“This is OOPS, correct? The Out in the Open Paranormal Support crisis hotline?” Harry Emmerson hissed into his cell phone, casting a suspicious glance around the room he was trapped in.
There was a sharp creak, one he suspected was an office chair, and then a husky voice rasped, “Dude, you deaf? That’s what I fucking said when I answered. Now what’s your crisis, and it damn well better be a real one or I’m gonna use my vampy senses to sniff your location out. It takes a little time, but when I hone in on you, and I will, I’ll beat you to death with your very own leg. The one I amputate clean off your torso courtesy of my sharp teeth.”
Harry bristled, a spike of anger shooting up his spine, making his hair—a lot of frickin’ hair—stand on end. What kind of customer service was this? “How is a threat in response to my call for help in any way supportive?” he whisper-yelled into the phone, running his very hairy fingers over his equally hairy temple in exasperation.
“Look, pal. If you knew the kind of crank shit I deal with on a daily basis because of this damn hotline, you’d get the reason for the threat. So get to the point. Get there fast.”
The woman on the other end of the line sent a vibe that was anything but soothing. It was almost antagonistic. No, there was no almost about this. It was definitely antagonistic, and it riled him from the tips of his toes to the frames of his, as his sister had once called them, nerd-dweeb glasses.
Under normal circumstances, he wasn’t easily riled. Harry Ralph Emmerson was a problem solver, and he always remained calm whenever a quandary arose. But this problem? This wasn’t a problem that could be solved with a calculator, and it didn’t have a definitive answer. This problem would rile even the most patient and sage of wise men.
Harry crouched lower under the table, thankful for his flexibility, while fighting the strange onslaught of heat rushing through his veins. “Again, how is this supportive?”
“Awww,” the angry woman cooed with a mocking tone. “You just missed the sensitive, squishy paranormal-counselor-with-a-heart by like twenty minutes. She skipped off to have date night with her man. Instead, you’re stuck with the cranky, impatient, bitchy counselor-who-doesn’t-have-a-heart. Like literally. So get on with this shit. I got a kid to go home and feed.”
Harry cleared his throat and ignored the scream of his rumbling stomach. He’d just had trail mix a half hour ago. That should have held him over until dinner, but this ache in his gut was bigger than just a warning sign. It was time for dinner.
Images of heaping piles of red meat dripping in blood, with a side of more red meat dripping in blood, flickered through his mind’s eye in startling detail.
Swallowing hard, he remained as focused as he could with the caged lion in his belly. “I think we got off on the wrong foot. So let me start by apologizing for any and all faux pas I mistakenly made due to the stress of my predicament. I can’t promise there won’t be more. I’m walking a tightrope where my sanity’s concerned here, and that could make for bad judgment on my part. Please, can we begin again? First, I’m Harry, not Harold, Emmerson. Sort of like the writer, but not. My father’s name was Harry, and my mother loved—”
There was an abrasive peal of a horn in his ear. Like a bike horn. “Hear that, Harry?”
He gritted his teeth. “I did.” Jesus—it was still vibrating in his head.
“Good. That’s my ‘I don’t give a shit about your life story’ horn. It’s from my kid’s Barbie tricycle she won’t even be able to ride for at least another five years. But her Grandpa Arch insisted she have it because he’s addicted to woot.com and online shopping. Anyway, if I sound the horn—that means I don’t give a shit and you move on.”
Abrasive horn equaled moving on. Understood. “Got it. And you are?”
There was a grating snort, and then the woman with the steeped-in-whiskey voice said, “Well, Harry, not Harold, Emmerson, I’m Nina Blackman-Statleon—unwilling fucking paranormal crisis counselor and full-time vampire. Now, go!” She barked the order, making him cringe at how sharp and clear her voice rang in his ear.
He cleared his throat, loosening his tightening tie with his forefinger and stretched his neck, ignoring Nina’s use of the word “vampire” in order to maintain the vestiges of his sanity. “I read on the Internet that you can help me with my paranormal crisis needs. Is that true?” Jesus and hell. He hoped it was true. Because if it wasn’t—really, where else was there to turn? Who could you call when something like this happened?
Dean and Sam?
The lucid, almost always able to find a reasonable explanation, half of his brain said this number he’d found on the Internet and the crackpot who’d answered was all just a bunch of hooey.
Yet, despite his misgivings about vampires and demons, he’d dialed it anyway. Out of sheer desperation, and with more hair than a pack of Siberian huskies sprouting from his face, his fingers had punched in the OOPS number without ever looking back.
Because his sensible, thinking mind told him what had just occurred after he’d sipped his vitaminwater wasn’t a case of hypertrichosis. Not with the speed in which he’d been affected. It couldn’t be . . .
Not to mention, he was well and truly stuck in this room—under a table. There was no getting out of here—not like this—not at the end of a workday when every one of his colleagues could see him leaving the offices in tumbleweeds of unsightly hair. He needed help to escape quickly and quietly before he was discovered—all hairy and sharp-of-tooth. This OOPS website claimed it could help. It listed all sorts of examples of how they could help.
The tapping of a finger, like the sound of a hydraulic jack in his head, recaptured his attention. “Harrry?”
He grimaced at the throb of pressure Nina’s incessant thrumming created in his head. “Ms. Statleon?”
“Get . . . to . . . the . . . fucking . . . point!”
Harry squeezed his temple with his thumb and forefinger. “I need help. I’m trapped. Can you help?”
There was a sharp cluck of Nina’s tongue and then she said, “Depends on the crisis.”
“Could you be any more vague?” he snarled, baring his teeth. Oh, shit. He’d snarled. And bared his teeth.