Authors: Rhiannon Frater
“Oh, boo hoo. What a horrible loss that would be.”
Cian pressed a kiss to her full lips, then said, “I love you.”
“Sucks to be you,” she teased.
Threading his fingers through her hair, he relished the feel of her soft, cool body against his. “Aimee is going to try to see what she can do about your bond to The Summoner.”
Amaliya sighed. “Like that’s going to happen.”
“Maybe she’ll find a way, Liya.” Cian hated it when Amaliya gave into her fatalistic tendencies. He knew more about what was going on in her head than she realized. Though Amaliya didn’t regard herself as a martyr, she often felt she was on a course with certain destruction. Cian would do everything in his power not to allow that to happen.
“Well, I guess it doesn’t hurt to try,” Amaliya said finally. Sliding off his lap, she grabbed his hand. “Let’s go hunt. I’m hungry.”
Recognizing her need to change the subject, Cian rose to his feet. “So you want to hunt somewhere sexy, huh? Does that mean you’ll dress sexy?”
“If you’re lucky,” she said in such a way Cian had a feeling that it may be an hour or two before they actually made it out the front door.
The vegan carrot cake was heavenly, but her cappuccino tasted burned. Yet, Samantha wasn’t about to say anything after her boyfriend had worked so hard to impress her with his culinary skills. Seated side by side in the back room of his bookstore, they had just finished eating a homemade meal. She was full and she was happy, so that was all that really mattered. It had been a lovely evening. There hadn’t been any discussion of any of the supernatural things they were dealing with, or the big bad necromancer laying low somewhere out there in the world plotting his next move. Samantha had loved every second of it. She’d almost felt like the world was normal.
“Don’t drink that. I burned it,” Jeff said, claiming her cup after taking a sip of his own. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine! It was all good.” Smiling at him, she ruffled his floppy brown hair with her fingers. “No one has ever made me dinner before. It’s so sweet.”
With a pleased smile, Jeff pushed his paper plate away and leaned over the armrest of his chair to rest his hand on her leg. “I wanted to do something special for you.”
“Are you going for the sweetest boyfriend in the world award? Because right now, you’re totally the frontrunner.” Samantha settled her hand on his and pressed it gently.
“Absolutely.” Jeff kissed her cheek. “And you get awesome girlfriend points for coming here tonight and roughing it with me.”
Originally they’d planned to meet at his place for a romantic candlelight dinner, but then a New Zealand group that was part of The Assembly had contacted Jeff about a conference call. All of his reference books were at the store, where he spent most of his time, so it had made sense to take the call from his work office. Jeff had quickly packed up their meal and brought it to the bookstore so they could relax and not worry about rushing through traffic to make the call in time. They had warmed dinner in the microwave and eaten off of disposable dinnerware.
“It’s okay, Jeff. I just like spending time with you.”
Jeff gave her his goofiest loving look. “I feel the same way.”
“Besides, cleanup is super easy this way!” Samantha picked up the paper plates they had used along with the plastic utensils and dramatically tossed them into the trash bin. “Ta da!”
“Which was all part of my evil plan to begin with. I hate doing dishes!”
Jeff started putting the lids back on the plastic containers that held the leftovers and returned them to the cooler he had transported their dinner in from his house. Samantha wiped off the table with some napkins, then blew out the small tea lights.
“So, Sam, this was our
candlelight dinner of many. I think it went okay.”
“It was perfect. I loved it.”
perfect. And I love you,” Jeff said in such a way it made her heart flutter. His big brown eyes and thick eyebrows gave him such a cute puppy dog expression that Samantha had to snuggle into him. Laughing, he pressed kisses to the top of her head. “Next time we’ll have fancier candles if this is the response I get.”
“You’re on to me! I’m all about the fancy candles.” Samantha grinned up at him. “Or maybe I’m just all about the fancy boyfriend who says sweet things.”
“I thought I was charmingly dorky, not fancy.”
“You’re fancily a dork.”
Jeff made a big show of considering her words, then slowly grinned. “I can live with that.”
“Good! Because you have to!”
His kisses tasted like carrot cake.
Reluctantly, Samantha disengaged herself from his arms. “When’s the call?”
Jeff checked the clock on the wall and winced. “In about thirty minutes.”
“Want to fool around until then?” Samantha waggled her eyebrows.
“I love the way you think!”
“I just need to freshen up.”
Samantha coyly kissed his cheek before slipping down the hall and into the ladies restroom. She had drunk way too much sweet tea and her bladder was begging for relief.
Washing her hands once she was done, she studied her reflection in the mirror. Even though the world was teetering literally on the edge of eternal darkness, instead of looking haggard with fear, she appeared happy. It was weird to acknowledge the truth that she actually
happy. After all the crap that had gone down in her life, losing Cian as her fiancé, turning into a phasmagus, and facing the possible end of the world, she supposed she should be living in despair, yet she wasn’t. The cause of her surprising but reassuring peace of mind was her acceptance of her new role in the dangerous world of the supernaturals. It was odd to admit, but once she embraced being a part of the hidden world her life had somehow started to make sense. Upon reflection of all the choices she had made in her life, it was as if she had been on an inevitable course to this point in her existence.
Turning on the water, she moistened a paper towel and dabbed at face to fix her smudged mascara. Focused on the flecks of makeup and the smear under one eye, she leaned closer to the mirror. Her breath fogged the reflective surface, obscuring her view. Annoyed, she wiped the moisture away.
Behind Samantha stood a woman with her throat and chest torn open. Ropes of dirty, bloody intestines dangled across her pallid, naked thighs and blood dripped from the edges of her grievous wounds. She’d literally been torn apart. One eye was missing, but the other, pale blue and dead, stared at Samantha.
Frozen in place, Samantha gawked at the ghost in the mirror absorbing the horrific state of the woman. Tendrils of dark hair were matted with blood to her face and neck. Though Samantha had never seen the dark haired woman before there was something vaguely familiar about her. Then it struck her. The apparition was in a similar state to the ghost she had encountered while
running one July morning. It had taken a bit of sleuthing to identify the ghost, but Samantha had uncovered she was a missing woman who had vanished while jogging. Her name was Cassidy Longoria. Like the specter reflected in the mirror, Cassidy had been ripped open.
“Who are you?” Samantha whispered.
“He killed me,” the ghost answered though her lips did not move.
Samantha winced when the ghost flickered in the reflection then appeared even closer to her. Frigid air sprouted goose bumps all over Samantha’s back and arms. Unlike the movies, she couldn’t just close her eyes and banish the ghost. If it touched her, it would gain mass and become solid.
“If you want me to help, tell me who you are and who killed you,” Samantha said in an even tone.
“Why did he kill me?” the ghost sobbed. “Why?”
Swiveling about, Samantha braced herself against the sink. The ghost was scant inches from her. Though the wounds were heinous and the ghost had the appearance of a fresh corpse, Samantha couldn’t smell anything other than the vanilla air freshener sitting on the back of the toilet.
“I’m sorry he killed you, but you need to tell me who did this to you,” Samantha insisted.
The ghost covered her face with her hands, sobbing.
“Hey. Ghost girl.” Samantha started to reach for the phantom, then thought better of it. Did she really want the ghost to solidify?
“Why?” the ghost lifted her head and screamed. “Why?”
Samantha flinched, sliding away from the specter. “I don’t know, but I’ll help you. Just tell me-”
The lights went out, plunging the room into darkness. Dragging in a deep breath of cold air, Samantha waited for the inevitable touch of the ghost.
There was a rap on the door. “Sam? Are you okay? The lights just went out.”
“Uh, there’s a ghost in here with me,” Samantha answered, edging along the sink and toward the door. “She’s kinda upset.”
There was a long beat, then Jeff said, “Shit.”
“He let me die,” the ghost said, her mouth so close to Samantha’s ear it chilled her flesh.
Samantha’s hand found the doorknob, unlocked it, and jerked on it. The door swung open to reveal a gloomy hallway with a dark shape barely illuminated by the street light filtering through the windows. Samantha hoped was Jeff.
To her relief, the figure said, “Is she still here?” Jeff’s warm hand closed on her arm and drew her out of the bathroom.
“I don’t know.” Samantha shivered, her teeth clacking together. “Maybe. It’s so cold.”
“Yeah, I feel it. It’s isolated to the bathroom.” Jeff tugged her from doorway and further up the hall.
“She’s just like Cassidy. All torn up.” Samantha automatically lowered her voice and wasn’t sure if she was doing it because it was dark, or because of the ghost.
“You let him do this to me!”
A gush of cold, dank air roared out of the bathroom.
“Okay, I heard that,” Jeff gasped.
Placing herself between Jeff and the ghost, Samantha strained to see into the murk. “Hey, ghost girl, no one let anyone hurt you. I promise. We want to help.”
Jeff tried to change places with her, but Samantha shoved him back with her elbow.
“Don’t let her touch you or we’ll have trouble,” Jeff muttered, obviously hoping the ghost wouldn’t hear.
“Please, we want to help you,” Samantha said into the murk filling her vision. Maybe it was her eyes trying to adjust, but she kept catching glimpses of other shapes in the blackness.
There was a low rasp, then the bathroom door violently slammed shut.
“Are you guys naked in here?” Eduardo called out from the front of the store. “What’s with the lights?”
As if to answer his question, the lights flicked on. The brightness hurt Samantha’s eyes and she covered her face with her hands.
“We had an outage,” Jeff answered. Cautiously, he opened the door to the bathroom and peered in.
Samantha leaned past him, then shook her head. “She’s gone.”
Eduardo strolled down the hallway, a thermos in one hand. Every night Eduardo poured Amaliya’s blood onto a grave in each cemetery in Austin. It allowed her to call the dead. Tossing it to Jeff, he said, “Did my duty, now I’m off to have some fun.”
“What do you do for fun?” Samantha asked, curiosity getting the better of her.
The grin Eduardo gave her was a little disconcerting. “Stuff.”
Jeff unscrewed the top of the thermos and looked inside. “Would it kill you to clean it?”
Eduardo turned to go, then hesitated. “Oh, yeah. I don’t usually hang with the weres, but I ran into another coyote that does. She had something interesting to say about San Antonio.”
Samantha saw the sudden interest bloom in Jeff’s gaze.
“The wolf pack that was on the south side has disappeared. No sign of them. Just gone. But – and this is interesting – some jaguars were spotted lurking around the River Walk. If you want my opinion on what this means, here it is: The Summoner cleaned house across the board and is bringing in his own people.”
Samantha frowned at the thought, but they had all known that The Summoner wouldn’t just sit by idly. He had definite, terrifying plans for the world. And probably for them.
“Did you tell Cian?” Jeff sounded only a little annoyed at deferring to the vampire.
“Nah. I ran into his woman when she was visiting Benchley’s place. I was going to tell her, but she came onto me pretty strong. I got distracted.”
“Liar,” Samantha said, the word just slipping out. Again it surprised her how easily she defended the woman she had once hated.
“What?” Eduardo held out his arms. “I’m a hot piece of ass. She wants me. You all know it. She’s just playing it coy because of her asshole boyfriend.”
“She would never leave Cian for you,” Samantha declared, setting her hands on her hips and lifting her chin.
“Who said anything about her leaving Cian? Fucking is fucking, and nothing more.” Eduardo patted Samantha’s head. “You’re so innocent.”
“Oh, fuck off.” Samantha irritably pushed his hand away.
“Eduardo, stop provoking Sam,” Jeff said, his annoyance clear.
“But it’s so much fun,” Eduardo said mockingly, winking.
Samantha narrowed her eyes. Something about Eduardo always had her on edge. It wasn’t just the fact he was obscenely good looking and incredibly overconfident, but something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Jeff said it was because he was a coyote, a trickster.
“Anyway, I’m out. Tell the asshole vampire what I told you. Let him mull that over.” Eduardo strutted toward the front of the store.
“Lock the door,” Jeff called out.
Eduardo saluted, then turned the corner. A few seconds later the front door shut and locked.
“I don’t like him. At all.”
“I know.” Jeff pulled out his phone and checked the time. “I need to get on Skype.”
Samantha trailed behind him to his office, her hands still on her hips. “He’s such a jerk.”
“I know. He’s been like that since I met him in college,” Jeff said, “but he’s a great help.” Stopping in the doorway of his office, Samantha’s mind switched from pondering how to neuter Eduardo, to something the ghost said. “Jeff, she said the same thing Cassidy did.”