Possessed P.C. Cast After Moonrise, the elite detective agency, crosses into the dark side, but it can be dangerous when the living communicate with the dead…The picture Aurora Harper’s painting is so disturbing she’s convinced she’s witnessed a murder and suppressed the memory. Now she needs Detective Levi Reid to help her track down the victim – and the killer. But Levi’s dealing with his own issues, blacking out for no reason at all. They’ll step into the dark together…but are they ready for what they might find? Praise for the novels of No.1 New York Times bestselling author P. C. CAST ‘Move over, Stephenie Myer.’ —People on Hunted ‘intense and thoroughly entertaining.’ —Kirkus Reviews on Destined ‘P.C. Cast is a stellar talent.’ —New York Times bestselling author Karen Marie Moning Praise for the novels of New York Times bestselling author Possessed P.C. Cast www.mirabooks.co.uk (http://www.mirabooks.co.uk) This one is for my man, the Rose. Thank you for reminding me about hope. I love you. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I want to send hugs and kisses to Gena Showalter! It is beyond awesome to be able to work on cool projects with my girlfriend. Ms Snowwater, I totally heart you! A big thank you to my wonderful, long-time editor Mary-Theresa Hussey. It is soooo nice to be working with you again! Katie Rowland— THANK YOU FOR THE TU DETAILS. Now go get ready for finals. Seriously. As always, I appreciate, respect and adore my agent, Meredith Bernstein. 1 The bully’s dad caused Raef to discover his Gift. It happened twenty-five years ago, but to Raef the memory was as fresh as this morning’s coffee. You just don’t forget your first time. Not your first orgasm, your first drunk, your first kill and, not for damn sure, your first experience of being able to Track violent emotions. The bully’s name was Brandon. He’d been a big kid; at thirteen he’d looked thirty-five—and a rough thirty-five at that. At least, that’s what he’d looked like through nine-year-old Raef’s eyes. Not that Brandon picked on Raef. He hadn’t—not especially. Brandon mostly liked to pick on girls. He didn’t hit ‘em. What he did was worse. He found out what scared them, and then he tortured them with fear. Raef discovered why the day Brandon went after Christina Kambic with the dead bird. Christina wasn’t hot. Christina wasn’t ugly. She was just a girl who had seemed like every other teenage girl to young Raef: she had boobs and she talked a lot, two things that, even at nine, Raef had understood were part of the pleasure and the pain of females. Brandon didn’t target Christina because of her boobs or her mouth. He targeted her because somehow he had found out she was utterly, completely terrified of birds. The part of the day that was burned into Raef’s memory began after school. Brandon had been walking home on the opposite side of the street from Raef and his best friend, Kevin. On Brandon’s side of the street was a group of girls. They were giggling and talking at about a zillion miles per hour. Brandon was ahead of them and, as usual, by himself. Brandon didn’t really have any friends. Raef had barely noticed him and only kinda remembered that he’d been kicking around something near the curb. Raef and Kevin had been talking about baseball tryouts. He’d wanted to be shortstop. Kev had wanted to be the pitcher. Raef had been saying, “Yeah, you got a better arm than Tommy. No way would Coach pick—” That’s when Christina’s bawling had started. “No, please no, stop!” She was pleading while she cried. Two of her friends had screamed and run off down the street. Two more had stayed and were yelling at Brandon to stop. Brandon ignored all of them. He’d backed Christina against the fence to Mr. Fulton’s front yard, taken the smashed body of what was obviously a road-killed crow and was holding it up, real close to Christina, and making stupid cawing noises while he laughed. “Please!” Christina sobbed, her face in her hands, pressing herself against the wooden fence so hard that Raef had thought she might smash through it. “I can’t stand it! Please stop!” Raef had thought about how big Brandon was, and how much older Brandon was, and he’d stood there across the street, ignoring Kevin and doing nothing. Then Brandon pushed the dead bird into Christina’s hair and the girl started screaming like she was being murdered. “Hey, this isn’t your business,” Kevin had said when Raef sighed heavily and started crossing the street. “Doesn’t have to be my business. It just has to be mean,” Raef had shot back over his shoulder at his friend. “Bein’ a hero’s gonna get you in a lot of trouble someday,” Kevin had said. Raef remembered silently agreeing with him. But still he kept crossing the street. He got to Brandon from behind. Quickly, like he was fielding a ball, he snatched the bird out of Christina’s hair, and threw it down the street. Way down the street. “What the fuck is your problem, asshole?” Brandon shouted, looming over Raef like a crappy version of the Incredible Hulk. “Nothin’. I just think making a girl cry is stupid.” Raef had looked around Brandon’s beefy body at Christina. Her feet musta been frozen because she was still standing there, bawling and shaking, and hugging herself like she was trying to keep from falling apart. “Go on home, Christina,” Raef urged. “He ain’t gonna bother you anymore.” It was about two point five seconds later that Brandon’s fist slammed into Raef’s face, breaking his nose and knocking him right on his butt. Raef remembered he was holding his bleeding nose and looking up at the big kid through tears of pain and he’d thought, Why the hell are you so mean? That’s when it happened. The instant Raef had wondered about Brandon, a weird ropelike thing had appeared around the boy. It was smoky and dark, and Raef had thought it looked like it must stink. It was snaking from Brandon up, into the air. It fascinated Raef. He stared at it, forgetting about his nose. Forgetting about Christina and Kevin, and even Brandon. All he wanted was to know what the smoky rope was. “Fucking look at me when I’m talking to you! It’s sickening how easy it is to kick your ass!” Brandon’s anger and disgust fed the rope. It pulsed and darkened, and with a whoosh! it exploded down andinto Raef. Suddenly Raef could feel Brandon’s anger. He could feel his disgust. Completely freaked out, Raef had closed his eyes and yelled, not at Brandon, at the creepy rope, “Go away!” Then the most bizarre thing happened. The rope-thing had gone away, but in Raef’s mind he went with it. It was like the thing had turned into a telescope and all of a sudden Raef saw Brandon’s home—inside it. Brandon was there. So were his dad and mom. His dad, an older, fatter version of Brandon, was towering over his mom, who was curled up on the couch, holding herself while she cried and shook like Christina had just been doing. Brandon’s dad was yelling at his mom, calling her an ugly, stupid bitch. Brandon watched. He looked disgusted, but not at his dad. His look was focused on his mom. And he was pissed. Really, really pissed. It made Raef want to puke. The instant he felt sick, actually felt his own feelings again, it was like turning off a light switch. The rope disappeared, along with the telescope and the vision of Brandon’s house, leaving Raef back in the very painful, very embarrassing present. Raef opened his eyes and said the first thing that popped into his head. “How can you blame your mom for your dad being so mean?” Brandon’s body got real still. It was like he quit breathing. Then his face turned beet-red and he shouted down at Raef, spit raining from his mouth. “What did you just say about my mom?” Raef often wondered why the hell he hadn’t just shut up. Got up. And run away. Instead, like a moron, he’d said, “Your dad picks on your mom like you pick on girls. I know ‘cause I just saw it. Inside my head. Somehow. I don’t know how, though.” Raef had paused, thought for a second and then added, trying to figure it out aloud, “Your dad was calling your mom an ugly, stupid bitch last night. You watched him.” Then the weird got, like, weird squared because Brandon reacted as if Raef had all of a sudden grown two feet, gained a hundred poundsand punched him in the gut. The big kid looked sick, scared even, and started backing away, but before he turned and sprinted down the street, he yelled the words that would cling to Raef for the rest of his life. “I know what you are! You’re worse than a nigger, worse than a creeper. You’re a Psy—a fucking freak. Stay the hell away from me!” Oh, shit. It was true. No way … no way … Raef had sat there, bloody, confused and—embarrassingly enough—bawling, while his best friend called his name over and over, trying to get him to snap out of it. “Raef! Raef! Raef …” “Mr. Raef? Raef? Are you there, sir?” Coming back to the present, Raef shook himself, mentally and physically, and picked up the phone, punching the intercom button off. “Yeah, Preston, what is it?” “Mr. Raef, your zero-nine-hundred appointment is here, thirty minutes early.” Raef cleared his throat and said, “You know, Preston, it’s a damn shame my Gift doesn’t include predicting the future, or I’d have known that and been ready for her.” “Yes, sir, but then I would probably be out of a job,” Preston retorted with his usual dry humor. Raef chuckled. “Nah, there’d still be all that filing to do.” “It’s what I live for, sir.” “Glad to hear it. Okay, give me five and send her in.” “Of course, Mr. Raef. Then I’ll get back to my filing.” Raef blew out a breath, grabbed his half-empty coffee mug and stalked over to the long credenza that sat against the far wall of his spacious office. He topped off the coffee and then stood there, unmoving, staring out the window. Not that he was actually seeing the excellent view of Tulsa’s skyline on this crisp fall day. Kent Raef was trying to scratch the weird itch that had been tickling his mind all morning. What the hell was wrong with him? Why the walk down memory lane this morning? God, he hated the thought of that day—hated remembering that scared, crying kid he’d been. He’d just wanted to be shortstop for his team, and try to fit in with everyone else. Instead, he’d been a psychic. The only one in his class. Norms didn’t react so well to a Psy—especially not a nine-year-old Psy that could Track violent emotions, no matter how supportive his parents had been—no matter how cool it had been when the USAF Special Forces had recruited him. Raef hated remembering those years and the pain in the ass it had been learning to deal with his Gift and the way asshole Norms reacted to it. It made him feel like shit to go back there—to revisit those memories. Today it also made him feel kinda shaky, kinda strange. If he didn’t know better he’d think he was picking up emotions from someone—soft emotions, like yearning and desire, overshadowed by a deep melancholy. “Shit, Raef, get it together,” he grunted to himself. He did know better. Soft emotions? He snorted. His psychic powers didn’t work that way—didn’t ever work that way. A pissed-off jerk who took out his problems by kicking his dog was the softest Psy Tracking he’d ever picked up. “I need to get a life,” he muttered as he returned to his desk and sat down, just in time for the single knock on the door. “Yeah, come in,” he snapped. The door opened, and his secretary, Preston, announced, “Mrs. Wilcox to see you, Mr. Raef.” Raef automatically stood as the tall blonde entered his office. He held out his hand to her, and ignored the fact that she hesitated well into the realm of rudeness before she shook it. A lot of Norms didn’t like to be touched by his kind, but she had come to him, not the other way around, and so she was going to have to play by his rules. On his team, a handshake was nonnegotiable. Of course, her hesitation might be due to the fact that his skin was too brown for her liking—she did have the look of one of those fiftysomething, old-oil-money cougars who were convinced that their shit didn’t stink, and that the only reason God made anyone with skin a darker shade than lily-white was because of the unfortunate but unavoidable need for menial laborers. “Constance Wilcox,” she said, finally taking his hand in a grip that was surprisingly firm. He recognized the name as belonging to one of Tulsa society’s elite, though he definitely didn’t move in those circles. “Kent Raef. Coffee, Mrs. Wilcox?” She shook her head with a curt motion. “No, thank you, Mr. Raef.” “All right. Please have a seat.” Raef waited for her to settle into one of the straight-backed leather chairs in front of his wide desk before he sat. He didn’t particularly like the fact that he’d had old-world gentleman programmed into his genes, but some habits were just not worth the effort it took to break them. “What can I do for you, Mrs. Wilcox?” “Don’t you already know that?” He tried not to let his annoyance show. “Mrs. Wilcox, I’m sure my secretary explained that I wouldn’t be Reading you. That’s now how my Gift works. So, relax. There’s no reason for you to be nervous around me.” “If you can’t read my mind, how do you know that I need to relax and that I’m nervous?” “Mrs. Wilcox, you’re sitting ramrod straight and you’ve got your hands so tightly laced together that your fingers are white. It doesn’t take a psychic to tell that you’re tense and that your nerves are on edge. Anyone with half a brain and moderate powers of observation could deduce that. Besides that, my Gift deals with the darker side of the paranormal. People don’t come to me to find lost puppies or communicate with the ghost of Elvis. People come to me because bad things have happened to them or around them, and bad things happening in a person’s life tend to make him or her—” he tipped his head to her in a slight nod “—nervous and tense.” She glanced down at her clasped hands and made a visible effort to relax them. Then she looked back at him. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m not comfortable with this.” “This?” No, hell, no. He wasn’t going to make it any easier for her. Not this morning. Not when it felt like something was trying to crawl under his skin. He was fucking sick and tired of dealing with people who hired psychics from After Moonrise, but acted as if they’d find it more desirable to work side by side with someone who was unclogging their backed-up septic tank—by hand. “Death.” She said the word so softly Raef almost didn’t hear her. He blinked in surprise. So, it wasn’t the psychic part that had her acting like an ice queen—it was the dead part. That was easier for him to understand. Death, specifically murder, was his job. But that didn’t mean he liked it, either. “Death is rarely a comfortable subject.” He paused and, realizing there was a distinct possibility he had come off like a prick, attempted to look understanding. “All right, Mrs. Wilcox, how about we start over. You do your best to relax, and I’ll do my best to help you.” Her smile was tight-lipped, but at least it was a smile. “That sounds reasonable, Mr. Raef.” “So, you’re here because of a death.” “Yes. I am also here because I don’t have anywhere else left to go,” she said. He’d definitely heard that before, and it didn’t make him feel all warm and cuddly and saviorlike, as it would have made some of After Moonrise’s other psychics like Claire or Ami or even Stephen feel. Which made sense. They could sometimes save people. Raef only dealt with the aftermath of violence and murder. There was no damn salvation there. “Then let’s get to it, Mrs. Wilcox.” He knew he sounded gruff, intimidating even. He meant to. It usually made things move faster. “My daughter Lauren needs your help. She’s why I’m here.” “Lauren was murdered?” Raef dropped the gruffness from his voice. Now he simply sounded clinical and detached, as if he was a lab technician discussing ways to deal with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. He picked up his pen, wrote and underlined Lauren at the top of a fresh legal pad, and then glanced back at Mrs. Wilcox, waiting semipatiently for the rest of the story. She pressed her lips together into a tight line, clearly trying to hold in words too painful to speak. Then she drew a deep breath. “No, Lauren was not murdered. She is alive, but she’s not whole anymore. She’s only partially here. I need your help to restore her spirit.” “Mrs. Wilcox, I think there has been a mistake made in scheduling. It sounds to me like you need to meet with another member of the After Moonrise team—one of our shamans who specialize in shattered souls. My powers only manifest if there is a murder involved.” He started to lift the phone to buzz Preston, but her next words made him hesitate. “My daughter was murdered.” “Mrs. Wilcox, you just said that Lauren is alive.” “Lauren is alive. It’s her twin, Aubrey, who was murdered.” Raef put down the phone. “One twin was murdered, and the other’s alive?” “If you can call it that.” Her face was pale, her expression strained, but she was keeping herself from crying. Despite his bad mood his interest stirred. A living twin and a murdered twin? He’d never encountered a murder case like that before. “Mr. Raef, the situation is that one of my daughters was murdered three months ago. Since then my other daughter has become only a shell of herself. Lauren is haunted by Aubrey.” Raef nodded. “It happens fairly often. When two people are very close—siblings, husband and wife, parent and child—and one of them dies or is murdered, the deceased’s spirit lingers.” “Yes, I know,” she said impatiently. “Especially when the murder is unsolved.” Raef sat up straighter. This was more like it. “Then you have come to the right psychic. I’ll need to be taken to the murder scene, and will also need to speak with Lauren. If her twin is haunting her, then I can probably make direct contact with Aubrey through Lauren and piece together what happened. Once the murder is solved, Aubrey should be able to rest peacefully.” He rubbed his forehead, wishing the uncomfortable feeling of yearning would get the hell out from under his skin. He was not that nine-year-old kid anymore. He was tough, competent, and he knew how to handle his shit. “Yes, peace. That’s what I’m here to find. For both of my girls.” “I’m going to try to help you, Mrs. Wilcox. You said Aubrey was killed three months ago? And the murder hasn’t been solved yet? It’s unusual that the forensic psychic wasn’t able to close this file.” Her blue eyes iced over and the sadness that had been shadowing them was frozen out. “Is solving my daughter’s murder what you mean by closing this file?” Damn! He’d actually said that aloud. What the hell was wrong with him? He might not have the graveside manner of someone like touchy-feely Stephen, but Raef usually showed more tact than offhandedly insulting an already upset client. “Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry that my wording seemed callous. I assure you that I am cognizant of, and sorry for, your loss.” She continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “The reason Aubrey’s file wasn’t closed is because the police psychic couldn’t communicate with my daughter about the murder. Either one of them.” Raef frowned. “That’s highly unusual, Mrs. Wilcox. Did you give legal permission for your daughter’s spirit to be questioned?” “Of course,” she snapped. “But it’s not that simple with Aubrey and Lauren. It never has been.” “I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t understand what—” Her imperiously raised hand cut him off. “Perhaps it would be easier if I showed you.” Without waiting for Raef’s response or permission, she stood and walked quickly to the office door. Opening it she said, “You can come in now, Lauren.” The woman who entered his office looked like a younger version of her mother—a leggy, twentysomething blonde with waves of platinum hair so light it was almost white. Her body was lusher than her mother’s, who had the appearance of too many carb-free years and maintenance liposuction. Lauren, on the other hand, looked like she might enjoy a burger and a beer once in a while. Scratch that—the expensive silk knit sweater and the designer slacks and shoes said she might enjoy a fillet, a fancied-up potato and some expensive red wine once in a while. His gaze traveled from her curvy body to her gray-blue eyes, and he felt his own narrow in response to what he saw—emptiness. Her smoky eyes were as expressionless as her face. Lauren stopped in front of his desk and stared blankly over his shoulder. Then there was a shimmering in the air around her, and a transparent duplicate of her materialized. It was as Raef got to his feet to face this new apparition that it hit him like a punch in the gut. The ghost radiated waves of emotion—yearning, desire, loneliness, longing—emotions Raef had never picked up from another human being, dead or alive, since his psychic talent first manifested that day so many years ago. He tried to throw up his mental barriers, the ones he used at murder scenes to successfully block out the lingering spirits and their terror and pain and anger, the only emotions he had, until now, ever been able to Read. But his barriers weren’t working. All he could do was stand there and be battered by the desire and longing that emanated from the ghost. “Kent Raef?” The spirit’s voice drifted through his mind. He cleared his throat before he answered, but his voice still sounded scratchy. “Yes. I’m Kent Raef.” The spirit sighed with relief. “Finally!” She glanced at her twin. Lauren blinked, as if coming awake after a long sleep, and the ghost and the girl exchanged smiles. “Good job, sis.” “You knew I’d figure it out eventually,” Lauren said. “And you know it bothers me terribly when you speak to the air like that,” said Mrs. Wilcox. “I can tell that corncob is still firmly inserted up your butt, Mother,” said the ghost. Lauren coughed to cover a giggle, which was echoed by the ghost, who laughed out loud. The laughter in the room raced across his body like static electricity, tingling and bringing all the nerve endings in his skin alive, totally disconcerting him. Raef pulled his thoughts together. Ignore the emotions. You can figure out what the hell is going on with that later. Right now he just needed to do his job—solve the murder, put the spirit to rest, close the case file. “Aubrey, why don’t you tell me about your death and from there I can—” Raef was interrupted by a shriek that moved across his skin with the force of a blow. Aubrey’s mouth was wrenched open as she screamed in agony, a sound that was echoed eerily by her living sister, then her spirit wavered, like heat waves off a furnace, and she disappeared. 2 “So you saw, or at least heard something?” Mrs. Wilcox’s words were clipped, and in the silence that followed Aubrey’s disappearance her voice sounded unnaturally loud. “Aubrey manifested and spoke to me. Briefly.” Raef answered her, although he didn’t look at the older woman. Instead, he was watching Lauren carefully, noting that her empty expression hadn’t returned, and even though her face couldn’t be called animated, she at least didn’t look zombielike anymore. And also noting that the torrent of emotions that had poured from Aubrey had been abruptly cut off. He cleared his throat, wishing like hell his coffee had a shot of Jack in it. “Please have a seat, Miss Wilcox. There are several things I need to go over with both you and your—” “Why don’t you go home, Mother?” Lauren surprised him by interrupting in a brisk, no-nonsense voice as she sat in the chair beside her mother’s. “It would probably be better if I answered his questions alone.” “What if it returns, Lauren?” “Mother, I’ve told you before that I see Aubrey a lot. She’s dead. That doesn’t make her an it. She’s still Aubrey.” “I wasn’t speaking of your sister’s ghost,” Mrs. Wilcox said coolly. “I’m referring to the horrid fugue state that sometimes comes over you.” “Mother, I’ve tried to explain this to you before, too. It doesn’t just ‘come over’ me. There’s a reason for it.” Mrs. Wilcox’s face remained implacable and Lauren sighed. “I’m not going to be driving. If I zone out again I’m sure Mr. Raef can babysit me long enough to get me home.” “Lauren, I …” her mother began, and then seemed to check herself. She stood and inclined her head formally to Raef. “I assume you will be certain my daughter returns home safely?” “I will,” Raef said, not liking the family drama he’d stepped into. “Then I will speak to you later, Lauren. It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Raef.” After the door closed behind her mother, Lauren sat and met Raef’s gaze. “She’s not as cold and uncaring as she comes off as being. But all of this is just too much for her.” “Define this,” he said. “This would be my sister’s death and the fact the police have been unable to solve it. Add a dash of Aubrey haunting me with a sprinkle of possession and stir in a big blob of my soul being drained and you get a recipe that would freak out anyone’s mom.” Lauren’s voice was calm, her body appeared relaxed. It was only in her blue eyes that her desperation showed. Raef got up and walked to the credenza. He topped off his coffee and then poured a generous cup for Lauren. “Cream or sugar, Miss Wilcox?” he asked over his shoulder. “Both, and if we’re going to work together I wish you’d call me Lauren.” He fixed the coffee and then handed it to her. “Lauren it is. My friends call me Raef.” He resumed his seat and gave her a brief smile. “Actually, my enemies call me Raef, too.” “Do you have many enemies, Raef?” “Some,” he said. “Do you?” She shook her head. “No.” “How about your sister?” “No. That’s just one of the reasons this whole thing is so awful. None of it makes sense.” “Tell me what you know about your sister’s death, and I’ll see if I can begin making some sense out of it.” “I don’t know where to start.” Lauren’s impassive expression tensed and when she sipped her coffee Raef noticed her hands were trembling. “Start at the beginning. When was she killed?” “July 15. She was alone, even though she shouldn’t have been. I’m almost always with her on jobs—” She paused, flinched in obvious pain. “I mean, I used to almost always be with her.” Lauren corrected herself and regained her composure, then continued in a steadier voice. “July is in the middle of our busy season for maintenance, so we often had to split up to finish jobs on time.” “Maintenance? What type of work did you and your sister do?” “Landscaping. July can be a rough month on plants if we don’t get enough rain and the Oklahoma heat turns up early, like it did this past July. Plants burn up if they’re not maintained properly through the heat. Aub and I own Two Sisters Landscaping. Or at least we did.” She faltered again, and took another sip of her coffee. “I’m sole owner now.” “Of the company? As in you are the biggest stockholder?” “Own the company as in Aubrey and I started it, ran it and were its first two employees.” She met his eyes. “Yes, we actually got our hands dirty. A lot.” She held up one hand and Raef’s brows lifted in surprise when he saw that instead of being well manicured and delicately white, Lauren had short, bluntly clipped nails and obvious calluses on her work-hardened palm. He would have never guessed that the daughters of a rich Tulsa socialite would be into something as blue-collar as landscaping. “I would have thought a psychic would be better at hiding his thoughts,” Lauren said. Raef looked from her hand to her eyes. Then, much to his own surprise, he heard himself admitting, “I usually am.” “Dirt-digging girls from rich families must seem pretty unusual to you,” Lauren said. Raef gave her a lopsided smile. “Sounds like it’s a reaction you’re used to.” “Let’s just say our family wasn’t thrilled when Aubrey and I opened the business six years ago. We were lucky they couldn’t stop us.” “Explain that,” Raef said. He didn’t feel the prickle of foreboding he usually did when he stumbled on what would eventually become a lead for solving a murder, so he really didn’t need to question Lauren about her family’s attitude about her business, but he realized he wanted to question her—wanted to know more. And that was odd as hell. “Aubrey and I received an inheritance from our grandfather when we turned twenty-one. It was ours to do whatever we wanted with—so we started our own business, but instead of buying a chic little boutique in Utica Square someone else could run, or following family tradition and investing in real estate, we bought plants and dirt. At least, that’s how our mother put it. Our decision wasn’t popular, but it was ours to make.” “So, how was business?” “Excellent. It still is. We have five employees and have had to actually turn away jobs. That’s why Aubrey was alone that day—we’d overextended and she was the expert in aquatic plants. So she went by herself to Swan Lake.” Raef felt a shock of recognition, and couldn’t believe he hadn’t put two and two together before then. “Aubrey Wilcox, middle of July, electrocuted to death while she was working with the water plants on the Swan Lake island.” Then he realized why he hadn’t recognized the name on his appointment book. It wasn’t a murder investigation. The death had been ruled accidental. What the hell? “It wasn’t an accident,” Lauren said firmly, as if she was the mind reader. “But if I pulled the police report it would say your sister’s death was accidental, wouldn’t it?” “Yes. Does that mean you won’t take the case?” “No, I’ll take the case.” Which was nothing unusual. Sometimes families needed his services for closure. Hell, not just his services, but psychics in general. The police could tell the bereaved over and over that it was suicide, or an accident, and they would still hold on to the hope that there was a bad guy, a reason, a focus for their rage and despair. That’s where a Psy came in—and it was one of the reasons they’d become big business, even in a world that was mostly filled with Norms who were uncomfortable with psychic Gifts. By communicating with the spirit of the dead person directly, a psychic could help families come to terms with the truth, move on, find closure. Of course, Raef personally usually preferred a good, old-fashioned murder case—hatred and anger he could deal with. Despair was another story. “Aubrey told me she was killed.” Raef shook himself mentally. “I thought your sister’s spirit was having a hard time communicating about her death.” He’d witnessed that. He’d asked her about her murder and she definitely hadn’t communicated with him. “She is having a hard time communicating. When I say she told me I don’t mean that she actually said, ‘Hey, sis, I was murdered.’ I mean she told me in here.” Lauren closed her fist over her heart. “There are things she’s not allowed to put into words, but I can feel them. She and I have always been two halves of the same whole. I don’t know how else to explain it because if you’re not us, it might be impossible to comprehend. Add to the whole confusing mix that whatever is going on after Aub’s death is affecting me, and you have some serious weirdness. Raef, the truth is, even I don’t understand what’s really happening. I was hoping you could help me—help us. Please help us, Raef.” Raef paused, studied Lauren and collected his thoughts. When he finally spoke it was slowly, as if he was processing information aloud. “The police ruled her death an accident, but your twin has made it clear to you, and only you, that she was murdered. Is that correct?” “Yes.” “And even though she manifests to you, which I’ve witnessed, there still seems to be some barrier between the two of you, as if she’s being blocked or controlled by another force?” “Yes, especially when she tries to communicate with me directly about her murder.” She sounded incredibly relieved. “You can’t know what a relief it is to talk to someone who doesn’t call me a freak and who will actually listen to me!” His smile was authentic, but grim. “Try being a nine-year-old who can Track negative emotions, and only negative emotions. I understand what it’s like to be discounted and called a freak.” Lauren expelled a long breath in a relieved sigh. Her shoulders relaxed and she finally took a sip of her coffee. “Good. Then we talk the same language.” “So your sister is actually possessing you,” he said, looking up from the notes he was taking. That was unusual. Possession by a spirit wasn’t unheard of, of course, but spirits didn’t usually possess family members. He couldn’t remember ever hearing of one twin possessing another. “Well, I don’t know if you’d call it real possession. She manifests, like she did earlier, and we can talk.” She paused, blinking hard as if trying to keep herself from crying. “I miss her. A lot. I don’t feel normal without her.” Lauren shook her head and wiped at her eyes. “But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that when she does try to communicate with me about her death, she gets ripped away from here and I can feel what’s happening to her, and it’s like …” Lauren’s words trailed off. She shuddered. “It’s like I’m being killed, too.” “Hang on. Your sister’s already dead. Maybe what you’re feeling is her struggle to stay attached to you while her spirit is being drawn to the Otherworld. Lauren, the truth is that for most spirits it is difficult for them to remain on this plane of existence. They should be moving on.” He tried to speak soothingly, but he wasn’t good at the touchy-feely stuff. Plus, it was looking more and more as if he should just refer Lauren and her family, dead and alive, to the After Moonrise medium. “You’re not getting it,” Lauren said, looking more and more animated. “Aubrey isn’t moving on. She can’t. He’s not done killing her.” “Come again?” Lauren sighed. “This is what Aubrey has been able to tell me: her killer has bound her spirit. He’s bound all of their spirits. Physical death was just the beginning of their murders. He doesn’t stop until he drains their souls of life, too. You have to find him. He’s not done killing.” 3 “And you know that this psychic serial killer is draining spirits because your sister told you in there.” Raef pointed to where Lauren still clenched her fist over her heart. Her spine stiffened and her chin went up. “Don’t patronize me, Raef. I know it the same way you know you’re talking to ghosts of the dead instead of your own overactive imagination, even though no one else can see and feel what you do.” “All right.” He nodded his head slowly. “You got me there.” He stood up and took his keys from his desk drawer. “Then let’s go.” “Go?” “To the scene of Aubrey’s accident.” “You mean to the place she was murdered,” Lauren said firmly. “Either way, I need to check it out.” He raised a dark brow at her when she didn’t move. “You did know that it is my standard procedure to go to the site of the death, didn’t you?” “Yes—yes, I knew,” she stuttered. “It’s just that, well, I haven’t been back there since.” “Not once? Not even when your sister has been manifesting to you?” Lauren shook her head. “No.” The word was a whisper. “I can take you home first,” he said, walking around his desk to her. “We can talk afterward and—” “Would it be better if I come with you?” she interrupted, her voice sounding firmer. “I mean, for you and the investigation.” “It probably would be, especially because your situation is so unique.” Lauren stood. “Then I’ll go.” THE TRIP FROM THE After Moonrise downtown offices to Mid-town’s Swan Lake was short and silent. Not that Raef minded. He was naturally quiet and never had understood the need most people felt to chatter uncomfortably to fill a peaceful lull. He also had to ready himself for what would happen when he visited the site of a death and opened himself to the psychic images left there. Accident or murder, it wasn’t exactly a walk in the damn park, and it was always better to take a quiet moment to center himself first. As he drove down Utica Street, he glanced at Lauren. Her face was pale and set. She was staring straight ahead. He thought she looked like a marble sculpture of herself. “It’s not going to be that bad,” he said, turning right at the entrance to the lake and parking his car along the curb that ringed the area. “I’m the psychic, remember?” Raef tried to add some lightness to the moment. She turned cold blue eyes on him. “She was my sister. My twin. We’ve been together since we were conceived. Psychic or not, going to the place where she was killed scares me.” Before he could even try to come up with something comforting to say, her gaze moved from his to Swan Lake. She shook her head and gave a little humorless laugh, saying, “It’s stupid to call this place a lake. It’s tiny. Except for having water, there’s nothing ‘lake’ about it.” “They call it Swan Lake because Swan Pond doesn’t sound right,” he said. She looked back at him. “I hate this place.” He nodded. “That’s a normal reaction, Lauren. Your sister died here—of course you have a strong negative reaction to it.” “There’s more to it than that.” He wanted to tell her that the relatives of the dead always felt like there was more to it than simple death, even if it took their loved one peacefully, in the middle of the night, during the winter of life. Instead, he swallowed back the condescension and said, “Are you ready? You can wait here if you need to.” “I’m ready, and I’m going with you.” She sounded one hundred percent sure, but her face was still unnaturally pale as they walked slowly to the sidewalk that circled the oblong-shaped body of water. Raef thought that Lauren had been right—the place was no damn lake, even if it was pretty and well tended. The sidewalk had only a fourth of a mile circumference, or at least that’s what the helpful signpost said. It was the same signpost that talked about the different types of waterfowl that could be found in the area, in particular noting the mated pair of swans for which the lake had been named. The sign also asked visitors not to feed the fowl, including the swans. And it insisted everyone except “authorized personnel” remain outside the fence that ringed the area. “The entrance to the dock that takes you to the island is over there.” Lauren pointed down the sidewalk to their right. Raef nodded and they continued walking. He glanced around them. The October morning hadn’t turned cold and cloudy yet, as Channel Six weather had predicted. Big surprise that they got it wrong. So it was a gorgeous morning, but an off hour, only just before 10:00 a.m. Too late for morning walkers and bird-watchers, and too early for those who liked to eat their lunch at the park. There was only a retired couple sitting on a bench on the opposite side of the lake, reading a paper together. Good. Less gawkers, he thought, while he followed the line of the sturdy green fence that ensured park visitors didn’t disturb the waterfowl. A flurry of honking and splashing pulled his gaze to the lake. One of the swans was bullying a group of ducks that must have drifted too close to his personal space. “They’re mean,” Lauren said. “Doesn’t matter how pretty they are—they’re mean and dirty. And the biggest reason my company has to come out here so often.” “You still have the contract to maintain the plants here?” Lauren nodded, but she looked uncomfortable. “Aubrey wants it that way. She doesn’t like to let a little thing like her death get in the way of good business.” “But you said you hadn’t been here since her death.” “I haven’t. I have five employees, remember?” Then Lauren’s use of the present tense about her sister’s wishes caught up to his thoughts. “So she communicates with you about your business?” “She communicates with me about lots of things, just not about her murder. Actually, I don’t feel right unless she and I are talking. I don’t feel whole without her….” Lauren’s words trailed off as she came to an awkward silence. As if just realizing what she’d said, she shook her head and attempted a smile. “I’m repeating myself, but it’s hard not to. My life isn’t the same without her.” Raef started to comment, but Lauren’s humorless laugh silenced him. “Yeah, I know. It’s normal for me to feel her loss. Normal for things to be different. Normal to grieve.” She shook her head, looking out at the small lake. “I’ve heard it all. Not one single person really gets it.” There didn’t seem to be anything Raef could say to her that hadn’t been said, obviously to no effect, by others. Plus, maybe Lauren was right. He’d never heard of a twin manifestation and possession before. Maybe there were unusual forces at work in this death. Who was he to scoff at the abnormal? Hell, he lived in Abnormalville; even the other psychics at After Moonrise kept him at a distance. You don’t have to be a Greek god to know that if you invite Discord to a party, all hell is gonna break loose. Shit, his life sucked. They’d come to a locked gate in the fence, and Lauren stopped. Just inside the gate there was a small wooden dock and a slim, slatted walkway that led from it to the island of craggy stone, foliage and a waterfall-like fountain cascading down one side of it that sat in the middle of this end of the lake. “There.” Lauren’s voice was pitched low. “It’s out there that it happened.” The eyes she turned to him were haunted with sadness. “You’ll need to go out there, won’t you?” “Yes.” She drew a deep breath. “Then let’s go.” Lauren flipped open the metal cap that held an elaborate keypad for the locking mechanism on the gate. Her hands shook only a little as she pressed the series of buttons that made the gate whir and click, and finally open. Without waiting for him, she strode through it and onto the dock. It was only then that she stopped, hands fisted at her sides, eyes looking at her feet, at the water, at the shore. Everywhere except out at the island. “I’ll be right behind you,” Raef said. “Okay. Yes. Okay. I can do this.” Lauren stepped onto the walkway. Raef stayed close to her, worried that she might pass out and fall into the damn water. That was something neither of them needed. They were halfway to the island when Raef steeled himself and then dropped the barriers he usually kept firmly locked around his mind. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/p-c-cast-7/possessed/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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