Authors: Rachel Rawlings
Praise for Rachel Rawlings and The Morrigna
“If you enjoy slightly dark, fast paced and action packed Urban Fantasy then this is definitely for you! Five out of five star!” Book Monster Reviews
“The author has a way of writing and pulling you into the story, making you feel like you are there with the characters. Five Stars.” The Cover and Everything in Between Book Reviews.
“Rachel Rawlings is writing a fabulous series of kick-ass horror novels with an urban fantasy blend and possessing a strong female lead.” Blaze McRob, author.
For my husband and our three wonderful kids – without your support and encourag
ement writing wouldn’t be possible. In a world where there never seems to be enough time you always find a way to give me time to write. I love you all.
I need to thank my editor Liz. You burnt the candle at both ends to get this out on time. I couldn’t have done it without you!
Thank you Mom - for the time off at the day job to pursue the dream job, for braving NYCC 2012 and all your support. It means the world to me.
And to Stephanie, the best cheer leader an author could have. I may have dragged you into the world of beta reading kicking and screaming but you were invaluable in writing this book. Thank you for constantly pushing me for more
My head was killing me and it wasn’t g
oing away, no matter how much I rubbed my temples. The migraine that was moving through my head like a freight train had started almost immediately after I’d walked into Captain Matthison’s office. I worked for him up until a couple of months ago, when all hell broke loose in Salem.
The police once used my talents to interrogate the suspects that they brought in and I was pretty skilled at it. Then Seamus walked into my interrogation room. That’s when my nice little life started to fall apart. I helped Seamus and the Council defeat the Morrigna - a centuries-old triad of pagan goddesses who had come back to reclaim their place at the altar of mankind. My reward for said good deed was my removal from the Salem Preternatural Task Force and a brand new assignment as the Council’s liaison. This all took place while I was recovering from the ass-kicking that I had received while I was helping them. Of course, Seamus was dead, so I guess I had nothing to truly complain about. It could have been worse. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned while working for the Council, it’s that things can always get worse.
So far my new job entailed pretty mu
ndane stuff, such as notifying my old department when we were going to have long-term visitors or keeping them informed of any trials and disciplinary actions within the Others. The Others consist of beings such as Vamps, Weres, witches and all things Fae. The Council was the judge, jury and executioner of the Others. It was a rude awakening to find out just how much discipline they actually doled out. The only time the SPTF ever got their hands on an Other was when the crime spilled over to the humans; even then, the Council had to approve it. I could count on one hand the number of times I had interviewed an Other in an interrogation room.
I may not have been thrilled with my new position, but the Council certainly was.
Agrona was thinking up new ways to use me to infiltrate other vampire communities by going through the “Vamp tramps” - humans that whored themselves out to vampires just for the erotic buzz that donating gave them. Mahalia was definitely excited about finally shutting down the dark covens and their forbidden human familiars that had been growing in Salem. Roul, a Were, was the only one who didn’t seem to have an ulterior motive; then again, maybe that’s what this visit with Matthison was about.
Today was far from mundane.
On the surface it looked like a typical extended visitation pass, but Matthison was no idiot. He knew this particular werewolf’s return to Salem was more than a vacation. This was like trying to pass off a cage match for the ballet, and he wasn’t buying any of it.
The Wolves are very secretive about what happens in the packs.
Humans only accepted the Weres because of pack law. It’s civilized on the surface; sure, it’s archaic at times, but it is similar to the human justice system. If Norms really knew how pack law worked, or the necessary violence woven into their laws, then it might make cohabitation a little complicated.
After the Shift - when the Others came out to the world - humans basically fell in line when they realized that they were severely outnumbered by the Others.
Weres make up the second smallest percentage of the Others - only slightly greater in number than the Fey. They just can’t reproduce at the same rate as Vamps or witches, for example. Most people don’t survive a Were’s bite or the infection that follows, and the infant mortality rate of those born to Weres is sky-high. The packs keep their secrets, because fear doesn’t just motivate - it unites. Humans may not have pitchforks and torches anymore, but bullhorns and signs aren’t much better. So if word got out that a lieutenant from a neighboring pack was here to challenge Salem’s pack leader in a fight to the death for control of the pack - well, you get the idea.
“Maurin, who are you kidding?
I’ve heard about this guy and I’m not just referring to his last visit. He’s certifiable. You honestly expect me to believe that he’s here taking in the sights?” Matthison’s eyes were trying to bore a hole in my forehead from across his desk. It never worked when I was on his payroll, and it wasn’t working now either.
Weres are supposed to be issued a pass for any stay over a week. I’m assuming that policy exists specifically for reasons like this. Weres are pretty territorial. If a Were wasn’t petitioning to join a pack, then they were usually coming to challenge that pack’s leader. None of that had anything to do with the humans, except that it could get messy and the SPTF would prefer to know what was going on before it showed up on the six o’clock news.
It was all formality, really.
If Cash (or any other Were) came into Salem, the Norms would never really know the difference. Matthison would notice more Wolves, but what could he really do about it? Lucky for him - and the rest of the Norms - the Council loves formality. There are hundreds of different types of Others and they all have their own laws. The Council upholds them all.
There are groups on both sides who want things back to the way they were before the Shift, especially the religious groups who believed that the world was ending.
And there are other groups within the Others who believe that they are superior to humans. But the Shift was about cohabitation, not controlling the Norms. The Others just didn’t want to hide what they were anymore. It was a balancing act, but complying with human rules is easy. They’re nowhere near as strict as the laws that the Others have imposed on themselves. This was why I was confident that I’d be getting that pass.
“Yeah, actually I do,” I casually r
eplied, leaning back a little in my chair. I was about to put my feet up on his desk then thought better of it. “That’s what I’ve been saying for the last hour. He’ll be here in two days. So are you clearing the extended pass or not?”
“When did you become so indifferent?
You act like everyday a Were like Cash comes into town - like I should take him on a tour of the city!” He was shuffling papers around; the conversation was finally coming to an end.
Mmm, I think I stopped giving a shit somewhere around the time you sided with the Council and took me off SPTF.” That comment probably wasn’t going to help me.
He let out a sigh.
“Against my better judgment, yes, you’ve got your pass. But if I catch one paw out of line, then I’m hauling his ass in and sending him back to Boston.” He was obviously irritated that he didn’t have enough information to officially deny the request.
“No arguments from me.
Let me know when the paperwork is ready and I’ll come by and pick it up.” What I wanted to say was, ‘It’s about friggin’ time! You kept me in here an hour to say what we both knew you were going to say when I first got here?’
I walked out of his office, grabbed the new cell phone that the Council had given me and texted the word ‘Done’.
I’d fill them in on the Captain’s suspicions later. It was too much to type on my phone anyway. Cash’s pass was approved. That was the most important thing to convey to them right now.
I meant what I had said to Matthison.
He wouldn’t get any arguments from me if they hauled Cash’s ass back to Boston. I’d worked with this Wolf before. We may have spilled some demon blood together and sent the Triad back to the Underworld, but that didn’t make us friends. In fact, I couldn’t stand him. He walked around half-cocked all the time, which may not have bothered me so much if I hadn’t seen the arsenal at his disposal. Maybe they’d pick him up on a gun violation. My instructions were to get the pass. They did not include helping him stay once he had received it.
I’d barely gotten outside before my cell phone was ringing.
It didn’t ring with one of my favorite songs, though, so I glanced at the little screen to see who it was before I answered. SPTF’s main line? I’d just left.
That was my professional greeting.
You need to- ” I cut him off.
You already approved the pass. You don’t get to change your mind now.” He wasn’t going back on the pass, not after I had already sent word that it had been approved.
“First, I only said yes to you.
You don’t have my signature on the form yet. And second, I absolutely could go back on it if I wanted to, and there isn’t a damned thing that you could do about it. But that’s-” He didn’t get to finish.
“I could get someone to whip up a p
otion. I know people.” I interrupted.
I was almost to the corner.
I pulled my coat a little tighter. It wasn’t officially winter yet, but the Solstice was only a week away. I could almost see the sign for the Daily Grind; coffee was almost within my reach.
“They wouldn’t and you know it.
I didn’t call about the pass, Maurin. You need to come back in.” The friendly banter was over.
“Come back in?
You make it sound like I’m wanted for questioning. Am I a person of interest, Captain?” I asked.
Something was up - so much for a decent cup of coffee.
Looks like I’d be slurping down more of the sludge they keep in the coffee pot in the break room.
“You are one of the most interesting people that I
know. I need to talk to you about a case.” I could hear him talking to someone, but his hand was over the receiver, muffling his voice.
“Wow! Sounds like you need to meet some more people.
Don’t you have any cops working for you anymore, or did you transfer all of them too? Why didn’t you ask me about this when I was in your office?” Of course, I had already turned around. My curiosity was definitely peeked, but I didn’t want him to know that.
“I’m looking at it now for the first time.
Just get your ass in here.” He hung up.
When I got back to
Matthison’s office, he was gone. It didn’t take me that long to get there; I was right outside, for crying out loud. I scanned the desks outside his office and found him bent over a folder with my least favorite detective - Masarelli. The one good thing about not being on SPTF anymore was not seeing Masarelli’s ugly mug every day.
I walked over to
Masarelli’s desk. “Captain.” I didn’t even bother acknowledging Masarelli, the prick. I did, however, try to look at the file on his desk.
Before I could get a good look at an
ything, Matthison scooped up the folder and waved me into his office. Masarelli turned his best thousand-yard stare on me – as if I was intimidated by him. I was a better interrogator than he was and he knew it. Of course, he would say it’s because I have advantages that he doesn’t. While it is true that I have what I would call “helpful abilities”, it isn’t my fault that I have them. Besides, I was convinced that I would be a better interrogator than Masarelli even without those abilities. I gave him a wink and a smile over my shoulder, and then followed the Captain into his office.
He dropped the file onto his desk.
“I need you to make a call.”
I shut the door behind me.
“I’m sorry, what?” I hadn’t expected him to ask me to make a phone call. Talk to a suspect for old time’s sake maybe, but not a phone call.
“You’re the liaison.
I need you to call the Council. Mahalia, specifically.” He started rubbing his forehead, which was always his tell that something was very wrong.
“Okay, and what is it that you’d like me to ask her?”
I asked. It was never good when he reminded you what your job was. Something was definitely wrong.
He dropped down in his chair.
“Tell her that I’ve got a dead witch on my hands and I need her to ID the body. She can meet us at the morgue. They’ve already finished processing the scene.”
“How are you so sure it’s a witch?
If they only just finished at the scene, then there’s no way you have lab confirmation. What makes you say witch?” I was really hoping that he was jumping the gun on this.
There were lots of Norms who liked to masquerade around as witches in Salem.
You could find a body in front of a cauldron with a broom in one hand and a wand in the other, and it still wouldn’t mean you had a real witch. True witches have a slightly different genetic make-up than Norms, but you’d never know it without the lab work.
He slid the folder across his desk, spilling its contents.
“Besides the ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’ carved into her abdomen, you mean?”
I picked up a photo off his desk. “Are her, are her hands cut off too?” Despite all the gross stuff I’d seen recently, I was still swallowing hard.
“Yeah, and her tongue was cut out too.
Why would someone do that?” He wasn’t really asking me, which was good - because I didn’t have an answer.
“I’ll call Mahalia,” I said quietly.
She was waiting for us in the hallway outside the entrance to the morgue, her deep burgundy dress in stark contrast to the white of the walls and floor. “Captain Matthison. Maurin.” Mahalia nodded at each of us in greeting.
I’m sorry to see you again under these circumstances.” Matthison’s cop face was back on.
“Yes, well, I certainly appreciate your attention to this horrible crime.
Even if she turns out not to be a member of my coven, the message seems to be directed at us.” Matthison gave her a questioning look. “Oh, I hope you don’t mind, I saw the medical examiner and asked him a few questions.” She slipped her arm through mine as we headed to the double doors.
“Normally, I would mind, but I’m hoping that you’ll be able to advise us as an expert in the study of witchcraft, regar
dless of the victim’s identity. You’ll need to know what we know. For the most part.” Matthison stopped just outside the door. “Norman’s not usually the chatty type. You didn’t do anything to him to get him to talk, did you, Ms. Amarelle? I can’t have him running his mouth to the press, you know,” he asked suspiciously.
“Call me Mahalia, please.
I wouldn’t think of it, Captain. I think he just took pity on an old woman.” She gave my arm a light squeeze as we walked into the medical examiner’s room.
Old woman, my ass!
I’ve seen exactly what Mahalia can do; whatever she had done to get the medical examiner to talk had better wear off quickly.
Mahalia walked right up to the table.
The sheet wasn’t pulled over the girl’s face. She was young and pretty. What a waste. I was hoping Mahalia didn’t know her, and that she wasn’t a witch. Not knowing the name of the dead always makes it easier; it makes it less real.
“Her name is Laura
Youngston. She recently moved to Salem. She wasn’t a full-blooded witch, but she was making great progress in developing her latent gifts. Maurin, if you would? I’d like to know who did this.” Mahalia motioned me over to her.
She was holding my hand, but not because she needed the support.
Mahalia knew me pretty well and asking me to read a dead girl would have definitely caused the old Maurin to bolt. I’ve never read a dead person before, but Mahalia was so confident in me that I felt as if I had to at least give it a try. I moved closer to the body. It was better if I just referred to her that way, I decided.
Matthison was mumbling to himself.
“She’s never been able to do that before. Would’ve been helpful…”
“Oh, I think you’d be quite surprised what our Maurin is capable of, Captain.
Go ahead, dear,” Mahalia said as she nudged me. Her voice was calm and sweet, as if she were pointing me toward a plate of cookies and a glass of milk instead of a corpse.
It was suddenly hot in here, which was odd for a morgue, so I knew that it was brought on by my nerves.
I unbuttoned my black wool peacoat and moved in a little closer. I tried to tamp down the butterflies in my stomach as I lifted the sheet to expose her hands - and then I remembered that they weren’t attached anymore. This felt wrong, so very wrong. I felt like some sicko necrophiliac or psychopath. I felt as if I were invading the dead girl’s space, or violating her privacy. I let the sheet fall and looked at Matthison.
“I need to see the hands,” I said. My tongue suddenly felt thick and dry in my mouth, like a piece of dentist’s cotton that no longer belonged there.
Matthison winced. “I’ll get Norm.”
A couple of minutes later he came back in with Dr. Norman Walters.
They were complete opposites. Matthison is tall, fit and well dressed, while Dr. Walters looked like an overweight Columbo. I could see the looks Normal - I mean Norman - Walters was giving me. Guess I can’t blame him, though. I’d think the same thing about someone asking to hold a dead girl’s amputated hands if I were him. He put a metal bin on one of those implement stands and rolled it over. And then he left, but not before giving me one last look. Suspicion and fear flickered in his eyes briefly, and then disappeared. Walters closed the door gently behind him, as if the dead girl were simply napping on the cold, hard table.
“He didn’t say that I could touch them.
He didn’t say anything, actually. Did you tell him what I needed to do? Of course you did. That’s why he didn’t say anything.” I was stalling.
“Yes, that’s why he was looking at you like you had six heads.
Do you what you need to do, Maurin, so we can get out of here. Twenty years of practice does not make this place any more pleasant.” He pushed the tray a little closer.
The delicate hands were palm up in the bin, thankfully.
I didn’t want to touch them anymore than I had to. I reached into the bin, my fingertips barely grazing hers. I was immediately overwhelmed with pain, excruciating, crippling pain. I couldn’t see anything beyond it.
I bit back the scream building in my throat.
If I let it out, then the pain would completely overtake me. Every muscle in my body was suddenly exhausted. My fingers, lacking the strength to hold the connection to the dismembered hands, slipped away. The pain pulled back a little, but I could feel my knees start to give out, with no way to stop them. I was about to hit the floor when Matthison reached out to hold me up. He helped me over to a stool against the wall. Thank god for the wall, or I would have been headed for the floor again. I could barely find the strength to hold my head up.
Matthison grabbed my face with both hands, forcing me to focus on him.
“Maurin, what the hell just happened? What did you see?”
I didn’t answer him.
I had no idea what had just happened. And I wasn’t ready to tell him that I hadn’t seen anything. “Mahalia, I think I did something wrong. It isn’t supposed to hurt like that, is it?”
She looked at the body on the table, her fledgling coven member, then back to me.
“Perhaps this was not the best candidate for your first time.”
I was starting to get my second wind.
“Perhaps we could have a little more instruction next time.”
She let out a somber laugh.
“Perhaps. Dare I ask if you saw anything?”
Except for some flashes of light, like the pain was coming through as color, but I saw nothing useful at all.” I was frustrated. It didn’t matter if this was my first time trying to read the dead and I wasn’t a traditional medium. Everyone expected me to perform with my ever-growing powers and I couldn’t. I felt like a hack.
“Let’s try the old-fashioned method for a change.
My guys are working the evidence as we speak. We’ll be chasing down every lead. Just out of curiosity, is there a time limit on this new ability of hers, or can we come back to it if we need to?” Matthison thinks of everything, no wonder he’s Captain.
“We have some time.
Maurin, let’s get you something to eat. You need to regain your strength.” Mahalia was already leaving.
“What I need is a real cup of coffee,” I said, as I followed them out the door to the hallway.