Authors: Apryl Baker
“Protect you from what?” Grady asks softly. His voice is soothing, relaxing.
Like a streaming video, I can see my mom in the rundown living room of our apartment. She held a can of spray paint, made a figure on the wall, and explained what each symbol meant—and what they were meant to keep out. Mom was protecting us from demons and…and angels? Why would she protect us from angels? Weren’t they the good guys?
“I don’t know,” I finally say. No way am I telling him all about her seven shades of crazy. “She was all drugged out, not making any sense. Besides, I was only five. I don’t remember much.”
“Let’s focus on what you
remember, Mattie. Tell me about the last day with your mom.”
“Why?” I bark, feeling cold horror sweep over me. “Why do you want to know about
“Because,” Grady answers in a soothing tone, “she did a terrible thing, but we don’t know why. What could have driven her to hurt you?” He nods, eyes still soft. “Please, Mattie, you know I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”
The room gets quiet. I want to shrivel into the floor. Why can’t Grady do this in one of the interrogation rooms? Why here? In front of everyone? It’s stup—duh. Bar round-up filled all the other rooms with drunken idiots dumb enough to either have drugs on them or hit one of the cops breaking up the fight. I really
have to sit here and tell him everything.
In order to get through the next part, I do what I always do when thinking about that day
—close my eyes and find that quiet place inside that lets me survive the memory. Yes, there it is…the cold and the dark. No emotions clog my brain now. Then I open my eyes. My face stays hard; my eyes go empty, soulless. I’ve seen myself when I get like this. It
be a little scary. In all honesty, I could probably kill someone from this place and it’d never faze me.
“The apartment was in a little rundown place a few miles from the beach,” I begin in a wooden tone. “It reeked of cigarettes. Mom didn’t smoke, but the smell was everywhere. The carpet was dirty and stained. The walls were bare
.. I was hungry. She made me Spaghetti-O’s while I watched SpongeBob. She was having an episode, pacing back and forth, muttering about the painter finding us and how she had to protect me. I turned up the volume because I couldn’t hear the cartoon over her ranting.”
“What happened next?” Grady prompts.
“It got quiet and I was happy. Mom sat beside me,” my voice drones. “I thought she wanted to watch cartoons. She did that sometimes. She loved SpongeBob. Squidward was her favorite. I loved it when she behaved like my mommy. I didn’t see the knife until it was too late.”
“Knife?” Grady frowns.
I ignore the question. “I turned to ask her if she was going to watch cartoons with me and that’s when I saw the knife. She had it raised above me. Her face was so determined. I tried to get out of the way, but I fell on my stomach. The knife hit me in my back. When she ripped it out, I rolled, but she didn’t stop, she just kept bringing the knife down, again and again. Eight times. I remember counting while SpongeBob sang about his perfect day. Mom told me she loved me and that now I’d be safe. Then she stabbed herself in the neck and fell. Her face was just inches from mine. I watched her die, watched her eyes go all empty while I bled out on the floor. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital. Someone told me she was dead. But I already knew that.”
By now, there is a deathly quiet all around me. I blink a few times. “Is there anything else you want to know, Detective Grady?”
“No, Mattie, not right now,” he says softly, eyes wide. “I’m sorry to put you through that.”
I nod, accepting the apology. He really means it, and looks worse than I do.
“Did Mrs. Cross tell you that Nancy was here?” he asks.
“She said she was going to meet us here to get a sample for a DNA test,” I say, sounding hollow and empty. It takes a while to come back from the scary place inside.
“She’s here already. We just need to do a cheek swab for DNA comparison to make sure you really are Emma Rose Crane.”
did you say my name was?” I ask slowly, fear beginning to curl tightly in my stomach. No freakin’ way.
“Emma Rose Crane.”
My eyes widen. That’s what the painter, Silas, called me. He said my name was Emma Rose. For a moment I can’t breathe.
How does a demon know my name?
I hate pity stares. They suck. I can handle anger, disgust, and hostility better than pity. Every single cop in the pit stares at me. I despise that look. I much preferred the amusement they regarded me with before.
Nancy knows the details of my case, but she’s never heard me talk about it. I didn’t know she’d been listening when Grady questioned me. Now even
giving me pity-looks and Nancy knows how much I detest them. She’d taken a swab from my mouth for a DNA sample and asked me to wait a few minutes before I headed home. God only knows what she wants. Probably to explore my feelings or urge me to talk about them during my weekly counseling session with the state appointed shrink. Yippee for me. Not.
Dan is talking on the phone and I’m betting it’s with the backstabber. He looks way too contrite and seems to be arguing with her. She’s probably demanding my head on the proverbial silver platter. Her dad
the mayor, after all. If Meg wants to get me into trouble, she can, and I’m not sure even Nancy can help me get out of it this time.
, Hilda,” Eli murmurs in my ear, making me shiver.
I grimace and turn, but once again
I’m not prepared for the power of those aqua eyes. They burn with some emotion I can’t identify. My stomach tightens, but in a delicious kind of way and I take a hasty step back.
“I’m really not in the mood, Eli.” I’m doing my best to sound aggravated and not nervous. “It’s been a long day and it’s not even noon yet.”
“Yeah, I figured.” He nods and leans against the wall. “You okay?”
“I didn’t ask if you were fine, Mattie, I asked if you were okay.”
I close my eyes and lean against the wall as well. “I will be.”
“So what happened at the airport earlier?”
“It’s none of
business,” I bite back.
“That’s not exactly true
.” He sighs. “There’s some stuff we need to talk about.”
“Like the fact your dad’s an FBI agent?”
He laughs. “That was never a secret. Dad’s been in the Bureau since before Caleb was born.”
“Do they know about his…uh…extra-curricular activities?”
Eli gives me that incredibly sexy smile and I’m thankful the wall can support me when my knees turn to jelly. “Why do you think we move around so much? There’s an entire unit devoted to this kind of stuff. Dad’s one of the Bureau Chiefs for their supernatural division.”
be serious. So very X-files. “They have a division just for ghosts and demons?”
“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, Hilda,” he says with a wink. “Maybe one day you’ll learn the rest of it.”
“The rest of what?” I push myself more upright against the wall.
“I see my son is sharing things he shouldn’t.” James Malone stands next to Eli. “Feeling better, Mattie?”
“Yes, sir.” I nod. “I just need to get home and sleep.”
“So, TSA, huh?” He gives me what I have come to call ‘The Dad Look
“Forget it, that look never works on her,” Mr. Richards tells him. “Dan falls for it every time, but not
one. She’s impervious.”
“Thanks, I think,” I murmur.
“There could be a problem,” Mr. Richards sighs. “Meg is upset and she wants to press charges.”
“Of course she does,” I mutter. Perfect. My day just keeps getting better and better.
“Dan is doing his best to talk her out of it,” Mr. Richards continues, “but she’s pretty angry. You broke her nose, Mattie.”
“This is the same girl you talked about in your sleep? And you broke her nose?” Eli laughs. “Excellent.”
Dan to keep her away from me,” I snap. “But
had the bright idea she should pick us up at the airport, so we could talk things out.”
“He doesn’t have sisters?” Mr. Malone directs his question to Dan’s dad
, who shakes his head. “Too bad. You have to have sisters to understand teenage girl drama.”
“Teenage girl drama? Really?” I snarl. “Mattie Hathaway does NOT do drama.”
drama may have gotten you into big trouble,” Dan says, his voice tired. “I’m not sure Meg will let it go, Mattie.”
“Whatever trouble has befallen my daughter, I assure you I
get her out of it,” said a very cultured, very-Southern male voice.
We all turn to see the man standing behind us. I’m not sure how old he is. He has one of those faces that could be
twenty-five or forty-five. His hair is like mine, a dark chocolate brown he wears shoulder length, but his eyes are cerulean blue. I’d guess he’s well over six feet since he towers over all the men standing around me. Strangely, he reminds me of the actor that plays Ichabod Crane on Fox’s
. His very expensive black suit screams wealth, but there’s something about his face that sets my nerves on edge. He’s handsome and his face shows a pleasant expression, but there’s something off about it. It’s like he’s trying a little
hard to seem friendly and not too…sinister. Except that he really
dangerous. He may come off all polite and refined, but he’s anything but that.
“Allow me to introduce myself
.” He smiles. “I’m Ezekiel Crane and you must be Mattie.”
“They said you weren’t coming for a few days,” I say shakily. And Nancy didn’t breathe a word
about this earlier! She had to have known he was here. Dang it!
Eli moves closer to me and I gasp at the heat radiating from him, taking the chill out of my bones. How does he do that?
“I’m sorry to show up unannounced, but I needed to see you with my own eyes,
.” His accent sounds like he’s from New Orleans. Is that why Mom kept taking us back to New Orleans? It makes no sense, though. Why go back to the place where she could get caught?
“I’m Mattie’s attorney, Earl Richards.” Mr. Richards places himself firmly in front of me. “I thought we had agreed to arrange a meeting?”
I peek around Mr. Richards to see that my maybe-father is frowning, but trying hard to maintain a pleasant expression. I get the feeling he’s not used to being thwarted from getting what he wants
he wants it.
said, I needed to see my daughter,” he replies, his tone steely and cold. “I haven’t laid eyes on her in sixteen years. Surely, if you were in the same situation, Counselor, you would have a burning desire to be reunited with your child, the child everyone said was dead. I never lost hope, and I
to see her, to know that she was real, safe, and unharmed.” He takes a deep breath. “However, she doesn’t
to be unharmed.”
“I’m fine,” I say softly. “Just a fall down the stairs. I’m clumsy on my best days.”
“You most certainly are something,
,” he says, eyes bright. “But clumsy does not adequately describe you.”
I wonder. Does this man know what I can do? Can he do it
, too? My eyes widen and the old pulse races just a little. Can my father see the dead? His eyes tell me yes and that he knows I can, too.
“Mr. Crane,” someone
says. I wince, recognizing Nancy’s icy tone. She’s beyond pissed.
“Ah, Mrs. Moriarity.” My father turns and smiles, all warm with southern charm, but unfortunately for him, Nancy won’t buy it for a second.
“We agreed you’d wait for the DNA results to come back before introducing yourself.” Her tone is hard and cold. Ohh, she’s super-pissed. “It does no one any good, especially Mattie, if you are not a match. She’s been through enough the last few months without getting her hopes up.”
“She is the image of her mother,” Mr. Crane murmurs, taken aback by Nancy’s icy voice. “I have no doubt she’s my daughter.”
“You’ll have to forgive me if I
doubts,” Nancy all but snarls. “I suggest that you say your goodbyes now. I will call you when the results come back.
they are positive, Mr. Richards and I will arrange an initial meeting between you and Mattie. Until then, you
stay away from her.” That sounds like an order—or a warning?