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Zoë Delante Thriller – Boxed Set 1-3: Zoë Delante Thrillers, #101

Zoë Delante Thriller – Boxed Set 1-3: Zoë Delante Thrillers, #101

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Zoë Delante Thriller – Boxed Set 1-3: Zoë Delante Thrillers, #101

Length:
1,050 pages
15 hours
Released:
Oct 5, 2020
ISBN:
9781622532278
Format:
Book

Description

No rest for the Wiccan.

WINNER (x3): Pinnacle Book Achievement Award -- Best Paranormal Suspense

3 extraordinary, award-winning books in one boxed set.

WHISPERS OF THE DEAD

The hunt for a murderer unfolds, dropping Zoe right in the middle of a power struggle between a nightmare of a coven, and a serial killer leaving bodies in ceremonial circles in the rural parts of Baltimore's city limits. A race against celestial bodies and the trail of earthbound body parts keeps our intrepid clairvoyant running right until the very end.

WHISPERS OF THE SERPENT

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?

WHISPERS OF THE SIDHE

What Wiccan games we play. Some wounds never die. ~ A phone call sends Zoë Delante across the country to unravel a deep, personal mystery. Between her father's dead body, and a powerful ghost girl calling for help, she should clap, because faeries are real—and dangerous. Can everyone's favorite Wiccan figure out what's going on before the supernatural forces gathering around her take her down?

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS a suspenseful, thrilling glance inside one woman's extraordinary connection to the elements around her, in a special edition boxed set featuring the first three books in the action-packed, paranormal "Zoë Delante Thrillers" series. [DRM-Free]

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:
Oct 5, 2020
ISBN:
9781622532278
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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Zoë Delante Thriller – Boxed Set 1-3 - C.L. Roberts-Huth

Publishing

Chapter 1 – Midnight Rendezvous

A full moon hung high in the midnight sky, rendering my headlights useless as I drove down a gravel road somewhere in western Maryland. I reached over to the passenger seat and snagged the written directions. Driving at night was almost as bad as navigating unfamiliar routes, yet here I was doing both.

I flicked on the overhead light. Follow the gravel road until it tees, then turn right. Look for lights. I dropped the paper, turned off the light and wiped the sweat from my palm across one thigh. Nerves, yeah, but the knot in my stomach was a bad sign.

Within minutes, the blue and red flashing ambulance lights filled the night sky. Ambulance meant bodies. The knot tightened.

I pulled in beside an unmarked police car. The ambulance wasn’t the only source of light on scene. They had the entire parameter lit up like a Little League field. I counted five uniforms and two plainclothes detectives. Other people hovered in the shadows outside of the illuminated circle.

One of the uniformed officers walked over to the pair of detectives as I got out of the car. The officer pointed in my direction, and the detectives turned to look across the expanse of dying grass between us.

I swallowed hard. They were strangers. Shit.

One of them broke away and made his way toward me. Ms. Zoë Delante? He offered a hand in greeting. A foot taller than me, he stood an easy six foot tall. His hair was light, probably blonde, but I couldn’t be sure.

I shoved my hands into my pockets. Detective.

My apologies. He retracted his hand with a half-hearted smile. The captain mentioned you don’t shake hands with strangers. I’m Detective Daniel Parsons, head of this investigation. I’m grateful for any assistance you can give us. He swept one arm toward the scene. Shall we?

My paranoia might have been on the fritz, but I swore he gave me that look: the one men give women when they’re sizing them up to... eat them? It was subtle, and I wondered if it had been my imagination, but there wasn’t time. The dog and pony show was about to begin. Vanity had to wait.

Exhaling slowly, I pushed the thoughts aside and followed his lead. We trudged through the knee-high grass, and a low bevy of whispers rushed up from the earth—too many for me to make out what they were saying, but the tone was there: Go back.

That wasn’t an option, so I pushed them into the background and started assembling the pieces unfolding in front of me. Old blood wafted on the night breeze, and in the distance, piles of something lay half-hidden behind the traffic of bodies doing their multitude of jobs. Power pulsed in the air, along the earth, into my canvas shoes and through my body. The knot kinked and pulled, and I fought against the telltale rush in my throat. I will not throw up. I will not throw up. I will not—

So you’re the psychic? A gruff male voice broke through my mantra, a welcome distraction. We’d made it to the police tape, and on the other side, the second detective stood, head cocked, measuring me.

I knew that look too and welcomed it. Clairvoyant. I’m the clairvoyant. Or is that too big a word for you, Detective?

He ran a hand through a shock of black hair. He was maybe an inch shorter than his partner, and stockier, too.

I saved a small smile. Two could measure. Time to see if he could keep up.

Parsons chuckled. Ms. Delante, this would be my partner, Detective Michael Sully. Sully, this would, in fact, be the one and only Zoë Delante.

It’s a pleasure. Sully smiled, amusement at our confrontation evident in his tone. Heard a lot about you. Now let’s see if you’re as good as Captain Brooks keeps telling us. If you’ll follow me, we’ve got some evidence for you. How’s your stomach? He lifted the police tape.

I smiled briefly. My stomach will be just fine, Detective.

Detective Parsons fell in step next to me as we stepped under the plastic arch. I wouldn’t worry too much about him, he whispered. He’s a skeptic and a smart ass.

Imagine that. And you? What are your thoughts?

I’ve heard the stories, Ms. Delante, and I’ve read the case files. You’ve got an impressive track record. And.... He shrugged. I’m always open to a new experience.

I gave him a small smile. Well, Detective, working with me is definitely an experience all its own.

Ms. Delante! Sully called out.

I stepped away from his partner and onto the crime scene.

Blood surrounded the remains in thick, congealing puddles. Brown streaks had begun to form on their surfaces, a telltale sign of the crime scene’s age. Two decapitated heads lay to the right of me, and their dead gaze led to a pile of appendages scattered like cords of firewood to the left. I took a deep breath. The noxious scent of decaying flesh made my head spin. Artificial light glistened off the pools of blood and body parts, making the red brighter, the streaks more luminous, the dead skin a ghostly pallor. I forced another breath though my mouth and tried to put everything into perspective. There was so much information already, but I knew from experience that a lot more puzzle pieces remained out there.

When were they found? I asked without pulling my eyes away from the pieces.

About four hours ago. Parsons moved one step closer.

Who found them? I knelt in the grass and touched the nearest puddle.

A young Caucasian girl, maybe 8 years old, cried out, begging for her life. Her tear-stained face flickered in front of me, bright blue eyes wide. A tall shadow fell over where she knelt: definitely a man, given the dark expanse of shoulders and close-cropped head silhouetted against the grass.

She stopped. No more screaming. No begging. Thick, palpable fear remained. The vision started to fade.

I pulled a handkerchief out of my pocket and wiped my fingertips.

Mr. Joseph Geneer, Sully muttered, oblivious to my slideshow. He owns the property. Says he went out around nine to bring his dog in for the night, but the pup had escaped. While he was out looking for him, he found this instead. He gestured around us.

I stood up. Where is he now?

By the ambulance, Parsons replied.

I turned to look. The poor bloodhound pup in his arms held all his attention. I’ll be right back. I made my way over to the witness. No sign the detectives were following me. Good.

Mr. Geneer? My name is Zoë Delante, and I’m a specialist working this case. I held out one hand. How are you holding up?

How do you think I’m doing? he snapped. With a sigh, he loosened one arm from beneath his dog and shook my hand. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be a dick. It’s just so bad....

Fear spiked from his palm to mine, a chilly flash of electricity that brought with it images of his initial intrusion onto the crime scene.

Icarus! Outside my peripheral vision bounded the small shadow of the floppy-eared pup. Icarus, come here! Geneer tripped over something in the darkness and found himself face to face with a dismembered hand. He had thrown up, a desperate act to try and unsee what lay around us. He’d sat on the ground, rocking on hands and knees while the pup lay next to him, for a good ten minutes before getting back up on his feet to call the police.

He released my hand, gave a curious look and shook his head. I just want to go home now. When can I go home?

I gave him a practiced smile. Give me a minute, and I’ll see what I can do for you, sir. I patted the dog and returned to the detectives.

Well? Sully said, his eyes narrowing as I walked underneath the police tape again.

Let him go home. He needs to go home so he can tend to Icarus.

Icarus? The detectives shared a look. Who’s Icarus?

The dog.

I walked away from them to another part of the field. A gobbet of flesh caught my eye. Is that a...? Kneeling down and with another twist of my stomach, I confirmed that it was a breast, the entire mound, complete with nipple, spattered in blood. Oh, gods. I closed my eyes. Can’t save her. Save who you can.

Let Mr. Geneer go home.

Parsons cleared his throat. We can’t do that, Ms. Delante. He’s still a suspect. I can’t just release him.

I stood up again. He didn’t do this. Other than leading you to a fresh crime scene, Mr. Geneer is in no way directly involved.

How can you say that? Parsons’ eyes narrowed and the nice tone of his voice soured. So much for being open to new experiences.

That’s your job, not mine. Frustration started a slow burn in my head as Sully frowned. I’m sorry, but it’s true. If you really thought he was a suspect, he would be in an interrogation room down at the precinct. He isn’t the man you’re looking for.

"And you know this how?" Sully asked.

I bit my tongue. I hated this part—the doubt and narrow-mindedness—and was tired of defending myself. Brooks was going to hear about this in my report. I stood in front of the two men and squared my shoulders, locking eyes with them.

What exactly did he tell you about me?

They stared in silence.

Hello? What did Brooks tell you?

The people gathered around us had stopped talking, their eyes intent on our discussion. The feeling—all those eyes—made my skin crawl, as if I were an exhibit in some sideshow. Didn’t they have evidence to gather, notes to take?

He said you specialized in cases like this. You’re psychic or something.

Psychic. I rubbed my hands against my thighs in agitation. And what does that mean? Should I be wearing a turban? Did I forget to put my hands on my temples and speak in tongues?

Their frowns deepened. They weren’t amused.

Neither was I. Well, detectives?

Sully crossed his arms over his chest. Parsons answered, You sense things: spirits, psychic impressions left on evidence. You probably hear things, too, like a Polaroid with IMAX animation and sound.

I nodded. I’m impressed, Detective. The man who did this was at least your height, a little broader across the shoulders, like a linebacker. Take a good look at your ‘suspect’.

The three of us turned around.

He isn’t much taller than you, Sully remarked, cocking his head to the side.

And he’s too thin, Parsons added.

If I’m wrong.... I offered.

And if you’re wrong....

Well, we know where he lives. You can always pick him up again later.

The two detectives shared a long glance. Sully shrugged his shoulders, unable to offer an alternative.

Parsons sighed. All right, we’ll let him go. Sully, have a couple of uniforms escort him back to the house. Encourage him to stay home and keep away from the media. I’d like to keep this quiet until we have something solid to feed them, you know?

His partner nodded and spared me one last look before heading over to Mr. Geneer. He gave his orders and opened the back door of the nearest police car, offering the man a seat. One issue down, who knew how many left to go.

I knelt back onto the tussled grass, tracing the breast’s edge carefully. Images flashed before me: a woman in her late thirties lay bound at the wrists and ankles, her blue eyes wide. Her screams were muffled, despite the open ‘O’ of her mouth—no bandanna, no ball gag, nothing. Why couldn’t I hear her better?

A deep, spine-tingling shiver swept over me, breaking my concentration and the vision. I looked up from the gore and my breath caught in my throat. The woman I had seen just moments before stood among the oblivious task force, the young girl beside her. The edges of their profiles glowed in that familiar postmortem haze, like someone had tried to erase their outlines with a bad eraser. The glow meant they were freshly dead, less than a week, but this wasn’t new information.

It was clear they shared more than the same blue eyes—same oval face shape, same ears that poked a little too outward from behind the same straw-colored hair. They had to be related, mother and daughter, and somehow that made the whole mess worse. Dammit.

‘Can you help us?’ the woman whispered, her voice so soft in my head that I almost missed the words.

I nodded.

Tears shimmered along the contours of her spectral face, and she hugged the child close, forcing a small smile to her lips. ‘You must find him. We are not the first, and if you don’t find him soon, we won’t be the last. Please hurry.’

Wait, I said aloud, reaching as the ethereal figures dissipated into nothingness.

Not the first ones? I hadn’t heard of another case like this in the area, and the thought that we had other bodies to find....

Detective Parsons? I looked over my shoulder to where he stood a few paces behind me.

Anything useful, Ms. Delante? He moved closer.

Maybe. I withheld the ghostly appearance. No sense in mentioning it without asking a question or two first. Is this the first murder like this in the area?

He scratched his head. To my knowledge, yes. Why do you ask?

Just a hunch. I moved toward the pile of limbs. Look at this. I pointed at the cleaved extremities haphazardly piled atop one another, like someone had spilled them out of a bucket. Something’s wrong with this, the way they’re arranged. Did our witness trip over them?

Yes. Parsons gave me a curious look. Mr. Geneer claims to have tripped over them while searching for.... What did you say the dog’s name was?

Icarus.

Yeah, when he was looking for Icarus, he fell over them. Didn’t touch them afterwards, just pulled out his cell and called us.

I grimaced. The visual with the breast had been vivid. What would happen if I touched the pile? Would it quell the feeling that there was something more? Wait, where are the hands and feet?

He gestured toward another part of the circle, closer to the heads. The missing pieces had been arranged to form one curved arc.

I need more information—pictures, statements, the coroner’s final assessment—before we’re done. Can you do that for me?

He nodded. Want me to ask around the other precincts? See if any of them have run into this guy?

Yeah, that’d be good.

Any specific timeframe I should consider?

I shrugged. Don’t know. Something recent, I’m guessing. I’d hate to think this is an annual ritual for this guy, that the only clues we get to play with is the evidence here, even if it means we get a year to solve it. The victims deserve better.

Yeah, Parsons agreed. Let me see what I can dig up. The rest I can have for you after you’re done reporting to Captain Brooks.

I smiled and wiped away the chilled sweat from my brow. I needed to get back to work, but he continued to stand next to me. You’re new to the precinct, right?

Is it that obvious? He grinned, running a hand through his hair.

You don’t come off as a newbie, detective status and all, but I haven’t seen you before. And I’ve been in Brooks’ office often enough that I’m pretty much on a first name basis with all his detectives. Your partner’s new, too. It’s odd.

What is?

That two new detectives would be partnered together in the same precinct.

We’re not quite that green, Ms. Delante. We’ve been with the precinct for a good six months, right after the Grey Phoenix case, and Brooks paired us off with Pauly and Simpson. After we acclimated, he let us be partners again. This is the first case we’ve worked together since we left Dale City.

I raised a brow. Virginia?

He smiled. It was unnerving and awkward.

Anyway, enough small talk. Let me get back to work. I turned away, sinking back into the cold ground.

You think you got something here?

Without looking up, I mused, Yeah, maybe I do. It’s not every day that some psychopath decides to decapitate his victims. I need more time with the evidence and the work-up. I should have something tangible for you by morning.

Detective Sully joined his partner and whispered something in his ear. They walked away, leaving me to do what I do best.

***

The ambulance pulled away as I sat in the front seat of my car. The remaining police officers rolled out behind it, until only Parsons and Sully remained at the crime scene.

I sighed, contemplating everything I’d seen. The arms and legs had been quiet, a discomforting development, as though the images had been muted. Even the blood surrounding them had told and shown me nothing. They had to have been removed postmortem. The victim would’ve had no conscious knowledge of the process, and therefore would not have left any psychic residue behind.

That explained the power behind the breast. She had to have been alive, but that put a damper on my theory. Would a mad man be sane enough to mangle a body without disturbing the head, only to decapitate it later? And how could he have torn the body into so many small pieces? I buried my head in my hands.

Feet crunched over the gravel. Ms. Delante?

I looked up at Parsons. The concern on his face caught me off guard. I’m fine.

Sully got into the car beside mine and waved.

I rolled my eyes. Are we ready to go?

Parsons nodded. You know how to get to the precinct from here, or would you rather follow us?

Brooks tell you I hate driving at night?

He smiled. Yeah.

It’s all right, Detective. I’ll find my way back.

You sure?

I chuckled. I may not like it, but I can do it.

Last chance, he offered.

I shooed him away, and he slid into the passenger seat of his car. They drove away, and I sat inside the safety of my own car until the last lights had faded, leaving me alone with the field, the moon and the bloody circular blemish of earth.

We aren’t the first ones, she’d said. And we won’t be the last.

More bodies. Yeah, that’s what we needed.

I stabbed the key into the ignition and started off toward the precinct.

Chapter 2 – Boundaries

Nothing?

Captain Ethan D. Brooks planted his massive hands atop his cluttered desk. You didn’t pull a damn thing—no name or face or even a tat—off that entire crime scene? Thick, bushy blonde brows furrowed over dark blue eyes in the middle of a reddening face.

I shook my head. All I managed was bits and pieces. A big man attacked these two females, probably a mother and daughter, before he somehow tore them into pieces. Your forensics team will tell you the same thing when they present their report to you later today. I just... I need.... I rubbed one hand against my forehead.

His thick fingers drummed across the wooden surface, his mouth a thin line. What do you need?

Time.

He frowned.

I need more time, Ethan, to go through everything from tonight, all the reports and observations. Detective Parsons and his partner are at their desks now, calling the other precincts for more information.

He raised a brow. You think this has happened before?

I told him about the mother’s ‘visit’ at the crime scene.

Could she be lying? To throw us off-track?

I shook my head. In my experience, dead murder victims rarely lie about their deaths. We just need to make the connection between this case and any unsolved cases in the other precincts.

So you need more time, he conceded. He leaned forward in his chair, resting his forehead in the palms of his hands. I don’t doubt you, Zoë, you know that. I appreciate everything you have done for us these past, what, four years?

Five.

He looked up at me from the defensive barricade of his forearms. Yeah, five years. Our unsolved mysteries file cabinet has never been so empty. If anyone can help us get this guy, it’s you. Whatever your Goddess gives you, whatever gifts, I can only offer my inadequate words of gratitude.

You sent me rookies tonight, Ethan.

His face lit up in mild amusement, reminiscent of Detective Sully.

I thought I was done explaining myself around here.

He chuckled. They transferred here from Virginia about six months ago. Good guys, those two—great partners, almost like they can read each other’s minds. Made me think of you.

"I am so not amused, I glowered. Homicides are bad enough for me to visit. I don’t like the dog and pony show."

He only nodded, lacing his fingers together before resting them on his lap as he leaned back in his chair. But?

I hesitated, and shrugged. They seem fine. From first impression, they’re good cops. But what do I know? I deal with the dead, not the living.

You should date.

I glared at him. You want to explain to my prospective dates what exactly it is that I do? I didn’t give him a chance to answer as I walked toward his door. There are more important things to worry about right now.

He waved me out with a quick shuffle of the pages in front of him, leaving me to hunt down the detectives on my own.

Ms. Delante!

I turned at the sound of my name.

Detective Parsons weaved through the sea of desks, his hand shaking a leaf of yellow legal paper over his head.

I think we’ve got something here, he said when he made it to my side. Take a look. He handed me the page.

Last month? I scanned the chicken scratch. Near Timonium? That’s north of Baltimore, about an hour’s drive from tonight’s crime scene. Can you get them to send over the files?

Parsons shook his head, still smiling. Way ahead of you there. It was a struggle at first, but when I mentioned your name, they were more than willing to share. Granted, I had to promise them my first child in case everything wasn’t returned, but I figured you would want whatever they had.

His initiative shocked me. Thanks, I mumbled as we went back to his desk.

Want something to drink? Coffee, soda? He offered his chair.

I shook my head.

Parsons turned to his partner. Mike?

Sully looked over his desk lamp. Coffee, black. Tonight’s going to be another all-nighter.

Parsons sighed. Isn’t that all we do nowadays? Sure you don’t want anything, Ms. Delante?

No coffee for me. Someone’ll have to peel me off the walls if I have any caffeine.

All right, he said, one black coffee, coming up. Be nice to the lady, Mike.

Yeah, yeah. His partner rolled his eyes as Parsons disappeared amid the busy rush of the other homicide detectives. So, I hear you’re not only a psychic, but you’re also a witch.

I groaned. I prefer Wiccan.

And the difference would be?

I tossed the page Parsons had given me on the desk. Do you want to have a real discussion about this? Or are you just going to be an asshole?

Sure, let’s talk.

I leaned forward in the chair. What religion are you?

Catholic, Sully answered. You saying that Wicca is a religion?

"Yes. It’s a nature-based religion that believes in the Goddess and the God as two equal halves of the Divine. I prefer my conversations with the Goddess, so you may hear me say ‘Oh, Goddess.’ But I occasionally say, ‘Oh my gods,’ too, despite the fact that Christianity kind of soured me on the whole patriarchal deity idea. Other Wiccans talk to both. It’s a personal preference thing.

But we don’t sacrifice animals or babies. We don’t worship Satan or believe in hell.

He watched me carefully. Sounds like a bunch of new age hippie crap.

I bit my tongue and swallowed the nasty first retort. Let me guess. You’re one of the ‘Thou shall not suffer a witch to live’ Christians.

He smiled.

You seem like a smart guy, so let me let you in on a little secret. I motioned him forward with the crook of my finger, and he leaned in. "In the original text, the verse read ‘poisoner,’ not ‘witch.’

"When King James commissioned his version of the Bible, he changed that verse to favor the doctors coming into prominence at the time. Seems they were losing business to wise women and herbalists in the villages who weren’t charging an arm and a leg for services. It’s obviously easier to condone killing old women to save the souls of the masses than allow people the option of making their own choices."

You’re full of crap, he retorted, moving away from me.

I shrugged. "Fine. Think what you want, and maybe, just maybe, do a little research of your own. Until then, listen up. You don’t want to work with me? Talk to Brooks. I guarantee you it will be your ass off the case, not mine.

"But before you go marching into his office, I want you to think about something. There are two dead bodies in little plastic bags in the coroner’s office. Do you understand that? Someone out there is missing a wife and a daughter right now.

"If you want to sit here and argue whether I should be on this case because you disagree with my dogma, I’m not doing it. There are two murders to solve here., and I can use all the help I can get. You are by no means required to like me to do this, but dammit, you will show me some respect. Is that clear?"

Sully studied me. All you want is to catch this guy?

Duh.

I’m in.

I forced a smile. Good to know.

Parsons rejoined us with coffee cups and a couple of manila folders tucked under one arm.

I raised the paper in the air. All right, explain this to me. I don’t understand most of your notes.

He handed one cup of coffee to Sully and laid the files on top of a pile on the corner of the desk. Let me see. He sipped from the other Styrofoam cup as he reread what he had written.

I spoke to a Detective Gregory—he said hello, by the way—up in the Eighth Precinct. He said they had had a similar case last month, ah.... He flipped the paper over. "September third. A couple of kids found a half-eaten head while taking a shortcut through a small wooded area in the outskirts of Timonium.

The vic was male, late twenties, blonde hair. Arms and legs found without hands and feet. The rest of the body was pretty much left the way ours were—torn apart at the joints and left in a small formation inside the circle.

Did they get anything else?

Nothing too useful, he grimaced. "Their coroner pulled some hair and fibers off the remains, but most of them belonged to the victim. Wait, there was something else, something strange. He skimmed through his notes. Yeah, here it is. Some of the hair was animal. Gregory said the coroner thought it belonged to a wolf."

Probably some stray dog, Sully offered.

Parsons shrugged. The coroner grew up in Montana, used to shoot wolves to protect his ranch. Says he knows wolf hair when he sees it.

There aren’t any wolves in Maryland, I grumbled. Hell, there aren’t many left in Montana either after the government went crazy a couple of years ago. Anything fierce and furry was declared fair game.

Stray dog, Sully repeated, nodding his head.

It’s possible. Parsons smiled at his partner. The remains were at least forty-eight hours old when the kids found them, plenty of time for some stray to wander by for a free meal. The hands and feet were missing, as was most of the major bone structure.

I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples. We had hands and feet. How did they rule the case?

Unsolved homicide. They got an ID on the victim, but I didn’t catch the name. Probably in the files. He patted the folders. The top ones are from Gregory. The rest are what I could give you from tonight.

All right, I’m going home, I announced as both men stared at me. I think better at home. Thank you for the files. I lifted the pile in my arms. Please email the forensic reports to me when you get them. Brooks has my address.

Goodnight, Ms. Delante. Parsons smiled. It was a pleasure to meet you.

The pleasure was all mine. I spared a parting glance for Sully. Detective.

Ms. Delante, Sully said, dipping his head in a slight nod. Try to get some sleep while you’re at it. I don’t think there’s going to be much time for it after tonight.

I’ll try. With a final nod, I walked out of the precinct with the files, my brain reeling with possibilities.

Chapter 3 – Missing Puzzle Pieces

Dawn greeted me on the way to my apartment. I groaned; sleep would not bless me now. My only comfort came in knowing a cup of chamomile tea would soon be in hand.

I slid my keys across my small dining room table and set down the files. The answering machine near the kitchenette blinked. I pressed the play button.

Beep. "Hey, Zoë, this is Devin Monroe at Another Perspective. I smiled at the awkward sound of my boss’s voice. He hated talking to machines. I rescheduled tonight’s Tarot readings for tomorrow during the day. I know you’re on call with the police right now, so if this isn’t convenient, just call and let me know, all right? I can always reschedule your regulars and pass the new customers off to Patrice or Raquel."

Tomorrow, or today as it had become, was out of the question. I would not be able to pull a decent reading with all the crime scene images stashed inside my brain, not to mention my sheer exhaustion. I made a mental note to call him when the store opened at eleven.

Beep. Hello, Zoë? This is Sera, Seraphina Garden. I squirmed. "You know, your sister. You are never home when I call. And you never have your cell phone on."

True on both counts, but unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. I pressed power on my cell, and there were six missed calls, all from her. Goddess, help me.

It wasn’t that I didn’t love my sister, it was just that... well, I was the black sheep of the family, and even though our mother refused to talk to me anymore, Sera pressed on, refusing to let me go. Sometimes I was glad she hadn’t, but sometimes it would be better if she had.

Call me when you get a chance, ‘kay? I want you to be the baby’s godmother. Does Witcha, um, Wicca, or whatever it’s called, interfere with that? Is there a rule or something that says you can’t attend a Christening?

I groaned again. Sera had been the only one in our family to accept my conversion to Wicca, but she spent too much time garnering her knowledge about my religion from television shows and movies.

I’ll call her tomorrow. I punched the information into the calendar on my phone. I’ll even leave my phone on. The walls of my apartment remained silent. Had she told Mom yet?

Mom and I had not talked in almost ten years. An embarrassment to her, me and my religion, I’d tainted the Delante family’s honor, and she had never let me forget that. I finally had enough of the guilt trips and fights at age seventeen. My refusal to convert back to Christianity, and her inability to accept said refusal, forced me to walk out of the house and that relationship. She hadn’t tried to make me stay. So much for family commitment.

I didn’t even want to revisit what she thought about me talking to the dead, an unwinnable battle for some future date. Right now, those dead people were my priority.

***

At seven in the morning, I settled at the table with a steaming carafe of chamomile and steeled myself against the contents of the folders in front of me. I opened the top one, from last month’s murder, and pulled it and its fellow case files from the pile, setting them aside for now.

The next manila folder revealed a handwritten note from Detective Parsons.

Zoë,

Enclosed are all the available materials in relation to the case that are currently at our disposal. I hope this will be enough to help you assist us in the discovery of the murderer. If you need anything else, anything at all, please feel free to contact me at the precinct or at home.

Sincerely, Daniel K. Parsons

He’d written the phone numbers in the same male chicken scratch, but neater, crisper, as if it had taken a phenomenal effort to make sure that they were legible. I smiled and set the note aside to begin the tedious process of sifting through the four-inch-high stack of information.

The first folder contained mostly straight facts about our case: where the bodies were found; when. Mr. Geneer’s statement was taken—poor Icarus, the scent of those dead bodies was probably still buried deep within his little nose; statements from the officers on the scene; initial medical examiner’s report. All in all, nothing I didn’t already know.

My laptop binged, and in my inbox were several emails from Detective Parsons neatly titled with their contents. I printed the attachments from the medical examiner first, then the multiple ones from forensics, and returned to my position at the table, scanning the medical terminology and other jargon.

According to the first report, each victim at our crime scene had been beaten severely below the neckline, confirming the bruises I’d seen, yet such blows were strangely absent on the heads. The M.E.’s determination was impressive, as the torso had been nonexistent. Even the basic bone structure had been decimated. Except for the arms and legs, the largest shard of bone measured roughly the size of my palm.

Each head had been perfectly preserved, untouched, if you didn’t take into account the jagged slash inches below the jaw line. The coroner found something odd in both victims, however: a strange series of minute cuts in the delicate skin of the cheeks and roof of the mouth.

The murderer had been meticulous with his preparation, leaving not a drop of blood on either head, and even arranging the hair neatly around the faces. He’d braided the little girl’s thick blonde hair, the long plait curled around the front of what remained of her neck.

The forensic report did nothing to lighten my mood. The bodies had lain there for at least six hours, give or take an hour, so why hadn’t the earth soaked up all that blood? Why had it remained pooled on the surface? Did two human bodies contain enough liquids to saturate the ground enough to leave those puddles?

The circle of fleshy remains bothered me. It seemed to point at something magickal, but what manner of magick-user would do something so profane?

Definitely not a Wiccan, or a Druid. Hell, not even Satanists did ritual murder anymore. True pagans held certain sanctity for life. Specifically for us Wiccans, it was against our Rede—the whole ‘an ye harm none, do what ye will.’ Any action we did, any magick we performed, would have a ripple effect and touch the lives of countless people and other natural entities. A good Wiccan always thoroughly considered the consequences before committing to any deed.

Sully had suggested a stray dog, but it seemed that had been more out of stubbornness and not wanting to agree with me than anything else. The forensic report revealed numerous hairs at the crime scene that were indeed non-human. They had concluded that it was some manner of canine, be it a dog, a wolf, or some hybrid of the two. I dismissed the theory. No mere animal could have dispatched two humans with such precise chaos, except maybe a werebeast.

Now grasping at straws, I groaned in resignation. Not a single variety of lycanthropy, from werewolf to werefox, existed in the continental United States. Our nice Puritanical hysterics had put an end to them with the signing of the Helms Bill.

Too bad if you were a decent human being before being infected. Sorry a rabid werebeast bit your kid. The media had had a field day with the werehyena gangs causing havoc in Los Angeles and New York City, and the hunt had been given legality. In two short years, all known lycanthropes were dead, their families left to cope without closure. Way to not overreact, America.

Other than Mr. Geneer, the authorities didn’t have any real suspects. They’d made casts of the ground surrounding the bodies after one of the officers noticed unusual prints in the soft mud. They had pictures down at the precinct, if I wanted them.

I glanced at Gregory’s files. Why hadn’t the 8th Precinct let me in on that case? My contract with the Baltimore Police Department wasn’t precinct-specific. They could’ve called me, and maybe if they had, I wouldn’t be working on this one. Those two victims would be alive, carrying on with their lives.

I opened the folder, but as I ran my fingers over the crime scene pictures, fatigue set in. I rubbed my bleary eyes with one hand, and glanced at the clock on the far wall. Noon. I grumbled, staring into the scattered tealeaves in the bottom of my mug. If an original thought was going to spring into my brain, I couldn’t see it happening now. This exhausted, I would probably miss the connection anyway.

My notepad was filled almost cover to cover with my thoughts, theories and miscellaneous notes. I should have had something solid to go on by now, but needed more information.

A vision would be nice, I called out skyward, exasperated. The soft jersey sheets on my bed beckoned me into their relaxing embrace. Great, now I was hallucinating.

I yawned. Maybe something would come to me in my dreams, fill in some of the blanks in this gruesome puzzle.

I shuffled across the thick wheat shag carpeting in fluffy bunny slippers. Every step seemed to drain what little energy remained in my reserves. I lit the purple candle on the nightstand and yawned through a nightly meditation. I blew out the flame, and my eyes closed before the willowy smoke of the extinguished flame dissipated into the air.

Vague faces, pale and grief-stricken, appeared on the backs of my eyelids, their arms outstretched, their agony flooding my senses. Shit! I was so tired I couldn’t even maintain my shields and block out the unfiltered chaos that was a side effect of my gifts. I wrestled with my inner control, turning the spirits aside and forcing the darkness of the dream into a replica of the safe sanctuary of my apartment.

Satisfied the small battle against my exhaustion had ended, I turned toward the ethereal bed awaiting me, thankful for the modicum of strength left.

‘Help us!’ Icy fingers trailed down my right arm, compelling me to face whatever held me in its deathly grasp.

By the Goddess, I wailed, recognizing the woman’s face from the crime scene. She tugged on my arm, pulling me closer as we sank into the carpet of my bedroom. Please, let me go!

Her eyes begged for me to do something, her white-knuckled clench relentless.

I pried at her fingers, desperate for a way out.

Her mouth remained open, caught in a constant, silent scream. Her body flew from me, thrown by some invisible foe to the ground. Her clothing tore off her limbs and disappeared into the blurry edges of the vision. Blue-black bruises bloomed across every inch of visible skin, in furious fast-forward, like splotches of paint. She screamed inaudibly again and fell unconscious. In a matter of moments, the mere wisp of a woman had been reduced to the nauseating remains from the crime scene.

My stomach twisted as it had during the investigation, sending my hands to my mouth. I repressed the urge to vomit, but it would be in vain. Vomiting in a vision ended in either a severely upset stomach later, or the contents of my stomach all over my feet.

Click. Was that a door? Thanking the Goddess for the distraction, I swallowed and turned my attentions away from the fading replay at my feet. But where was that door? I could see through my open bedroom door into the living room and the front door was still closed.

‘Mommy?’

My heart skipped a beat. Hello?

‘Mommy!’ This time, the voice was strained, frantic.

What’s going on? I stepped over the threshold of my bedroom. "No!"

In a shadowed corner of what used to be my dining room—but now a section of the crime scene—lay the young, prepubescent girl from last night. She was oblivious to my presence, bound tightly at the wrists and ankles, tears streaming down her little face from soft blue eyes.

‘Mommy, help me!’ Her mother must have died first—most visions worked chronologically. Had the bastard made the daughter watch her mother die?

Part of me wanted to run to her, to protect the little girl and somehow save her from her fate, but I couldn’t change what had already happened. I was only a spectator to their tragedy.

A dark shadow fell over the girl, just as it had at the crime scene, her eyes widening with fear, her screams inexplicably muffled in her open mouth, just like her mother.

I covered my eyes as he started his violent assault against the child with his great, monstrous hands.

Cold sweat covered me as I sat upright in my bed. The last vestiges of the dream seeped through me, showering dark images in front of my eyes. My heart pounded furiously inside my chest, my hands shaking as they clenched the blankets to my chin. I wanted to scream, release the haunting power of the insightful dream, but couldn’t manage to pry my lips apart.

Somewhere in the area there was a house or an apartment missing those two people, incomplete without their presence. My brain clicked on, fast-forwarding through the documents I had devoured that morning—no mention of identities. The duo had been named Jane Doe One and Two. Maybe Detective Parsons had found some new information while I’d slept.

My cell phone was halfway to my ear when I realized his numbers sat on the dining room table. The clock on my nightstand glowed eight-fifteen. Better to try him at the precinct first.

I tossed the covers aside, swung my legs over the side and slid my feet back into my slippers. For a split second, I contemplated going back to sleep, but the thought of falling back into that dream.... I couldn’t handle seeing those faces again.

I tucked the phone into a pocket in my bathrobe and pulled it closed around me. Still shaken by the vision, I walked out of my bedroom lost in thought and reached for the wall to flick the light switch.

Witch, a deep male voice growled in front of me.

Before I could turn the light on, the stranger hit me, meaty fist to jawbone.

I fell to the ground with a resounding thud, my head bouncing on the carpet. Starry blackness threatened to swallow me as I struggled to maintain consciousness. I touched the left side of my face, my jaw already beginning to swell. Blood, flat and metallic, began to fill my mouth. I pushed up with both hands, multi-colored spots flashing before my eyes.

Get. Out. Of. My. Home, I whispered angrily through a curtain of hair, and gritted my teeth against the throbbing ache in my skull. I could not see him, my eyes fighting to adjust to the darkness, but he breathed just a few feet in front of me.

I screamed as his boot connected with my ribcage, and crumpled back down clutching my side. He kicked again, stealing my breath from me.

Tears welled in my eyes at the excruciating pain. I pressed my fingers against the tender flesh on my ribs, and shockwaves of agony road through me. Why are you doing this to me?

Witchcraft is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, you filthy bitch! You will come to fear His wrath when I send you back to Hell!

Something glittered in my peripheral vision, the sparse light of my bedroom catching the serrated edge of a large blade. If I didn’t do something, he was going to kill me. The blade fell and I rolled forward, the metal biting into my back. I screamed into the carpet as the blade sliced through the skin above my battered ribs.

He pulled my head up with a gnarled handful of hair. Thou shall not suffer a witch to live, he whispered. He let go, and my head bounced against the carpet as he stood to deliver the final blow.

Fear gave way to deep-rooted anger. No way would I lay here and let him kill me, that stupid Bible verse empowering him. By the Goddess, I am not going down without a fight! Adrenaline surged and provided just enough of the strength I needed.

I grabbed for his leg, wrapped one hand firmly around the ankle, the other around his calf, and pulled myself towards him until my upper body firmly pressed against that leg. I then rolled into him, throwing all my weight into it as I bit my lower lip against the fresh protest of my injury. He yelped as I shifted his center of balance, his free leg flying up in the air. I freed one hand and punched him squarely in his groin.

He howled in pain as he fell. The back of his head crashed into the corner of the dining room table, leaving him motionless and quiet on the carpet.

My heart thudded deep within my chest.

His silence ensured he was really unconscious. No man could ignore the pain of such a well-placed blow. Had I killed him? More importantly, did I care?

Nope, I didn’t give a single damn. Not one.

I rolled onto my back and muffled another scream in my sleeve. After several deep, slow breaths and more than a few tears, I managed to work into a sitting position. I fumbled my cell phone out of my pocket and turned on the flashlight application before parting the fabric of my robe and lifting my nightshirt.

Shit. A deep purple spot grew on the surface of my ribs. The adrenaline rush subsided, replaced by excruciating pain as I fingered the fist-sized ellipse.

I inched backwards on the carpet until my back was against a wall. I needed to call someone for help, but stared at the cell phone screen numbly, my hands shaking.

Who in the hell was I supposed to call again?

Daddy. He would know what to do.

I shook my head. No, Daddy was dead, had been for over a decade now. He couldn’t help me.

Someone else....

Sera? No, my little sister would likely faint just at the thought of an intruder in my home.

No, someone else.... Time wasn’t my friend. I started to slur my words.

Detective Parsons? As helpful as the detective had been, I needed a paramedic. My side hurt and my back bled.

Call 9-1-1, you idiot, I chided into the darkness. My voice sounded alien to my ears. Shit. I pushed against the wall for support and my legs wobbled. I reached for the nearby couch with one blood-covered, trembling hand. Come on, Zoë, it’s not that far away!

I struggled against blackness seeping into my vision. My mouth was dry, my body wracked with shivers. Stupid shock. I steadied my breathing through pursed lips and took two more steps towards the asshat on my floor. His discarded blade lay in the space between us.

He’d tried to kill me with a machete. Why in the hell is there some guy running around Baltimore with a damn machete? And who in the hell gave him my address? Anger snapped me partially out of my state of shock.

I kicked the machete across the room. No more toys for you, asshole.

A thin pool of blood surrounded his head like an ominous halo. I shuddered at the sight, and the contents of my stomach rushed up my throat. I closed my eyes and shoved the urge down. Vomiting would be bad right now.

I inhaled deeply, painfully, and tried to calm myself. That man wasn’t going to hurt me again. I just needed to make that call. Come on, Zoë, hang in there. We can do this.

I tapped the touchscreen on my phone until I got the dial pad. The numbers swam and blurred. Please, Goddess, let me focus! I dialed 9-1-1.

It rang twice before a cheerful female voice picked up. 9-1-1, what’s your emergency?

I need an ambulance, I whispered into the mouthpiece. I’ve been attacked in my home and am bleeding. And I think my ribs are broken. But I got him. I think I killed him.

She asked something, but I couldn’t hear her. I yelled my address at her and held my breath as the rainbow of spots began their encore appearance in front of my eyes. Hold on, hold on, hold on!

Ma’am, can you stay on the line? Her voice sounded so far away. Ma’am?

The world spun like a child’s top. Her voice held me steady for an instant longer, my fingers clenching one of the dining chairs, but it wasn’t enough. I took two steps backwards, the phone spilling from my hand, and the darkness that had threatened to engulf me swallowed me whole.

Chapter 4 – A Hint of Things to Come?

Vivid colors danced like fireflies against the velvety blackness of my unconsciousness. I wanted to touch them, but with every brush of my fingertips, the delicate baubles popped like soap bubbles. I chased them for a while, bouncing in lazy lopes behind them, before something distracted me.

Off to my left, talking and singing rang out. Surely the source of the sound would be more substantial than the ethereal lightning bugs fading in the dark horizon. I changed course and turned towards the music to investigate.

There, within a circle of stone monoliths that vaguely reminded me of Stonehenge, stood an inner circle of robed figures. Twelve people held hands and chanted in a singsong fashion, almost like a soothing lullaby.

But it had not been their melody that had attracted me. They called to me using my magickal name, one that I used strictly in ritual. Only a small handful of people knew it, and I was quite certain none them were within the sacred stone.

Were they casting a spell on me? Was that why I was still here? I drifted towards them, curious and a little angry at the idea, but something with soft hands pulled me away from the pagans. I spun within the mysterious grasp to admonish the person, only to find no one behind me. The circle had vanished and I was adrift once more in nothingness.

Gaunt faces wailed—past victims of tragedies I had sent to the other side. Their voices grated like a myriad of fingernails on a blackboard.

I sought to cover to my ears, but my hands did not muffle them. My soul ached to scream out, to remind them that I wasn’t their murderer, that I had given them peace, but I couldn’t speak. I sailed through their misery until silence wrapped its hands around me, pulling towards a soft white light. Was this what it felt like to die?

My father floated deep in the recesses of that light, brighter than the glow that held him, a white silhouette against the ebony background. His eyes beckoned to me with promises of peace.

I tried to get to him, remembering the way he held me as a frightened child, knowing he alone could make me feel safe again. The harder I struggled to get to him, the stronger the hands that had pulled me from the circle tugged at me, right in the center of my being, keeping me from him.

From behind me, another white light blossomed. Whatever held me dragged me into the harsh brightness against my feeble protests. I opened my eyes slowly against the glaring fluorescent bulbs humming overhead. I was alive, but after seeing my father again, I wasn’t sure how thankful I was.

How are you feeling, honey? An unfamiliar woman stood over me and replaced the stethoscope around her neck, cocking her head slightly as she waited for my answer.

I remained quiet.

I’m Doctor Levy, she continued. I assisted in your surgery. If you are up to it, I think you have some visitors. Would you like to see them?

Visitors? Who could possibly know I was here? I nodded. She dropped my chart at the end of the bed and walked to the closed door.

Detective Parsons? She peeked her head out the door. You may speak to her now. She has a call button beside her bed that rings to the nurses’ station. They can get me or one of the other doctors if she experiences anything adverse. She slipped passed him and back into the hallway.

Parsons’ face was pale, even in the direct light. He approached carefully, almost silently. The brightness that had been in his eyes at the crime scene now dimmed, leaving those beautiful blue eyes bare and open. Hurting.

Ms. Delante, he whispered, pulling a chair beside my bed.

I smiled thinly and tried to speak through chapped lips and a parched throat.

How are you feeling? The concern on his tired face sounded in his voice.

Like shit, I groaned, my words almost alien in my ears.

You took a good beating the other night.

I frowned. How long have I been here? I traced the thick swath of bandages wrapped from my chest to my waist, remembering the extent of the damage the intruder had done.

Three days. He turned away.

My chest tightened. I started to say something as my eyes focused on my surroundings. Machines, big, whirling beasts, crowded the room. Tubes and wires sprouted from them like artificial tentacles, their endings sticking in or on my skin. I must have looked like something out of a science fiction movie.

I swallowed. Detective Parsons, what’s wrong?

He didn’t turn around, the brightly-colored poster on the far wall absorbing his attentions.

I grabbed his arm. Detective, please!

In cinematic slow motion, he turned his head. We almost lost you. His voice was so small, almost childlike in the depth of its fear and anguish. They had to perform CPR twice to get you breathing again. He inhaled shakily. This was all my fault.

His statement caught me off guard. How can you say that?

He shrugged and sighed heavily. If I had sent someone home with you, if I had insisted that you read the files at the precinct, none of this would have happened. You wouldn’t be lying in a hospital bed with bruised ribs and stitches in your back.

You couldn’t have known, I whispered, my heart suddenly aching to comfort him, to erase the self-doubt growing within his haggard face. I tucked the unfamiliar emotions away. There’s no way you could have possibly known this might happen. No one could have seen this coming. I didn’t know and I’m the psychic one, remember?

Parsons wiped the falling tears from his cheeks in an effort to regain his masculine composure. A faint smile crossed his lips.

Yeah. He laughed quietly. How could any of us know that someone was out to get you?

Is he... you know?

He’s dead, Ms. Delante.

A lump rose in my throat from the emptiness growing inside me. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want to, but he attacked me.

He squeezed my hand gently. It’s called self-defense. You did what you needed to in order to survive.

I couldn’t speak, trembling slightly at the thought. I had killed a man of my own volition. Shouldn’t I have felt a little more... something? Anything? The only thing I felt was guilt that I didn’t feel more remorse for killing another human being. Pretty sure that’s not the appropriate response to this situation. I touched my face in complete confusion, and the next thing I knew, the detective was sitting on the bed beside me, holding me.

Tears that should’ve come a moment before raced down my cheeks in torrential waves. I leaned into his chest and.... What in the world was wrong with me? This wasn’t something I did, grieving in the presence of others. I inhaled sharply and pushed off him.

Parsons lifted my chin, his eyes meeting mine. Are you going to be okay?

The longer, complicated answer was ‘no.’ This was going to take a while to process. But for what he needed to hear, the better answer was ‘yes,’ so I nodded.

If you need to talk, I’m here for you. I know what it’s like to take a life. If you just need a shoulder to cry on again, you know my number. He smiled genuinely, the light reaching those beautiful blue eyes.

Thanks, I whispered, gently removing his hand from my face. When do I get to go home?

The doctor says if you stay stable, then you can go home tomorrow. Your apartment has been fingerprinted, sprayed and photographed into evidence. Not even that aesthetically pleasing police tape has been left behind. He paused, fidgeting where he sat.

What? I wiped my face with a corner of my bed sheet. What is it?

They confiscated some of your stuff.

I raised a brow. My stuff. The files?

Daniel shook his head. No, your ritual tools: candles, incense, athame, books. I couldn’t get them to understand that you were Wiccan, that those items were essential to your religious practices.

I glowered at the thought of my possessions in Ziploc baggies, tagged and numbered. They went into my bedroom.

He nodded, his lips in a tight line on his face.

A curious thought struck me. How did you know what they were? At the crime scene, you said that I had allies, supporters in the precinct. I thought you meant Brooks. Are you pagan?

The color drained from his face, and he glanced around nervously. What makes you think that?

How else would you know what an athame is? I guess you could have just relied on Hollywood. There were enough movies made about witchcraft, but....

I’m... Wiccan, he whispered, his shoulders tensed and his features flushed

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