The Apache kidnapped me to dispel an evil ghost from their village. If I tell them I don't possess the same skills my madre did, they'll cut my throat and feed me to the dogs. Celesta was the best spirit chaser in all of New Mexico before she died.
The most I can hope for is that Emmett, my fiancé, will rescue me. Is he capable of such a thing? Poppy must not have thought so because he sent Deacon Bannister to save me. Deacon…the man who walked away days before our wedding a year ago. The man who still melts my bones after one look.
We're running for our lives from Uday, the vaporous ghoul tracking us. He wants Sacheen, the beautiful maiden banished from the Apache village who travels with us. The warrior killed her father when Sacheen refused to marry him, and then Sacheen's brother killed Uday.
The ghost's powers grow stronger every minute on our journey back to El Vaquero...and so does my love for Deacon.
A shadow hovered near the fires, ducking in between stalks of cacti and other scrub brush. Maddie drew a deep breath and ambled forward with Elan beside her. Amid the dissonant chants and prayers, warriors brandishing spears and shields hollered into the gray mist. Maddie squinted, hoping to catch sight of the ghoul the others couldn't see. Only powerful shamans and spirit chasers had trained themselves to look upon the face of a dead spirit. A ripple of fear spread through her limbs and shivered down her spine when la fantasma appeared before her.
A mass of black patterns and swirls marred his enraged face. His eyes were hollow and black until a den of serpents slithered from the sockets–a deception the spirit had learned in his brief time in the underworld.
Maddie swallowed hard and sneaked a glance at Elan. Standing tall and looking formidable, she had to admire the man's courage. "It is you he seeks to destroy, Elan, to forge a path to Sacheen. I will go forth on my own now."
Elan shook his head, his expression one of disbelief. "Why would you put yourself in suchdanger? We wait and see what the dead man will do."
"No. It is what he wants, for all in the village to fear him. Only then does his true power unfold. I will meet his challenge; let him know I am here to banish him back to the dead." "Although I cannot", she whispered under her breath.
The ghost twisted and turned, retreating back from the fire, only to appear seconds later at another location in camp. He screamed and howled, the otherworldly sounds rumbling through the village like a murderous dust storm.
Maddie shrugged aside Elan's grip on her elbow and walked forward. "Madre, be with me," she said to the ground. The moon had not shown its face this night but a smattering of a million stars gave enough light for Maddie to focus on the grim outline of the wretch. "Lift up your eyes dead spirit and hear my words."
An inhuman screech sent a blast of wind in her direction. It lashed her face and whipped her long hair into a frenzy.
"You are small and weak. I do not fear you!" she screamed, bewildered by the words spewing from her mouth. "The wolf has sung your passing and the bear has grumbled low. Sing your death song and return to the underworld."
The wailing chants of the shamans echoed behind her.
Ignoring her warning, Elan suddenly appeared beside her, only to be struck to the ground when the ghoul unleashed a stream of lightning spikes from the sky. Elan moaned, clutched his broken arm and attempted to rise.
"Stay down!" Maddie ground out between clenched teeth.
Her mother's voice rode the crest of her fear. Be strong, Madrid, try again.
Her knees shook and her spine curled, but she took another step forward. "Your breath has moved to another world. You must remain with it. Do you hear me, dead spirit? You are no longer welcome here. Your relatives have said farewell and so must you, never to return."
A refrain from the Apache against her back bolstered her courage—a roar of cheers and the synchronized trampling of moccasins beating the ground.
Torrents of rain fell from the sky, pounding Maddie into the earth beneath her feet. Wet dirt spiraled up her nose and debilitating pain wracked her body. A hand clamped over her arm. When Maddie realized it belonged to Elan, a sigh of relief mingled with the cold blast of air surrounding them. Sacheen's brother pulled her against his wet body and crawled toward camp, dragging her with him.
A triumphant scream from the ghost rent the air, pitching the warriors into a cowering retreat. The cold, gray dawn swept over camp. Shivering with despair, Maddie turned to Elan. "His power is great."
Out of breath and still clutching his arm, he nodded.
Maddie raised a fist to the sky. "We have failed this night, dead spirit, but we will not the next time we meet."
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