Ash Thibodeaux dusted off her jeans and waited for the next person in the soup kitchen to come to replace her spot at the serving counter. The spicy gumbo beside the stack of sweet corn cakes made her stomach grumble. Damn, she should've picked up a Po’boy with cheese on the way here this morning. Another hour and all the food would be gone and the dishes cleaned.
Should've thought about how everyone loved her Grams cooking. There were never any leftovers when she and Ash cooked their monthly meal for the homeless.
“Afternoon, Miss Ash.” Ned, one of the regulars, shuffled in front of her with a partially toothless smile. “Can I get two of them cornbreads?”
She glanced behind him to the dwindling line out the door. If she went by the rules, only one serving of each per person, there was a better chance of her being able to have a corn cake leftover rather than the gumbo. Her stomach rumbled again reminding her that she hadn’t eaten yet today.
“What was that?” he asked then pointed a crooked finger at her. “That you? Maybe I should give you my piece.”
“Don't be silly.” She smiled and planted two pieces of the sweet cornbread on his tray. “I'll get some grub once everyone's been served.”
He checked over his shoulder at the people strolling in. “You sure there'll be anything but crumbs left?”
“It's okay,” she winked, “I’ll swing by Grams’ house, she always has something cooking on the stove.”
“Tell your Grams hello for me.” He pushed his tray down the line to the cups of sweet iced tea waiting. “And tell her we need her cooking more than once a month. Yesterday the green beans were as soggy as wet mud.” His bushy brows furrowed.
Ash laughed and waved him on. Her Grams was too busy cooking up mischief to cook for the soup kitchen more than once a month. Like when Grams said she tagged a dragon shifter... Taurian. Who just happened to look human. And linked him and Ash so that if he returned to his planet without her, she'd beam up there beside him.
She shook her head. Aliens. Whatever. And Grams insisted her ancestors had mated with the dragons before the humans turned on them back in the dark ages. Yeah right, and next planet to the dragons is farting fairies. Demons were real, she’d seen them. Smelt their sulfuric breath on her face too many times. But dragons? Yeah, never seen one of those except in fairytales.
There was only one supernatural creature Ash believed in. The kind that relished in evil and possessed people and wanted to destroy all humans. Demons. And Ash trained her ass off every day for years to fight those bastards. Ever since one killed her parents.
She handed out the bread and watched as the line and food dwindled down to nothing. Her penitence for having to kill so many possessed people who were beyond saving. Plus homeless people were the best gossip line in the city. They saw things no one else would think twice about.
“You up for dishwash duty?” Charles asked, scrapping the last bit of gumbo out of the pot for Mrs. Pearl.
“Have I ever backed out of cleaning before?” Ash gave Mrs. Pearl the last two pieces of corn cake with a smile.
“Well, there was that time last year at Christmas where you tore after a guy dressed as one of the wise men. Didn't think you the kind to chase a man.”
She shrugged. Truth was, the man had been possessed. She'd seen his demonic aura reflected in the soup kitchen window for a millisecond. But it had been long enough for her to know a demon was using the man's body.
“So what happened to that guy you went after? Did he give you a date?” Charles scratched his cheek. “Or do I need to give him a talking to since I've never seen him around since.”
“No, nothing like that.” She waved a hand. “I thought he was someone I knew. Turns out he wasn't, that's all.”
“Ah huh.” Charles hefted up the kettle that probably weighed more than he did soaking wet.
She rushed to help him carry the pot into the back. “When will you stop worrying about my dating life? I’m fine.” No way would any guy understand anyway why she had to dash off at all hours to destroy demons whenever she could. Nope, anyone would lock her up in an asylum and bury the key.
Together, they moved the empty kettle into the industrial-sized sink. Two other volunteers, she didn’t know, came in carrying the empty sausage pan and salad bowl.
“I’ve got this.” Charles waved them off. “You all go enjoy being young and single.”
The others left, but Ash stepped forward, running dish soap over the huge kettle. “Let me help.”
He nudged her shoulder and grinned. “You should go too. Won’t be long and you’ll be as old as me and wished you were able to run around town and stay up late.”
“Right, like you don’t party over on—”
“Watch it!” He flicked water at her. “Don’t go saying my secrets too loud. At my age, you can’t afford to piss anyone off of the opposite sex.” He waggled his eyebrows at the owner of the soup kitchen, Margret.
Ash winked. “Then let me clean this pot so I can swing it by Grams on my way out and we’ll call it even. Deal?”
“Deal.” He bumped her elbow with his since his hands were covered in sudsy water.
After she finished cleaning her grandmother’s pan, she waved bye to Margaret and Charles. Outside, she tied the kettle to the back of her motorcycle. She tugged on her yellow helmet with the black painted skull on the back. Lowering her visor, a glimmer of a spiked aura dodged behind a limo. Seconds later the car jerked out onto the road.
“No!” Her throat closed. She hopped onto her bike and push started it. In moments, she zoomed down the street and after the limo that weaved in and out of traffic like it was in a car crash video game. Ash hugged her body low on the bike as she revved the engine and took a sharp turn.
What was a demon doing out here in this part of town? Nothing much going on here but homeless and shelters. Her heart stopped a fraction of a second. Had the demon possessed one of them? One of her friends? She turned the throttle and increased her speed after the limo.
The out-of-control limo sideswiped a van, sending the other car spinning into traffic. Ash jerked her handlebars to the left, riding along the median, dodging cars crashing into each other and road debris. She gritted her teeth. Couldn’t stop to help anyone or the demon would get away and harm more people or worse. The demon shot out of the freeway and headed across the median into oncoming traffic.
Son of a bitch! If the demon did manage to kill its host, it would just hop into a new body and continue its rampage until it had time to reproduce into thousands more using the dead body it wore.
Ash gunned her engine and zipped ahead of the limo. Glancing behind her, she couldn’t make out the driver through the sun shining on the windshield. Only one chance to get this right or she’d end up dead along with whoever couldn’t stop in time of a head-on collision.
Her back tire skidded across the asphalt, and she leaned in the direction to keep control of her bike.
Spotting the limo enough distance behind her, but not slowing, she turned a donut in the middle of the road. Cars whizzing past her and honking. A break in the traffic gave some relief. But more vehicles headed toward her and the demon at full speed. They didn’t see the danger ahead as the limo careened the wrong way on the highway less than a mile away from behind her now.
An eighteen wheeler raced toward her. If she could get the trailer to jackknife, she could block other vehicles from coming down the freeway and then deal with the demon limo driver. Hopefully the trucker would be able to stop in time and not get hurt.
Smoke poured out her tailpipe as she gunned her bike. She zipped along the side shoulder, unhooking her katana from its holder mounted to her motorcycle. When she caught up to the massive semi, she whipped around until she was behind one of his front tires. She thrust the sword into the tire. The rubber blew out, flinging the sword away as she raced past him. His backend swerved to the side. Screeching brakes and metal echoed behind her. Hopefully the truck driver could see the limo on the wrong side of the road and stop in time.
For now, she had to focus on the limo as it barreled toward her. If she didn’t time this right, she’d be a bloody spot on the road.
God, please don’t let the demon overtaken anyone I know. She grabbed the shorter katana on the other side of her bike. The limo veered around the semi.
A cement truck honked, ramming into the limo. But the demon floored the gas. The limo’s wheels spun as it tried to gain traction and flee.
Too late, asshole.
She jerked her bike to the limo. When the front tire kissed the limo’s bumper, she leaped up and over the hood. Her sword in hand, she smashed it through the windshield. But the hilt wouldn’t go past the glass. The tip a breath away from the demon’s nose…Ned!
No, no, no. The metal tinked as she tried again and again for the blessed steel to touch the demon. If she could break the skin, she might be able vanquish the demon and save Ned before he was spawned into more of the creatures. But the windshield refused to yield or even break any more like it was reinforced with some type of shielding. Fuck! She punched her fist into the glass only to have pain radiating through her hand. She needed her other sword, it was a foot longer than this one.
Inside the car, the demon met her gaze. He blew her a kiss, then smiled, looking past her.
Another eighteen wheeler, this one not stopping fast enough, skidded along straight toward them. One of its hubcaps snapping off as it struck a smaller car. Shit! She leapt off the limo’s hood, losing her balance when the hubcap hit her helmet. A crack vibrated in her skull just before the pavement rushed up to meet her.