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Whispers of the Sidhe: Zoë Delante Thrillers, #3

Whispers of the Sidhe: Zoë Delante Thrillers, #3

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Whispers of the Sidhe: Zoë Delante Thrillers, #3

Length:
497 pages
7 hours
Released:
Nov 18, 2019
ISBN:
9781622532087
Format:
Book

Description

What Wiccan games we play. Some wounds never die.

WINNER: Pinnacle Book Achievement Award, Winter 2020 -- Best Paranormal Suspense
HONORABLE MENTION: Readers' Favorite Book Awards 2020 - Fiction-Paranormal

Six months after the devastating end of her last case, police clairvoyant, as Zoë Delante sifts through the remains of her life, she gets an unexpected call. But the naga Seth Northman brings only ill-tidings: he has been apprehended in the murder of her father and needs her help.

Except that her father has been dead for almost thirty years.

Leaving the darkness she knows in Baltimore for the sunny climes of a little southwestern town in Arizona, Zoë falls headfirst into a whole new world of supernatural politics and intrigue. As she unravels the mystery that brought her there, the Wild, Wild West pushes her abilities and patience to the limit.

The clock is ticking, and the bosses keep getting worse. But who among her new acquaintances are her allies? The naga? The charismatic Star Prince? More importantly, who are her enemies?

Zoë's running out of time, but there are worse things than death.

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS a suspenseful, thrilling glance inside one woman's extraordinary connection to the elements around her, in the third 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:
Nov 18, 2019
ISBN:
9781622532087
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.

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

terribly.

Chapter 1 – Work is Better than Wallowing

The blue hair is new. The words floated on soft notes of sound within the quiet around us.

I, Zoё Delante, renowned police psychic, twirled a neon curl around my finger, like any mature adult would do. Well, you know, when the rest of your world goes to shit, you control what you can.

She grunted, the tone a clear raised eyebrow, since she couldn’t, well, actually raise one. Death had its limitations, and shaking it off wasn’t an option. Besides, I didn’t owe her an explanation for my azure turn of events. She didn’t know me any more than I knew her.

I sighed. Arguing with myself about arguing with a murder victim over something as innocuous as my hair was stupid. I removed my hand from her bicep and rubbed my forehead with eyes closed. Focus, Zoё. Focus already, so we can go home.

I blinked twice and revisited the scene in front of me.

Her round, naked body lay quiet on the artificial turf, the placement almost artistic, Rubenesque, had the ivory pallor of her skin not been painted in rivulets of drying blood. None pooled around her, so she hadn’t been killed here. The medical examiner had confirmed it upon my arrival. No, someone had brought her to this place and laid her out in a bed of intricately arranged waves of fabric, short arms raised above a halo of brunette curls, her manicured fingertips touching, like a dancer caught in mid-leap. Beautiful, minus the nasty line beneath the left breast, a puckered mouth that spoke only to the final act of violence against her.

He’d want to take her soon, back to the morgue, and while six years working with the Baltimore police had earned me trust and access, there was a timeline that had to be met, work that had to be done outside my sphere of expertise. After all, the media had thoughtfully reminded me after the last big case six months ago, I was only a piece of the giant puzzle to get this figured out.

Fine, I muttered and reached for her again.

My fingers touched the cool surface of her forearm, and the vision opened for me again. Everything was the same, of course, the field, the lighting. Except that the people blipped out of my mind’s eye one by one, until I was alone with her body.

It would be easier, I said aloud. If someone could just tell me what happened. Nothing. Not even the imaginary crickets in my head made a chirp. So much for ‘ask and ye shall receive’.

The long lashes around her eyes parted. Without turning her head, pale green irises moved to catch my attention, bright, wet and dilated. The small pink tip of her tongue touched the slight opening between her lips, so pale against the bright red smudge of color. Someone had kissed her good and well before she had died, with lip-smearing passion, good or bad.

Be careful, she whispered better than any ventriloquist I’d ever seen, the silky slip of her voice a cascade of warm champagne bubbles over my skin. Be careful among the sidhe.

Her words made my chest tighten. This whole talking to me in a vision thing was relatively new and still rather disconcerting. What? Be careful among the she? What ‘she?’ ‘She’ who?

A phone rang somewhere behind me, a faint, classic tone from my childhood.

You should answer that. She spoke without moving her lips but blinked, a slow, purposeful press of lids and lashes.

No, it can go to voicemail. I looked to the edges of the vision, the threads beginning to slowly unravel in my periphery. We’re running out of time. Where do I go to look for the bastard who did this to you?

The phone rang again.

You don’t have to help me. You need to help yourself.

A small amused noise escaped my lips. The dead giving me life advice? That was new.

The threads thinned and split faster around us.

I’m sorry you’re dead, and I want to help. Let me help you.

The knife is behind the family picture at his mother’s house. Take the call. Beware the girl. Her eyes closed with one last, shuddering breath.

Her again. Who is she? The third ring shattered the remains of the vision, and I fell on my ass in a cold sweat. I raised my gloved hand in the air. Detective Sully! I need Detective Sully!

The scurrying behind me said someone had heard me, and a familiar voice called out my name.

I stood to meet him as I peeled my gloves off and wadded them up in one hand. Mike, she says there’s a knife behind the family picture at his mother’s house. I know that doesn’t mean anything now—I kept her life coaching to myself—but it might once you get some solid leads?

Detective Michael Sully stood tall, with a mess of dark hair that framed a strong jaw and tired eyes. His wonderfully rambunctious three-year-old girl bore the blame, I assumed, because confirmation would require conversation, and I wasn’t there yet.

Grief is a funny thing. In the six months since the tragic end of my so-called life, after the death of not one but both of my boyfriends, I’d found myself in a numb, dark place. It was easier there, unfeeling, uncaring, or so I continued to tell myself.

Mike let me have my space, especially since one of the boyfriends had been his partner, Daniel Parsons, but a questioning look in his eyes tonight after he jotted down what I’d said made me step back.

How are you sleeping, Zoё?

I shrugged and continued matching his forward pacing with my backward one. The crime scene around us started its end cycle, until we were standing alone out of earshot. Sleep is for the weak.

He raised a brow. Are you eating?

I watched a bug fly over his head. Are you saying I look fat?

Mike sighed. Stop being difficult. This isn’t healthy. You know that.

I knew, after two blood-soaked years, his intent was genuine, but something about his words, about that tone, sparked the lingering ember of anger into an instantaneous, full-fledged rage.

"You know what, Mike? I know. I am aware how fucked up this whole situation is. And I get that you think you’re being helpful to my grieving process, but you’re not! Be happy I got out of the house for this case. I mean, come on, this, I gestured toward the crime scene, is the bullshit that destroyed my life. Don’t you get that? Daniel and Jacob would be alive if I didn’t consult with the fucking police. Alive. If I had just stayed in my little office at Another Perspective, reading tarot instead crime fighting, they’d be alive. You’d still have a partner, and I wouldn’t hurt so damn badly.

So, yeah, I get it. I know I’m a hot mess right now, but you can’t help me when I have no interest in being saved. If Ethan has questions, tell him to email me.

I stalked off to my car, stabbed a key into the ignition, and drove home. The anger was real, but it paled against my grief. The notification sound binged on my cell phone, and I shook the threads of the dead woman’s advice from my head. I had no use for Mike’s apology. Or Ethan’s pep talk. Or whomever else it could be. I didn’t want to hear anyone.

Not true. I wanted to hear them, either of them, both of them, something, but just like my father, they were gone. Daniel and Jacob were really, truly wiped from my existence. Tragically unfair, the karmic irony was that I didn’t get to talk to my dead.

When you made a living by speaking to the dead, the worst part of losing someone you love wasn’t the loss but the silence that filled the emptiness in their wake. It had broken my nine-year-old heart when my father had died. What was the point of my gift, if I couldn’t talk to him? And it devastated me now, six months after the death of not one, but two, lovers in a span of a few weeks.

Maybe this meant some restoration of the natural balance of things. Or maybe, and I fully admitted my angst and grief were talking, it was karmic repayment for the specialness of my gift. After all, no one should be able to do what I could do, right? Witchcraft and all that nonsense.

Logically, I knew better. But I had long forsaken such a thing. I found no comfort in it. No sense of closure. Just headstones I’d stopped visiting, because no one ever answered me.

***

It’s the price, my grandmother had told me after Jacob’s funeral, as I lay crying in her lap, her frail hand stroking my hair.

Well, I don’t want it, I’d choked out angrily. The gods can have it back.

She’d tsked at me, tongue clicking at the back of her teeth. Child, you know it does not work that way. You’re meant to speak to the dead. It is your purpose in this life. And.... The word had been as firm in her tone as her hand had been against my head to still my protest. Yes, there is grief, Zoё, and yes, there is heartache, but there will also be peace for you one day. You must be patient, and once you’ve healed from this, you will find the will to move forward.

Chapter 2 – Unexpected

Except I wasn’t healing. I wasn’t coping at all. I’d been unable to find my way through the five stages of grief. Denial had been the easy part. Two funerals in two weeks had guaranteed that their deaths felt real and final. However, anger was pretty much my best friend now, and I was okay with that, as unproductive as it was. Everything else was like the inside of my house.

I pushed open the front door. The pile of unopened mail on the entry table matched the emptied takeout and fast food containers on my coffee table, dotted occasionally by pints of empty ice cream containers. Pints, to keep it all from melting in one of those tubs between alternating periods of numbness and hysterical crying.

That represented the extent of my logical thinking.

Some of the mail had their names on it. Cards, condolences if judging by the envelopes, poked out from the pile, but I hadn’t been able to open them. Bad enough that just touching the envelopes filled me with other people’s distraught emotions. I didn’t need to read their words. Nothing would bring Jacob or Daniel back to me, and I had pretty much stopped existing without them.

I reached out to rub the twinge in my right leg. Damn naga sociopath. That one wound remained for whatever reason, though I had changed half a dozen times since that night. No limp when I took on wolf form, but I couldn’t be furry forever. No matter the innuendo Dr. Seth Northman had left with me. I was no monster. I couldn’t be. Every time I went to sleep in wolf form, I woke up naked and human. Surely, that meant something.

The phone rang in my purse, and anger flared again. Who in the hell was calling me now? I flipped the screen over, and all that rage stopped in its tracks. No way. It wasn’t Mike or Ethan, and I answered it.

Hello?

Magick Queen of Baltimore, I think I need you.

I tossed my purse on the dining room table and sat on the couch. Seth?

Yeah, seems I got myself into a little bind down here near the border in Arizona, and I could use your expertise.

I lay back down. Seth, I don’t have any jurisdiction down there.

He whistled. Oh, I think you’re going to want to look into this one, Velma.

Not amused. Seth....

No. His tone sobered. Seriously, the authorities here think I killed your father.

I stood up. "That’s not possible. That’s not even funny. He’s been dead for years. Decades. You can’t kill a dead person. Not even you with all your crazy, ancient naga powers, right?"

He paused, and I could almost hear the shrug over the phone. You’d think that’d be true, but there’s a body in the morgue that says otherwise.

Fuck. I scrambled through the debris on my coffee table for something to write on. Where are you again?

Sierra Vista, Arizona.

I wrote it down and shook my head. I don’t understand. My father is dead, I repeated. And you don’t kill people. I’m pretty sure you don’t, anyway.

Well, SVPD seems to think otherwise on both counts.

A knot tightened in my gut, and a headache blossomed in the middle of my forehead. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Where do I... where the hell is Sierra Vista?

Fly into Tucson, he said, still sounding rather nonchalant for a murder suspect. Sierra Vista’s about an hour and a half south of there. I’ll set up a hotel for you, probably the Holiday Inn. It’s in the center of town, so.... Wait, how often are you changing?

I... what? I shook my head. Center of town would be bad if I needed to skip out and change. Pretty sure that someone in Arizona would shoot me on sight if I went furry in the middle of their town. Especially the sheer size of my wolf form. No, um, with the moon now. We’ve got.... I scanned the room for the clock/calendar/moon phase thing I’d bought a few months earlier. Waning. Good. Um, I’ve got a few weeks. We’re good.

Good. Let me know when you are due in. I’ll have someone meet you.

A small unhappy noise escaped me. I hated new places. You can’t?

Seth sighed. Nope. Condition of my bond. Have to stay in SV city limits, so no airport for me. Apparently, I’m a flight risk. Something about me disappearing after a big murder case in Baltimore....

Oh, that. I made another unhappy groan.

I could send someone.

I shook my head again and rolled my eyes. Last thing I wanted was a strange place and a strange person. No, I’ve got GPS on my phone. I’ll find Sierra Vista.

Thanks for coming, Zoë, he said with a little more relief than I’d expected from someone almost nine hundred years old. See you soon.

Yeah, happy to help. Not sure the truth of that response, but the logical voice inside my head reminded me that I needed a real excuse to get out of the house, out of town, and away from people who cared about me.

Arizona seemed far enough away.

He hung up without another word, and I stared at the cell phone for a few minutes, letting all the information absorb into my head.

When he’d left after the mess six months ago, Seth had talked about taking the rest of the nest of nagas with him to Alaska. Alaska, not Arizona. And if he needed me, he sounded, well, alone, except for the part where he’d offered to send someone to meet me. Where had his nest resettled? What had happened that the local police thought he’d killed a dead man? And speaking of the dead man, surely they must’ve run his prints and found out that he’d died and been buried here in the Ivy Hill Cemetery?

I’d seen his body at the hospital and at the wake. I’d watched them lower his casket into the ground. My father was dead, D-E-A-D, and had been for the last twenty years. This made no sense.

I closed my eyes and rubbed them with one hand. Did he have a twin I didn’t know about? Did Mom know something she hadn’t told us girls?

These new possibilities overwhelmed me. I tapped my phone screen to call her but stopped in a throat-tightening panic. How did I even broach this mess? What did I expect her to say? I still hadn’t recovered from our last encounter six months ago.

***

Seraphina Delante held the front door of her home in a tight line against her body. Her face shone pale with exhaustion and sadness. While her blocking stance prevented me from seeing inside, my niece’s hysterical crying still escaped. Zoë, I can’t.

Sera. I reached for my sister, and she flinched, tucking more of herself behind the door. Sera, please.

She doesn’t sleep, you know. She doesn’t eat. She screams if you touch her, screams if you let her go. Her therapist says it’s PTSD. She dropped her eyes. My baby girl has PTSD.

It’s not your fault. I wanted to wrap my arms around her, but the flinch was fresh, and I didn’t think I could handle if she pulled away again.

No, a familiar feminine voice seethed from behind my sister. It’s yours.

My heart dropped in my chest. Mom.

Sera struggled with the door, but with a resigned sigh, she let go, and the diminutive figure of my mother appeared.

Mona Delante measured two inches shorter than her daughters, but she stood like a giant between us.

This is all your fault, she seethed, eyes narrowing, hands clenched at her sides as she stood outside Sera’s front door. If you weren’t such a monster. She snarled the word with an inflection that felt like so many hot daggers through my chest. If you weren’t such a monster, she repeated people wouldn’t hurt the innocents in your life.

Mom, I didn’t do this! I begged. I saved them! They’re alive because of me!

Momma, she’s right, Sera whispered. She—

Our mother sliced the air with one hand, that empty horizontal line silencing us both. Get away from us, Zoë, she growled, as she shoved Sera back inside. Get away before you get one of us killed.

I looked to Sera, but my sister, trapped behind our mother, only dropped her eyes, as the door slammed hard between us.

So much for family.

***

I still don’t know how I got home that night, but that only added to my hurt and isolation. Get away before you get one of us killed. The words still hurt, worse because Daniel and Jacob had both died within a week of each other because of me. Sera and Esther? Crazy naga infiltration of a big church in town. Daniel and Jacob? No, that was all me.

Monster.

Chapter 3 – Arizona

Arizona is hot. Probably the understatement of the year, but as I stood in the half-empty parking lot at seven in the morning all by my lonesome, and I already could not lean on my rental car, I felt the need to say it again. Arizona is hot.

As if saying it out loud would make it cooler in this little town. City of Sierra Vista? View of the mountains? Wasn’t that what Seth told me the name meant? The whole view was mountains. Heck, on the uneventful drive down from Tucson International Airport—officially the smallest international airport I’d ever been to, but I only really had the east coast ones to compare it to—I’d passed some sparse greenery and long stretches of, well, nothing. Speaking of the nagaman....

Where the hell are you?

On cue, the double doors to the Safeway parted, and out walked a tall blond man in an all-white movie cowboy outfit. He tipped his giant white hat at me before passing over a venti Starbucks Frappuccino. Only the best for the little lady.

I took a sip. You look ridiculous.

The comment didn’t deflate his smile. I’m trying to blend in with the locals.

Who also think you look ridiculous. I took a long pull off the straw. Ah, iced coffee almost made the heat bearable. Almost.

That smile just kept getting bigger. Cynical crimefighter much?

I sighed. "I am here, because you called. I’ve got no jurisdiction here. So, no crime fighting. Just a trip to the morgue to identify a body you say they say is my long-deceased father. And then I’m getting on a plane and going back to Baltimore."

He leaned against the car. Where’s your sense of adventure?

I opened my mouth to tell him exactly where he could shove his ‘sense of adventure,’ but then I closed it. Seth had been there, six months earlier, when my last ‘adventure’ had ripped the whole world from under my feet. Damn tears, hot and heavy, raced down my cheeks, and I brushed them away with my free hand.

I’m sorry, he whispered, draping one arm over me for a quick side hug. Sometimes I forget that you’re still human. Being a monster has its perks.

I looked up. You’re not a monster, Seth.

He inhaled slowly and let it out in one long breath. SVPD would disagree.

Back to the case. I could handle that much better than my emotional mess of a life. To the morgue then?

My blond faux cowboy reject nodded. You should let me drive. Wouldn’t want you to get lost in this metropolis.

I handed over the keys, not because he was right—the ‘city’ held fewer than fifty-thousand people—but because my mind wandered elsewhere. No sense in causing an accident when I had options.

***

The ride to the morgue passed quickly. There wasn’t really much to this town, though my rush of research showed that it had grown significantly in the past decade. It definitely wasn’t D.C. or Baltimore, though.

What I’d come to see should’ve scared me, but it didn’t. I’d had two days between Seth’s call and my arrival almost all the way across the country to process the information. Thinking about my long-dead father was easier than thinking about two recently dead boyfriends.

Damn, the tears again.

Zoë. Seth touched my shoulder.

I startled in the passenger seat and wiped away more stupid tears with a quick swipe of one hand. Hm?

He didn’t say anything about my tears, but sadness shone in his eyes. I ignored it, and he let me. We’re here. He pointed past me to a multi-story building in the middle of, well, nowhere. The stone facade looked pretty enough, and the bustle of folks through the doors gave it life, but despite the big sign announcing Canyon Vista Medical Center, I saw nothing else ‘hospital-ish’ about it.

It looks like a hotel.

Seth shook his head. You were expecting something more asylum?

No, smart ass. Maybe something a little more southwestern?

He laughed, but it sounded forced. And for the second time since I’d arrived, real concern and dread crossed the naga’s face. He hadn’t answered my questions last time, so no sense in asking again. But he saw that I’d seen it, and the effect was sobering. Levity gone, he whispered, Let’s get this over with. You get to go home, and I get to find out who I’ve supposedly murdered.

***

If the little lady behind the information desk shot Seth one more dirty look while she spoke on the phone, I was going to reach over the counter and throttle her. He gave me a small smile, shook his head just a smidge, and laid one hand over my clenched fist. We’ll be happy to wait for the medical examiner.

She faked a smile that never remotely made it to her eyes, and I snarled a rumbling noise that had a less-than-human note in it. Those peepers popped wide open, and she dropped the receiver to her desk in a loud clatter.

Zoë.

I smiled, but there was nothing nice about it. My magick filled me up, and when she paled, I knew the cruel curl of my lips hadn’t reached my eyes either. No doubt the darkness of my pupils had spilled over the deep brown of my irises and into the whites. You have a great day. Her nose twitched, and she blinked twice in fast succession.

Zoë. His power rolled over me. I might be a powerhouse, but he was way older and way stronger. That push slapped mine down, and her confusion confirmed that my eyes had returned to their normal, boring brown.

Fine. I leveled a glare at her. I’ll take this. I plucked a ‘How are we doing?’ card off the counter. Maybe next time you’ll remember to not be so damn judgmental.

He led me to the chairs in the waiting area with a firm hand on my arm. I know you’re nervous, Zoë, and I appreciate you getting irritated over stupid people, but....

But? Well, now I felt bad. Yeah, I know... that was stupid.

"Stupid and dangerous. Did you consider for a second that she might be like us? That her irritation towards me had nothing to do with the case or the body but the fact that I’m a snake and she’s a mouse? And I brought another predator with me?"

I.... I stole a glance at the woman again. She was nervously wringing her hands together. I scared a were-mouse? How does that even happen?

Seth sighed and rubbed his temples. In a world where you’re a magickal werewolf and I’m an ancient snake man, you dispute the existence of other werecreatures?

I answered his question with my own sigh. Okay, sure, if we could exist, then clearly it seemed within reason that other creatures existed as well. In Baltimore, after my monster outing, I’d met a werelion and a werebear for coffee a couple of times, in my attempt to try to do what everyone was telling me to do: get back out there and live.

But for three alphas, we were all resigned to our loneliness. Coffee had gone cold early in our forced conversations, and eventually we gave lame excuses to miss out, which turned into unanswered texts and phone calls. I didn’t miss them—we’d no real time to bond—but I missed what they represented: a community where I was just another monster.

I’m not a monster. I shook the thought from my head. I guess all the weres I’ve met are all predators.

He smiled. Of course. Because you’re a predator. The rest are better at blending in with the humans and give off little scent or sense of who they are on the full moon. We, on the other hand....

I hung my head. Yeah, I get it. I’ll reign it in.

Because it’s about to get worse before it gets better, Zoë. He’s here.

I looked up at the cutest man in a lab coat I’d ever seen. More awwww than oh!, but this guy was Clark Kent cute versus Bruce Wayne suave with a healthy Mexican lean, if that makes any sense. Tall with fantasy blue-black hair and bright green eyes, he even had the courtesy to pop his dark, round glasses down his nose to look at us over his clipboard.

Now, everyone has power, but humans—er, normal humans—their power clung to them in concentric circles, what people referred to as auras. Some hold it close, drawing thin lines of color around their edges. Some people don’t have any restraint and glow like mini-stars until you can’t differentiate the circles within the light. They can share power to a small degree, and they can take it from each other. Human energy vampires are a good example of that, people who make others feel exhausted just being around them. It’s a pretty amazing concept, and if you see or feel them, it’s almost magical, the super brightness of their existence.

Until you meet a super. It’s the difference between crayon doodles and Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Depth, story, shades of color that aren’t even considered—that is a super. Oh, and texture and temperature. Seeing/feeling a super is like a whole movie wrapped in a person.

The good doctor smiled, and a wash of otherworldly power slipped over me like a bolt of silk fresh out of the dryer. I took a step forward, caught myself, and blinked. Oh, damn. He’s a super.

Seth chuckled. Emilio.

Mr. Northman. A slight accent colored his words. He nodded. "My name is Doctor Emilio Gomez, and you would be the Ms. Delante?" He held out one hand, and I wanted to do more than just shake it. Damn if I didn’t want to cuddle it against my cheek, soft fur, warm fur against my skin. I caught the happy growl before it left my throat and shook my head. What the hell?

I glanced at Seth, who nodded and gestured to Emilio’s outstretched hand. Fine, two can play at this. I slid my hand in his, and the part of me that wasn’t wolf breathed an arctic breeze along the connection. Dead always felt like ice, slivers shoved like splinters into the skin, and I had been doing that a lot longer than I’d been furry. Indeed, I am.

He exhaled from that still beautiful but slightly less-glamoured mouth, and a puff of cold escaped. You’re amazing. He pulled away from my grasp.

I shook my head again. No, I’m just done playing ‘who has a bigger dick.’ Don’t you have a body to show me?

You weren’t kidding, Emilio spoke around me. Before I could ask, he turned around and started down the hallway.

Seth scooped me up in the curve of his arm, and in a breath, we’d caught up and passed the debonair Emilio and stood waiting at the elevators. The naga pressed the down button, and the M.E. walked up to us, whistling and flipping through his clipboard.

Cameras. He pointed without looking upwards.

Seth shrugged. Kudos to them if they can see me move that fast.

The elevator doors opened, and we filed in with me in the middle of the super men sandwich.

There had better be a body, I muttered.

They both looked at me, but Seth answered. There’s a body. I wouldn’t lie to you about that.

What have you lied to me about? The doors opened before I could ask. This avoidance grew more and more tiresome. We stepped out, and the temperature had dropped a good ten degrees. Morgue.

Morgue, Emilio confirmed as he ushered us forward. I convinced them to turn this entire sublevel into my Fortress of Solitude, er, work space. Not that we get many visitors. For being a border town, Sierra Vista is kind of low on the death count. Which is fine by me. I get a nice paying job with security, and no one really digs too deep into my history.

A deep, unsettling feeling rose in my gut, and I stopped in my tracks. Should we be concerned?

Seth patted me on the shoulder. More ‘I-look-a-lot-younger-than-I-am’ and less ‘I-am-Frankenstein,’ I promise.

His reassurance did nothing for the lump twisting inside me, but what options did I have right now? The cops aren’t super?

Nope, just human. Good, well-intentioned humans, but humans nonetheless.

The viewing room is over here, Emilio interrupted. He stood by a nondescript door that lead into a nondescript hallway. A solitary window and a second door broke the blandness. Have you seen a dead body before? he asked as I stared at the closed blinds.

Yep. My brain counted the slats—forty-two—framed behind the glass.

Have you seen the body of a loved one?

Yeah, this one, remember?

He cleared his throat. I’m sorry. It’s just... for most people the sight is unsettling.

Oh, I was unsettled. I’m not ‘most people,’ sir. I’m here because I need to identify a body as my long-dead father, so that the good naga can be properly accused of killing him. Am I right? Their awkward silence answered my question. Then let’s get this over with already.

Emilio went inside the room, and Seth moved beside me. For the record, I hope it’s not him.

As the blinds went up, I wasn’t sure how I wanted it to go. That body beneath the spread of white sheet... if it was my father, well, damn. If it wasn’t, well, still damn. No one was going to win here.

Ready? the M.E. called out.

Ready as I’ll ever be. I nodded.

He pulled back the cloth, and my world stopped.

No fucking way.

Chapter 4 – Body

I stepped into the viewing room. The man laid out on the table, whose face Emilio had just uncovered, was my dead father. But he didn’t look old, in his sixties, like he should have. No, this man was in his late thirties, early forties max. Gray just touched his temples, and the laugh lines at his eyes looked no deeper than they’d been when I was eight.

This isn’t possible. My voice sounded nonplussed, but my heart pounded away, every beat a new question filling my head.

This isn’t your father? Seth asked from the doorway.

No. My eyes felt dry and hot, and a headache dug through the middle of my forehead as my brain tried to put all the pieces together. I mean, yes, this is him. Or someone who looks amazingly like he did twenty years ago. I waved off the questions perched on their tongues. "I just don’t know how... it’s not possible.

"My father is dead. I saw his body at the hospital and at the wake. I touched him in his casket. That had been weird, post-embalming. I watched them lower him into the ground." A terrible thought occurred to me.

Emilio? You checked? His body is, well, a body? No necromancy? No one brought him back?

Necromancy? He looked at Seth with that all too familiar is-she-serious face.

I’m damn serious. There are people out there who can raise the dead. One of my first cases in Baltimore had been with a woman whose gift, magical talent, manifested after the death of her twin sister. She’d awaken whole graveyards all over that part of the country, two-thousand plus bodies, all walking around Timonium trying to find their families to eat them. I shuddered. They’re called necromancers. Their progeny usually has a marking on them, like a smudged skull.

Damn, I didn’t know. The ME visibly swallowed, the color draining from his face. All the magickal glamour had fled; not a trace colored his words. No smudge. Aside from the gun shots to the chest, there is absolutely nothing wrong with him, Ms. Delante.

Zoë. I put my hands on the cool metal table, careful to not touch the sheet or the body with my fingertips, and leaned forward until my head was parallel to my arms and my legs held me up like an awkward bridge. Please call me Zoë. ‘Ms. Delante’ is my mo— I shook the thought out of my head. Never mind. Not clever.

You okay?

I wasn’t even sure which one had spoken, the words muffled by my arms against my ears. No. I... I can’t wrap my head around this right now. I need... I need time. Can you give me a chance to just process this shit? I won’t desecrate the body or anything, I promise. It’s too much input. There’s no sorting it out, if you’re in here, clouding up my mental space. Please. I felt them leave, the last vestiges of heat sucked right out of the room, and I was alone with the body.

My entire world shattered inside my head, like someone had dropped a bomb inside me, the shrapnel ripping apart everything I had believed about my father’s death. The headache had bloomed into an all-out cluster migraine behind my eyes, and my pulse thumped like tympani inside my skull. The temptation to collapse into a mess on the floor called me, but I was over losing things to supernatural weirdness. I wiped at the tears in my eyes with the back of one arm.

Get it together, Zoë, I whispered hoarsely into the nothingness. I got paid to figure out weird things. If anyone was capable of pulling a Scooby, it was me. Time to get to work.

I stood, shook out my arms and legs, half thinking that I looked ridiculous, followed by another half thought that I didn’t give a shit. I pushed the two guys out of my head and mentally laid out all the pieces.

Definitely

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