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At Second Sight

Seninels


Meg Allison


At Second Sight

(Sentinels)

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Copyright © 2017 by Meg Allison

Cover Design: Viviana Izzo, Enchantress Design & Promo

Smashwords Edition


All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.





Dedication

For Carina Alexandra, who shares her passion for art, and her love of music with me every day. Thank you for the inspiration.









Prologue


Savannah, Georgia

Twenty-eight years ago


He stared at lifeless eyes. He’d done it again…despair gnawed and clawed at his gut. Mom was going to kill him.

Nathan glanced around the room as his stomach twisted into a knotted rope. Sigh. He was alone. No one had seen. He could still get away with it if he moved quickly.

He balled the drawing up and headed for the trash, but stopped. No. That would be the first thing she’d check. She went through his garbage every night. Hoping to find something or hoping not to? He could never be sure. It seemed to disappoint her either way.

“Nathan?”

His innards shook like a can of jumping beans. She was home. How long had she been home? He’d have to hide it now and get rid of it later. But where? Where wouldn’t she think to look? He scanned the room until his gaze fell on his bed. The mattress…he could hide the drawing there for a while. No one would know. Then he’d burn it out back if he didn’t get caught.

He hurried to the bed and shoved the offending wad deep between the thick mattress and squeaky box springs. His arm stuck for a moment, and he panicked until he realized his sleeve caught on a button. Why did mattresses have buttons, anyway? He yanked his hand out, jumped onto the bed and fought to slow his breathing. Would she notice? Would she wonder why he was panting as if he’d run around the block?

“Nate?” The door creaked open. “Are you okay, baby boy?”

His mother peeked around the corner of the door frame and forced a smile on her round face. She had to force a lot of smiles over the last few years. Guilt swept over him but he managed to push it aside.

“Yes, Mom,” he answered. “I was reading.”

“Oh…” she glanced at his empty bed and frowned, but said nothing. “Well, dinner is almost ready. Wash your hands so you can help me set the table.”

“Okay.”

She studied his face. “Are you sure you’re all right? Did anything happen at school today?”

“No, nothing happened at school,” he said truthfully. “I finished my homework. There wasn’t much.”

She watched him for a moment, then smiled more easily. “Well, good for you. Go on, now—wash up. Your daddy should be home soon.”

She closed the door. When the sounds of her footfalls moved down the hall, Nathan took a deep breath. That had been much too close. He’d stopped most of the drawings from happening. His mom didn’t like them. No one did. But sometimes one snuck through when he least expected it. He’d sort of go to sleep and then wake up to find another picture he’d made—another face regarding him with dull, blank eyes.

He slid off the bed and stared at the imaginary lump where the drawing would be. Those eyes…they had been like the others. Cold. Dead. Sad. Only this time, he didn’t recognize the man he’d drawn. If it wasn’t anyone he knew, it couldn’t really matter, could it?

He bit his lip. No, he couldn’t show his mother. It wouldn’t do any good anyway—he’d learned that lesson the hard way. Someone was going to die.




Chapter One


Savannah, GA

Present day


“Wait,” Samantha ordered as he reached for her. “We can’t go on like this.”

He frowned and dropped his hands to his sides. “Why not?”

“Because, I want to know something about you,” she told him. “I want to know who’s making love to me.”

Despite her resolve, she reached out and ran a finger down his chest through the open neck of his shirt. She couldn’t keep her hands off his smooth, warm skin.

His grin returned. “You can call me anything you want.”

“But I want to know your name—your real name.” He tried to grasp her fingers and she batted his hand away. “Stop that, I need more.”

He quirked a brow. “And I’m trying to give you more.”

“Not like that,” she insisted even while her cheeks flamed. “I want to know if you’re real.”

He glanced around the empty room. “As compared to what?”

Samantha let out an aggravated sigh. “Very funny.”

She watched his features for a moment. He seemed completely sincere in his confusion. Worst of all, she couldn’t feel anything from him—no emotion whatsoever. Either her empathic abilities were being hindered or this was simply a dream and nothing more.

She focused her senses on him. She allowed herself to absorb every emotion in the room, but could only distinguish her own lust and confusion. Her lover didn’t project even the slightest bit of emotional energy as a real man would. Her heart sank as her throat tightened.

“I guess I was wrong,” she whispered. Tears filled her eyes, but Sam refused to let them fall. She’d grown up in a house full of boys and had known from a very young age that there were only two reasons for such a display—either profound grief or intense physical pain. Otherwise, it was best to keep feelings close to the vest, even in a dream.

“What’s wrong, my love?” he asked as he brushed her cheek with his knuckles.

“Never mind,” she whispered to her sexy, exotic figment. “I’m just being silly.”

His grin returned and he stepped closer. “Does this mean we’re done talking?”

“I suppose.”

“Good…” He cupped her cheek and smoothed his thumb across her bottom lip. “There are other things I’d much rather do.”

He walked her back. Her legs hit the mattress and they tumbled down together. His warm body covered hers, pressed her deep into the firm padding beneath. Their clothes disappeared like magic.

He gazed into her eyes as he began to move his hands over her body. He touched her as if he could memorize the feel of her flesh beneath his fingertips. Need set her skin on fire, made her bold and aggressive—something so unlike her normal personality. But it wasn’t normal, it was a dream.

He rose above her, the depth of his gaze filled with raw desire. A tremor shook her from head to foot. Skin slid against skin, setting a spark to the lust humming through her body. Maybe this time they would complete their dance.

Then a noise penetrated the haze and she froze, her mind suddenly alert. The sound was familiar and irritating like the shriek of a rusty hinge. She sighed. It seemed that fate conspired against her ever being fully loved by her dream man.

“I have to go,” she murmured as he continued to explore her neck with his lips and tongue.

He looked into her eyes, gaze narrowed. “We haven’t finished.”

“We never do.”

She reached up to touch his cheek, and then ran her hand over his jaw. His skin was too smooth. She frowned at the contrast. There should be a sandpaper feel to go with his five o’clock shadow. Again, she realized it could only mean one thing. This wasn’t a dream-walk—the journey of one’s spirit through someone else’s nighttime fantasy. This wasn’t any type of reality. It was all in her head.

“You’re only a dream,” she admitted out loud. “A figment of my lonely imagination. But I’d give anything to make you real.”

He turned his head and caught her fingers between his lips. Her core throbbed as he gently sucked her fingertips. The heat of his mouth felt so vividly real that for a moment she couldn’t think. Then he released her and placed a quick kiss on her mouth.

“Tomorrow.” The promise echoed in the depths of his dark almond-shaped eyes, half hidden beneath a fall of straight black bangs.

“Yes…tomorrow,” she agreed.

The intruding noise grew louder and Samantha groaned as her lover began to fade along with the room. She opened her eyes. Early morning light peeked around the edges of her bedroom curtains. How she wished the man existed in the real world, even if he wouldn’t tell her his name.

The phone jangled even louder and then her alarm clock began to ring. The cacophony sliced through her skull like an ice pick, threatening to trigger one of her killer headaches. She dove for the phone before it could ring again, her other hand slamming atop the snooze button at the same time.

“Hello?”

“Morning, Red.”

She groaned at her oldest brother’s chipper tone.

“Adam, how on earth can you be so perky at six in the morning?”

“I’ve been up since four and I’m on my second pot of coffee. How can you be such a grouch?”

“You and my alarm interrupted a very nice dream.”

“Uh, yeah, no details, please. I’d like to keep my illusions about my baby sister.”

She couldn’t help but laugh. “Fine, as long as you return the favor. Now why are you risking life and limb to call me at this ungodly hour?”

“I have a little problem.”

She yawned and pushed a handful of hair from her eyes. “If this is about a woman—”

“No, this is professional.”

“Okay, I’m listening.” She pulled her body upright and leaned back against the hard wood headboard.

“Not on the phone. What are you doing for lunch?”

“Adam, unless you need a nine-letter word for degrade or one of the Sentinels has wound up in the drunk tank again, I really don’t see how I can help. I’m not a cop, remember?”

“This isn’t about a crossword puzzle or your hot-headed warriors. I said it was business, remember? This is serious, Red. Now, how often do I ask you for help? With anything?”

She thought about it for a moment. “Practically never.”

“Exactly.”

“You are serious, aren’t you?”

“Dead serious.”

She sighed. This was not how she wanted to begin her Thursday morning, or any morning for that matter. “Okay, what do you have in mind?”

“Meet me at Luigi’s at noon.”

“Wait, I think I have something scheduled today. Hang on, let me check.” She reached for her planner on the bedside table and dropped it on the bed beside her. A quick flip of a few tabs took her to the right page highlighted with several sticky notes and annotations in three different pen colors. She frowned at the page. Her days were getting much too busy for her own liking. Maybe it was time for a long weekend.

“Can we do it earlier?” she asked. “I’ve got a one-thirty conference call with a client and his editor.”

“Okay, how about eleven-thirty?”

“Fine, I’ll see you there. Wait, Adam?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you in trouble?”

“No, but a friend of Liam’s might be.”

Samantha rubbed her forehead as Adam’s underlying tension reached out to her over the phone line. She had always been highly susceptible to his emotions. It was if they had a permanently open conduit through which every unexpressed feeling in him hit her full force. All she needed now was a big dose of his sarcasm to make her headache complete.

“I wish you would learn to express your emotions,” she complained. “Your festering tension is going to give me a migraine again.”

“Sorry, Baby Girl. I’ll try to emote more freely next time.”

“Don’t call me—”

She frowned at the dial tone and slammed down the receiver. Adam was a great cop and an even better brother, but he could also be a gigantic pain in the ass. She was grateful she didn’t have to work with him.

She crawled out of bed. One foot touched the floor and she yelped. Cold as ice—especially after her hot, sexy dream. Why couldn’t the rest of the world operate on her noon to midnight schedule? She only began to come alive at five when everyone else was winding down.

If only night owls ran the world…

But they didn’t, so she stumbled to the bathroom and turned the shower on. Erotic images dissipated as she stripped off her champagne silk nightgown and checked the water temperature. Now she could only vaguely remember the way his skin felt. His deep voice seemed a distant memory. Yet, the image of those dark, sexy eyes lingered, almost mocking her, daring her to try and forget.

She’d be able to pick him out in any police line-up because of those eyes. If only he were real.

* * ‡ * *

Samantha made her way inside the busy restaurant. Late again. Adam would be waiting, his back to the wall as he scanned the doorway and drummed his fingers on the tabletop. A woman in a bright red tee-shirt smiled as Samantha neared.

“Ms. Bays, good to see you again.”

“Hi, Carissa, is my brother Adam here, yet?”

The younger woman grinned and Samantha noticed a faint blush light her cheeks. “Yes, ma’am. He’s been waiting for you. He was a bit early.”

Samantha cringed. Whatever he wanted to talk about must be important. Even though Adam denied it, she had the sneaking suspicion one of the Sentinels had gotten into trouble with the law again. She’d long ago lost track of how many times she’d bailed one of them out of jail or call in a fast-talking lawyer. How she wished they had more women working for the group. The women they did have were much easier to work with, in her humble opinion. But, despite the hot tempers of their small army of warriors, somehow the council managed to keep the secret of their existence intact, with her help. Having a homicide detective in the family had its perks.

She followed Carissa across the room which was decorated in heavy, flowered patterns of deepest red and gold. While she ignored the diners seated around them, Samantha let the vibrant hum of their conversations surround her, listening to the tempo and tone of voices joined rather than specific words. She breathed deeply and savored the delicious smells that filled the room which included several of Luigi’s famous pasta dishes. Her stomach rumbled just as she spotted her brother. He was at a table in the back, as she predicted, chair slanted so no one could sneak up from behind. She wasn’t sure if the habit arose from his profession or from growing up with four younger brothers.

She moved closer and saw his frown lift into a lopsided smile as he caught sight of her. “Hey, Red thanks for coming.”

Samantha gave him a quick hug and kiss on the cheek before sitting. “No problem, sorry I’m late.”

Adam frowned again and glanced at his watch. “Are you? I didn’t notice. I was early.”

It must be really serious. Heavens, she hoped none of the Sentinels had committed a federal crime. It was almost impossible to keep their organization and the existence of the chosen a secret in a world where everyone and everything was recorded for posterity and promptly uploaded to the Internet. Covering for the modern-day warriors on a local level was difficult enough.

“Your server should be right with you, detective.” Carissa smiled at Adam and flipped her long blond hair over one shoulder before walking away.

Samantha almost laughed. The girl was so obvious, yet her dear brother didn’t have a clue. He never did, which was partly why he remained single at forty. One bad marriage had ruined him for anyone else and ever since the man seemed to move through life with blinders firmly in place.

“Why don’t you give the poor girl a break and ask her out?”

The furrow between his brows deepened. “What are you talking about?”

Samantha sighed. “Never mind. Now what’s the big mystery? Who did Javed put in the hospital this time?”

He started to speak when a short brunette wearing low-rise jeans and a blue tank top bounced over. “Hi, I’m Jenny and I’ll be your server today.”

Samantha stifled a groan. Did everyone at Luigi’s have to be so damn perky? It was nauseating.

“Hi, Jenny, can we get some tea?” Adam asked.

“Sure thing… plain, lemon or sweet?”

“One lemon, one sweet,” Samantha interjected and then waited as Jenny bounced back to the bar. “Now, let’s have it, Bro. What happened?”

“All right, down to business, and no, this has nothing to do with Javed. I hope. I wanted to know if you’ve ever heard of a man by the name of Nathan Quinn?”

She frowned. “Actually, the name does sound familiar for some reason.”

“He’s a graphic novelist who lives and works here in Savannah. I thought since you two are in the same type of business, you might have crossed paths.”

“Well, I’m not sure.” She drummed her nails on the table for a moment. Why did that name sound so familiar? “Oh, wait, I think he may have contacted me last year about representation. Yes, that’s it. I remember now. I was impressed with his work—very dark and edgy—but it’s just not the kind of book I feel comfortable marketing. I did give him a couple of names of agents who I thought might be interested.”

Jenny approached then and plunked two large glasses of iced tea on table. “Are you guys ready to order?”

“I’ll have the chicken salad on whole wheat,” Samantha said.

“Give me the double cheeseburger platter.”

“Okay, it’ll be ready in a jiff.”

Samantha shook her head as she switched their drinks around. “Well, I hope that means within the next ten minutes because I’m starved.” She raised a brow and gave him her sternest look. “What’s with the bacon cheeseburger? I thought you were watching your cholesterol.”

“Ah, don’t start with me, baby girl. A man can’t survive without some red meat now and then. Don’t worry, I’ll have rabbit chow for dinner later.”

She raised a brow. “Diet getting to you, huh?”

“Something like that.” He pushed the lemon wedge into his glass and took a swig. “Now, back to this Quinn guy. How much did you actually talk to him?”

“I didn’t. We communicated entirely through email. Why, Adam? What’s this about? Did the man kill someone?”

His mouth twisted. “I’m not sure.”

She froze. “Are you serious?”

“Quinn is a friend of Liam’s so I’ve been trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. But he’s come forward with some very unsettling information regarding a string of recent homicides.”

Her eyes went wide at the mention of their brother. Liam was the third of six children—a forensic artist by profession who owned and operated a small art gallery in one of the less respectable parts of downtown Savannah. The place was a proverbial money pit, but Liam loved every nuance of the business from dealing with unpredictable artists to handling the bills and hosting auctions.

He and Adam were as different as any two brothers could be. While the familial resemblance was strong, Adam’s inherit nature was dark and brooding. Liam, on the other hand, was more the happy-go-lucky Irishman with his reddish blond hair and twinkling blue eyes. She couldn’t for a moment imagine Liam being friends with a potential killer.

“Okay, you have my full attention,” she said. “Start from the beginning.”

“A little over a month ago, Quinn told Liam that he saw an article in the paper about a case I’m working on. He went to Liam first because he knows we’re brothers and thought if Liam intervened on his behalf I might be more impartial to what he had to show me.”

“So, he had information about the murder?”

“Yes and no,” he glanced around as if afraid of being heard. “Quinn produced three drawings that depict each of the crime scenes down to the last detail. He claims he drew the pictures before the murders happened.”

Samantha wasn’t sure if it was the sweet tea, the sudden influx of caffeine or the story, but her head felt as it were spinning. She shook it and tried to focus.

“Wait, each? How many murders are you talking about here?”

“Three to date.”

Finally, the fog cleared and the full meaning of Adam’s words sank in. A chill washed over her. “Wait, that means…are you telling me you’re working a serial killer case?”

“Not so loud,” he cautioned with a glance around the restaurant. “Yes, unfortunately, it looks that way. But we’re trying to keep this low key as long as possible. I want to get as many leads as I can before every loon in Savannah starts confessing or accusing their neighbor or ex-boyfriend.”

“Oh, Adam. That’s awful. Are you sure he’s telling the truth about when he drew the pictures?”

“Hell, I don’t know much of anything at this point. At first I thought he was just another nut-job artist trying to get his name in the paper.”

“But something changed your mind.”

“Yeah, this…” He pulled a piece of thick white paper from a manila folder resting on the table beside him and slid it across the table. “He didn’t go to Liam right away, not until he supposedly drew three murder scenes in all, with very similar characteristics. The first and second drawings matched my crime scenes, and now this one.”

She looked down at the paper and gasped. It was black ink and very vivid—a young woman lying in a stairwell, sightless eyes staring. The image seemed to jump out of the sketch. She could all but feel the combination of rage, anger and confusion that had seeped into the piece of paper. With a shudder, she dropped the picture back onto the table.

“What is this?” she asked.

“Quinn’s third drawing—and the third murder scene right down to the most minute detail.”

Samantha touched the edge of the paper and a wave of darkness slipped over her skin. It was as if she had stepped into a thick, dank fog bank. The previous chill she’d felt now penetrated to her very bones as she stared at the picture. Anger…there was so much anger in those heavy black lines.

Adam continued, clueless as to her empathic struggle. “We got the call about victim number three early today from a tenant in the building where she lived. She found the young woman’s body around three this morning when she tripped over her after entering the foyer.”

She pulled her hand away from the paper and rubbed her forehead. It was then she noticed her fingers shook. While she was used to getting reads or feelings from objects, the intensity of the emotions embedded in the drawing was startling.

“Okay…I’m a little slow today. How does this—” she pointed to the drawing, careful not to touch it again, “How does it fit in? I mean, he still could have faked all of this somehow.”

“Sam, this third picture has to be the real deal, there’s no way around that,” he insisted. “I’ve had all three drawings in my possession for almost a month. This woman was killed late last night. There’s no way he could have faked it. He drew the murder scene—my murder scene—before it happened, there’s no doubt in my mind.”

She looked back at the drawing. A tremor of fear snaked over her skin.

“It’s a perfect likeness,” Adam continued. “Right down to the position of the body on the stairs…her clothing…even the earrings she was wearing. Each of the drawings is the same in detail. It’s as if he stood there and drew the crime scenes before anyone else got there.”

“Okay, I agree this is creepy as hell, but I’m not sure why you’re telling me this? What does it have to do with me?”

“Come on, Sam, think about it.” He looked over her shoulder. “Either this guy is a psychopath who wants to get caught or he’s one of yours.”

She sighed. “A Sentinel? No, no he’s not. I know each Sentinel in the state by name, if not by sight. I told you, I don’t know Nathan Quinn except from that one piece of correspondence. Liam is probably the one to talk to. Maybe this Quinn guy is the killer or knows the killer somehow. He could have drawn the scene first and then re-created it for you, right?”

Adam shook his head. “I’ve considered it all, believe me. But my men have been watching Quinn since these came into my possession. Plus, he has solid alibis for the first two murders with eyewitnesses and receipts––the whole shebang. Neither my partner nor I have been able to find one iota of evidence against him. Besides, Liam swears the man is as down-to-earth sane as they come and I trust Liam’s judgment even more than my own.”

“How do they know each other?”

“They met through his art gallery over two years ago.”

“So, he trusts him completely?”

Adam shrugged. “I’m not sure I’d say that, but it’s never the guy you suspect in cases like these, at least, not at first glance. There’s just no reason to suspect him of murder except the drawings.

“Listen, Sam, so Quinn isn’t a Sentinel, per se, but maybe he’s chosen. Could he be one y’all haven’t discovered yet? One that no one knows? You knew nothing about Ian Spain’s gift until recently and you’d known him for years. There must be more out there like him, right?”

“Well, yes, anything is possible. I didn’t know about Camille Bryant’s gift until she submitted her book to me.” The more she thought about it, the more excited she became. How many gifted offspring were out in the world, unaware of their heritage and their divine promise?

“Drawing pictures of future events could be a gift of the chosen,” she conceded. “It’s not one I’ve seen firsthand, but there are so many out there it’s impossible to know all the forms in which the gifts might manifest.”

She spoke of the chosen–the descendants of the sons of ancient gods–as if it were nothing but family history. While it was something she and Adam had grown up with, she knew the stories of their progenitors which included several empaths, healers, and those thought of as prophets or witches would raise some eyebrows. If anyone cared enough to eavesdrop they’d likely be dubbed insane.

“This is where I need your help,” he told her. “You’re the only one I can trust who might be able to tell me if Quinn is the real deal or if he’s playing me somehow.”

“I can always ask the other Sentinels if they’ve had contact with him.”

“That’ll help, but I need something concrete soon, as in today. This situation is going to hit the fan fast now that we have a third victim. Until now I’ve been able to keep the stories quietly on the back page. I had to tap dance around the media after the second girl was found. When they find out about number three, we’ll have front-page headlines and a circus that will make Barnum and Bailey look like an amateur sideshow.”

“Well, what else do you want me to do?”

“Meet him, talk to him,” he said. “Use that voodoo of yours to get in his head and let me know what makes him tick. I need to know if he’s telling me the truth or if he might be involved in these murders. Have you ever heard of anyone drawing pictures of the future?”

“Yes,” she said. “What you’re talking about is termed automatic drawing, although it isn’t always used to predict the future and it’s not that common.”

“How does it work?”

“An individual usually goes into a trance-like state and then allows their hand free reign. They draw whatever comes to mind or let an unseen force move them without any conscious effort at all. It’s quite fascinating to watch, but a little creepy, too.”

“What’s the point?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re always telling me these gifts have a purpose of some kind. How would something like that be useful in everyday life?”

“I don’t suppose it would be, most of the time. But obviously, it is happening for a reason.”

Adam shook his head and seemed lost in thought. She wondered if he was thinking of his own gift.

“There’s also a similar form of the gift termed automatic writing,” she added. “In that case, the person writes messages. I knew of one writer several years ago who swore he wrote all his novels that way. I was never sure I believed him, but I couldn’t disprove it, either. I do know he strongly believed in what he claimed but wouldn’t allow me or anyone else to investigate his gift.”

Samantha stared down at the drawing. A dark feeling settled over her. As she watched, the thick lines of ink seemed to shimmer and undulate across the page. It was as if the drawing was a living, breathing thing. She could almost feel the woman’s last moments…her terror…her pain…shock.

“Red, what is it?” He frowned at her across the table. “You okay?”

“Yeah…” she folded the drawing and pushed it away.

“What happened to that client?” Adam asked as he tucked the paper back into the folder. “The one who wrote like that?”

“Oh,” she blinked back a sudden sting of tears. He had been a nice man, odd, but decent. “Something spooked him and he stopped writing. I heard he went a little crazy one day and jumped off a bridge somewhere.”

“Great.”

“Look, I don’t know how much I can help, but I’ll do what I can. However, if this guy is a true sociopath, like I assume serial killers are, then I won’t be able to tell much. A person must feel guilt or remorse for me to detect it. The best I can hope for in that case is to sense some kind of perverse elation or triumph from the subject—anything an ordinary person wouldn’t feel in such a circumstance.”

He studied her for a moment, his green eyes intent and piercing. Adam might deny his own gift, but Samantha knew it was there—just below the surface, fighting to burst free. But for the last few years he had been the logical one. The one with both feet firmly planted in the reality he could see and touch. It would take a miracle for him to face the other side of reality again.

“Good, thank you,” he said finally. “Could you come down to the precinct later? Quinn’s coming by my office to look at some mug shots.”

She sat up straight. “He’s seen the killer?”

“No, but I’m hoping seeing the man’s face might mix things up a bit. I really don’t have any other ideas at the moment. Either he’s seeing the future or he’s damn good at lying and faking alibis.”

“I think I’m free but let me check my schedule.” She pulled her day planner out of her purse and began flipping pages.

“When are you going to invest in the future and get a smart phone?”

“When they stop making things out of paper. Besides, I do use my cell phone for, you know, making phone calls. I just don’t like all those little buttons and obnoxious alarms.” Her tech-savvy brothers loved to harass her about her disregard for keeping up with the newest gadgets. “Okay, it looks like I can’t be there until about six. Will that work or is it too late?”

“It should be fine. He’s not coming until after five when he gets off work. I’ll keep him busy until you get there. We have enough mug shots on file to occupy half the population of Savannah for the afternoon. One more thing, can you swing by the crime scene with me when we’re done here?”

“I can spare a few minutes, but don’t expect miracles.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

* * ‡ * *

Samantha’s stomach twisted as she followed her brother up the broken cement steps and under the bright yellow crime scene tape. When a uniformed officer posted at the perimeter had tried to stop her, Adam flashed his badge and told the man she was with him. He stepped aside quickly and didn’t dare look their way again. It was nice to have a brother in charge sometimes, even if this was the last place she wanted to be on a sunny autumn afternoon.

The old apartment building looked as if it had seen better days. Years of wear and abuse had faded the brick façade to a dull looking gray. Samantha wondered how much of the color was actual brick and how much was pollution soaked into the porous material.

Instinctively, she laid a hand on her stomach as it seemed to do another flip inside her. It was either a result of having almost swallowed her meal whole, food poisoning, or nerves. She’d been dealing with her empathic nature for decades, but sometimes it was as if she was learning a new skill all over again. Something squeezed hard in her gut as she walked through the dark arched threshold into the small foyer where a woman had just lost her life only hours before.

Samantha stopped in her tracks, Adam slightly ahead of her in the dim, hellish space as a full force of emotions slammed into her with all the subtlety of a hurricane. She reached out with one hand to steady herself against the door’s solid oak casement. Tears filled her eyes, and for what was likely a mere second she couldn’t breathe.

“Sam?” Adam was immediately at her side, his deep baritone quiet as he looked down at her with concern.

She nodded and forced a smile. “I’m okay…give me a sec.”

He waited, silent and steady at her side as he had been for most of her life. The warmth of his hand on her arm soon helped chase the barrage of lingering emotions away long enough for her to rebuild her mental barriers one by one. It was a process she had been perfecting since she was sixteen and had found herself flooded with every neurotic hormonal thought and feeling within a fifty-yard radius. High school had, indeed, been hell on earth until she’d learned to control her empathic nature.

As the last mental barrier solidified in her subconscious, Samantha allowed her body to relax. He must have felt the tension drain from her, because he drew his hand away and watched. Waiting. He had always been and still was her rock.

“Okay, sorry,” she said and smiled. “I wasn’t ready, I guess.”

“No, that’s fine, Red. I’m just sorry I had to ask this of you.” He watched her a moment longer, that familiar big-brother scowl a testament to his true depth of concern. “You don’t have to–”

She shushed him gently and took a step forward. “Don’t be silly. I’m fine. Let me see if I can help.

The small space seemed to collapse on top of them as she stepped into the middle of the matted, worn carpet. There was so much left behind; so many emotions and memories. The walls themselves had absorbed every ounce of energy passing through over the last fifty or sixty years. Some of the stronger emotions were more overwhelming to one of Samantha’s gifts, but she was sure almost anyone could feel the worst of it. In a poor area of town such as this, the emotions tended to run toward intense anger and despair.

She swallowed back a lump in her throat and tried to focus on the newer energy in the room. New energy was not only stronger, but tended to feel more alive, for lack of a better term. With them she could sometimes even see the events that transpired in her mind’s eye. How accurate these visions were, was anyone’s guess. Samantha knew only how to use her gift, not necessarily how it worked.

She closed her eyes then, forcing the shadowed images into focus. But they were merely that: shadows. Nothing took solid shape or form, not enough to recognize the players involved.

“She’s scared…” she heard herself saying out loud, “There’s…there’s someone here. They shouldn’t be. They don’t belong.” The darkness thickened and she felt a kind of pressure on her chest. “God, she can’t breathe…there’s something wrong with the air. She can’t–”

Adam’s hand on her shoulder, shaking her, brought her from the trance like state. Samantha blinked in confusion and grabbed his arm to keep the room from spinning out from beneath her feet. He waited, still and silent until she got her bearings.

“I’m sorry,” she told him softly. “That’s not much, is it?”

“It’s something,” he said. “Now I’m sure she was actually killed here and not just staged. We’ve had a few doubts about that since there isn’t any blood to speak of and no signs of struggle. Come on, you need some air.”

She stepped out of the doorway ahead of him and ducked beneath the yellow tape. Then she stood, eyes closed, as she filled her lungs with sweet fresh air and allowed the sun to shine on her face. It was the balm she needed and the darkness of the residual emotions left her.

“Hey, you okay?”

She looked up at Adam and smiled. “Yes, I’m fine. But I should go. I have that call to make, remember?”

He raised a brow, his mouth tilted into a half-smile. “Will you still swing by the precinct later or have I pushed too far for one day?”

“Oh, I’ll be there,” she told him. She looked up into the concerned green eyes of her big brother. Her protector. Her most avid fan. Her smile blossomed. “I’m fine,” she assured again, “And I’ll happily meet Liam’s friend. Let’s just hope he’s willing to talk.”

“Oh, he will be,” Adam replied, a slight smile tilted one corner of his mouth. “One look at you and he won’t be able to resist.”

Samantha glanced heavenward but just shook her head. “Yes, I am that adorable, aren’t I? Just promise you’ll give me a way out if things get too weird.”

“Of course, Baby Girl. I’d never leave you high and dry.”

“Yeah, and why does it feel like I’ve heard that before?”

* * ‡ * *

The mingled dissonance of perspiration and bleach filled her nostrils as she entered the front door of the Savannah Police Department. Despite her mental preparation, the assault of emotions was immediate and strong. Many of them lingered from those passing through the building but others were from her own, more personal memories. Anger led the pack, followed by a vicious amount of personal guilt that twisted in her gut. She wanted to run, but instead she took a breath, lifted her head and pasted a smile on her face. Then she hurried up the narrow steps to the second floor and her brother’s division, the emotions like ghosts racing behind her.

Several uniformed officers smiled as she walked by. Most recognized her and knew her brother. One young officer stopped in his tracks, a familiar, wolfish expression on his lean face. He was about to speak when his companion, a man Samantha knew from way back, whispered something near his ear. The young man’s expression fell into some mixture of fear and embarrassment and he quickly turned to walk down the stairs without a word.

Samantha shook her head and chuckled. She didn’t always have to use her empathic gift to read people. It was good to have a big brother with Adam’s reputation. She rarely had to fend off unwanted advances once they found out Detective Bays was her brother. Of course, there were days when she wished he didn’t guard her so diligently. Those were usually followed by long, lonely nights sitting in her apartment watching old movies alone. But the last thing she wanted in her life was another cop to lie to her and cheat on her. The last thing she needed was another cop like Johnny Porter to use her and toss her aside when he was good and tired of her

Heads turned as she entered the homicide division offices. The malice permeating the corridors seemed to fade. The bitter smell of stale coffee mingled with a myriad of various aftershaves and the ever-present musk of sweat and gun oil. A dozen computers hummed across the room, the cacophonous pitches ebbing and changing as she moved past desk after desk toward the back of the room to where Adam had worked for the last six years.

“Hey, Red,” Max Coleman, Adam’s partner of five years, said as he lumbered by. “Adam’s in interview room three with our witness.”

“Hi, Max. Does he want me to wait here?”

“I’ll check.” He returned a minute later. “He said Mr. Quinn is almost finished looking at mug shots. They’ll be right out. You can wait at his desk.”

“Okay, thanks.”

“Want some coffee?”

She grimaced. “Not if you made it.”

Max laughed and shuffled a stack of files from his desktop to a drawer. “Just as well, I think it’s been sitting in the pot since lunch. It’d be more useful as road tar by now. I’ll be back in a few, just make yourself at home.”

The clock on the wall ticked as she swiveled back and forth in Adam’s old beat-up chair. Soon the squeak of ancient springs along with the muffled groan of the cracked plastic seat lulled her senses. Her mind started to wander as she gazed out the window to the street scene below. Her thoughts filled with memories of her former fiancé—a man to whom she had promised her love and her life. But his demons had taken him from her and left behind an empty shell of a man. An empty man addicted to heroin in his veins and filled with anger where his soul once thrived. That was the real reason she rarely stepped foot into Adam’s precinct house: the sounds, the smells all reminded her of the man who had crushed her dreams and almost killed her spirit when he’d beaten her to within an inch of her life.

Her dream-lover was so different with his laughing dark eyes and boyish smile. He was nothing like Johnny, whom she clearly saw now in her memory, even though he had died years earlier. The man she loved had been dark, brooding, and secretive. There hadn’t been any laughter in Johnny’s dark eyes. She wasn’t sure if there had ever been any light there at all.

“Sam?”

She spun toward the sound of Adam’s voice, a smile on her lips, and froze. The room faded as her gaze focused on the tall figure next to her brother. She blinked, but he remained. It couldn’t be. He couldn’t be standing there. He was only a dream, but she saw no laughter in these eyes gazing back at her, only darkness.




Chapter Two


“Samantha?”

She blinked and rose to her feet. The floor seemed to sway beneath her. A hand grasped her arm just as her knees buckled. She felt the warmth of a body pressed to hers and heard concern in voices around her. But she couldn’t focus for a moment. Something was horribly wrong. She was hallucinating. She must be.

“Sam, baby, what’s wrong?” Adam’s voice brought her back to reality. “Here, sit down.” He gently pushed her back into the chair and knelt on one knee beside her, both of her hands clasped between his warm, rough palms. “You okay?”

She tried to smile. “Yes, I’m sorry. I must have stood up too fast,” she muttered. From the corner of her eye she could see the other man still standing there, staring down at her. Silent.

“Are you really okay?” her brother asked. “Do you need some water? A doctor?”

Okay? Besides seeing someone who didn’t exist, she was fine. Fine and dandy.

“No, really, I’m okay,” she lied, daring a glance in the other man’s direction, hoping the image had faded. No, he was still there. “I…I just got a little dizzy. I haven’t eaten since lunch. I guess my blood sugar is low. I’m fine now.”

Adam frowned and stood. “If you’re sure…”

“Can I help?”

Oh, God. He was real. It wasn’t possible. How could it be? But there he stood in all his handsome, exotic, full three-dimensional glory. Even his voice was the same. If she wasn’t crazy and she wasn’t dreaming, what was going on? How the hell could this be happening?

“No, she seems to be okay,” Adam replied. She looked at her brother, silently willing him to make sense of what she saw. “Sam, this is Nathan Quinn. I mentioned him to you earlier. Nathan, this is my sister, Samantha Bays.”

The other man stepped forward, a small smile on his full mouth. All she could think was that now, finally, her lover had a name. She looked into his eyes and concentrated on breathing normally. It couldn’t be the same man. Logic told her this had to be someone different—someone with similar characteristics. Someone with the same dark almond eyes and the same longish black hair cut in the same haphazard style. Someone with the exact same build and chiseled cheek bones and complexion and nose and…

She took a deep breath, praying the oxygen would send some sense into her gray cells. The man couldn’t be her dream-lover. Fantasies didn’t walk out of the night and show up at her brother’s police precinct.

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Ms. Bays.” Her heart stuttered as he spoke again. His voice was the same, too, right down to a slight inflection she couldn’t identify—almost an accent, like an Irish lilt mixed with a faint southern drawl. “I don’t know if you remember me at all, but I queried you about a year ago. You were nice enough to reply with the names of a few agents who might be willing to look at my work.”

“Yes, I remember,” she acknowledged.

“I really appreciated the extra help you gave me,” the mystery man continued, seemingly oblivious to the chaos of her psychotic thoughts. “Thanks to you I found a wonderful agent.”

“Oh, that-that’s good to hear,” she said. The tremors began to subside. Sure, he sounded like dream-man…looked like dream-man…but that didn’t mean it was him. She swallowed and clasped her hands together in her lap. Tension seeped up the back of her neck. “Who did you sign with?”

“Bob Jensen, he’s been great to work with.”

“Oh, yes, Bob’s a nice guy. I’ve known him for years. His oldest son and I went to school together.”

“Well, Nathan,” Adam interrupted. “Since we didn’t have any luck with the mug shots, I’d say you can go ahead and leave. But if you think of anything else or produce any more drawings, I do hope you’ll let me know as soon as possible. I’d also ask that you not leave town anytime soon—just in case we need to speak with you again.”

“Yes, of course,” Quinn said as he glanced between her and Adam. “I’m not going anywhere, Detective. My work and family are in Savannah so there’s no reason for me to leave.”

“Good,” Adam turned to her with a half-smile. “Sam, I made reservations for us at seven, but I have to come back here afterward to finish up some paperwork.”

Samantha frowned. She didn’t remember him saying anything about dinner, but his quick wink clued her in to play along.

“No problem.” She stood and smoothed down her skirt. “I should make it an early night, anyhow. I have a conference call tomorrow at nine. I took a cab here. I can get one home.”

“Quinn, would you like to join us?” Adam’s question made her freeze. Was he serious? “After all, you are a friend of Liam’s and I’ve always been intrigued with his artistic cronies. Unfortunately, he doesn’t introduce me too often. I think my complete lack of imagination embarrasses him.”

“Oh, well, I don’t have any plans,” Quinn glanced at her quickly. “But I don’t want to intrude.” His hesitant smile sent a pleasant surge down her spine. God, this could not be happening. She swallowed hard.

“It was my suggestion, wasn’t it?” Adam asked as he completely ignored her. “As a matter of fact, I believe Liam is still in his office. How about if I give him a call and see if he can join us?”

“Sounds like a good plan,” Quinn relented. “If you don’t mind, that is, Ms. Bays?”

His gaze caught hers and Samantha felt heat fill her cheeks. “Of course not, Mr. Quinn. But please, call me Samantha.”

His smile widened, lifting the corners of his dark eyes and sparkling there like small white flames. “Only if you call me Nathan.”

“I think I can do that, Nathan…” She cleared her throat and looked at Adam. He was watching her with a quizzical expression. “Shall we go?”

“Um, sure, you two go ahead and I’ll meet you out front,” her brother said. “I just need to give Liam a call first.”

“Okay,” she glanced at Nathan and forced a smile despite the tremors in her belly. “But don’t be too long. I’m starved.”

Nathan followed her silently out of the office and down the wide stone steps. When they reached the main door, he held it open until she passed through. She thanked him without making eye-contact. But she knew she’d have to do better than ignore him. It was going to be one hell of a long night otherwise. After all, this was the man Adam wanted her to read—the man who had been drawing murder scenes before they happened. Was it merely coincidental that she had been dreaming of his doppelganger for months?

“So, I understand you have quite a few brothers,” he acknowledged as they stood on the sidewalk in uncomfortable silence. Her own thoughts were so jumbled there was no way she could do what Adam had asked. Not yet.

She turned her head and forced a smile. Small talk, sure, she could handle that easy enough. It was her best tool of the trade. “Yes, five all together.”

“No sisters?”

“No, not even one.”

“Ouch,” he said with a grimace. “That must have been tough on you growing up.”

“Honestly, I loved it most of the time. They were always looking out for me; protecting me. If anyone hassled me all I had to do was tell one of the boys and they’d take care of it.”

He laughed. “But wasn’t it hard when it came to dating? I mean, a guy would have to be pretty sure himself to go up against that kind of scrutiny.”

“Yes, it was. I didn’t date much during high school. Looking back on it, I imagine my brothers might have had something to do with that. At least the older three. Luckily, I wasn’t the baby, as well. That would have been unbearable.”

“You’re in the middle, then?”

She nodded. “I get the best of both worlds—big brothers and little brothers. Although none of them is technically little anymore. What about you? Any siblings?”

“No, unfortunately, just an over-protective mother and my dad. I often wished I had had a brother or sister to hang out with. It was lonely being an only child.”

Something in his tone soothed her for a moment. “Are you close to your parents?”

“My dad, yes. Mom and I, well, she’s a great lady and I love her to death, but she’s not easy to talk to.”

“I understand,” she said. “My mom and I are close, but Dad is more of a man’s man. He worries too much about me.”

“Sounds like my mother.”

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Adam said as he approached. “Are you two ready to go?”

“Yes, of course,” she answered. “But what about Liam? Isn’t he coming?”

“No, he’s made plans,” Adam reported. “Apparently, he has a date.”

She raised a brow in surprise. “A date? With an actual woman?”

“Yep, that’s what the man said. We’ll have to interrogate him later.”

She caught Nathan eyeing them quizzically. “Liam doesn’t go out much.”

“Try never—”

“I wouldn’t say never,” Samantha interrupted. “Just not very often. He’s a little shy around women and more than a bit picky.”

Adam cleared his throat and took her by the arm. “Yes, well as much as I’d love to discuss Liam’s private life and embarrass the hell out of him, I think we should get going before we lose our table.”

He led her down the stone steps and to the street, Nathan following close behind. She could feel the warmth of his gaze on her back. Visions of him naked and aroused suddenly leapt to mind. Heat blazed in her cheeks, and she prayed neither of the men would notice.

How had she managed to have erotic dreams starring a man she had never met? A man who turned out to be a real, flesh-and-blood friend of her brother? A man who she was now going to have dinner with? The momentary ease she had felt in talking with him fizzled into a nervous hum.

“I’ll follow you two,” Nathan said as they neared a silver Lexus. He unlocked the driver side and stood poised to slide behind the wheel.

“If we get separated, we’re going to Cajun Cuisine downtown,” Adam said.

“Good, I’ve been there before.”

“Great, see you there.” Adam ushered her to his black sedan three spaces down and opened the door. Try as she might, Samantha couldn’t resist one backward glance at the other man—only to find him staring at her from the driver’s seat.

“You do realize I’m going to kill you for this?” she asked Adam. He looked at her in surprise.

“Why?”

“You didn’t tell me we’d be having dinner with the man.”

“It was a last-minute decision. I didn’t think you’d be able to get a good feel for him at the station. Now come on, get in. You can flay me alive later.”

“Don’t worry,” she said as she slid into the seat. “I will.”

* * ‡ * *

He couldn’t help but stare. He had seen Samantha’s picture from time to time in the society pages, particularly a few years earlier when her star client had been the target of a stalker. Liam Bays also had a few of her and his other siblings scattered around the parlor at his restored antebellum estate on the outskirts of town. But those photographs didn’t do the woman justice. None of them did.

She laughed at something her brother said and his breath caught. He would love to capture her on paper—to preserve the image of her shining hair and sparkling eyes forever on canvas. But he mostly worked with ink and charcoal pencils. Mere shades of gray were not sufficient to portray the beauty of her creamy complexion or the fire of her long, wavy hair. Only vivid color would convey the amazing emerald green of her large, wide-set eyes.

“Nathan?”

Her voice shook him from his reverie and he fought back a guilty flush. “Yes? Sorry, my mind drifted a bit.”

Her brows dipped slightly but she bore on. “I asked how you got into graphic novels.”

“Oh…” he glanced at the detective. “Like most boys, I loved comic books. I guess I just never really outgrew them. It seemed the best medium to combine both my style of drawing with my writing. I also work at a small advertising firm as a graphic designer. The novels are a fun escape from reality, but they don’t pay the bills.”

“Is it normal for the artist to be the writer of the story, as well?” Adam asked. “I always assumed it took two or more people.”

“It depends on the book. I’ve done artwork for other authors, but I prefer to do my own writing and art from start to finish.”

“Why?”

He shrugged. “I have greater control over my drawings—over what I can and cannot do. Artistic integrity, for want of a better term.”

“I understand,” Samantha agreed with a nod. “Creative control can be a big sticking point with a lot of artists and writers. That’s one reason I don’t submit my clients’ novels for screenplays. You rarely come out with the same product sold in the beginning. Some writers don’t care, but I’d rather not deal with the fallout either way.”

“Yeah, that would be a nightmare,” he acknowledged. “But I heard a rumor that one of your clients signed a lucrative movie deal for rights to her paranormal novels.”

“I’ve heard that rumor as well.” Her laughter did something odd to his system. “There is a bit of truth to it. Camille Bryant was offered a picture deal for her first three books. It was very tempting, I’m sure, but she flatly refused.”

“Holding out for more money?” The remark was out before he could think better of it. She simply gave him an icy smile as the detective cleared his throat.

“No, she isn’t,” Samantha replied. “Money isn’t everything, Nathan. In fact, it’s nothing if your life and privacy are constantly invaded. She’s had enough of that to last a lifetime.”

“Sam, I’m sure he didn’t mean—”

“What? To insult one of my best friends?” she asked. Then she turned her icy smile back to him and Nathan felt as if he’d been sucker-punched. “So, have you ever thought about writing a real novel? You know, one without pictures?”


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