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My breathing increased as anxiety pooled in my gut. What had I gotten myself into?

4

Alexis

“I’d better let all the spirits go, then,” I said, my mind suddenly churning. As they said: in for a penny, in for a pound. “Your father has at least one other spirit trapped—the teen in the government building—but I’d bet there are more. If I let them all go, he won’t be able to pin down an actual motive. Well, other than someone wanting to release the spirits. That, or he’ll suspect his spirit-trapping person decided to take the job and shove it.”

Kieran watched me silently, his face blank. Zorn’s head turned slowly, now watching me, too. They didn’t seem amused.

“You already thought of that, huh?” I nodded and pretended like I was back to looking over the contract. “Give me a break. I’m just getting up to speed.”

But once my mind started churning, I couldn’t stop it. My gaze drifted to the side as I thought on the situation.

“The girl in the government building didn’t do anything truly heinous, just lashed out in teen rage. Magical people do things like that all the time. Why did he single her out, I wonder? Oh! Maybe something about that girl struck a personal chord with Valens. That might be the tie-in. And if he did go after her for personal reasons, there must be others. Many others. Valens isn’t exactly an easygoing guy, as your mother found out the hard way.”

I cleared my throat. I should probably rein it in a little.

“I only saw a few ghosts in the government building,” I went on, “and, of those, only the girl seemed put out, so he can’t be storing them all there. I’ll need to find his little strongholds. If the spirit trapper has to continually strengthen them—which he probably does since the girl in the government building said he stops in periodically—there can’t be that many. He’d run out of energy.” I ripped my gaze to Kieran before pointing at him. “We could take down the prison walls when you’re in a meeting with Valens. That would give you a strong alibi. You’d be in the clear.” I chewed on my lip. “Of course, Valens’s people are excellent at solving unsolvable crimes. My last assessment, the scene at the magical showcase, and the ghosts I talked to in the government building lobby—it won’t take him long to find me, even if you run interference. I have an awful lot of breadcrumbs littered around. I’ll need witness protection…if there is such a thing from Valens.”

“No one will implicate you. I’ll ensure it,” Kieran said, and that vicious gleam in his eyes flashed at me. I shivered, knowing he wasn’t lying when he said Demigods were ruthless.

I shrugged. “That’s if any of this has merit. It’s all assumption so far.”

Zorn huffed and glanced downward.

Before I could defend myself with the obvious—I’d told them I didn’t have any real experience—Kieran spoke.

“Getting back to what you said earlier, no, we hadn’t thought of letting all the spirits go at once, because…” He shook his head and a smile blossomed. “Because all of this is utterly foreign. You talk about ghosts as if they’re as normal as roses in spring. I still haven’t totally acclimated to the idea of my mother being trapped in the world of the living. I only found out because a high priestess arranged for a Ghost Whisperer’s entertainment as thanks for my keeping silent on…certain matters.” I felt my eyebrows lower. Man-whore. “I’d had no idea my mother wasn’t resting in peace. That she was somehow trapped. Since then, I’ve received very little information I could actually use. Certainly nothing to the extent of what you’ve just so easily laid out with barely a thought.” He was silent for a beat, looking at me with an unreadable expression.

My face heated. “It’s all guesswork at this point…” I mumbled.

“You continually blow my mind, Alexis. I’ve never met anyone like you. It’s…refreshing.”

I looked down at the contract, not seeing it. “Right. Well.” I opened the right drawer and extracted a pen. “First, I need to spend more time assessing the situation. The government building is a good place to start. I want to talk to that teen again. If I keep my head down and pretend I have a function there, I doubt anyone will notice me. I stay pretty invisible in the dual-society zones. I’m good at it.”

“There isn’t a day in your life where you are invisible, Alexis. You draw attention wherever you go.”

Something in his tone set my body to humming. More heat infused my cheeks, and at this point, I probably looked sunburnt.

I pushed it away, desperately trying to keep focus. I was working, and he was bad news. Best to avoid any strange and exhilarating feelings he created that he shouldn’t.

“Bria,” he said, his fingers steepled again and his gaze rooted to me.

“Who’s Br—”

A short woman with shoulder-length, platinum blonde hair stalked into the room from the little office. The sleeves of her Green Day shirt were torn off, revealing two tattoos—a snake curled around her right bicep, its eyes ruby red, and a panther crawled down her other forearm. Each ear had a mess of earrings and a stud adorned her button nose.

“Hi,” she said by way of introduction, nodding at me. “You’re a queer one, aren’t you?”

“Wh-what?” I put my hand to my chest like I was about to clutch pearls. For some reason, the loudness of her appearance contrasted strangely with the radio silence she’d maintained throughout my meeting with Kieran. It unsettled me. I hadn’t even felt a twinge of a presence.

Yes, I needed training. Clearly.

“You’re a queer one, I said.” A finger showcasing a short pink nail waggled at me. “Your soul is like a strobe light. Sometimes it burns brightly and sometimes it just simmers on idle. It’s a first.”

“Alexis, this is Bria, a level-five Necromancer.” Kieran gestured at her. “She has thorough knowledge of her craft and excellent fighting skills. She’s also savvy in a bind. She’ll be training you.”

“So…” I pointed at her before pulling the finger into a fist and lowering my hand. However small her stature, the woman was intimidating. Something about her suggested she’d be happy to dole out fat lips. “You can see spirits, too?”

Kieran stood, the movement stretching his T-shirt in all the right places. “Bria, take care of her. You know the requirements.”

She nodded and her gaze drifted down my body. “Why would you wear a suit to a place like this?”

I ran my hand down my front. “I thought we were going to the magical government building.”

“Ah.” Her hand rested on her hip and her fingers tapped her jeans. “So you wanted to stand out in a bad way, then? Make a mockery of his reputation, that sort of thing?” She nodded. “I dig that. Good idea.”

“She’s off-kilter right now, Bria,” Kieran said as he stepped around the desk into my space. His smell wrapped around me, comforting and sexy and delicious. I hated it. “You’ll want to watch yourself when she recovers. You’ll get a shock you aren’t expecting.”

“Quite a shock,” Zorn mumbled.

“My gracious. She’s affected the mighty Zorn?” Bria made an O with her lips. It melted into a smile. “I can’t wait.”

Zorn scowled at her and then looked away.

“I thought you could start here…” Kieran’s side bumped mine as he bent, reaching for the bottom right drawer. His arm skimmed my leg, revving up the low hum in my body. “You smell good, Alexis,” he murmured.

“I showered,” I blurted, flustered by his proximity.

The new girl would think I was a huge doofus.

Kieran extracted another file folder. He laid it in front of me, but didn’t move away. Instead, he leaned over me to open it, his side now resting snugly against mine. Fire sparked in my middle.

“This is unprofessional,” I murmured with a wispy voice. Bria snickered.

A huge doofus.

The first page in the file was a photograph of a shabby house hunkering within a mess of brambles. A blurry image, human-like, stared out of a cracked window. Boards covered the front door and the steps leading to the porch lay at odd angles, many of them badly broken.

“Lovely. Summer home?” I said, leaning closer to look at the man in the window. “It’s a spirit, right? It’s kinda…‘not there’ looking.”

“That’s the general consensus, yes,” Kieran said, turning the page. “The home has been abandoned for decades, and it’s reputed to be one of the most haunted places in the country. Tours go by every Halloween, and mediums often go there to practice.”

“How do they get in?” I tapped the boarded-up door in the picture.

“The boards have been removed, and the steps and porch marginally fixed up. A key is required to enter.” He turned the page, revealing another picture of the house. This time, an orb floated in one of the windows.

“I get it, I get it, it’s haunted.” I scooted my chair away from his warm body.

“I suggested we go there,” Bria said, crossing her arms over her chest and sagging in apparent boredom. “I want to see what I’m working with.” She nodded at me, clearly indicating that she wanted to assess my magic for herself. “We’re going to meet a Medium. She’s supposed to be the best Ghost Whisperer in the city. You guys will have something to talk about.” She winked at me.

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