Jannifer Hoffman

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Blood Crystal Sample Text

Below, is the Prologue and a portion of Chapter One of Blood Crystal.

 

 

Prologue

On a tranquil August evening on the Island of San Delta, eight councilmen, called together by their concerned president, Bama Kendu, mulled around a campfire.

Located in the Indian Ocean seventy miles off the coast of India, San Delta consisted of only seventy square miles. Their only natural resource came from a spring-fed river flowing from the mountains. In spite of the pristine beaches and balmy climate, they had no facilities to bring paying tourists. Their sole income came from selling vegetables and handmade trinkets to the tourists on the mainland or the neighboring Maldives.

As things stood now, the young people couldn’t wait to spread their wings and leave. Each year the population diminished while the average age increased. Their little country was dying a slow death.

This was why Bama Kendu had requested a council. For years they’d turned away the large hotel chains offering to take over the soul of the island.

Maybe it was time.

As they discussed the folly of turning their welfare over to strangers, one man suddenly pointed to the sky. A giant red fireball hurtled toward them. They stared in awe as the molten mass hit the earth with quaking force not more than a hundred yards from where they sat.

They rushed toward the site to find a black smoldering meteorite, the size of a truck motor, imbedded in the ground. At the top, it emitted a brilliant red glow that faded as it cooled, leaving an iridescent crystal that looked to be the size of a hen’s egg. They observed it for some time, talking in hushed tones as though it might hear them.

 

Blood Crystal by Jannifer Hoffman

When the lava rock had cooled to the touch, one of the men produced a tool to pry the crystal object out of the porous stone. Once freed, the man handed it to Bama Kendu.

Bama turned it over in his hands, wondering at the curious apparatus. Still warm, its smooth surface, clear in some spots, opalescent in others, had the distinct size and shape of a toddler’s heart. It fit comfortably in his hand. As he wrapped his fingers around it, the color darkened with the rhythm of a pulsating heart, getting brighter and warmer with each beat. At once, Bama screamed and dropped it to the ground where it immediately ceased pulsating and faded back to its original color. He stared at his scorched palm. It burned as though he’d gripped a live coal.

This was a thing such as he’d never seen before. Even if it was an evil thing, surely there were people who would pay a high price to own such a treasure. Perhaps this was the miracle his people had prayed for. Perhaps this Blood Crystal, as he called it, had the power to bring life to their dying country.

 

Blood Crystal by Jannifer Hoffman

Chapter One

If Stephen Douglas had realized he’d be driving down the back streets of a seedy Los Angeles neighborhood, he wouldn’t have rented a red Cadillac convertible. Instinct told him he should put the top up, but it was easier to see the house numbers in the fading September light with it down.

He pulled out the post-it note he’d written the directions on and reread the address. Damn, he had to be close. For the third time, he made a right-hand turn to circle the two block area when a medley of rapid-fire cracks split the air. They were followed by a cacophony of men shouting and more shots now recognizable as gunfire.

Shit.

He pushed the lever to fold the top over him. It was halfway closed when a body literally flew into the back seat. He hit the brakes at the same time a husky voice yelled, “Keep moving. Stop the car and you’re dead.”

For emphasis, a hard object jammed his ribcage between the bucket seats with enough force to make him wince. He had no reason to believe it wasn’t a gun. The top closed into place and he moved his foot back to the accelerator.

“What do you want?” Stephen asked the hunkering figure behind him.

 

Blood Crystal by Jannifer Hoffman

“Just drive a few blocks and I’ll get out. Stop now and we’re both dead.”

That’s when Stephen realized the voice came from a female. What the hell. She was no less threatening than a man, however, not with the weapon biting a dent in his side.

“Make a right turn at the light. Don’t speed and don’t make any noticeable moves. Drive normal.”

“It’s tough to drive normally with a gun puncturing my ribs,” Stephen said.

A sound that might have been laughter came from the back seat. “Better than bullets, which we’ll both get if we’re caught.”

Stephen made the right turn and continued straight for another two blocks. He pulled to the side as two police cars, sirens wailing, passed him from the front. At the same time, he heard more gunshots, muffled by distance now.

“How far do you want me to drive?”

“A couple of miles. Make a left at the next light.”

“Since I’m obviously cooperating, would you mind getting the stick out of my ribs?”

He couldn’t believe it when she actually chuckled. She pulled the weapon back just enough to let him know it was still there.

“Who’s after you,” he asked. “Good guys or bad guys?”

 

Blood Crystal by Jannifer Hoffman

This time she full-out laughed. “You’re certainly curious for a man with a gun on him.”

Stephen glanced in the rearview mirror, hoping to get a glimpse of her, but she was plastered to the floorboards. “In situations like this, I like to know who I’m dealing with.”

“You’re an idiot,” she said. “What the hell were you doing driving a forty-thousand-dollar car around this neighborhood with the top down?”

“Maybe I was looking for a hooker.”

She made a noise of derision. “And here I thought you were a priest coming to save me from the fires of hell.”

He’d already driven the two miles she asked him to. “Don’t you have a car or something where I can drop you?”

“Only if you have a death wish.”

“Then it is the bad guys after you?”

“I wouldn’t bet my life on that if I were you,” she said.

“Exactly what would you do if you were me?”

That made her pause. He made another turn, a left this time.

“That should be far enough,” she said. “You can stop and I’ll get out now.”

 

Blood Crystal by Jannifer Hoffman

He couldn’t let her go without knowing who she was. “What will you do then?”

“Why do you care?”

“Maybe my life is in the crapper and I need something to care about. Do you need any money?”

“You’re shittin’ me, right?”

This time it was Stephen’s turn to pause. He took a moment to consider what he was getting himself into. He had a thousand dollars in cash on him. Driving a Cadillac convertible, she might have anticipated he had money on him, but all she asked for was a ride out of the danger zone. She couldn’t go back to her car, so she’d be stranded. He wasn’t sure why he should care, or trust her, for that matter.

The voice behind him interrupted his thoughts. “I’m not a hooker, if that’s what you really were looking for. You do seem squirrelly enough to come to a neighborhood like this, in a rich boy’s car, looking for a two-bit tramp to get your rocks off. If you are, watch yourself, because if I was a cop, I could arrest you.”

“And what if I was the cop?”

She made another snorting sound. “Cops don’t drive Cadillac’s—unless they’re crooked.”

“Know a lot of cops, do you?” He made another turn, wending away from the place he’d picked her up. When she didn’t answer, he prodded her. “What’s your name?”

“Why?”

 

Blood Crystal by Jannifer Hoffman

“So if they mention names on the evening news, I’ll know which one is you.”

She swore, using words he’d only heard in back-alley barrooms.

“Does that mean you’ll be on the ten o-clock news?” he asked.

“Life’s a bitch and then you die,” she muttered, pulling the gun out of his ribcage.

Stephen smiled to himself. “So…who will they say you are?”

“Dani,” was all she said.

Hot damn and bingo. Danielle Lovato. How lucky could a man get?

Stifling a grin, he pushed his hand back between the bucket seats. “Hello, you can call me Stephen.”

Danielle slapped his hand. “Four million people in this city, and I abduct a lunatic. You think you’re my guardian angel or what?”

“Sounds like you’re in need of one,” he said.

“Stop the car and I’ll get out.”

“I want to help you. Why are you fighting me?”

“Because I’m getting bad vibes. Are you part of Deluca’s gang?”

“I have no idea who Deluca is. I’m not even from LA. Besides, you have the gun.”

 

Blood Crystal by Jannifer Hoffman

Danielle considered that. She did have the gun. “Why do you want to help me?”

“Do I need a reason?”

“In my world, nobody does anything for nothing. What’s your game, Stephen?”

“All I’m offering you is a place to get cleaned up and distance from whatever trouble you’re in.”

Danielle hesitated, trying to decide if he was for real. “And what do you get out of it?” she asked.

“The feeling that maybe I did someone a good deed.”

She snorted. “Oh, yeah, I believe that all right.” She pushed herself up on the seat, staying far enough to the side so he couldn’t see her in the rearview mirror. She looked around, trying to determine if they were being followed. She saw no cars closer than a block.

“Well, you must. You took the gun off of me.”

“It’s pointed straight at your back, so unless your fancy seats are lined with metal, consider it still on you. What were you doing in that part of town anyway?”

“A personal favor for a friend.”

Danielle swore. “Halleluiah, St. Stephen. You are so full of crap.”

He had a deep husky laugh. It actually made her smile. It had been a long time since she smiled.

“So… St. Stephen. Where are we headed?”

“My place.”

 

Blood Crystal by Jannifer Hoffman

“Bad idea. If we’re being followed, you’d be up to your neck in more trouble than you want.”

“We’re not. I’ve been watching.”

This guy was starting to worry her. She reached for the door handle, intending to bolt at the next light. She heard the door lock slide in place and knew he must have anticipated her move.

She leaned over to glare at him in the mirror. “What was that for?”

Pale gray verging on blue eyes stared back at her. She could tell by the crinkling around them that he was grinning.

“We’re only a couple of blocks from my motel,” he said. “You can run then if you want to. At least there’s a bus stop out front.”

“Motel? You’re in a motel.”

“I told you I’m from out of town. I’m here on—business.”

“Where are you from? The loony bin?”

“Minnesota.”

She rolled her eyes. “Well that should explain it. Except your car has a California license plate.”

“It’s rented.”

 

Blood Crystal by Jannifer Hoffman

“Just don’t tell me you’re a psychiatrist.”

That husky laugh again. “I’m not. I’m a lawyer.”

He drove to a Holiday Inn and pulled up in front of room number one-twenty.

“Is this your room?” she asked.

“No, I’m on the upper floor right above it.”

“Don’t park here,” she said. “Go around to the back.”

“Why?”

“Just do it! This damn car sticks out like a full blooming rose in a potato patch, and if anyone saw me get in it, they could be on top of us before you turn the lock on your door. I see no reason to make it easy for them.”

“Who are these people?”

“It’s a long story.”

He pulled around to the back as instructed, thinking it might be a good idea after all, and found a spot by the dumpsters where the lights didn’t reach. He was taking a chance on it getting stolen, but hell, it was insured.

When they got out, he waited for her to bolt, but she stuck by him. He saw no sign of the gun, but she pulled a knapsack out of the backseat and slung it over her shoulder. The first thing he noticed was her height. She was only about three inches shorter than he was, and he was over six feet. He wondered how she’d manage to scrunch up on the floorboards of such a small car even as slim as she was. She wore a frayed Lakers jacket and baggy cargo jeans with multiple pockets. A dark blue cadet cap covered her blacker than midnight pixie hair.

 

Blood Crystal by Jannifer Hoffman

As she followed him up the back stairs, her eyes kept flitting back and forth as though she expected the boogieman to leap out at them. He kept glancing back, prepared to stop her if she decided to run.

At the room, when he stepped back to let her enter first, she hesitated.

“Just remember,” she said, “I still have my gun and I know how to use it.”

“I never doubted that for a minute.” He went in ahead of her and she followed, though he was certain it was reluctantly.

Her gaze quickly scanned the expansive room. “I need to use the bathroom,” she said, walking past him down the short hall, mumbling something about being able to afford a suite with a sitting room.

Stephen flicked the TV on and moved to the far corner of the room to yank out his cell phone.

Danielle looked in the mirror and groaned. A shower would have felt good, but she didn’t have time for that. She had to get out of town fast. This place seemed to be safe for the moment, but she wasn’t ready to trust the dope in the next room. She noticed his shaving kit unopened on the vanity. Everything was clean, no towels used, even the stupid little vee still decorated the toilet paper roll. In the bedroom, she’d seen an unopened suitcase on the bed. Somehow it didn’t feel right.

She heard the TV and figured he really was trying to see if the raid was being televised.

 

Blood Crystal by Jannifer Hoffman

Quickly taking care of business, she wasted no time stepping back out into the sitting area—just in time to catch him hanging up his phone. In a heartbeat, she jerked her 9mm Beretta out of the knapsack and trained it on him.

“Who the hell were you calling?” she asked.

He held out his hands, palms up in a peace-offering gesture. “Don’t worry. It’s okay.”

“Who were you talking to?” she repeated, her voice going up an octave.

She edged toward the door keeping the gun zeroed in on his chest.

“Don’t go,” he said quickly. “You’re safe. I was talking to your father. He’ll be here to pick you up in fifteen minutes.”

An angry flash of color exploded like skyrockets in Dani’s brain. She forced her shaking fingers not to squeeze down on the trigger and rid herself of this menace.

“My father’s been dead for over a year, you numbskull, and if we’re not out of here in five minutes, we’ll both be history—unless you’re one of them, and even if you are, you’ll most likely still be dead.”

She knew by the widening of his eyes that he believed her.

“Let’s go,” he said, running past her. Sirens screamed in the distance.