Authors: Kirsten Weiss
Tags: #Mystery, #occult, #Paranormal, #Tarot, #Lake Tahoe, #female sleuth
“You really don’t know teenage girls very well, do you?” They were as bad as the fae folk, Riga thought, rueful.
His eyes glittered with amusement. “Point taken.”
“I’m sorry about dragging you into this.”
“You didn’t. I offered because you’re important to me. I came because I wanted to. Besides, the scandal will be good for business.” He made a frame of his hands. “Casino magnate dates suspected serial killer.”
Riga laughed in spite of herself. “Magnate? Really?”
He pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her waist. She leaned into him, letting herself relax into the strength of his body. His coat was still cold from outdoors, but the wool was deliciously soft.
“Some detective,” he said. “Haven’t you noticed that casino I’m living in? Clearly, you need my help.”
“I’ll pay for the attorney.”
“You couldn’t afford Sharon.”
“But I’m sure we could come to an arrangement,” he growled.
She stepped away and tilted her head up to look at him. Her violet-colored eyes narrowed.
“Not that kind of arrangement,” he said. “I won’t even insist you move in with me. But I will keep asking.”
His brows knitted in a frown. “Things are escalating. I know this is your field, and I’ve got my hands full with my own business, but I can’t just sit around and wait for the next piece of bad news. You need to keep me in the loop.”
“Donovan, this happened very quickly—”
“I understand. But I can’t help you if I’m in the dark.”
She paused, startled. She hadn’t thought of Donovan helping her. Was it because he had his own life, his own business to run? Or was it arrogance on her part? “Sometimes,” she said slowly, “there are issues of client confidentiality and sometimes… I’m just in the habit of doing things without reporting in.”
“And I’m used to people doing what I ask, without having to explain myself. It’s not exactly the foundation for the kind of relationship I’m looking for. We both have habits that need breaking.”
He was right, she realized. Donovan did need to know. Their connection could put him in danger. As to client confidentiality, her client was a reality TV show, hell bent on splashing everything that happened across the TV screens of millions – well, thousands – of viewers. Nothing was confidential.
“It’s a fair deal,” she said. It was more than fair. She didn’t want to know how much Sharon billed per hour. “But you may need to remind me. It’s not that I’m trying to hide things. I’m just not used to this.”
He smiled. “Ditto. But we’ll adjust.”
“Does it bother you?”
He looped his scarf around his neck. “Making adjustments, or that you don’t always follow my… suggestions?”
He thought about it. “I feel it,” he finally said, “but you’re worth it. Being with you is worth it.”
She put a hand on his arm. “Yeah. I think so too.”
His expression shifted, his insouciance snapping into place. He made an exaggerated bow, waving his hand to the door. “Your chariot awaits.”
“There’s something I need to do at the cabin. Can you drop me there? I’ll make my own way to the casino later.” She started toward the door, turned when she realized he wasn’t following.
He stood unmoving, one arm crossed over the other.
Oh, she thought. The deal was starting now. “Brigitte and I have to summon the ghost of the murder victim, discover the name of the demon that killed her, then summon and master it. I’ll probably be late.”
He stared at her.
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” she said.
Donovan frowned. “I thought your powers weren’t working well.”
“Anyone can call a demon,” she said, waving off his concern. “People do it unconsciously all the time, allowing demons to rampage through their psyches, giving up control. The phrase ‘personal demon’ is grounded in reality.”
“Like road rage?”
“Exactly. Mastering the demon is the hard part. They’re clever and have millennia of experience at manipulating people’s weaknesses.”
He looked at her askance. “Do you have much experience with demons?”
“Everyone does. Even the saints wrestled with them. The problem is that there are different varieties of demon and some are nastier than others.”
“This one decapitated a woman.”
“We don’t know that,” Riga said. “A human drew that sigil and summoned the demon; either the summoner or the demon could have killed her. At its heart, however, a battle with a demon is less physical than mental. I’ll be okay.”
“It attacks you psychologically.”
“Yes,” she said, surprised. “Have you been reading up on demons as well?”
“No. I saw the Exorcist as a child. It’s something Father Merrin says.”
“Oh. Well, he was right. Minus the pea soup vomiting and violence.”
“But you said the demon might have killed her,” he said, his emerald eyes troubled. “That doesn’t sound violence-free.”
“A demon is a lot like a gun,” she said slowly, groping for an analogy. “It can be very dangerous in the wrong person’s hands, but not in the hands of a stable, trained person.” Unlike a gun, however, a demon wasn’t an inanimate object. It wanted nothing more than to go off, wreak havoc. But Riga couldn’t bring herself to add that detail, to increase his worry. It had taken her less than a few minutes to violate her bargain with him she thought, wretched. “Donovan,” she said quietly, “I have to do this. There’s no one else.”
He pulled on his leather gloves, looking unconvinced. “And the possession? Was that accurate as well?”
“I’ve never seen it personally, but I don’t see why a demon couldn’t do it. Possession isn’t that difficult a trick for a professional noncorporeal.”
“So what is this? A personal demon or a demon demon?” He looped his arm around her waist and steered her to the door.
Riga’s lips curved in a smile. “With demons, it’s always personal.”
Chapter 12: Sun of the Morning
They walked out of the station house together, Donovan’s arm tight around Riga’s waist. A pale lamp illuminated the gravel lot, its amber beam ineffectually grazing the station’s wooden step. It was a weak complement to the TV crew’s blazing lights, which burned hot on Riga’s face. She threw up her hands to shield her eyes, blinded.
Out of the shadows, a dark figure sped towards Riga and Donovan. He thrust Riga behind him before she could react. Then her eyes adjusted to the light and she relaxed fractionally. The man who’d rushed them carried a black leather-bound Bible.
His voice boomed across the parking lot. “Suffer not a witch to live!”
The film crew moved closer. Griff shifted the camera against his eye.
Donovan made a noise low in his throat, his fists clenched.
Riga placed her hand lightly upon Donovan’s arm, feeling the tension in it, and stepped beside him. “Reverend Carver, I presume?” she said.
He was a sparse-looking man in his mid-fifties, with hair a shade of red-gold, and eyes a blue so washed out they were nearly colorless. His close-cropped beard couldn’t hide the weakness of his chin. The man was all edges: prominent cheek bones in a sunken face, nose like an axe blade, sharp creases in his suit.
The Reverend angled himself toward the cameras, raising one hand in the air, pointing toward the heavens. “The angel of the Lord has spoken. If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.”
“Fascinating,” Riga said dryly. “What does that have to do with us?”
“I saw you with those women,” Carver hissed. “I know who you are and what you’re doing. Your kind is an abomination!”
Donovan stepped close to the reverend. He kept his hands by his sides, looming over the Reverend, using his height to intimidate. His voice was low and thick with anger. “Back off.”
The reverend reversed a step, bumping into the woman behind him.
Riga started. She hadn’t noticed the woman, who was little more than a shade herself. She wore a gray parka that hung limply to her knees and was zipped to her chin. Her face lay in shadow, but Riga could make out the silhouette of hair in a tight bun.
“Do you threaten me, deceiver?” the Reverend said. “Serpent! You prowl like a roaring lion, seeking to devour, you and your whore of Babylon.”
“You’re mixing your biblical metaphors, Reverend,” Donovan said.
Deputy Night emerged from the Sherriff’s office. He took in the TV crew, Riga, the Reverend. Night’s gaze passed over the woman standing in the shadows and his body stiffened.
She took an awkward step towards the Deputy, her hand outstretched; stopped, her hand falling to her side.
“Is there a problem, Reverend?” Night asked.
The Reverend spun to face him. “Evil walks tonight, seducing the innocent, destroying the godly.”
“Why don’t you and your wife come inside and tell me about it, Sir?” Night held the door open. “We can use all the help we can get from concerned citizens like yourself.”
The Reverend shot Riga and Donovan a look of triumph, then entered the station. The woman in gray hesitated, then scuttled after him. Riga caught a glimpse of her face in the light from the door: wide brown eyes that held a worried expression, no makeup upon her flawless, porcelain skin, delicate features.
Deputy Night waited at the threshold until the two were out of earshot. “Sorry about that. He’s harmless,” he said, sotto voce, then disappeared into the station.
“Maybe,” Donovan muttered. “But what the hell was he doing here tonight?”
“Has the discovery of the body made the news already?” Riga asked him.
“I’ll check.” He drew a phone from his pocket and began to search the Internet, the tiny screen casting an eerie blue light over his gloved hands.
Sam and Griff crowded them. Angus leaned in, holding a furry boom mic over them. Pen hung behind, looking unhappy.
“Riga, what happened in there?” Sam asked.
She shifted the bag on her shoulder. “The Sheriff asked me some questions about how we found the body. I answered them and he let me go.”
Donovan pocketed his phone and caught Riga’s gaze. “Nothing,” he mouthed.
“But we gave our statements at the lake,” Pen said. “Why bring you in for questioning?”
Riga stiffened, reminded herself she’d asked for this when she took the show as a client. “You’ll have to ask him,” she said, her voice brittle.
Sam cleared his throat. “Riga can consider herself lucky.” He looked at her. “The police have asked us to come in tomorrow. We’ve got appointments throughout the day, which plays hell with our shooting schedule.”
“You don’t look too broken up about it.”
He grinned. “Ever heard of hidden cameras? At any rate, it looks like you get to relax tomorrow. We’ll be back at it tomorrow night, though. I’ve rented a boat so we can do some night shots on the lake.”
“Then if you don’t mind, I’m going to start relaxing now and head home. See you later, Sam.”
Riga allowed Donovan to lead her to his winter car, a black Lexus SUV. They were quiet on the drive to Riga’s cabin. His comfort with silence was one of the things she appreciated about Donovan. It gave her time to think.
When they reached her cabin, he walked her to the door. He stiffened, grabbing her arm. “What the hell is that?” he asked in a low voice.
She followed his gaze, her heart leaping. A monstrous, four legged shadow paced through the darkened woods. She gasped, was it a bear? She knew they lived in these mountains, but had never seen one.
She felt his grip loosen, relax. He laughed shortly. “A dog. Sorry, I thought it was a bear.”
She sagged, feeling the tension flow out of her, mingled fear and excitement. “It was as big as a bear. I wonder who it belongs to?”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t want to meet that thing off leash.” He looked about, alert, as she unlocked her door, then followed her inside.
Donovan glanced at Brigitte perched upon the kitchen counter, and the gargoyle discreetly looked the other way. His lips brushed Riga’s, sending a shiver of arousal through her.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to stay?” he asked, his voice husky.
She shook her head, and a lock of hair fell in front of her eyes. He brushed it away, tucking it behind her ear.
“You’d be a distraction,” she said. “I’ll need to focus.”
“How dangerous is this? Really?”
This was a branch of magic Riga wasn’t a specialist in; one couldn’t be expert at everything and her own way of magic had worked quite well in the past. But she’d banished demons before. She could do it again. “If your will is weak, if you don’t know yourself well, if you don’t understand what you’re dealing with, it’s dangerous. It’s not dangerous for me.”
“But your magic is…” he trailed off, made a wobbling motion with one hand.
“That’s not the sort of power you need to control a demon. I’ll be okay. Really.”
He ran his hands down her arms and she felt a flush of warmth ripple out from where he’d touched her.
“Okay,” he said. “You know what you’re doing. Just don’t take any unnecessary risks. I like having you around.”
Riga kissed him again. The day had been awful and Donovan had his own brand of magic, banishing the shadows, clearing the dank spaces from her mind.
She stood in the door and watched while he got into the SUV and drove away. When the taillights of his car disappeared behind the trees, she closed the door and turned.
Brigitte stared at her, a worried expression on her face.
“What?” Riga asked, leaning against the door, one hand still on the knob behind her.
“You wish to summon a demon? I do not think you understand ze risks,” Brigitte said slowly.
Riga straightened, considering. It wasn’t like Brigitte to doubt her, not on something like this. “What do you mean? You know I’ve done this before. This is about mastery of will, not of magical energies. What’s bothering you?”
“You are not ze same woman who faced Lefebvre. Your knowledge of magic is greater, yes. But your loss of magic has wounded you.” Her stony wings fluttered, a rasping sound. “And the last time you tried to summon, you lost control.”