Authors: Gayla Drummond
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Paranormal & Urban, #Mystery, #werewolves, #urban fantasy, #Shifters, #Vampires, #Magic, #Paranormal, #psychic
We went under an overpass to the west side of Santo Trueno. The city had developed in and around a ravine, spreading out into the gullies cracking either side. The highway ran right through the middle of the ravine's lowest point, splitting the city into unequal halves.
On the west side, the Palisades marked the southernmost end. A few somewhat better neighborhoods spread from there to the north, culminating into a spread of businesses and warehouses. We ended up entering the Heights, in a section roughly center on the west side. I parked in front of a block of offices and shops, across the street from an apartment complex. "It's going between the dry cleaner and that thrift store."
"Okay." Dane had put his phone away when I slowed the car. He climbed out as soon as I turned off the engine, and looked around. "Be nice if we found it sitting in the alley."
"Yes, but don't hold your breath." We began walking.
"I can hold my breath for six minutes."
"I'll add that to my Dane trivia."
He grinned. "My favorite color is orange."
I felt my lips curve. "And your favorite food is pizza, with all the meats and extra cheese."
"Yours is a medium-well steak with a baked potato. Butter, pepper, and sour cream on the potato." We turned down between the two buildings, and he stepped over a damp, flattened cardboard box. "And you don't like to wear jewelry."
"I wear earrings." Our banter actually had a point: We were practicing our observation skills.
"Yes, but only studs. You don't wear rings, bracelets, or necklaces most of the time."
"You prefer tees to shirts with buttons."
Dane looked over at me. "How do you know that? I wear shirts with buttons."
"Yeah, but you constantly fiddle with them when you do. You never tug at your T-shirts." I stopped, because we'd reached the alley. "Well, that was helpful."
"The thread ends right there." I pointed to the air in front of us. "Just beyond the edges of the buildings."
"No mirror in sight." Dane walked into the alley to look around. I stayed put, studying the ground below and air above the thread's end point. Merriven slid into my peripheral vision, whispering endearments, and then insults as I ignored him.
I wished he were solid so I could set his aggravating ass on fire, especially when he shoved his fist through my chest, baring his fangs right in my face.
Dane returned from checking both directions. "Nothing."
My phone beeped, indicating its battery was low. We turned to walk back to my car. "Well, that was a waste of time. Guess we should head to the shop to talk to David and Jo now." After that, I needed to take care of my dogs, and had that appointment with Lord Derrick about my Merriven problem.
Dane had a field day, looking through my MP3 collection as we drove to the Blue Orb. "You listen to country?"
"Sometimes. Don't judge."
"I'm totally judging, because...oh my God, Cordi. Nickelback? Really?"
"Hey." I smacked his fingers away from the stereo. "No judging. I've heard you humming 'MMMBop' more than a few times."
"At least it's not by Nickelback."
"I like Nickelback, so shut up."
He snorted. "Your taste in music? It leaves a lot to be desired."
"Says Mr. I Listen to Boy Bands."
"You're just jealous my taste in music exceeds yours. I know good music."
I laughed. "You don't listen to anything more than four years old, unless you're in someone else's car. You don't know the tip of Mount Good Music."
"Yeah? Prove you do."
"Find 'Bohemian Rhapsody' on there and start it."
Dane tried to resist, but failed, when the head banging part began.
e pulled up at the shop, and sat in my car to finish our over-dramatic, lip-syncing second run through of "Bohemian Rhapsody" before heading into the shop.
I loved the Blue Orb. The combination of herbs, scented candles, and incense made walking in feel as though I'd entered a different world. When I had the time, I enjoyed browsing around to see what unknown things I might find.
Today, it was busy. I waved at Jo, who was running the cash register, and then at Tonya as she went past with a customer in tow. David was helping an intense-looking, thin young woman select a crystal. I could hear a few voices from some of the aisles we couldn't see down.
With a few minutes of down time, I decided to tease my partner. "How'd your date go?"
Dane grinned. "Sheila's really smart, and we had fun."
"Was there kissing?"
"Just returning the favor."
"She let me kiss her good night. There was hand holding."
"Ooh, Dane and Sheila sitting in a tree," I had to stop to keep from laughing, ducking away from his attempts to muss my hair. "Quit it."
"Children, behave," Jo called from the register. We walked to the counter, ignoring her reprimand, jostling and smacking at each other's hands as he kept trying to mess with my hair.
Jo's short auburn hair bounced when she shook her head. "You two are in good moods. What's up?"
"We need some, stop it," I smacked Dane in the stomach to make him lower his arms. "Help with research."
My partner stopped trying to mess up my hair, and slung his arm around my shoulders. "Shadow manipulation that can move solid objects."
Jo blinked. "Well, there's one I haven't heard."
Looked like Tabitha was right. I glanced at Dane, who continued. "We're thinking either elf, god, or demon, and want to try and narrow it down."
She looked at me. "Do you ever have normal cases anymore?"
"Okay." Jo huffed air out, her hazel eyes glazing over. "Right off-hand, I doubt we'll be able to give you any elf names."
I nudged Dane with my elbow. He dug out the list we'd printed from his back pocket. "Tabitha gave us a starting point."
She took the list when he held it out, scanned it, and shook her head. "This is a good start, but I'd think any god could manipulate shadows if he or she wanted to. So trying to pinpoint a particular one could result in bupkis."
"Great." I sighed. "Guess we'll have to play it by ear then."
"Hit up Prince Snooty for elf names," she said. "If it's demons..."
"We'll ask the boss to loan us his sharp, shiny demon-killing blades," I finished. "Okay."
"We'll look through these names though, just in case, and see if there's any other possibilities." Jo smiled. "What's the missing object?"
"You won't believe this. It's the mirror from Snow White."
She scrunched her face. "I wouldn't think it was a big deal. Didn't it speak riddles and compliment the vanity of the Evil Queen?"
"Yeah, I think that's what it did. Apparently the real mirror is perv who likes to make sexual comments."
Jo laughed. "Figures. Well, I'll let you know if we come up with anything."
"Thanks." When Dane dropped his arm from my shoulders, I leaned over the counter to give her a hug. "Talk to you later."
Once back in the car, we looked at each other. I shrugged. "Well, now what?"
"Nothing new on the Psychic Hotline?"
He drummed his fingers on his thigh. "No leads to follow at the moment. No way of determining who or what the thief is. Sounds like we're at a dead end right now, unless you want to go talk to Thorandryll."
I started my car. "Let's call ahead."
The elf who answered the phone apologized, but said Thorandryll was busy. "I'm afraid the final preparations for the ball are consuming everyone's time and attention right now."
"Okay. Please tell him I called."
"Of course, Miss Jones." The elf, who hadn't given her name, ended the call. We looked at each other again, and this time, Dane shrugged.
"Feel like helping me pick out flowers? I'm going out with Sheila again tonight."
It wasn't even three yet, and my appointment with Derrick was at seven. "Sure."
fter flower shopping, I headed home to do some housework and take care of the dogs. That kept me busy until it was time to teleport to the Barrows, or more specifically, Lord Derrick's front door.
No guards were on duty there, but Stone answered my knock. "Come in."
He led me to the dining room, and pulled out the chair on Derrick's right for me. There were only the three places set, waiting for the meal to be served. I wondered if Derrick had one to be polite, or for another reason.
Once seated, I didn't know how to explain why I was there. Derrick and Stone simply waited until I asked, "Do vampires have a tendency to become ghosts when they die?"
"A tendency? No, it's rare, and in the few cases I'm aware of, the vampires who did become ghosts were less than a decade into their second lives." Derrick's lips turned down in a brief frown. "Are you here because of your late friend?"
"If she weren't at peace, she was young enough to become a ghost, but I don't sense any dead lingering near you."
I stared at him. Lord Derrick had been turned young—well, young for modern times—and looked around twenty, with shoulder-length, light brown curls, and a rather pretty, unlined face. He'd told me he had three psychic abilities. Was this a second one? "You can sense ghosts?"
"Vampires are closer to the dead than any other species is," Stone said in his deep, gravelly voice.
"Oh. That's pretty sucky. Can you sense ghosts?" Maybe it was a vampire thing then, not a psychic ability. Stone was alive, able to eat food and walk in the sunlight, though he also needed blood. I wasn't sure of all the differences between vampires and dhampyrs. Asking questions to fill in the blanks was a habit I intended to build. The huge man shook his head in answer. I looked back at his father. "Can you sense a ghost even if it's not here right now?"
"Yes. Ghosts leave a residue," he waved his hand. "A psychic odor, if you will. I don't detect that odor on you."
"Okay, so neither of them is a ghost." Then what the hell were they? Delusions as I'd first decided?
"Neither of them, who?" Both men were watching me.
"Wait, you said Ginger could've come back as a ghost."
"If she weren't at peace, yes."
"But you don't smell ghost on me. Does it wear off fast?" A tiny flicker of hope had kindled in me.
"No, the residue clings for months."
I sagged back in my chair, a huge smile nearly splitting my face in two. "Then he lied."
Ginger, the real one, hadn't come back as a ghost. Surely she would've, if I had accidentally murdered her because of Merriven. Okay, I had still killed her, but because she really, truly wanted out, not because of him. Eyes closing, I basked in the deep, hot wave of relief that filled me from toes to head. "Thank God."
"Cordi." I opened my eyes, grinning at them. "You guys can call me Cordi." Anyone who lightened my huge burden of guilt absolutely deserved the title of friend, as far as I was concerned. "Thank you for telling me that."
"You're welcome. May I ask why that information helped?" Derrick tilted his head.
"Merriven told me he made Ginger ask me to stake her. Told me she didn't really want to die."
"Ah." The vampire nodded. "I see. A terrible burden to place upon someone. In the future, remember that it's difficult for us to force another vampire to ask for the final death. We will only ask if that is truly what we desire."
Nodding, I felt my smile fading. "That helped a lot, but it doesn't actually solve my problem."
"I have nightmares. I'm pretty used to them, because I've been having them since my psychometry ability kicked in. After he told, I mean, lied to me about Ginger, I was having nightmares about her nearly every night." I paused for breath. "Then I began seeing her when I was awake."
"Now you know she's not a ghost," Derrick said.
"Yeah, but she, or whatever was pretending to be her, is gone. I haven't seen her since we got back from the Unseelie realm."
"You're seeing someone else," Stone said, and I nodded. "Who?"
Derrick frowned. "He was too old to return as a ghost."