Authors: Jamie McLachlan
his edition published
Post Office Box 57914
Los Angeles, California 91413
© 2016 by Jamie McLachlan
eISBN 13: 978-1-944179-05-2
ISBN 13: 978-1-944179-06-9
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright holder.
Cover Designer: Christa Holland, Paper & Sage Designs
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To my husband—my rock, my confidant,
and, sometimes, the little devil on my shoulder.
s a child
, Alyssa had never once imagined her life as a slave would ever permit her to obtain any sort of power. She had been born an empath and had been sent at the vulnerable age of eight to the memory house. There she had been forced to enter the minds of her clients, altering their memories. She was good at her job and obedient. Soon, her powers of memory retrieving and blocking were unrivalled by any of the other empaths. She was the blocker with the longest list of customers, but also the longest list of enemies. The other empaths had resented her; they excluded and bullied her. To them, she was a traitor—the Memory House Instigator’s favourite pet.
After twelve years of obedience, the Elite recruited Alyssa as a blocker. She moved from the memory house to the legislature building and was rewarded with new luxuries. Here she met other empaths who didn’t see her obedience as traitorous. She quickly ascended the ranks until now, ten years later, Mr. Harrison was announcing her as the new Chief Blocker. After all those years of being deprived everything she wanted and needed, she now had freedom. She didn’t care that she was still property of the Elite, because she now possessed the ability to
. The idea was quite liberating.
A knock sounded on the door, and she urged her secretary to enter. The young woman, Morgan, was another blocker, newly recruited. She was eager to please, especially now that her new boss was the Chief Blocker.
“Your ten o’clock appointment is here,” Morgan said.
She moved aside to allow another person to enter the room before closing the door behind her. The man’s gaze wandered about his surroundings, taking note of each of Alyssa’s possessions before offering her a cordial smirk. Her own smile felt weak, and she hoped she did not visibly tremble. He was an immaculate and imposing figure, wearing a crisp black suit and sporting dark curls on his head, which made his stormy blue eyes all the more foreboding. In comparison, she knew her appearance was unimpressive, with her plain navy skirt and white blouse. Even her hair was a disgrace, unruly curls intent on sticking out every which way. She suppressed the urge to smooth down the wayward strands.
Alyssa knew the blocker’s presence could only mean one thing, and she floundered beneath his icy stare. He was here to deliver a message—one for which she had been waiting a long time to receive. Now that it was here, she wasn’t sure she wanted it anymore.
She politely gestured to the seat before her and watched as he sat, carefully crossing his legs.
“I hear congratulations are in order, Alyssa.” His words were pronounced with care, and the grin that followed chilled her to the bone. He raised his hand, gesturing to the room around them. “How are you enjoying your new position as Chief Blocker?”
“Very well, Jonathan.” Her own voice was curt, and she folded her arms onto the desk in an air of professionalism. “Shall we forgo any attempt at formalities and address the real reason you are here today?”
“Of course, as you wish,” he said with a nod. She couldn’t tell if he was offended by her terse behaviour, or if he was grateful. Jonathan retrieved an envelope from inside his jacket and laid it on the desk before her. “The Phoenix calls, Alyssa.”
She peered down at the smooth envelope, her fear wrapping a tight cloak around her so she could barely move a limb. Strange how such a small thing could produce such a tremendous amount of fear. She didn’t dare reach out for the letter, knowing her hand would shake. Jonathan frowned in a cruel mockery of sympathy, and she knew he could taste her terror. For years she prayed for this day to come. The Phoenix was calling on her to finally fulfill her obligation. Yet now she no longer felt the same unquestionable devotion to a man she had never met. Who was the Phoenix?
Jonathan sighed in disappointment. “My dear Alyssa, do we need to have this conversation again?” His blue eyes narrowed, and she was once again plunged head first into ice-cold water. “Should I tell the Phoenix you refuse to fulfill your oath? Is that what you want Alyssa?”
She shook her head, frightened by the hidden threat in his words. If she refused, the Phoenix would kill her. And she desperately wanted to live. But if she obeyed, the possibility of her death was just as likely.
“No, I-It’s just that Daniel…”
“We all have our role to play,” he answered calmly, as if death didn’t terrify him. “Daniel was aware of the consequences should he be discovered by the police.
are aware of the costs just as I am, Alyssa. Freedom doesn’t come without a price.” He leaned forward and slowly pushed the envelope closer to her. “It’s time to pay.”
When his gaze finally released her, she hesitantly picked up the letter and tore it open. She scanned over the written words, her heart thudding faster and faster. Everything she had worked for would vanish if she were ever caught. She would be imprisoned and sentenced to hang just like Daniel. But if she were to succeed, the possibilities for her and her kind would exceed those of a blocker’s life. Could she sacrifice her own life if it meant freedom for all empaths?
“God help me,” she whispered to herself.
“God can’t help you, Alyssa,” said the man sitting across from her. “Only you can save yourself. Do we have an understanding?”
She stared into those cold blue eyes and gave him a solemn nod. The moment he exited her office, Alyssa walked over to the hearth and threw the letter into the fire. The envelope’s edges curled inwards as the flames engulfed the paper, turning it into ash.
ago I almost died.
There are times when I close my eyes and see his face. He hovers above me, his hands around my neck, as he positions himself to steal another part of me. In those visions, I promptly aim the revolver at his head and never miss. My shot is bloody, but tremendously satisfying. Afterwards, I can smile.
In reality, my victory was less dramatic with the detective’s interference. In a way, I owe Keenan. It’s because of his interruption that day that I remain unharmed and free. Instead, Anthony Bradford resides in the underground prison beneath Braxton’s police station on Churchill Road, not me. He will be hanged in a few days from now in front of the legislature building, and the crowd below him will roar over his crimes. Ginny and Rebekah, along with all the other women he had raped, will finally receive justice, something I never thought would be possible. It’s that fact alone that allows me to grin as if nothing ever happened—a behaviour that irritates the detective immensely.
It’s been nearly five days since I first arrived at Keenan’s townhouse, and I’ve learned a lot about him. Empaths, being the Elite’s slaves, are forbidden to own even their last name, let alone a home. When I lived at the pleasure house, my room had been small, sparse, and unremarkable. Madame Del Mar used to say the only thing a concubine ever needed was a bed anyway. But I was always curious to see what sort of things the rich filled their many rooms with. My first night at the detective’s home, I noticed he feels no obligation to fill the vacancy, despite the fact he’s lived in the townhouse for four years now—another thing I find peculiar. Most of the walls are bare and some of the unoccupied rooms upstairs are empty. And, funnily enough, my own room, despite its size, only contains a bed.
I suppose the Madame was right all along.
On the second day, Keenan hired a cook and a young maid to help his housekeeper with cleaning and tending to me. Apparently, the detective requires little aid and, up until then, had mostly eaten out—or, according to his housekeeper, not much at all. Even though he doesn’t voice his thoughts, those green eyes of his reveal to me just how much the additional bustle in his home irritates him. He’s not accustomed to any sort of intrusion on his privacy, a fact he explicitly informed me of before my stay. But if I’m honest, I’ll admit the majority of the noise comes from me. If I were to step into his mind, I would undoubtedly taste his regret and frustration with the Chief for insisting I stay at his townhouse for the remainder of the Phoenix investigation. Unfortunately, he hasn’t permitted me to enter his mind since the day we discovered Daniel Anderson was working for the Phoenix.
Nor has he attempted to kiss me again—much to my disappointment.
I knock on his office door. When he doesn’t answer, I peek into the room. The scent of smoke permeates the air, the half-smoked cigarette, long abandoned in the ashtray, still glows, emitting a trail of fumes that cloud the area near his desk. His head is bent over the letter he writes, and I can see the slight touch of grey that dusts the sides of his brown hair. His sack coat is delicately placed over one of the chairs by the fire. He looks as unattainable as ever, and I suddenly regret my decision to interrupt him. But there’s no sense in turning back now, so I open the door wider and clear my throat. He doesn’t even glance up at me when he finally speaks.
“What is it, Moira?”
I decide the question is an invitation to enter, and I promptly walk in. Even though his tone reveals his annoyance, I’m grateful he no longer refers to me as Del Mar. I’m finally a person, not property.
He glances up and watches my progress. I wish I could say his attentiveness is sexual, but it’s not. He scrutinizes me with the careful alertness of an observer who is examining something that has the potential to be volatile. It’s instinctual for him, a defense mechanism elicited by the horizontal s and accompanying dots above and below it on my cheek. He knows full well I could pierce through his mental barriers at any moment. I could persuade him to do anything I want, but I won’t.
“I simply wish to know what it is you do in here all day.” I trail a finger over the shelf of one of his many bookcases. My finger comes away with a thick layer of dust, which means I’m not the only one forbidden to enter his office without an invitation. I
and add quietly, “Clearly, not cleaning.”
“Perhaps you can satiate your boredom elsewhere, Moira. I’m rather busy at the moment.”
I abandon my inspection of his books and, annoyed with his negligence, snuff out the cigarette that has been filling the air with the bitter scent of smoke. His eyes continue to follow me, his suspicion growing with my every move. Resting my hip on the edge of his desk, I lean forward to inspect the cursive writing.
“Who are you writing to?” I ask sweetly. “A lover?”
“No one that concerns you.” He inhales deeply and leans back in his chair, not bothering to conceal the letter. “I thought we had an agreement.”
I flash him one of my innocent smiles, and pitch my voice low with a hint of seduction. “Oh, we do. I just came to tell you I’m going to bathe, and I could use some help.”
He studies me closely, shifting his gaze from my blue eye to my hazel one. “I’m positive Mrs. Whitmore would be more than willing to provide you with assistance. If
indeed, you need it.”
I align my curves in a more appealing position. “Perhaps you can join me. For what I require assistance with, I’d prefer the presence of a man, not a woman. I promise to reward you for your services.”
This close, I can smell his uncertainty. His jaw tenses as he struggles between his desire and whatever else has been causing him to be distant since I moved into his home. He wants to join me, but something is holding him back. I wish I knew what it was. The moment he averts his gaze I know he will refuse my invitation. I’m annoyed, because after our last kiss I want more and was positive he wanted that as well. But after several failed attempts of flirtation on my part, I’m not certain anymore. How blunt do I have to be, Detective?
Before he can utter some pathetic excuse, I try a different tactic. “I might sneak into your bedroom. You wouldn’t want that, now would you?”
“My bedroom is locked, Moira.”
Of course it is. How foolish of me.
“I might escape,” I whisper, daring him.
His voice is calm when he responds, but his eyes are filled with silent mirth. “I suggest you try the front door first. I imagine it would be easier than climbing out of one of the windows upstairs.”
I grin, even though he’s managed to turn my seduction into a laughing matter. “Undoubtedly, but I prefer a challenge and a little excitement. The front door would be too easy and dissatisfying.”
“Well, do inform me when you’ve decided.” He diverts his attention back to the letter, and the moment slips away. “Until then–”
“Yes, I know,” I interject. “You’re
I sigh and stand, stifling my disappointment. “The Chief should have suggested I stay with Constable Jamieson instead. I’m sure he’s not always so busy.”
“Possibly, but I imagine his fiancée would have disapproved of the arrangement.”
“Oh, you’re right.” I turn and walk away from him, muttering my last words beneath my breath. “I forgot about her.”
I’ve almost reached the door when he speaks again. “And, Moira, please refrain from walking around naked after your bath. You startled Mrs. Whitmore, and I do intend on continuing her services. A discreet housekeeper is hard to come by.”
Even though my voice is sweet, the words are forced between my teeth. “Oh, of course, Detective. I’ll do my best to behave accordingly.”
I close the door and head upstairs to prepare my bath—alone. I run the water to fill the tub as I undress, trying and failing to suppress my frustration. While this past month out of prison has allowed me to gain weight, the curves which served me well in the past don’t seem to entice the one man I want.
I slip into the warm water and soon, all unpleasant thoughts vanish. In fact, I’ve never felt freer. And, strangely, I owe it all to the Phoenix. If it weren’t for him, I’d be persecuted by now for killing my master, Scott Harrison. The Elite would have never offered my life in exchange for aiding the police in the investigation. But eventually the detective and I will find the Phoenix, and my involvement with the police will come to an end. And then what? I sigh and slip farther into the water.
When I can no longer hold my breath, I rise out of the tub and gasp for air. The lukewarm water fails to comfort me, so I quickly finish bathing. In order to cease my obsessive worries over what will happen after the Phoenix is caught, I need a distraction. I immediately think of how it felt to be in Keenan’s arms, with his lips pressed against mine. I groan, now in desperate need of a distraction from my distraction.
I leave a trail of wet footprints as I walk toward my bedroom, the ends of my hair dripping onto my breasts and shoulders. When I reach my door, I notice the detective and Mrs. Whitmore talking at the bottom of the stairs. Their voices are too low for me to discern any words, but the housekeeper’s anxiety worries me. She notices me, and her eyes widen before she quickly looks away, muttering some nonsense about etiquette and the behaviour of proper ladies. The detective pauses mid-speech and frowns at the woman’s reaction, but then his eyes travel up the stairs to find me wet and naked. I cease drying my hair with the towel and smile brightly at them.
“Ah, Moira,” he says unperturbed, though his eyes linger on my body before glancing away. “I see you’ve finished bathing. I imagine it was agreeable.”
“Oh yes, very much so. Though it would have been more enjoyable if you had joined me.” This statement elicits further mumbling from Mrs. Whitmore who considers Keenan uncertainly as he slips on his coat. I’m immediately curious of his destination. “Going somewhere?”
going out.” He diverts his attention to the housekeeper and adds, “Mrs. Whitmore would you be so kind as to help Moira dress?”
“Of course, Mr. Edwards.”
She dutifully climbs the flight of stairs and avoids staring at me directly. The first day I had met her, I estimated her age to be ten years older than the detective, which would make her twenty years my elder. She had smiled warmly at me that day, but the fact I’m an empath unsettles her. If I weren’t an empath, she would have been ecstatic at the idea of Keenan finding a young woman. But my indecorous behaviour continues to disappoint her. I have no idea what the detective has said to her by way of explanation about my presence, but her mind whirs every time her eyes fall on me.
I feel it now as she ties my corset tighter than I prefer. She has never been outwardly rude to me, so I don’t provoke her further. Instead, I remain silent and thank her when she has finished. I slip into the rest of my clothing on my own, the white blouse and dark navy skirt fitting me better than the first time I had worn them. Even my boots no longer pinch as much, having grown accustomed to their narrow confines. Afterwards, I brush my hair, which doesn’t take me long. The dark strands that fall unevenly around my neck are still wet, but ever since I cut my hair I find it dries quicker.
The moment I descend the stairs, the detective glances up at me beneath the rim of his bowler hat and hands me my coat. He doesn’t speak as I slip into the extra layer, and I wonder if he’s angry at me for disregarding his earlier request to properly clothe myself after bathing.
When we’re seated in his motor vehicle, he finally addresses me. “I thought you agreed not to walk around naked, Moira.”
I sigh dramatically. “I can’t help it. I grew up in the pleasure house. People walk around naked all the time there, and no one fusses over it.” I give him a wicked grin, hoping to alleviate the tension. “Besides, Mrs. Whitmore and the other maid are getting used to it. They don’t mutter as much as before.”
Keenan gives me a sceptical look, but doesn’t press the issue. He drives toward the north district—where the more wealthy citizens of Braxton live—and his silence unnerves me. It’s late, and the only times he has ever taken me out in the evening was to a private event held by a member of the Elite. Normally, we dress up for such events, so I assume our destination is elsewhere. When he continues to remain silent as we enter ward twenty-four, my curiosity reaches its limits.
“Where are we going?”
He pulls into Duval Avenue, and our destination is a familiar estate. “I received a phone call from the Chief while you were bathing and was informed there has been another murder.” He pauses, watching my reaction carefully, and I bite my tongue so I don’t beg him to continue. “Mr. Anderson was murdered.”
To be honest, I expected immediate relief—maybe even joy—when hearing those words. Mr. Anderson, an Elite member and instigator of the memory house, was a vile man. He paid several monthly visits to the pleasure house and enjoyed torturing the concubines. I would have had the same fate if Scott hadn’t purchased me. Mr. Anderson always had an eye for me. My defiant nature roused his desire, and the fact I slipped out of his grasp heightened his need to possess me. So, naturally, I should have been pleased to hear of the man’s demise, yet I’m momentarily mystified before the dread finally sets in.
“The Phoenix?” I ask, even though I know the answer.
He parks in front of the estate and glances at me. “The Chief seems to think so.”
“But it’s only the first of the month, not the seventh.” I refuse to acknowledge the implications. “The three previous victims died on the seventh of each month.”
“Yes,” he says slowly. “Either this isn’t, in fact, the work of the Phoenix, or he is purposely changing the rules of his game.”
As we walk toward the entrance, I notice several other vehicles parked in front. The butler opens the door when we knock, and I follow Keenan into the foyer that is already occupied with several constables. The melancholy surrounding me presses on my mind, making me feel small and helpless, as if all the men in the room were holding me beneath water, and their sadness lures the darkness I keep locked in the back of my mind. She senses it and rises to the bait. The air tastes of the constables’ despair, but is overwhelmed by the cloying grief coming from somewhere farther in the house. Perhaps it’s Mrs. Anderson?