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Whispers of the Serpent: Zoë Delante Thrillers, #2

Whispers of the Serpent: Zoë Delante Thrillers, #2

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Whispers of the Serpent: Zoë Delante Thrillers, #2

Length:
367 pages
5 hours
Released:
Aug 4, 2015
ISBN:
9781622532063
Format:
Book

Description

No rest for the Wiccan.

WINNER: Pinnacle Book Achievement Award -- Best Paranormal Suspense

Who is murdering babies in the Baltimore/D.C. area? For Zoë Delante, police clairvoyant, things gets personal when her one-year-old niece ends up missing. Someone is using magick to control and kidnap people, and they keep finding strange scales at all the crime scenes. Armed with stronger magick and new allies, everyone's favorite Wiccan races to unravel this mystery. But will it be enough?

"At times I was literally laughing out loud, other times sobbing, sometimes forgetting they were not friends I could reach out and help, but always throughout the entirety of this book I was engaged and eager to keep reading to the end." ~ K.L. Carter

"This book was fantastic! ...The writing was so vivid that I just wanted to wrap myself up in her world and live there forever." ~ Heather Quarnstrom

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS a suspenseful, thrilling glance inside one woman's extraordinary connection to the elements around her, in the second of the action-packed, paranormal "Zoë Delante Thrillers" series.[DRM-Free]

Books by C.L. Roberts-Huth:

  • ZOË DELANTE THRILLERS - Book 1: Whispers of the Dead
  • ZOË DELANTE THRILLERS - Book 2: Whispers of the Serpent
  • ZOË DELANTE THRILLERS - Book 3: Whispers of the Sidhe

More Great Thrillers from Evolved Publishing:

  • "The Oz Files" Series by Barry Metcalf
  • The "A Dark Night Thriller" Series by Jason LaVelle
  • Forgive Me, Alex by Lane Diamond
  • "The Syndicate-Born Trilogy" Series by K.M. Hodge

Released:
Aug 4, 2015
ISBN:
9781622532063
Format:
Book

About the author

C.L. Roberts-Huth fumbles away at her keyboard in sunny southeastern Arizonan town of Sierra Vista, while juggling a day job, two college kids and one in elementary school, and writing her paranormal thrillers with her partner-in-crime, Peter, and their two furbabies. Writing is her life blood, letting her channel trauma of childhood and adolescence into a myriad of stories that reflect the multi-faceted path of her personal journey. The lover of many genres but the author of few, she finds peace in the dark and violent worlds she creates, where the underdogs win more than they lose.


Book Preview

Whispers of the Serpent - C.L. Roberts-Huth

Chapter 1—Dead Babies

I hate dead babies.

Murder always cut to the core, but when the victim at my feet was an infant, that just made things worse. Okay, what really made things worse was the screaming that no one at this crime scene could hear but me. I looked around at the surrounding authorities in my distraction, but they just talked, whispered, and watched me, oblivious to the mournful wailing.

Sometimes it really sucked to be so damn special.

If they could solve this without me, I wouldn’t be here; I’d still be sitting in a crappy restaurant, pissed-off at one of my two boyfriends over my other special issue. Yet here I was, everyone’s favorite Wiccan police clairvoyant—with a dead baby, and an uncomfortable police contingency team waiting for supernatural answers to a decidedly mundane human crime.

So good to be me.

Too bad sarcasm and inner wit wasn’t doing the hard work. Pull it together, Zoë, I whispered.

I fingered the dead leaves around the body bag. Two sizes, the medical examiner had told me years ago—body bags came in only two sizes: little and big.

You should be glad we don’t use sheets anymore, he had said, and today I was indeed grateful.

A long jagged line cut down the body from the hollow of the neck just above the sternum to just above the belly button. So odd, stopping there, as if someone had taken a moment in their butchery to consider that perhaps they shouldn’t mar it. I pushed the thought back for later consideration.

The innards had all been removed: heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, all the excess fluid that filled a human body, even one as small as this little girl—all of them gone. The ribs remained intact, like someone had just emptied her out. The initial imagery screamed.

Literally.

It was another reason I didn’t like dead babies—they didn’t know words, and their memories tended to be self-centered.

A deep throbbing headache emerged behind my temples as I sorted through the imperfect pictures. I tried to push the noise away, almost begging with the child’s dead and restless spirit for respite. I needed to concentrate, to discern the details of what had happened here, but the infant only screamed louder, its lungs inexhaustible, as if she knew I was the only one left that could hear her. The sound paused only when I stopped touching her, though that meant she didn’t really pause at all.

Without my fingers on her, she was so peaceful, dark lashes framing blue irises, the beginning signs of decay turning the shiny white into dull matte orbs. A pudgy, healthy baby girl, she had been less than six months old according to the ME. Her hands remained clenched in two little fists.

Zoë? Detective Daniel Parsons whispered my name. Everything okay?

Of course, everything wasn’t okay. Did he not see the damn dead baby in the body bag? Did he—? I bit back the thought. I was angry over the crime scene, and angry at him for something entirely different—no sense in letting the two things combine.

Working with my boyfriend sometimes created extra challenges.

How could anyone do this? His partner, Detective Michael Sully, sauntered over with his hands buried deep in the pockets of his trench coat, his lips turned down into a tight frown. Children are supposed to be safe, protected.

I couldn’t imagine what was going through his mind. Of the three of us, only Mike had any children. Was he seeing the face of his daughter in the body bag?

My throat tightened. If this had happened to my niece and goddaughter, Esther, I think I would have been.... There weren’t words for the magnitude of anger that burst inside me just thinking about it.

I looked at the two men in front of me and sighed. We had met almost a year ago under similar dark and blood-soaked conditions, that case ending with a dead serial killer. Two weeks and everything had changed; no longer combatants, we were friends now.

Dead babies were never easy, though, and this one... well, someone had dumped her out here. They left no footprints, no tire tracks, just a discarded tiny naked person inside a small stand of trees inside an off-ramp on I-295.

Douglas Marshall had called it in to the police after having the bad luck of having his car die just inside the off-ramp. He had been waiting for roadside assistance to arrive when the call of nature came, forcing him over the guardrail and into the tree line. In his statement, he had originally thought she was a doll and walked right past her to relieve himself.

On his trip back to the car, the wind had whipped the stench into the air. He’d looked around for a dead animal, but his eyes kept going back to that ‘doll’. When he’d taken those final steps toward her, he’d thrown up all over his shoes. Then he’d called 9-1-1.

At my request, Daniel had let Mr. Marshall leave after verifying his address and phone number. One handshake had confirmed it for me. Not to mention the dried bits of vomit on his nice shoes.

So? Mike tipped his hat backward, scratching his head as he fought to keep his eyes away from the tiny bundle. Anything useful, Zoë?

I closed my eyes and counted to ten. I need a couple more minutes. I can’t give you anything useful right now. I just... I need... space.

Understood. Mike disappeared from my immediate reach, as did Daniel and the closest parts of the crowd. He must’ve signaled them or something. They were giving me what I’d asked for: time to get back to work.

A cool wind picked up, pushing the moist August heat off my face, but underneath it lurked an unmistakable chill that had nothing to do with the season or time of day. I swallowed hard and reached for the sliver of white skin beneath the zippered mouth of the body bag.

Here goes nothing.

Skin touched skin, and the trees swallowed me.

At first, darkness suffocated me with blanketing heft. Color seeped in, red and radiant. A man stood before a crudely erected stand of stone—maybe an altar?—arms raised above his head. A thin sliver of silver caught my eye. Dagger?

Shit. Not another wayward pagan. I’d had enough of people like that last year—bad apples in the barrel. It always ruined everything.

The baby’s cries, fresh and renewed, spilled from the shadows. My heart raced. A blood sacrifice?

"No! Don’t do it! Take me! Kill me!"

I spun around to find a woman tied to the base of a jagged stone pillar, beaten and bruised, with one eye swollen shut.

"She’s just a baby! She’s just a baby! Please! Show some mercy!"

I knew how this all ended, but that didn’t make it hurt less, didn’t stop the deep-down want to save them both. Just a reminder that I was only a spectator in this memory.

I closed my eyes and focused, and when I looked again, the vision had spread to a movie view, taking me out of the scene completely.

She has been chosen, just like the others, the man before the altar whispered. Her blood serves Him, your sacrifice to build His empire.

No, the mother whimpered and dropped her head. "No, no, no. I never agreed to this! I never agreed to this!"

The mother’s pleas fell on deaf ears.

The baby screamed, loud and in anguish, as the dagger fell, its blade biting into infant flesh. He jerked it down her tiny abdomen.

Then only silence remained.

I came back arched over the dead baby, tears falling unrestrained amid my hysterical, silent weeping. On this side of my reality, a thick, blanketing silence ensued, as if my collapse had somehow warned them that there would be no instantaneous closure in this case.

I smelled Daniel before he made it two feet behind me, his pungent aftershave replacing the acrid scent of death on the ground. He said nothing, only sat beside me where I had fallen, and wrapped his arms around me, rocking me slowly, as if I were a child awakened from a nightmare.

The anger from earlier melted away in my grief, and I let him hold me, burying my head in his chest. I hadn’t expected this. I’d seen murder before, obviously. I’d seen dead kids, dead babies, before, but there was something about this one that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, something different.

I reached out from where we sat and touched her again, the screaming in my head better than the quiet out here. No images remained, and the sound I was counting on had settled into whimpering, that sadness like an acknowledgement that this was it, that the life she’d been given was gone.

Oh, sweet baby.

Baby girl, it’s time to go.

She exhaled in one shuddering breath in my head, and then there was nothing.

The sun was setting by the time Daniel helped me back to my feet. The whole team remained present, huddled in quiet clusters around us.

I wiped my eyes with the back of one hand. Tell them to go home already, Mike. I waved at the waiting men. Tell them to kiss their babies. Let’s wrap this madness up. It’s over.

Daniel led the way to his car as Mike barked soft commands at his troops. Safety was a lie; the image of that child would be forever imprinted on their brains. It was the price of the job, but, by the Goddess, they were not compensated enough for this!

Strong hands lifted my face up, and the blue eyes that I had fallen in love with stared at me, heavy with concern. I tried to smile, but the effort was wasted; he knew better.

I’m okay. I wrapped my hands around his. Really. Nothing that a good cup of tea and a bagel won’t cure.

He didn’t argue. Brooks will want to talk before I take you home. Daniel threw a quick glance over his shoulder at his boss, who had just arrived on scene.

I nodded. I didn’t want to relive the horror of the vision again, but it was my job.

They didn’t pay me enough either.

Chapter 2—Oh, Daniel

I opened the passenger door of Daniel’s car, sat sideways with my legs hanging out of the doorway, and grabbed my purse. I fished through it for a small tissue package I always carried. No sense in looking like a bad goth clown.

Daniel leaned up against the back passenger door, and we just watched the line of disappearing police vehicles in silence. The ambulance pulled away last, after they’d loaded the tiny body onto the immense space of the gurney.

I sighed, fumbling with the used tissue. Dirt and gravel crunched beneath a familiar gait, and I looked up.

So. The usual boom of Ethan Brooks’ voice seemed small in the emptiness around us. He was older than me, maybe by ten or twelve years; there’d never been an appropriate opportunity to ask. The light from the setting sun only accentuated his weary face, aging him before my eyes.

So. I stood and stared up at his six-foot frame from my meager five-foot-two height. Where do you want me to start?

He handed me a Styrofoam cup. One of the guys brought this when I sent him back to the station.

I sniffed it hesitantly, rewarded with the blissful scent of caramel and chocolate rising on wafts of espresso. I smiled and sipped it carefully. How did you know?

Who says I don’t pay attention? Brooks beamed and winked at Daniel conspiratorially.

We stood there in a silence no longer made awkward by dead children and the weight of our jobs. Words were useless anyway. The sun slipped lower, now just a sliver on the horizon, giving way to the midnight blue cloak of nighttime. There would be no moon tonight, and for that, I was thankful.

We should really get this over with. My coffee cup rested empty and light between my hands, and I didn’t want to look at the two men. It won’t just go away because we don’t talk about it. I lifted my head, grimacing. Where do you want me to start? I asked again.

Brooks pulled a notebook out of his jacket pocket and flipped pages haphazardly. He pulled the pen from his shirt pocket and tapped the clean sheet. Whatever you think will help. Whatever you are comfortable with telling us.

I laughed, sharp and abrupt, covering my mouth with one hand. The coffee cup teetered out of my grasp and fell to the ground. Sorry. I leaned over to retrieve my litter. Sorry, no really. Laughter bubbled up from my throat and through my fingers.

Brooks looked at me with understandable concern.

Daniel rubbed my back, but I pulled away.

Can we just remember why we are all out here? I shook my head as a picture from the vision rocketed into my brain. Nothing I am going to tell you will make me sleep better tonight, and I’m not overly sure how helpful it will turn out to be.

Brooks frowned. Didn’t you have a vision?

Yes, I had a vision! I wanted to throw my coffee cup at him, but knew that was pointless. Once people know you get visions, they tend to assume that you always get THX quality sound and IMAX animation. They don’t understand that it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes the body is too old to pull anything from. The person could have been blindfolded, or mentally disabled.

She was too young, I snarled, angry with myself for waiting this long to explain these things. "She couldn’t have been more than six months old, Ethan. Six months! Most of the vision was blurry or noisy. By the Goddess, she was just a baby!"

His frown deepened. I don’t understand.

I closed my eyes and counted slowly to ten. When the vic is a child, or worse, like in this case, an infant, they tend to remember only big things. Like the dagger and their mommy. I know she wasn’t killed here.

He nodded.

It was very ritualistic—altar, dagger, robed bad guy—except that the bad guy was a woman. I shook my head, frustrated as I tried to glean more intimate details from the vision. There might be another body. That badly beaten woman tied to the tree. Claudia’s mother.

Claudia?

The baby. I heard her mother calling her name, begging for mercy from the woman that did this. She was tied to a tree in a wooded area, nondescript, and no landmarks... except for the stone altar. I chewed my bottom lip, concentrating. She could be alive still. I didn’t see her get killed. The baby died first.

I shivered, a chill running through me that had nothing to do with the night’s breezes. How horrible that must have been to be forced to watch your child die, to know that you were thoroughly incapacitated with no way of saving her. I wanted to throw up.

Anything else? He flipped to a fresh page.

It might be bad pagans.

Both men groaned.

Hey, I don’t pick ‘em! It’s just the mannerisms, the way she spoke.

Her blood to strengthen our bond to the Divine. Your sacrifice to heal the rift you have caused. Was Diana the sacrifice? Or the mother? I wanted to beat my head against the hood of the car. If I could change one thing about my gift, I’d wish the visions were less vague, that I would have some universal translator to clarify everything. Maybe some subtitles.

Brooks rubbed his temples. I thought we had seen the last of the bad pagans when the jury found Lois guilty of all charges and gave her that hefty sentence of life without parole!

It doesn’t work that way, Ethan, I countered. Just as in every sect of life, there are always bad apples. Why do you think it has taken us this long to get the option to worship freely? You know, versus the whole ‘Burn her!’ witch thing?

I was happy she was in jail. Forever. How much harm could she do from there?

In her final sentencing, I’d been called upon to add, um, special restrictions. There would be no crystals, incense, or herbs for her—no altar, no books, no paper, and definitely no internet access. They couldn’t have her preaching her blasphemous version of Wicca to the masses that sought out such things on the World Wide Web.

I’d gotten much press over the trial and my involvement in the case.

Several pagan groups had approached me to reduce my restrictions, arguing that even the wicked could change. Maybe she had learned her lesson. It wasn’t fair to deny her access to materials involved in the practice of her religion. Maybe not, but any good pagan would tell you that the Goddess and God needed no such formalities. If she ever truly changed her ways, then she could commune with the Divine just like the hundreds of broom-closeted pagans in the United States, just her and Them.

Only recently had Wicca and witchcraft been acknowledged as a real and safe religion. That didn’t stop the persecution, though. Legislative bodies on all levels of government had pushed laws that ‘negative’ magick use was punishable by serious jail time, and on the rare occasion, execution. They weren’t taking any chances that we witches might hocus pocus our way to the top, and people like Lois only cemented the idea that Wicca was bad.

Brooks didn’t say anything else about the case, just idle small talk about getting me home safely and reminding us to check into the precinct the next day.

I settled into the passenger side, lost in my thoughts.

Seatbelt.

Hmm? I glanced up from the intense study of my palms to Daniel.

He shook his own seatbelt at me, half smiling. Seatbelt. You know I won’t start the car until you’re wearing one. He snapped his into place, jingling the keys when he was done.

I grimaced half-heartedly. It was hard to be annoyed with him.

After the very audible click of my seatbelt, he started the car, pulling off the shoulder and onto Route 175. We should eat.

I raised a brow at him. After what we just saw? No thank you. My stomach growled. He knows me too well. Visions wore me out. If I didn’t eat soon, I would simply keel over. Fine.

He just smiled.

Bastard. I curled my hand over his as he shifted gears. It was a good thing I loved the man.

After a twenty-minute drive and a fifteen-minute wait, we were finally seated at a corner booth inside a local steakhouse. Everything looked good, but that was the hunger talking. I still hadn’t gained back the weight lost during last year’s insanity, and I pretty much ate like a ravenous teenage boy all the time now. My metabolism had skyrocketed, and while I was glad to have shed some of my post-high school weight, I was less thrilled about the ‘why’ of my current condition.

See anything you want? Daniel asked from behind the cover of his own menu. Something like a side of cow, slightly mooing, with a mountain of potatoes and steamed broccoli? Hey! He faux pouted after I kicked him in the shin.

Daniel knew the ‘why’ of my condition. It hadn’t seemed very fair not to tell him, given that we were intimate—my metabolism wasn’t the only thing that had gotten a boost. We kept it quiet, though. Even Ethan didn’t know I was a werewolf.

Lycanthropes were still hunted in this country. Ever since the Helms Bill, hunting and killing people who just happened to turn furry once a month became legal. Over 750,000 innocents had been killed in the first two years—whole families decimated because they carried the gene.

I became one through magickal means, but that didn’t help. It made it worse.

Pagans in this country were getting better treatment, yes, but for the most part all the legislation was just ink on paper, a placebo to the real problem. Most people still considered us pariahs, unless you were a useful witch like me. People could be amazingly tolerant when you saved their lives.

All right, our server Maddie announced. Are we ready to order?

Babe?

I chewed my bottom lip. Um, I’ll take the porterhouse, medium rare with, er, rice pilaf and green beans. I stuck my tongue out at Daniel.

He snickered, then gave Maddie his full attention and best smile. I’ll have the blackened tilapia, also with the rice pilaf, but I’d rather have corn.

Anything else?

We both shook our heads.

Maddie positively glowed with a million megawatt smile. Sounds great, guys! Let me get those in for you, and I’ll be right back with some fresh bread and refills. She hustled off again.

Someone’s working hard for a good tip.

I smiled. Maybe she just thinks you’re cute.

Me? Nah. He leaned over the table. Now you.

"You would think, mister, that you would have had enough of me already this month. Full moon’s been and gone."

Daniel smiled mischievously. "Oh, I could never get enough of you, Zoë. Even if I have to share you."

Oh, dammit, Daniel. I frowned. Are we back to this again?

He pulled away, all that mischief in his eyes gone. It’s been almost a year.

I wasn’t about to apologize to him again. I’m not ready to make a choice yet.

Do you know how hard this is for me?

"For you? I bit back the rest of my response as Maddie returned with the promised bread and drinks. We fake-smiled through her small talk, thanked her, and as soon as she left.... How in the hell do you think it makes me feel, Daniel? Again, we’re having this conversation. Again, after I told you the last time that I wasn’t in a place to make the decision, no matter how much it sucked, because I’m in love with you both.

"Why are you pushing? Is there some life thing I don’t know about? Are you dying?" That couldn’t be it. I couldn’t smell it on him—another perk of my supernatural wolfiness.

"Goddamit, Zoë, I’m not dying, and I don’t have some deadline. But man, I’d love to start planning our future together—a future I want more than anything else, by the way—and I can’t do that knowing that when I’m sleeping alone, you are sleeping with him."

It didn’t matter that his accusation wasn’t wholly true. I’d tried to explain that before, the whole introvert-needs-time-alone thing. I’d even shown him a couple of internet memes, but he didn’t get it. Not inviting him over all the time meant I didn’t want him, that I preferred Jacob, and that’s all he saw.

It was like dating a damn teenage girl. I was not amused.

Maddie returned with our food, and we ate in relative silence. There wasn’t really that much left to say, except....

Do you want to break up?

He stopped pushing the last bite of salmon around his plate. No, I don’t want to break up, Zoë.

I could hear it in the pause. But?

Daniel sighed. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t share you anymore, and it’s unfair to ask me to continue to do so.

So we’re breaking up.

He rubbed one hand on his forehead. I don’t see what other options we have. You’ve left me no choice.

I fought the urge to throw a well-sharpened steak knife in his direction, corner booth or otherwise. Well, fuckin’ glad we got that all sorted. He opened his mouth to reply, but I raised a hand to stop him. Just take me home, Daniel.

I paced the sidewalk outside the restaurant while he took care of the check, my brain a tsunami of thoughts that threatened to drown me. I said nothing when he came out, and nothing as he drove to my house, though the words screamed at him inside my head. I gave him my best cop face to reflect what he gave me.

He turned on the radio, and I stared out the window.

What he’d said was true—all of it. A year was a long time to make not one, but two people put their lives on hold, in hopes of being their One. I’d been trying to figure it out—I’d made lists, talked to my best friend Lucy, lost sleep to hemming and hawing—but still I didn’t feel any definitive pull in either direction.

To make matters worse, Daniel and Jacob were both great guys. How I managed to grab them both, finagle this crazy-ass plan of ‘Let me figure it out, ‘kay?’, and just now have issues was beyond me, but here we were.

My heart was breaking for the man who was walking out of my life just as surely as he was driving to my house.

I had bought the house about six months ago at my mother’s insistence. My apartment had been too clouded with negative energies and memories from last year’s chaos, and, as she not-so-subtly hinted, I would need more space when the babies came. I scoffed at the thought. Babies were the furthest thing in my life plan, and we’d all three of us, my men and I, decided to take all precautions to prevent an unexpected arrival to push my head. Mom wasn’t pleased, but she’d remained uncharacteristically neutral since I’d told her.

After today’s weirdness and the current angst... yeah, no babies. The house was nice, though.

Daniel pulled into the driveway, engaged in the telltale chewing of his bottom lip, but I didn’t want to hear whatever he’d been practicing in his

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