Part One: Through the Looking Glass (No, seriously, I’m not kidding. I actually went through a freaking looking glass.)
All the hottest mail order brides come from Russia.
Russia or somewhere over in the Ukraine. At least, that’s what it looks like if you’re surfing the Internet late at night and you run across one of those awful Bride sites.
All those women are tall and thin with sleek, perfect hair and sexy smiles. Oh, and they’re all willing to travel halfway around the world to get out of the crappy place they’re living and start a new life.
Of course, they might change their minds if they found out they’d have to travel halfway across the freaking universe. That might be a deal breaker. I know it would have been for me—if anyone had given me a choice.
I didn’t get a choice though. In fact, I didn’t even know I was in the AMI. That’s the Alien Mate Index—which is the site full of women that Alien males with a taste for Earth girl coochie can choose from. Hell, I didn’t even know there was an Alien Mate Index at all!
Until I got abducted.
Now, lest you go thinking that I’m some six-foot tall, hot, blonde supermodel, let me set the record straight. I’m not. I’m so not.
I’m five four in my stocking feet and I have curly auburn hair that tends to frizz on a humid day. And since I live in Florida, every day is a humid day.
In addition to not being tall with sleek blonde hair, I am also not thin. That’s okay though—I’m not afraid to admit I’m plus sized. I own my curves and I love them. I spent too many years at Weight Watchers counting points until I felt like a freaking adding machine. Finally I decided, you know what? Forget it. Me getting skinny just isn’t going to happen.
Now I live my life by the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the time I eat healthy and the other twenty percent I eat a damn donut if I want it. So what if I’m a size sixteen the rest of my life? I can deal with that as long as I don’t have to live on nothing but kale and quinoa. Krispy Kreme is more my style anyway.
I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that I’m not exactly mail order bride material. I’m just an ordinary girl with a little more junk in the trunk than usual, flyaway red hair, and too many freckles. I’m not the kind of girl a guy would point to on a website and go—“Her—oh my God, I’ve got to have her.”
At least, I didn’t think so.
Again, until I got abducted.
But let me tell you about that—and you might want to take some notes. You might want to know what or who might be coming for you. That’s because you never can tell who might be watching you, even when you’re having the most boring, awful, ordinary day of your life…
“Oh my God, he’s being an asshole again. I’m telling you, Leah, I can’t take much more,” I muttered into my phone as I sat huddled in a stall of the employee bathroom at Lauder, Lauder and Associates. I worked as a paralegal there and the lawyer I was assigned to, Dayton Lauder the third, was a real piece of work.
Dayton always spoke in this booming voice, as though he was addressing a crowd of admirers and he wanted the ones in the back to be able to hear him. Unfortunately, most days it was just him and me and I was most definitely not an admirer. That didn’t stop him from “yell-talking”(as my friend Charlotte called it) all the time, though. I ended most work days with a pounding headache.
If poor voice modulation was the worst thing I had to put up with, I might not have minded so much. Unfortunately, Dayton had other problems that put the “yell-talking” one in the shade.
One problem was his personal hygiene—or lack thereof. When most people think of a lawyer, they imagine some sexy associate from The Good Wife with an immaculate, pressed, tailored suit, neatly clipped hair, and manicured hands.
Not Dayton Lauder the third.
As a tax lawyer, he didn’t really go to court much. He just sat in his office and did paperwork, so I guess he thought it didn’t matter how he came to work.
Well, it mattered to me. Or anybody that got too close to him.
My boss had a love affair with brown, polyester suits. I say “suits” but in fact, I was convinced he only owned one of them which he wore every single day and never cleaned. It was rumpled and wrinkled and he wore it with a stained white shirt that had dirt marks on the collar and sleeves. Every time he waved his arms—he did this a lot while he was “yell-talking”—a huge cloud of nauseating BO would waft out, nearly knocking me over if I stood too close.
He had coffee breath too—not too surprising since he had me brew him several pots a day. Of course, I’m a paralegal, not a freaking barista but the economy sucked and I needed the job. So I brewed the damn coffee and even fixed it just the way he liked it—three creams and four sugars.
Now, people can be socially awkward and not be horrible. But again, not my boss. He shouted at me a lot and just that morning he’d actually thrown a stapler at my head because I had stapled his papers in the top left hand corner instead of putting the staple right in the middle where he preferred it.
What an ass.
After the stapler incident, I had run to the bathroom where I was pouring out my heart to Leah, one of my two best friends.
“Oh, Zoe, I’m so sorry.” Leah had a soft, sweet voice—everything about her was soft and sweet actually—that I normally found soothing. But today, I was too upset to be soothed.
“He threw a stapler at my freaking head,” I emphasized.
“That’s awful,” she exclaimed. And then I heard her say, “All right, sweetheart, I’ll help you find your pony in just a minute. Right now, though, Miss Heidi is in charge. Okay?”
Leah works in a private daycare center that specializes in mildly autistic children and she’s better with kids than I could ever be. Talk about the patience of a saint.
“Kids sneaking into the break room again?” I asked.
She sighed. “Yes, I’m sorry. Heidi is supposed to be in charge but they always seem to want me. Makes it hard to take a break.”
“I shouldn’t be taking up your time then,” I said. “Let me let you go.”
“No—keep talking. You need to get it off your chest.” Leah would make an awesome therapist, I swear, which is what she really wanted to be if she could ever get back to school.
There was a clicking on the line that I recognized.
“Oh, no. Hang on,” Leah said, her soft voice suddenly filled with dread. There was a pause and I wondered if it was Gerald, her overprotective fiancée calling. Leah always claimed he had her best interest at heart but over time he had become more and more controlling until Charlotte, my other best friend, and I, were really worried about her.
A moment later, Leah came back on.
“It’s just Charlotte,” she said, her voice filled with relief. “Should I put her on too?”
“Of course. She must have gotten my message—I called her before I called you.” I cleared my throat. “I, uh, thought it might be Gerald calling you again,” I said as she merged the calls.
“Nope. He’s off on a business trip this weekend.” Leah’s voice sounded light and happy—I wondered if she had any idea that she sounded that way when her fiancée was gone.
“Who’s on a business trip? Gerald?” Charlotte’s no-nonsense voice came on the line, filled with disbelief. “And he trusts you to be in the house alone all weekend?”
“Of course he trusts me.” There was a note of defensiveness in Leah’s voice that worried me. I had never liked her fiancée and lately his nasty attitude seemed to be getting worse. But now wasn’t the time to stage a “your boyfriend is a controlling asshole” intervention. Taking pity on her, I decided to turn the conversation back to my current situation.
Quickly, I outlined the situation to Charlotte. She’s a nurse practitioner working for an orthopedic surgeon—he even lets her assist in some of the surgeries he does. She has the best job by far of the three of us but I can’t be jealous of her for it—she really busted her ass to get where she is. Not that getting a paralegal degree is all rainbows and unicorns but it’s not as complicated as what Charlotte is doing.
“Report him to Human Resources,” Charlotte said at once, when I finished the near-miss-stapler-to-the-head story for the second time.
I sighed. “We’ve been over that—you know I can’t! His uncle and father own the company. Human resources isn’t going to do jack shit about it!”
“Zoe…” Leah didn’t like harsh language.
“Sorry, Leah but you know it’s true. I just—”
Suddenly I heard a strange gurgling coming from the stall beside me. Uh-oh—was someone in there? Specifically, was Mindy the office tattletale taking notes?
“Hang on a minute, guys,” I told my friends in a low voice. “I’m not sure I’m alone in here.”
“Uh-oh,” Leah whispered.
I risked a glance down but didn’t see any feet at the bottom of the stall. My heart, which had started to pound, slowed a little. Whew—all safe, I had the bathroom to myself to bitch!
“Everything okay?” Charlotte asked.
“Yup. All clear.” I sighed again. “Look guys, I know I complain about my asshole boss—sorry Leah—all the time but this is the first time he’s actually thrown something at me. I swear I don’t know what is wrong with him!”
“He’s a jerk,” Charlotte said bluntly. “And he shouldn’t get away with it.”
“Right,” I muttered. “And he wouldn’t if I had the guts to quit. But I need this job too much—I’ll lose my apartment if I walk off now.”
“How about that law firm downtown?” Leah asked. “I thought you were going to put in an application there.”
“I did,” I said. “But they aren’t hiring right now. So I don’t—”
Suddenly the gurgling sound in the stall next to me started up again. Only this time it was louder—so loud in fact it sounded like the toilet was overflowing. And then I heard this weird music—kind of like a trumpet blast only louder.
“What the Hell?” I muttered, pushing open the door of my stall. What was going on in the stall beside me? Was someone flushing the toilet and playing a trumpet at the same time? And if so, who was doing it? As far as I knew, we didn’t have any budding musicians at Lauder, Lauder and Associates. Or if we did you wouldn’t know it—I swear working at that place smothered every spark of creativity. Still, I decided to check out the noise. When I bent down, I still didn’t see any feet.
“Zoe? What’s going on?” Charlotte asked.
“Yeah—what’s that music?” Leah chimed in. Geeze, was it really so loud they could hear it on the other end of the phone?
“I don’t know,” I said. “But I’m going to find out.”
Which was absolutely the stupidest thing I could have done. But of course, I didn’t know it at the time. This being pre-abduction, as I said before.
Carefully, I tented my fingers and pushed lightly on the stall door. It swung open slowly revealing…nothing. Just a handicapped stall with railings on one side of the toilet and a sink with a mirror over it.
Wait…maybe not nothing.
The mirror over the sink was doing something weird. And by weird, I mean it wasn’t reflecting what I expected it to be reflecting—namely my reflection. Instead, it had a swirling pattern going on—a whirling ring of colors that spun outward from a single point. It looked like one of those hypno-gifs you see sometimes where you’re supposed to stare at it for two minutes and then close your eyes and look away and you’ll see something you’ve never seen before.
Well, I was about to see something I’d never seen before—and it was going to change my life—only I didn’t know it at the time.
Like a fool, I moved closer.
“Zoe? Zoe?” the voices of my two best friends pulled me back to reality. I looked down at the phone in my hand and realized I was just holding it limp at my side. When had I taken it away from my ear? And how had I gotten so close to the swirling mirror? I was standing right in front of it, almost close enough to touch it.
“Guys?” I started to lift the phone to my ear and that was when the swirling stopped and a face appeared.
Not my face—that would have been normal.
No, it was another face—an alien face—and it was staring at me, right out of the mirror.
I wanted to scream but all of the air seemed to have left my lungs somehow. What the hell was going on?
The alien face looked at me speculatively. It was male—that much was clear. Strong features and gold eyes with vertical pupils like a cat’s stared back at me. He had cheekbones sharp enough to cut yourself on and a nose that looked like it had been broken at least once. A neatly clipped mustache and goatee framed sensual lips that looked cruelly amused. He had dark red skin—almost maroon—I could see a lot of that because he appeared to be wearing a black, wife-beater type t-shirt that left his muscular arms bare.
Actually, except for the cat eyes and red skin, he looked strangely human. Well, except for the horns.
Did I mention he had freaking horns?
Because he did—little short, sharp pointed ones, growing out either side of his forehead—right at his temples.
I stared at them, dumbfounded, unable to speak for a moment. And that’s unusual for me because I’m almost always shooting off my mouth.
All I could think was, the Devil. Oh my God, the freaking Devil was staring at me from the mirror of the handicapped bathroom at Lauder, Lauder and Associates and I had no idea what to do.
My mind started going over all the things I’d done wrong recently. Okay, I might have fudged a little on my taxes. Using my laptop to check reports while I lay on the couch watching Sherlock reruns on Netflix counts as having a home office—right? And then there was the time I accidentally shoplifted a pair of socks. I forgot I had them in my hand and walked right out of the store with them. And then I was too embarrassed to bring them back so I guess I basically stole them but I didn’t mean to so—
Suddenly, the Devil spoke, ending my train of thought as thoroughly as though it had run into the side of a mountain.
“Yes,” he said in a deep, growling voice. “She is the one.”
The one for what? The one to drag straight down to Hell and poke in the ass with a fiery pitchfork? Oh my God, was cheating on my taxes and shoplifting socks that bad?
“I…I’m sorry,” I stuttered but just then another voice—a piping, high voice like a Disney animal—answered him.
“If you are certain this female is the one Your Eminence requires, then I shall begin the transport at once.”
Transport? What Transport? Instinctively, I began backing away from the haunted mirror to Hell but then the swirling started again. And this time there was a wind that went with it.
A sucking, howling wind that dragged at me, pulling me towards the mirror.
“Help!” I screamed, or tried to scream, anyway. My voice was lost in the vortex as I was pulled closer and closer to the mirror.
My feet left the floor and I put out my hands, trying to stop my forward momentum. My phone clattered into the sink and I could hear Leah and Charlotte shouting on the other end of it but their voices seemed tiny and distant.
My hand connected to the mirror…and sank into it. I gasped in fear as I saw first my hand and then my whole arm swallowed up in the swirling psychedelic colors. My other hand and arm followed and suddenly the mirror was right in front of my face.
And then I felt myself getting sucked in completely. Lauder, Lauder and Associates disappeared and the last thing I heard was my two best friends frantically screaming my name.
Who knew the gateway to Hell was located in the employees’ bathroom?