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A Caitlynn O’Connell Novel, Book 2
Format: Trade Paperback
On Sale: June 25, 2013
Fan favorite Delilah Devlin delivers her second paranormal romantic thriller featuring unforgettable heroine, Caitlyn O’Connell. This time, the psychic PI joins her police detective ex-husband to find a demon pulling women into the past to commit their murders in a seedy Memphis hotel.
Private Investigator Caitlyn O’Connell is tapped by Memphis PD to discover who has been using a Memphis hotel as his killing ground. Women are going missing, and their bodies are found inside the walls of the hotel. But the bodies themselves? They appear to have been murdered in the distant past. With ghosthunters and cops crawling all over the crime scene, Cait and her detective ex-husband Sam Pierce race to find the demon responsible before he kills again.
Note for Readers: You must be of legal age in your country of origin to read this excerpt.
“Caitydid, quick! Get the bell jar!”
Annoyed at the interruption, the girl looked up from the homework spread on the dining room table to see her mother dart through the room, her flowered skirt swishing around slender legs. Mama was heading toward the kitchen, her hands cupped together.
The girl’s stomach tightened in a knot. She knew where this action was heading—yet another attempt by her well-meaning mother to bring her daughter out of her blue funk. “Mama, now? I have a test to study for.”
Laughter trilled. “It’s only math! Algebra can wait. Come, I’ll need your help.”
The girl sighed and set down her pencil. A basic understanding of math was needed—even for spell-weaving. Morin understood that. Morin also understood the need for grieving. The dead deserved respect. Her mother’s seeming need to inject happiness in their quiet house grated. As she followed her mother, she dragged her feet.
Lorene O’Connell’s face was animated, bright circles of color on her cheeks. She looked more excited than she had in weeks. The girl felt slightly ashamed of her resentment over how her mama was beginning to move on. She’d much prefer they hold on to their grief a while longer. Her daddy deserved an ocean of tears in remembrance.
Still, she went to the cabinet and stood on tiptoe, searching with her fingertips for the crystal bell jar. When she found it, she inched the jar off the shelf until it tilted, and then quickly grabbed the bottom rim before the glass fell to the floor.
The girl’s lips pressed together. She hated the childhood nickname, wishing her mama wouldn’t treat her like she was still five years old. She was Cait, not Caitydid, not Caitlyn. She preferred the stark, crisp version of her name. The single syllable made her feel older than her twelve years, something she wanted desperately to be, because if she were older, Morin might look at her the same way he did her mother.
With a smoldering heat in his eyes that never failed to get either of the O’Connell women warm and flustered.
She hurried to her mama as the older woman set her cupped hands atop the counter. “Place the jar above my hands. Be ready. I’ll slide my fingers free.”
Holding the jar so that it touched the tops of her mother’s hands, Cait waited as Mama’s fingers opened slowly and a butterfly emerged, flying with frantic wings, fluttering toward the top of the jar.
Her mama eased her hands from beneath the lip, and Cait dropped it down, trapping the butterfly inside. She eyed it, feeling a little sorry for the creature but not overly impressed with its appearance.
The insect was ordinary, bright yellow with muddy spots, a hint of black at the edges of its wings. Small. She glanced up, studying the banked excitement in her mama’s eyes. Excitement that Cait thought was overkill. The bug was hardly a treasure. Dozens just like it flitted about their backyard garden.
“Isn’t he lovely?”
Cait shrugged. “It’s a butterfly.”
“A clouded sulphur.” Her mother’s gaze left the butterfly to pin Cait with a frown. “You really should pay attention to your other lessons.”
“Is this something Morin taught you?” Cait asked, wondering how she’d missed it. Because for him, she remembered every single thing he’d ever said and never had to be scolded for daydreaming.
Her mama’s cheeks brightened. “Never mind. You can help me. But first, I need to gather some ingredients.”
Cait leaned an elbow on the counter and set her chin on her hand, her gaze studying the butterfly as it bounced against the clear crystal trying to escape.
Her mother bustled around her, talking to herself as she gathered the items she’d needed for whatever she was about to cook up.“Saffron, alcohol . . . Vodka should do nicely. Gum arabic for thickening . . .”
Cait turned her head to watch her mother bring her conjuring chalice to the counter and straightened. So, this was a serious spell.
Her attention caught, she followed her mother’s motions as she took saffron strands she’d already steeped in bowling water and left to cool, and placed them in the bottom of the chalice. Mama poured in the yellow water, followed by a generous dash of alcohol, and then added a sprinkle of the thickening agent.
She stirred the brew with her slender, double-edged athamé, and then set it aside, her gaze going to the butterfly again. “Here’s where I need your help, darling.”
Another thing she didn’t like being called, because her mother only used that endearment when she wanted something. Badly.
But her curiosity was caught. “What do you want me to do?”
“I need the dust from the butterfly’s wings.”
Cait swallowed. “Do I have to pluck the wings?” It was just a bug, but that still seemed unnecessarily cruel.
Her mama laughed. “No, silly. The butterfly must live. He’s precious.” Her head tilted, and a dreamy smile stretched her mouth. “You really should have paid better attention to your bedtime stories. Don’t you remember? Psyche was a mortal woman who loved Eros, the god of love. She traveled to the Underworld and performed arduous tasks to earn the right to stand among the gods and marry Eros. She became goddess of the butterflies.”
“That’s a story. A myth. There was no Psyche.”
Her mother’s dark brow arched. “Are you so sure? But there is a goddess, Gaia. And she has given you gifts. You mustn’t anger her with your stubbornness or she could take them away.”
The girl refrained from continuing the argument. She’d never win it because her mother wasn’t the most logical person on the planet. She believed the stars determined her fate. That the Goddess had a reason for the tragedy they’d endured. A wave of melancholy swept her at the thought of her papa. He’d been so strong and brave, and yet his will and fate hadn’t saved him from a tiny bullet.
A sigh burst beside her. She glanced up at her mother, caught the edge of sadness in Lorene’s soft brown eyes, and shrugged off her own emotion. She was her daddy’s girl. He wouldn’t like her to get weepy-faced. Not when her mama needed her to be strong. “What do you want me to do?” she asked in a gruff voice.
“Think about your papa, sweetheart, and put your hand beneath the jar. Let the butterfly brush against your fingers. I need dust from its wings.”
Cait expelled a breath and did as she was told, raising the edge of the jar then slipping her hand underneath. She held her fingers still while the butterfly flew around them, his frantic fluttering tickling the tips.
“That should be enough.”
Cait removed her hand and held her fingers to the sunlight streaming through the small kitchen window. Fine yellow particles clung to her skin.
Mama held out the chalice. “Swirl the butterfly’s scales in the liquid.”
Cait dipped her fingers into the chalice and swirled, thinking of her papa, of his dark auburn hair, his thick shoulders and chest, his dark uniform and towering height. When tears began to gather, she drew back her hand. “What did we just make, Mama?”
“Butterfly’s blood—an ink I will use to write a spell.”
“What kind of spell?”
A moment passed. Her mother’s lips thinned. “Go finish your homework, Caitydid.”
Knowing her mother had no intention of telling her, Cait filed away the list of ingredients in her mind. A question she’d bring to Morin. Something for them to laugh over during her next lesson.
She eyed her mother’s retreating figure, and then glanced at the butterfly, still fluttering inside the crystal. The thought of it staying trapped upset her, so she sought a saucer, slid it beneath the jar, and carried her burden to the garden.
Darkness sank as murky as the sultry summer air, as heavy as a blanket pulled over a child’s head to hide the monsters lurking in a shadowy closet. Street lamps popped and sizzled, darkening then lightening, but failing to flare bright enough or long enough to chase away deep pockets of inky black. Cait was creeped out, since all she had were glimpses of silvery light from a full moon rimming buildings and casting deeper shadows to cloak alleyways and doorway stoops.
Another full moon. An event she was acutely aware encouraged monsters, both human and supernatural, to come out and play. Edgy and beyond bored, she almost wished for something out of the ordinary to happen, but then quickly changed her mind. The last time her job had given her a real challenge she’d battled a demon in an attic while a wraith latched its freezing fingertips around the man sitting beside her, slapping him around like a rag doll.
For just a second, she relished that last memory. At least Jason had been awake.
For the umpteen thousandth time that night, Caitlyn O’Connell sighed. This time exaggerating the sound. Loudly. Actually, more of a groan than a sigh. A sound that invited Jason Crawford, lying back in the seat beside hers, to wake up and keep her company. She was bored as freaking shit. Surveillance was the one part of her job she truly hated. In fact, she thought she might like having her ingrown toenails cut better than sitting in a dark alley waiting for something to happen.
The weather irritated her even more. Although she’d stripped down to a tank top and jeans, the insides of her boots were damp from the oppressive summer heat. Not a trace of a breeze stirred, and they’d shut off the sedan’s engine to be able to hear vehicles approaching, so the AC sat silent.
What good was having magic if she couldn’t even muster up a spell to start a breeze? She’d tried waving, punching, wiggling her nose, but nada. Worse, she’d tried to come up with a poem to appease The Powers That Be, but hadn’t found a line that sounded even remotely elegant with “wheeze” tacked on the end.
She supposed she’d used up her last favor asking for intervention with Worthen’s monstrosity, the Civil War–era demon resurrected in his tomb, for which she’d had to beg The Powers and a certain sorcerer for help defeating. Or perhaps they didn’t like how she’d ignored Morin since she’d fought the demon and won. Whatever. She was a PI, not a witch. And right now, she had a job to do.
So why couldn’t she and Jason be watching the Peabody Hotel? Or any of the nicer hotels in the downtown area? The Deluxe Hotel was anything but deluxe. The marquee above the entrance was missing a few letters and read, DELUXE HO, which on second thought appeared apropos for the sleazy dive.
The whole area had an aura of neglect. Trash overfilled bins and cluttered the gutters. Worse, a small tattered sign was taped to the hotel’s glass door: AA MEETING, 9 PM SATURDAY.
Mocking her. The very thing her ex-husband, and now sometimes boyfriend, had been nagging her to locate.
And worse yet, the car she sat in reeked of stale onion-and-anchovy pizza. If she didn’t know him better, she might have thought her partner had ordered it on purpose. But he’d munched away happily, while she’d chosen to drag in the scents from the overfilled bin they’d parked beside. Better unknown trash than fishy-smelling onion breath.
Her cheeks billowed around another harsh exhalation. How the hell could Jason sleep through all the noise she’d been making? She aimed a scowl his way, caught the quick lowering of his eyelids and a twitch at the side of his lips.
She gave a grunt and turned back to watch the entrance of the seedy old hotel where Mrs. Oscar Reyes was scheduled to meet up with her boy-toy. Or so Mr. Reyes had informed them this morning after hacking into his wife’s Facebook account.
“Get me pictures of the bitch,” he’d said, clearing his throat when Cait had given him a narrow-eyed glare. “I won’ believe it ’til I see.”
She’d eyed his oily hair, brushy mustache, and stocky frame and wondered why he was so surprised his wife had sought the attention of a lover who called her his “mariposa rubia.”
“Blonde butterfly,” Jason had translated under his breath since Cait’s Spanish was limited to curses.
Oscar Reyes was the typical slimy client they attracted—spouses seeking ammunition for divorce court, employers wanting an employee followed for proof they hadn’t been injured badly enough to warrant workmen’s comp.
Since Oscar had already done the legwork and found cyberproof of his wife’s infidelity, Cait wondered why the hell he’d hired them to snap the shots. A $500 retainer plus their hourly fee would rack up quite a bill in no time. But she’d refrained from asking him.
The nice fat check they’d gotten from the Memphis PD for helping find her first partner’s killer and three young women who’d been kidnapped by a demon hadn’t lasted long. So she and Jason were back hustling for smaller fish. Which reminded her again of the half-eaten pizza in the backseat.
Ready to pitch the box into the trash bin, she paused when headlights flared as a car turned onto South Front Street. A low-slung sedan stopped in front of the hotel.
Cait waited for the beams to extinguish, and then raised her camera with its night-vision lens and took a look. Just as Oscar had predicted, Sylvia Reyes stepped out of the car, her bleached-blonde hair neon bright in the viewfinder. She wore an ass-hugging mini-skirt, four-inch heels, and a top that rode the curves of her full breasts.
Cait clicked off a couple of shots of the woman entering the hotel, then reached out and backhanded Jason’s belly. “Time to move.”
“Mmm, wha’?” he said, pretending to waken from a deep sleep.
She rolled her eyes. “Like you’ve been sleeping? It’s Reyes’s wife. Let’s see if we can catch her with her boyfriend.”
“Sound grumpy.” Jason flashed her a smile. “The anchovies gettin’ to you?”
She shrugged, pretending the stench hadn’t made her slightly nauseous. “It’s your car. The smell’ll be here for a week.”
With quiet moves, they opened their doors. Cait quickly replaced the special lens and hung the camera on her shoulder before jogging to the entrance. She pushed through the grimy glass, lifted her head in a vague nod to the clerk at the reception desk, and walked to the elevators, eying the red digital numbers above the doors. There were two elevators. Only one was moving, and it stopped and held at floor three.
She elbowed past two men and a woman laden with cameras and equipment bags. One held out a device Cait thought might be a light meter, but she changed her mind when a red light beeped on the top and it clicked like a Geiger counter.
“Do you see that?” the chubby man with a Fu Manchu said, elbowing the skinny dude beside him. “We’ve got something here.”
“Told you there’s lots of activity in this old place.”
Activity? She eyed them again, read the logo on their bags, and rolled her eyes. REEL PIs: PARANORMAL INVESTIGATORS. As if. She stuck her finger in the elevator button, doing her best to ignore the morons. She hadn’t heard so much as a whisper or a wail since she’d entered the hotel.
“Faster goin’ up the stairs,” Jason said, pulling her arm with one hand and pointing toward the stairway door. He flipped the door handle and pushed through. “After you,” he said with a flourish of his hand. His grin said he knew how much she disliked racing up three flights.
She gave him the stink-eye and started the climb. When she reached the third-floor landing, she glanced through the door’s rectangular window, saw no one in the hallway, and opened the door.
The corridor smelled as bad as it looked—urine to complement the yellowed beige walls, mildew to enhance the brown-and-green plaid carpet.
Gasping to catch her breath, she looked left, then right, and caught a flash of impossibly blonde hair a moment before Sylvia Reyes turned the corner farther down the hallway. Cait hurried after her, on the scent of a woman about to cheat on her husband. She turned the corner, entering a hallway marked by a door frame for a double door that no longer existed. The corridor was empty. No room doors along the short hall closed to indicate where their target had gone.
Jason drew up beside her, his eyebrows rising. “What now? Listen for moaning?”
Giving him a shove, she took a step past the hallway door frame, and then halted, some instinct keeping her from pushing forward. Or maybe what stopped her was the yellow police tape covering one of the doors. Not something she had time to ponder right that moment because a strange hum sounded. A bulb popped, plunging the hallway into darkness. The hairs on her arms lifted a second before electricity arced from a light switch, sending out a bolt like lightning that shot toward the ceiling, then turned, traveling toward her, hitting doorways as though searching for ground. The jagged dagger of electricity darted, then blinked out, but not before she saw a figure, one in four-inch hot pink heels, her eyes rounding in terror—a figure she could see straight through to the piss-yellow wall behind her.
Darkness took the figure. Then another hissing arc flared from the light switch, brightening the hallway again. Sylvia Reyes was gone.
Jason grabbed her arm, pulled her back around the corner, and flattened her against the wall with an elbow digging into her belly.
The white bolt flickered past the corner, then dove to the floor, sparking out with a fizzle.
“Bad wiring?” he whispered.
She shook her head, shoved away his elbow, and stepped into the hall again. The faint smell of something burning lingered in the air. The hall was once again empty. And dark.
Cait held still, listening, and then she heard the sound. A soft wail. Like a distant echo. “Hear that?” she whispered.
“No. What do you hear?”
She swallowed. “Not anyone living.”
Then the faint sound of whispers rose, maybe half a dozen voices joining in chorus. Her hand dropped to the camera at her side. She flipped off the lens cap, raised the camera, and looked through the viewfinder. Nothing out of the ordinary, other than a really sleazy flophouse. Still, she clicked off a couple of shots. “Let’s go.”
“Don’t want to wait around until she leaves? A shot of the lady kissing her boyfriend good-bye would close this case.”
Cait shook her head, not wanting to voice what she suspected. Not before she was sure of exactly what she’d seen. “No. Let’s get back to the office. I have to look at something.”
Jason knew her well enough not to ask any more questions. The fact she was cutting the surveillance short told him they had a problem.
This time they took the elevator. The sooner she got out of here the better. Well, she’d gotten what she’d wished for. Something out of the ordinary had definitely happened.
Back at the Delta Detective Agency, Cait slipped the memory card from her camera into the slot in her computer. With a couple of clicks, she found the file of pictures and opened it.
There was Sylvia Reyes outside the Deluxe, her small cat-like features coated in too much makeup, her coarse blonde hair flattened to rest limply on her shoulders. Her expression was furtive, but excitement sparkled in her dark eyes. Another shot caught her too-tight skirt hugging her J-Lo butt. Then Cait clicked on the last two shots, unsure what she might see inside the third-floor hallway. Maybe nothing. Maybe something she didn’t want to see.
The shot showed an empty hallway. The photo was blurred, but the differences between the hall’s actual appearance and what was on the computer screen was startling. Gone were the yellowed walls and crappy brown and green carpet. In its place was wallpaper—a foiled gold-and-wine-colored paisley. The carpet was a solid blood red. The fixtures—lights, switches, brass plates on the door—were shiny and new.
“Where’d you take that?” Jason asked, hovering at her shoulder.
“At the Deluxe,” she said, closing out the file. She suppressed a shiver of dread.
“No kiddin’? How come I didn’t see that?”
She didn’t dare look his way. He’d see her shock and ask more questions. Questions she didn’t have any quick answers for.
“Tacky as hell, but—”
She gave a sharp shake of her head. “That’s not the way it is.” At last, she shot an upward glance.
Jason pushed out his lips. His gaze settled on her, waiting.
She knew he wouldn’t let her up from the chair until she gave him at least a clue of what was going on in her head. “It’s the way the hotel was.”
His gaze narrowed. “What do you mean?”
She rubbed a hand over her face. “I don’t know what I mean.”
A frown dug a line between his blond-brown brows. “I don’t think Reyes is going to pay us for those shots or our time since we didn’t get what he wanted.”
“Reyes is the least of our problems,” she muttered.
Jason groaned. “It was the anchovies, right? This is your revenge?”
Her mouth tipped up into a smirk. “You think this is all about you? Poor little rich boy.”
He shook his head, grinning, but the fine lines beside his hazel eyes deepened with worry. “Since this case looks like major woo-woo is involved, you have the lead. Where to first?”
Cait grimaced. Once again, she had no doubt they were headed straight down the rabbit’s hole. “I need to talk to Sam about that taped-off room.”