Friday, December 6, 2013

Blog Tour! Excerpt and Giveaway Night Chill by Jeff Gunhus

Publication date: May 31st 2013
Genres: Adult, Supernatural, Thriller

Jack Tremont moves his family to the quiet mountains of Western Maryland hoping to leave behind a troubled past and restart his life. Instead, he finds himself caught up in a nightmare when his daughter Sarah is targeted by Nate Huckley, a mysterious and horrifying stranger driven by a dark power that will stop at nothing to possess Sarah. When Sarah goes missing, suspicion falls on Jack and he must uncover the secrets of the small mountain town of Prescott City and face the evil secret hidden there. As he digs further, he learns the conspiracy reaches more deeply than he could have imagined. Finally, he will have to face the question, What is a father willing to do to save his child? The answer? Anything. Anything at all.

The door creaked as Jack applied just enough pressure to make it move. Inch by careful inch, he opened the door, ready to let go on the first indication that anyone was inside. A faint thunk-thunk of a respirator and the electric buzz of monitors were the only sounds in the room. Dim lights cast a pale orange hue over everything. From the door, the room opened up to the left after a short hall with a doorway for a toilet. For someone standing at the door, the angle cut most of the room from sight. Designed to provide patients with a higher degree of privacy, it also hid Huckley’s face from view.
Jack stayed close to the wall as he slid further into the room. He could see the lower half of the hospital bed extending from the left side of the room. Huckley’s legs were a hump under the grey hospital blanket. Two more steps into the room and Jack would be able to see his face.
He stopped and steadied himself against the wall. His heart pounded in his chest and he was suddenly short of breath. What was he doing here? What was he trying to prove? He knew what happened last night and seeing the man wouldn’t change anything.
But Jack had to see him. He lived by confronting the challenges that stood in his way, the physical ones anyway. He purposely pursued his fears in order to overcome them. He feared heights, so he took up skydiving. He feared public speaking, so he spoke at college campuses and to business groups. Most of all, he feared failure, so he forced himself to pursue the most difficult challenges and took the greatest risks.
Something happened inside of him last night, something he didn’t like. In a few seconds, his entire world had nearly been blown apart by a maniac and he had been powerless to stop him. All the security he spent a lifetime building for his family was laid bare at that moment, and an awful truth was forced on to him, the same truth that haunted him from the day of the car crash in California, the day Melissa Gonzales died on the hood of his car. The unsavory truth that everything he loved could disappear in a heartbeat.
There were no rules, no fairness, no breaks for good conduct. Life could turn to death in a matter of seconds and you never knew when something could lash out and strike you down. Like the lightening bolt that burned a hole through Albert James’ head. Acts of nature. Freak accidents. Wasn’t that enough to deal with without having to add a deranged psychopath to the list?
Jack believed that through sheer diligence he could somehow protect his family from the bad things of the world. Deep down he knew it was na├»ve, but he allowed himself the fantasy. He didn’t know how else to deal with a world where everything could be taken away without warning. But Huckley had pulled the sheet back and exposed the fragility of his fantasy. The encounter kept replaying in his head; each time Huckley became less of a man and more of a monster, unstoppable, uncontrollable. It felt as if his run-in with Huckley had immersed him in cold water, shocking him awake to his own vulnerability. And now, as Jack stood just out of sight from Huckley’s body, the chill of that immersion made his hands tremble.
Jack detested the way he felt, the weakness, the lack of control. The only way he knew how to deal with a challenge was confrontation. In his mind, Huckley was a pale, ghoulish mask in a thunderstorm, a twisted smile, a dark dream more nightmare than real. Jack needed him to be just a man again. Something natural. Something normal. 
He stepped into the room.
Relief was his first emotion. Huckley lay prone in the hospital bed, the covers pulled up to his chest. His arms were on top of the blanket and fitted with an IV and sensors. Other wires and tubes ran from Huckley’s disabled body to the monitoring equipment arrayed next to the bed. An oxygen mask and nose tube covered his face and measured out his breathing. Jack wasn’t sure what he expected but the person lying on the bed in front of him was definitely not the monster he had built up in his mind.  Relief at Huckley’s utter plainness soon gave way to confusion. This was the face of a murderer? He looked more like someone’s favorite uncle than a killer. No wonder no one believed him.
Jack checked the corners of the ceiling to make sure there were no cameras. Seeing none, he stepped further in to the room to get a closer look.
As he approached the bed, he noticed the bland smell of antiseptic mixed with the vaguely acrid smell of iodine. Jack stood next to the bed and looked down on the man who had terrorized him the night before.
The pale skin was even paler, but it no longer made him look menacing, just sickly. The man’s features didn’t gel with the sinister image burned in his mind from the night before. An angular bone structure and a rounded chin made Huckley more pleasant looking than handsome. He had pale blonde hair, so pale that his face seemed to lack eyebrows. Jack had been hoping to find some sign of evil, something to point to, for his own piece of mind. A tattooed swastika on his forehead like Manson would have been great. Anything to prove that the night before had not been his imagination and that this man was evil. But there was nothing and that disturbed him. For the first time, Jack wondered if he could have misinterpreted what had happened last night. He leaned against the bed, both of his hands on the blanket even with Huckley’s chest. He closed his eyes and tried to clear his head.
The fingers on Huckley’s right hand begin to twitch.
Lauren was likely done and looking for him by now. He knew she would be upset if she found out what he’d been up to, especially if she found out that he had told the on-duty nurse that she had asked him to check on Huckley. Sheriff Janney would have field a day with his clandestine visit. Jack could hear him now, spouting something about returning to the scene of the crime.
Huckley’s hand lifted off the blanket and hovered over Jack’s.
He had risked coming to the room for no good reason, he thought angrily. What the hell did he hope to accomplish here anyway? What was done was done. It was only a matter of time before they found the woman’s body. Then everyone would believe him. Sneaking into this crazy man’s room accomplished nothing.
Huckley’s fingers curled into a claw.
This guy was just some nutcake. End of story. The girls were fine. Just like Lauren told him, he had to focus on that. They were all fine. Life went on. 
Jack opened his eyes just in time to catch a blur of motion as Huckley seized his wrist. The fingers were like metal bindings digging into his skin. Jack cried out. He pulled back, prying the fingers back with his free hand. Huckley lurched upright in the bed. His other hand ripped off the tubes attached to his body. He yanked on Jack’s arm and pulled him to the side of the bed so they were face to face.
Huckley’s mouth parted in a smile and yellow teeth poked through dry, cracked lips. His nostrils flared as if he were an animal smelling its prey. Jack struggled against the man’s grip, but it was impossible to break away. Huckley licked the air with lewd flicks of his tongue.
With his free hand, Jack swung a wild punch and landed it against Huckley’s jaw. A gash opened across Huckley’s face like a crack in dried ground. The wound was deep but no blood poured from it. Huckley’s mouth hung down at an impossible angle, his jaw broken.
Huckley shoved Jack away with both hands. Jack flew back from the bed and crashed into the far wall, barely staying on his feet. His instinct was to run to the door but he couldn’t move. He could only stare at what was happening in front of him.
 Huckley stood on the bed, his clawed hands holding the sheet to his body. . With a flick of his hand, he threw the sheet down and exposed his naked torso. Dark sores covered his skin, circular purple splotches with black centers. A foul smell like rancid meat filled the room. Jack gagged at the stench.
Huckley laughed, thick guttural noises that gurgled with phlegm.  He pointed at Jack and laughed louder; a mix of spittle and dark blood bubbled out of his mouth and dripped down his chin.
With his other hand, he stuck his finger into the black center of a sore, pushing it in one knuckle at a time until the entire finger had disappeared. Huckley worked the finger around in a circle with a wet, sucking sound.
Jack pushed his back against the wall behind him, as if he might push hard enough and climb into the wall and away from the monster in front of him. He wanted to close his eyes, but could not. He raised his arms to cover his face and gave into his horror. He filled his lungs and screamed.
“What the hell is going on in here?”
Strong hands were on his shoulders. Jack felt hot breath against his skin. He lowered his arms. Sheriff Janney’s face was inches from his own.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“It was Huckley. He…” Jack looked over the sheriff’s shoulder at the hospital bed. Nate Huckley lay there hooked up to the thunk-thunking respirator and quietly humming monitors. The bed sheet was tucked in around him, smooth enough to roll a quarter across.
“He was what?”
Jack rubbed the side of his head and closed his eyes. In his mind, he could still see the open sores. He heard the laughter. But it wasn’t real. Just his imagination. He had to get a grip on himself. He opened his eyes and smiled. “Sorry. It’s been a tough one. Lack of sleep’s making me see things.”
“Let’s see you get on out of here,” Janney said. “What the hell were you thinking?”
Jack didn’t try to answer. He just nodded his head and went for the door. The nurse from the front desk stood in the hall, clutching her book to her chest. Jack nodded in her direction as he walked out of the room but the nurse stared down at the floor.

Served him right, he thought. After all, he had lied to her to get into Huckley’s room. He turned to say something, an apology, anything, but she looked horrified. That’s when it hit him. The nurse wasn’t mad. She was scared of him.

In addition to writing supernatural thrillers for adults, Jeff Gunhus is also the author of the Middle Grade/YA series The Templar Chronicles. ( The first book, Jack Templar Monster Hunter, was written in an effort to get his reluctant reader eleven-year old son excited about reading. It worked and a new series was born and recognized as a 2012 Forward Reviews Book of the Year Finalist. Jeff has been a Stephen King and Dean Koontz fan since he was a kid reading their novels under the covers at night. Seeing Night Chill next to King and Koontz on the Amazon Bestseller lists has been a surreal experience. He leads an active lifestyle in Maryland with his wife Nicole and five incredible kids. In rare moments of quiet, he can be found in the back of the City Dock Cafe in Annapolis working on his next novel.

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