Authors: Rita Herron
She constantly dealt with tortured spirits and refused to let Vincent intimidate her. If she ran from him like a frightened child, he’d never take her seriously.
Besides, her instincts and counseling experience told her that he wore a cold shield around himself as a protective device. Though she had no idea what a tough man like him could be afraid of.
Maybe that his secrets would be exposed.
The man had those; she saw them hidden in the depths of his eyes.
But she would be a glutton for punishment if she allowed herself to fall prey to his sexuality.
Before she had a chance to recover, he pivoted and strode away from her, cornering one of the crime-scene investigators, who’d found a small piece of blue fabric caught on a low branch.
She walked over to examine it and touched the branch. Suddenly, images bombarded her. Tracy crying for help. Silently pleading for the killer to stop torturing her. A faceless monster sinking the knife into her.
A man digging a grave. A grave meant for Tracy.
Or for her?
Ronnie sniffled and shuffled up to her. “Clarissa, I gotta go tell Mama ’bout Tracy . . .”
Clarissa’s heart bled for him and the pain Tracy had endured. No mother wanted to hear her baby girl had been dealt such a horrible fate. “I’ll go with you, Ronnie. Eloise might need me.”
Gratitude softened his haunted eyes as she folded him in her arms and hugged him. “Go back to your car and wait for me. Let me tell the sheriff and Agent Valtrez that I’ll drive you home.”
He nodded, his bony frame trembling, and she gave him a slight push for encouragement. He took one last look at the gruesome scene, swayed, then ran through the path to his rusted Malibu.
Clarissa drew a deep breath, watching Tracy’s spirit as she extended a trembling hand toward her brother. As much as Clarissa’s ability troubled her, she found solace in the fact that she eased the transition for the deceased and their families. Although at times, their suffering tore at her, as it must have her mother.
Would it eventually eat away her sanity, too?
No. She wouldn’t let it.
Aware the Cantons needed her, she hurried to inform the sheriff and Vincent where she was going.
The two of them stood by the body, discussing the crime scene. Before she reached them, Deputy Bluster approached her. She’d had coffee with him a couple of times, even dinner once. Odd how when most men gave her a wide berth, he had pursued her openly.
“Hey, Clarissa.” His brown eyes softened as he touched her arm. “You shouldn’t be here. It’s too gruesome.”
As if communing with the dead wasn’t. “My heart breaks for Tracy and her family.”
“Damn shame,” Tim said quietly. “How did you find out, anyway?”
“I was at the sheriff’s office when your call came in.”
He darted a glance at the sheriff and Vincent. “Can’t believe Waller called in a feebie.”
“Tim, there have been three murders in the past two weeks. We need help around here.”
He twisted his mouth sideways. “What do you mean— three murders?”
“Billie Jo Rivers and Jamie Lackey. I think they were murdered, too.”
He kicked an ant pile at his feet and dozens of fire ants scattered. “You know something we don’t know, Clarissa?”
She shrugged. Even though Tim probably had heard rumors that she communed with the dead, they’d never discussed it.
“A hunch,” she said, glossing over the truth. He didn’t have to know the details.
“We don’t need his kind,” Tim said more harshly. “Sheriff and I are perfectly competent.”
The anger in his tone surprised her. “But if he can help, Tim—”
“Why some hotshot FBI guy? Does Waller think he’s better, smarter?”
“He called him because Vincent grew up around here, Tim. He knows the area.”
“Vincent?” Tim said sarcastically. “So you know him?”
“I did when I was young. Then he moved away.”
“Well, I don’t like him. Stay away from him, Clarissa.”
She couldn’t do that. “Tim—”
He gripped her hand. “I’m concerned about you. Especially in light of Tracy’s murder.”
Clarissa shrugged off his concern. “Don’t worry. I can take care of myself.”
“Tracy probably thought that, too.”
A chill slithered through her, and she pulled her hand away, taking a step backward.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said, lowering his voice. “But I’m not sure it’s safe for you, living in that old log house on the mountain all alone.”
She wasn’t alone, she wanted to tell him. She had the spirits. “I have Wulf,” she said instead.
He smiled slowly. “I could stay with you.”
Clarissa heaved a breath, using one hand to rake her hair from her forehead. Perspiration dotted her neck, and flies buzzed around her ankles. “Thanks, but I’ll be okay. Listen, Ronnie’s waiting. Tell the sheriff I’m driving him home. I figure someone should be there for support when he breaks the news about Tracy to their mother.”
He studied her for a long moment, then tipped the brim of his hat. “Good idea. I heard she has a bad heart.”
“Then I’d better go.”
“I’ll tell the sheriff for you.”
Vincent’s cold gaze pierced her, and she nodded, conceding for the moment. She’d stop by her house and take care of Wulf first, then go to the Cantons. Comfort the Cantons tonight, but she would talk to the sheriff and Vincent later. She knew these murders were related, and she had to make sure they found the killer before he stole another life.
Three spirits were depending on her.
Out of the corner of his eye, Vincent watched Clarissa weave back through the woods. The deputy stared after her, his tongue dangling like a dog in heat. His reaction would have been laughable if they weren’t standing in the middle of a brutal crime scene.
As if the man sensed Vincent’s scrutiny, he tilted his head sideways and met his gaze. Tension sliced the air between them. Either Deputy Bluster didn’t want him here professionally, or he didn’t want him looking at Clarissa.
Tough shit. Vincent didn’t give a damn. He’d do what he pleased, and this pissant wouldn’t stop him.
Bluster strode toward him, rolling his shoulders back to sharpen his height. Still, Vincent’s six-three towered over him.
Waller glared at him for a tension-filled minute as the stench of death and blood rose around them, then Bluster directed his comment to the sheriff as if purposely leaving him out of the investigation.
“Sheriff Waller,” Bluster said. “Clarissa’s going to drive Ronnie home to tell his mama about Tracy.”
“Eloise will take it hard,” Sheriff Waller said in a gruff voice. “I’ll stop by and see her myself later.”
Vincent cleared his throat. “We need to question her. Find out if she knew if Tracy was seeing anyone.”
“And we should bring Bennett in right away,” Vincent said. “I’d also like to question the family and friends of the other two cases.”
“Folks around here don’t always take kindly to strangers,” Bluster cut in bitterly. “It’d be best if the sheriff and I handle the locals.”
Vincent wanted to choke the bastard. Granted, he hadn’t asked for this assignment, wasn’t convinced the three cases were related, but he sure as hell wouldn’t allow this dickhead to run him off. “I was called here to do a job, and I’ll question whomever I damn well please.”
Bluster’s cheeks ballooned out as he worked to control his temper. “We don’t need your help.”
“Bluster,” Waller growled. “I requested his assistance.”
The deputy’s eyes flashed with fury. “Why? What can he do that we can’t?”
“He has access to state and federal databases, is more experienced in serial-killer cases. We have three deaths now, Deputy. I don’t want any more.”
“Three that aren’t related,” Bluster argued.
“That’s not what Clarissa thinks,” Waller said.
A range of emotions paraded across Bluster’s face. His feelings for Clarissa had been evident when he was talking to her earlier, and he didn’t want to refute her opinion. But Vincent saw the question, doubt in the man’s eyes.
“Bluster, if you want to help, go pick up Bo Bennett,” Vincent said. “And get his phone records. Let’s see if Tracy Canton called him when her car broke down. Also get a mechanic to check her car, make sure the battery really died. Maybe the car was tampered with.”
“You’re thinking Bennett could have set her up?” Waller asked.
“It’s a possibility,” Vincent said.
Bluster glared at Vincent but nodded, silently conveying his acceptance of the situation, although belligerence laced his acceptance.
“Sorry about that,” Waller said as Bluster headed to his car. “But he’s right. Sometimes the locals don’t cotton much to big-city cops coming in and trying to take over. Especially ones who left and come back.”
Vincent fisted his hands by his sides.
And ones with my past.
“I don’t give a damn who likes it,” Vincent said. “Tell them if they want to find this girl’s killer, they’d better cooperate. If they don’t, it’ll only make them look suspicious.”
Waller frowned but nodded. “How about we round the families and friends of the other victims up tomorrow? That soon enough?”
“All right, but we need to talk to this girl’s mother tonight.”
Waller nodded again and pressed his hand over his chest. Vincent remembered he’d had a mild heart attack and wondered if the old man was all right.
The coroner finished, and they loaded Tracy’s body to take to the morgue. Then they’d transport her to the state medical examiner’s facility for an autopsy.
Hopefully, forensics would do their jobs and find conclusive evidence to link to the killer.
But that would take time. Time they might not have before the killer struck again.
He opened his palm and studied the imprint of the angel wings that had branded his hand from his mother’s necklace. It had faded over the years and was so faint that people rarely noticed.
Yet now he knew how he’d gotten the scar.
The black rock had lit up when he’d closed his fingers around it, just as the cave of black rock had lit up when his father touched the rock the day he killed Vincent’s mother.
He blinked, his vision blurring.
His father had been a monster, and that evil had given him the power to turn the black rock to fire. Another memory gnawed at him—twice he’d shattered something with his hands, caused an object to explode without touching it. Each time he’d been driven by anger.
A Dark Lord . . . It meant he had evil in him, just like his father.
He felt it now, the incessant desire for blood, the consuming darkness clawing at him, just as he heard the echo of his father’s voice ordering him to succumb to the call. His finely tethered control slipping . . .
He’d told Clarissa that he was just like the monsters he chased.
She’d better heed his warning and stay away from him, or she might end up dead at his hands just as his mother had his father’s.
Pan momentarily shifted his demonic body from the human’s. He thirsted for more. For another kill.
Then he’d send the dead’s voices to taunt Clarissa until she went completely crazy.
He waved a hand and morphed down from the mountain, landing in the town square, a ghostlike maze of old buildings, family businesses, and ancient customs passed down through the generations. Smiling, he walked down Main Street, his senses honed as he searched for his next victim.
Since he’d been in town, he’d borrowed a body. To others, he looked normal. A human. One among them. Disguise made it easy. They trusted him, allowing him to get close to his prey.
But now, in his demonic form, he slid into the shadows, invisible when he wanted. A pretty redhead he’d heard someone call Sadie Sue rushed toward the small diner, Hell’s Kitchen, and he followed her, the scent of her sex causing his cock to twitch.
He grinned. All good had to be destroyed. One touch was all he needed. Then he would know the redhead’s darkest secrets.
And the perfect way to put an end to her miserable existence.
First the touch, then the taunt, then the kill . . .
Pan knew exactly when to strike. When the near-dead begged for another moment of life, when they would do anything he asked, when they would make a deal. The ones with the
blood, the weak, the greedy, accepted his terms at all costs.
Zion would not only survive but thrive, feeding off of each kill. For each soul he collected heightened his power.
Pan brushed the curve of her back. A cloying, sweet perfume rocked his libido, and he licked his lips.
As his hand lingered, her mind became an open book, and he skimmed the pages, searching through the cluttered lines. She’d never known her old man. Her mama had died from emphysema four years ago. She had a son named Petey.
Aha . . . there, he’d found it. Her greatest fear.
Snakes. She had fallen once in the woods and a rattler had bitten her, and she’d nearly died.
Laughter mushroomed inside his chest—Eve had been tempted by the forbidden fruit, tricked by a serpent, and this sinner would die at the hands of one herself.
His pulse thrummed double-time as his gaze veered toward the jagged mountain peaks surrounding Eerie and its miles of forest. Snakes abounded in those hills.
Pan would watch the terror freeze her veins as the snakes slithered across her naked body.
Then those snakes would suck the life from her as they fed on her.
He could hear her silent screams, her pleas for help, see her eyes begging for salvation.
Maybe this one would trade her soul for the chance to remain alive. And when she made her first kill, she’d be his servant forever.
o, no, you’re lying! My little girl can’t be dead . . .” Eloise Canton raced to the oak desk in the kitchen corner, picked up a photo of Tracy at her high school graduation, and waved it at Clarissa. “See, there she is on graduation night. Isn’t she just beautiful?”
“Yes, Mrs. Canton, but—”
Tracy’s mother cut her off. “And now she got herself a good job teaching preschool. Gracious, the little children just love her.”