the bodies buried ahead. He was tired, though, and could feel them lying there, starving and cold. He could almost smell the damp earth pressing in around them, feel the cold in their bloodless limbs, the hunger for flesh should they awaken.

He needed to learn how to control this power, harness it, and use it only in extreme situations. Raising the dead was a sacrilege, an affront to the natural law of life and death. He needed to understand it, work through this power, and use it to keep the dead in their graves and not lurching toward people, hungry for blood. The power ran deep inside him, though, and he didn’t have a firm grasp on it. If he got near a body, it would rise and attack him and anyone with him, hungry for flesh, for life.

“Dark’s comin’ fast.”

Glory’s voice brought him out of his thoughts, and he looked at the sky swollen with thunderheads. She was right. The sun, hidden by heavy thunderheads, would almost be down.

“Shut up back there,” Deputy Wallace snapped.

“We need to get inside,” Josh called up to the men. “It’s not safe out here after dark.”

“I wouldn’t think you’d be so eager to be inside,” Sheriff Haden said over his shoulder, “seeing as how you’ll be spending a long time inside a jail cell.”

“The men who took your daughter will return when the sun goes down,” Glory said. “They’ll take anyone they find on the street or anyone who invites them into their homes. No one in town is safe anymore, don’t you see?”

Haden reined in his horse and turned in the saddle. A quick movement brought his gun up, and Josh found himself impressed with the swiftness of the man’s draw even as a tremor of fear worked through him. He never knew the sheriff was so adept with his weapon.

“You’re not to speak about my daughter!” Haden shouted. “Not a word about my Hattie should come from your dirty whore mouth, do you understand?”

Josh looked over at Glory, watched her jaw tighten, and saw her sit up high and straight in the saddle. The muted final rays of light behind the storm clouds glittered in her dark eyes. Just when he thought she might say something to encourage Haden to shoot her, Glory surprised him by giving the man a single nod.

Relief unwound within Josh’s gut, and he looked back at the sheriff, continuing to slowly work his wrists within the wet and loosening ropes.

“What in God’s name…?”

Haden stared between Glory and Josh, past them, and his expression changed from anger to confusion and then to fear. Josh looked over his shoulder to see a number of figures striding toward them through the rain, a line of wolves just behind.

“Vampires,” Glory said.

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