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Dogs of War: Vertigo

A modern day accountant with a level head and her feet firmly planted in ordinary reality, Genevieve doesn't believe in past lives, demons, or true love. All of which seems like a perfectly practical approach to life until the thing that killed her in World War One decides it’s time to try again…

Genevieve Oliver doesn't break the law. She doesn't take risks, and she definitely doesn't believe in anything weird. So getting pulled over for speeding on the way to pick up her new dog wasn't exactly on her to do list. Even more surprising, the cop who shows up at her window seems familiar. She’s never seen him before, and yet, just looking at the man makes her want to cry. But Viv has her head on straight.

She shakes off the encounter and heads to the dog breeder only to have an old magazine photo trigger a full blown, past life flashback. Not only do the soldiers in the picture look like her and her mysterious cop, she remembers them, a memory that holds as much danger as it does passion.

Now Viv is bouncing between two lives and being stalked by something evil in both of them. As the love story of two soldiers unfolds, her own heart opens for a man who may not even be available. Not that she has time to worry about minor details. If she can’t figure out the demon’s identity fast, Viv could lose more than just her life. She could lose everything she never believed in. 

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Frances Pauli

Frances Pauli was born and raised in Washington State. She grew up with a love of reading and storytelling, and was introduced to Science Fiction and Fantasy at an early age through the books kept and read by her father.

Though she always held aspirations to be a writer, she chose to obtain her Bachelor’s degree in visual arts. The stories, however, had other plans for her. By the time she entered her thirties, they were no longer content existing solely in her head. Compelled to free them, she set aside her easel and began to write in earnest.

Her original love of Speculative fiction combined with her covert excursions into the Romance section led her into the realms of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, where she finds herself quite comfortable. Her fascination with Science Fiction and a growing passion for the NASA channel divert her happily into tales of the far future, alternate dimensions, and the wonders of space, usually with at least a touch of romance.

Frances currently resides smack in the center of Washington with her husband and two children. When not writing she dabbles in insane things like puppetry, belly dance and playing the ukulele. She collects rocks, and is a firm believer in good wine, fine chocolate and dangerous men. Her short fiction has appeared in Alternative Coordinates magazine.

Visit Frances online at http://francespauli.com

Coming Soon...
Excerpt

Chapter One

Viv cursed the lights flashing in her rearview mirror. Her speedometer read ten over, five more that she’d normally travel and enough to earn her a nice, fat ticket. Damn. Her wipers squeaked and brushed off a thinning film of rain. The side of the highway beckoned like her own funeral. So much for her perfect record.

She pulled her Malibu onto the shoulder and eased to a stop. Dog toys were piled on the passenger seat, and she leaned across and shoved them out of the way. The registration would be in the lower glove box, the slidey one she never opened. Her elbow jabbed a squeaky toy and it joined the wiper blades in mocking her. The box was locked. A chew rope tumbled off the pile and landed amongst the litter on her floorboards. Viv sat up and turned off the engine.

The patrol car lights shimmered and blurred through the rain—red, blue, red. The driver’s side door opened, and she looked away. The flashing and haze spawned a wave of dizzy she didn’t care to continue. He’d want her license as well, and she knew where that was. Unfortunately her purse lay buried beneath the heap of supplies, dog toys, chewies and sweaters that she probably hadn’t needed to bring today. Her nerves had made her do it, made her bring the whole shebang, and now they made her hands tremble as she tried to extract her handbag.

The sweaters parted and she managed to get her purse open before the light tap, tap, at the window stopped her heart. Her fingers snagged the wallet that miraculously hadn’t drifted to the bag’s bottom, and she sat up and tugged it free in one move. She felt dizzy again, had to lean back against the seat to catch her breath and found it ragged, her pulse racing. Was she having a panic attack?

The tap came again. Great. She’d look guilty or worse, drunk. She slid her left hand out and pressed the window lever. It hummed, and the glass lowered while she tried to compose herself. Outside the window, a wall of uniform waited. Viv could just make out the name on the badge: Officer Adams. Her eyes darted to the rearview mirror and back. She didn’t look drunk. Maybe he’d be in a good mood. Maybe he loved dogs.

“License and registration.” Officer Adams spoke too quietly for a cop. He nearly whispered.

“Of course. One second.” Viv extracted her driver’s license from an inside slot in the wallet. The registration would take more maneuvering, but she could buy a moment by passing one of them over. She extended the photo ID out the window at the same time her cop leaned down to peer inside the Malibu.

He looked familiar.

Deep set brown eyes regarded her over a strong nose and classic cop mustache. She knew him. Viv would have staked anything on it right then, but she was almost just as sure they’d never met. She watched his eyes narrow so slightly she’d have missed it if she hadn’t been staring. The dizziness morphed into a pressure in her head. His mustache moved, but he didn’t say anything more.

She was going to cry. The realization startled her enough to drive her to action. She dropped her gaze to the card in her hand, waved it a little to catch his attention. Her license. The cop. She’d be getting a ticket any second now. How stupid would crying look? God, she didn’t want to find out.

She chewed her bottom lip and waited.

He hesitated. His eyes fell to the card and lifted. Viv found her hands gripping the steering wheel and didn’t remember how they’d gotten there. Don’t cry idiot. He’s just waiting for your registration. Shit. She’d only given him half the request. Now she sat like a weepy teenager and he had to be wondering what kind of drugs she’d taken.

She reached for the glove box at the same time he spoke again.

“Do you have a dog?” Again, his tone didn’t match his profession, or his face for that matter. She’d have bet his normal speaking voice boomed.

“What?” She sat up and the seat beside her squeaked again. Christ. She had a kennel in the back seat for heaven’s sake. It was a logical question. “No. I mean, I’m on my way to get one. A puppy.”

“I’ll be right back.” He took her card and stepped away from the car.

Viv watched him in her rearview mirror—cop walk—but his had a nice edge to it. Or was she imagining that? She didn’t imagine him stopping halfway between their vehicles. He paused and looked back down at her license. She still hadn’t offered her registration. How much more guilty could she make herself look? But he didn’t spin and come back to arrest her. Instead, he returned to his patrol car, swung into the driver’s seat and sat behind the wheel without closing the door.

Weird. She pressed her lips together again. They trembled, and her eyes stung. Stupid. It’s just a ticket. But the embarrassment of it burned, and she knew she’d be crying before he got back. He’d think she was trying to get out of the fine.

He was beautiful. Viv cringed at the thought and watched him unfold from the car again. She sniffed but held herself together while he walked back through the rain. Her chest shuddered. He reached the side of her car and stopped again.

This time, he didn’t bend down. He poked the license back through her window. Viv took it and they both held on a fraction longer than necessary.

“You have a perfect record,” he said.

“Yes.”

“I love dogs.”

The first tear escaped. He’d already turned and started away. Maybe he loved dogs. She cried while he started his car. Maybe she was sick. The dizziness could be a flu coming on. She should leave first. Wasn’t that the protocol? She fumbled the keys and had to duck to retrieve them from the floorboards. When she sat back up, his headlights already veered back out onto the road. His light bar went dark, and Officer Adams drove away.

****

“Thank goodness you didn’t get a ticket.” Paula closed the front door and shouted over the chorus of barking hounds. “I was getting worried you’d changed your mind.” She only teased. Paula of all people knew how rabid Viv was to have this puppy.

“Not a chance. Don’t you think he could still mail me a ticket?”

“Stop worrying, Viv.”

The little house vibrated with the sound of dogs waiting to receive attention. The big male, Tortuga, let out a low, throaty warning bark. All the girls yipped at their various pitches, but with a much more frenzied pace, and the whole song was punctuated by the sharp, soprano squeaking of Paula’s latest litter. Each doorway in Paula’s home sported a doggy gate, and from the entrance, Viv could see at least three bright-eyed faces peering at her from other rooms.

“Bajo Tortuga!” Paula pushed her stud out of the way and disappeared into the kitchen. The big male spun to follow her. He stood mid-thigh height, and his sleek black body hadn’t a hair on it. His tail whipped against her leg like a lash, tipped by the faintest covering of fine orange-blond hairs. “The puppies’ eyes are open,” Paula called back. “Come see.”

Viv sidestepped around Tortuga, dropping a hand to pat his broad head before climbing over the kitchen’s baby gate. His Mohawk matched his tail, orange and sparsely populated with short wiry, hair. Viv stroked his wrinkled forehead and ran her hand down the leather neck, and then left him to whine at the barrier.

Paula scooped up an armful of puppy. The baby wiggled and did its best naked mole rat impression, emitting a steady stream of tiny, frustrated grunting. Nothing came close to that cute.

“Is that the little male?” Another gate led into the breakfast nook, and there Paula’s youngest bitch had whelped in a plastic kiddie pool. The remaining three pups wiggled and roamed around the blankets, under the makeshift heat lamp in the divot where there mother had been only seconds earlier.

“Yeah. This one and the coated too.” Paula held the pup out and placed it in Viv’s arms. Then she bent back down and fetched the fatter of the two hairless females. “This is my pick.” She held the pup aloft, one hand under its tiny rump and the other encircling the midsection so that the puppy stared her in the face.

“She’s wonderful.” The pup in Viv’s arms squirmed, and she juggled position to keep the little body secure. Only half her attention fixed on the job, however. The other part focused on the gate beyond the breakfast nook, the one that led to the hallway where the older litter bounced and cackled for attention. That litter turned twelve weeks old yesterday and the puppies were ready to go to their forever homes.

She could see their little muzzles poking through the plastic grate. Viv spied the coated pup, a brindle female that would make a great agility dog according to Paula. She counted the backs by baldness—hairless, hairless. There. The middle pup had a swath of light hair down her spine. It extended over her shoulders and hips, way too much hair for the show ring, but not enough to be counted as a coated pup. That pup, the in-between pup, would never breed, never champion. It was “pet” quality only, and that meant just right in Viv’s book. It meant she could afford to own the dog of her dreams.

She kept her eye on her pup while she set the fat little male back down with its siblings. “How is my girl?”

Paula cuddled her pick of the new litter and grinned. “Ready to go home, I suspect.”

Viv’s shoulders dropped. Her spine released the last of nerves she hadn’t realized it had been holding. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she’d been afraid of a last minute hang up, of something getting in the way of her taking the pup today. It had just been such a weird day.

“Of course.” Paula’s voice teased, but it still gave her a small heart palpitation. “There are some papers to fill out first.”

“Right. Sure. Good.” Viv smiled but kept her eyes on the hallway.

“You can go see her first.” Paula already climbed back over the gate into the kitchen. “I’ll get everything ready.”

“Thanks.” She waited till Paula had rounded the corner before hiking her leg up over the puppy barrier. The mother of her soon to be pup bounced over at the same time, wagging her tail like a flag and perking up both pointed ears.

Viv bent down and scratched her neck before crossing the whelping area. She chuckled when the coated bitch vaulted the next gate to join her pups. They immediately swarmed her, even though they’d been fully weaned for weeks.

She leaned over and the mob turned to her. Sharp puppy claws batted at her arms, and a line of bright almond eyes regarded her intently. Bald, bald, bald. Her girl had been pushed to the far end. Viv reached out slowly and managed to scruff the neck before her littermates scooted between them. Rowdy puppies, but her girl leaned toward the shy side.

Paula said she’d need to give her time, to really concentrate on socialization once they’d bonded. Viv squatted lower and let the pups nibble her fingers. Looking smaller helped. They surged forward and she got to pet the pup’s bristly back. It felt exactly like she imagined an elephant would.

The truly hairless pups were gorgeous, but she couldn’t justify the expense. She didn’t show and had no intentions of breeding, but she loved these dogs. She’d wanted one for years now, but the timing had always been wrong. Her schedule had been too full of school and work to allow the time and focus a puppy needed. Until now. A new job, a new town and a new start had left her schedule startlingly devoid of commitments.

“You ready for me?” She stood and the pups cowered back a pace. Socialization, bonding, potty training. Her leisurely work from home days were about to get very busy, and Viv wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“All set.” Paula poked her head in from the living room side of the breakfast nook. There she’d run out of gates and used Tortuga’s big kennel and a piece of paneling to block the pups in. It worked most of the time.

Viv trailed back through the kitchen. She dodged Tortuga’s tail, but the big guy followed her into the living room where Paula had all the papers laid out on the coffee table. She stood again when Viv appeared.

“Have a seat and look through these. I’ll grab us some coffee.”

Paula’s couch had given up the fight against a house full of dogs. It sagged and frayed, but had cornered the market on comfortable. Viv flopped into it and waited for the breeder to trundle out of sight before diving on the paperwork. She picked up the stack and flipped through—bill of sale, registration, spay/neuter agreement. Tortuga pressed up against her legs. He rested his head on her knee and looked up at her with one ear standing perfectly at attention, and the other flopping half up and half down.

His owner returned, carrying two cups of coffee that dripped where she’d sloshed them navigating her barrier system. Her bright green track suit had a trail of evidence down the sleeve as well. But Paula grinned as usual, her round face bright with enthusiasm and her dark hair barely tied up in a wild bun at the back of her head. “You don’t take anything in this do you?”

“No.” Viv smiled and put the papers in her lap. The coffee table overflowed with dog magazines, and she tried to clear a spot for her coffee without spilling the stacks.

“Oh good. I’d rather not end up wearing the rest of this by going back for cream.” She set the coffee down and managed to spill a few more drops on the table in the process. “Did you find the pen?”

“Nope.” Viv eyed the mess on the table. “Not yet.”

Tortuga barked, one sharp boom that made her jump half out of her skin.

“Hush.” Paula shoved a stack of magazines aside, knocking her own coffee cup in the process.

Tortuga stood and spun in a circle. His tail slung behind him like a weapon, waving like mad. He barked again, and his hind end banged into the table. The tail swiped across the surface. Viv dove for her coffee, rescued it in the nick of time. The magazines tumbled in landslide to the floor. Tortuga barked and pounced on them.

“Idioto!” Paula stood up again. “I’ll get a towel and a pen.”

Viv laughed and set her mug on the taller end-table beside the couch. She shooed the grande male away from the magazines and bent down to straighten them. He barked again and pushed his muzzle into view. Maybe he had to go out. “Paula, does he have to...”

One magazine had fallen open. A long, black and white photo spread across the top half of both pages. Viv stared at it. Her chest tightened. Her hands picked up the glossy paper, but they trembled, and the paper rattled all the way to her lap. She looked at the line of men and felt the pressure again—a dizzy wave, the burn of tears starting.

She tried to breathe, but the room’s air thickened and pushed in on all sides. The row of soldiers—her vision focused on them and the rest of the world faded out into white noise. They stood in a line, each with an armband sporting an equal armed cross and each holding the end of a leash. The dogs lined up beside them, sitting or standing or staring down the camera. Viv exhaled slowly, and felt tears on her cheeks.

She knew them.

It defied explanation, that familiarity, but she couldn’t deny it. She felt, to her core, as if she was holding a family photo, a class picture, as if she looked at a group of loved ones that she hadn’t seen in years. Her lungs tightened. She forced another deep breath and let one finger stroke the picture. She wanted to hold it close. She wanted to go somewhere private and examine every individual—man and dog.

She looked into all their faces, but one stood out like a candle. His mustache was thicker, more old fashioned, and though the picture was black and white, Viv knew—she knew—that his eyes had been blue. Otherwise, the man in the photo might have been a twin to Officer Adams. Her hands trembled again. It felt like her throat closed off completely.

“Here we go.” Paula flopped down beside her and swiped a dishcloth across the table, coffee, magazines and all.

“Can I borrow this?” Each word sounded torn out, but Paula failed to notice. She stopped wiping and leaned over to see what Viv meant.

“Yeah. That’s last month’s. You can have it.”

“Thanks.” Viv looked into eyes that she had no business knowing were blue. She couldn’t stop looking.

“Hey, that’s weird.” Paula tapped the page, rough and irreverently, and Viv had to stifle the urge to slap her hand away. She held it together, but only barely when her breeder added, “That guy on the end looks just like you.”