“Didn’t need to be said, sir.”
Kieran nodded and extracted his suit. “Oh, and tell the guys that I’ll take cooking duty tonight. I want to get a first-hand account of Alexis’s first day.”
And a larger glimpse into her life. He wanted to find out all her secrets, and then he’d make her scream his name.
“There’s the Medium,” Bria said quietly. She sat in the driver’s seat of my new car, leaning her elbow against the window ledge and covering half her face with her hand. The rest was concealed by the visor pulled down in front of her.
She turned off the engine but didn’t move to get out. Quiet settled between us as we stared out at the driveway of the plain, nondescript, though apparently incredibly haunted house. A woman with bright red hair waited beside a newer Mercedes parked in front of us.
“Kieran knew of her,” Bria whispered. “She’s the best in the area. Damned expensive.”
“How much is expensive?” I whispered, too, not sure why we were being quiet but going with it.
“Five hundred bucks an hour.”
“Five hundred bucks an hour?” There went being quiet. “What the hell? Who would pay that?”
“Your new boss, apparently. Highway fucking robbery, if you ask me, but he didn’t, so there you go. Then again, he isn’t going to spare any expense when it comes to his new pet. Demigods are all the same. If I were you, I’d ask for a bunch of expensive shit, starting with pants in a size long. Go ahead, you deserve it.”
“A bunch of expensive shit…and a lovely little leash and collar, yeah.” I shook my head and put my hand on the door handle. “Why are we waiting in here?”
“Sure, yeah, get a leash and collar, if that’s what you’re into. Diamond stud that shit. Kink can be fun. Just remember your safe word.”
I could tell she had misunderstood me, since it was clear she wasn’t kidding.
“No, I mean, leash and collar…as in…he’d try to control me. Like…he’s possessive.”
“Ah, right. Yeah, that’s a given. Demigods are a huge buzz kill with all the controlling shit. Don’t worry, they do it to everyone. That’s what you get for banging him. Hindsight, though, right? He’s hot, I get ya. Okay, first order of business—”
I put up a finger in indignation. “I did not bang him.” No need to mention how close I’d come. I’d been freezing cold and in need of body warmth, and he’d been mostly naked—the saintliest of souls would have been tempted. “This is strictly a professional situation.”
Her lips pulled down at the corners. “Fooled me. Okay, check this out. I’m using all of my senses to get a feel for what’s around me. Feel for that weird little tingle between your shoulder blades that means someone’s watching you. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
I did, so I nodded.
She nodded with me. “Good. You’re shit at it, because you didn’t know I was in that back room, so you’ll need to practice a lot. Don’t focus on any one thing with your eyes. You do that, and your brain ignores everything you’re not focusing on. Let movement come and go around you. Anything out of the ordinary will trigger you. I assume so, at any rate. Your experiences in the magical showcase and the dual-society zone should’ve honed that ability.” Without looking, she reached over and put her hand on my forearm. “I read a bunch of your file. Sorry to snoop. I have to get a little creepy when I gather information before taking an assignment, but you had so much crazy shit in there, I couldn’t stop reading. Your whole situation is truly whack. I’m jealous.” She pulled her hand back. “At that fucked up fair, you were probably always looking out of the corner of your eye, so you should be good at that.”
I frowned, because she made it sound like the dual-society zone was dangerous, when actually, people mostly just minded their own business. I hadn’t grown accustomed to looking out of the corner of my eye at all. Not even at the freak show, the magical showcase she was talking about.
Clearly, I should have been…
“We’re in a car, so this is a moot point at the moment, but you’ll want to key in to sounds around you,” she went on. “Now, in addition to those things, I also tune in to my environment magically. It sounds like our abilities are similar, but I won’t know how similar until we get in some field tests. For the time being, suffice it to say that I’m a kick-ass Necromancer, and can sense souls. I can feel…” She made a claw with her hand and touched the center of her chest. “What I’m doing right now is assessing what we’re about to walk into.”
I nodded even though I had no idea how to duplicate her efforts.
“I don’t sense anyone other than the Medium,” she said. “Not anyone living, I mean. She didn’t bring an army or even a bodyguard. Not that I can feel at the moment, at any rate.”
“You’re always suspicious of foul play, then?”
“Yes. Always. You never know when some dipshit will turn on you and try to stick a knife in your skull. I know this for a fact. My old roommate was a real piece of work.” She got out before grabbing her backpack from the rear passenger seat. “Come on.”
I glanced at my purse, resting at my feet. Then at the dirty house with people crowded at the windows, staring out like they were starving and there was a pizza logo painted on the car.
Shivers raced across my skin. Those people would try and latch on to me with desperate abandon, I could already tell. They’d yell at me, anxious to be heard. They’d clutch at my arms, wanting to be felt. They’d cry, trying to find peace.
That house was filled with torment.
Suddenly, I wished I hadn’t signed that contract. That I hadn’t agreed to take this job.
“Hey.” Bria wrapped on the window with her knuckles, her skull ring with the two rubies for eyes clattering against the glass. “We’re good. There aren’t any surprises. We’ve got a boring afternoon ahead of us. Let’s go.”
She had no idea what she was in for. Nothing but surprises awaited us in that house.
“Hello. Bria?” I heard through the glass as I pulled on the door handle.
A woman in her fifties, wearing a burgundy pants suit with the jacket flaring away from the white blouse beneath it, stalked forward with a smile. The combination of her tight, shoulder-length curls and her large red cheeks made her look like a doll. Her smile showed a chipped front tooth.
“I’m Clare Lawson. I’ll be working with you today.” The woman reached Bria and stuck out her hand.
Bria shook it without ceremony. “Hey, Clare. Did you get briefed?”
“Yes, yes.” Clare glanced at me. “And this is Alexis?”
“Exactly. Alexis has a unique way of working with spirits, so she’ll do her thing while you do yours, and I’ll see what’s what.”
“Well, great.” Clare puffed out a breath with her smile, a little winded from striding over.
Dreading this with everything I had, I crawled out of the car, taking my phone but leaving my bag behind.
“Oh, there’ll be a clean place to set down personal affects,” Clare said, noticing.
I shut the door firmly. “It’s okay. I don’t need anyone’s grubby paws on it.” I pointed at the surly face staring at me through the window.
“Oh...” Clare’s smile melted away in confusion as she turned to see what I was pointing at. Her confusion intensified.
“Let’s do this.” Bria stalked forward, her camo backpack slung across her shoulder.
“Yes, of course.” With a last worried look at me, Clare followed Bria.
This in no way looked like a magical neighborhood. The desolate street boasted not a single car besides the Beemer, the sidewalks were cracked and the curbs were crumbling, and the abandoned houses sagged helplessly. On many of them, the siding and boards swung loose, blackened with dirt and covered in chipped paint. Weeds choked front yards and bare tree branches twisted into the blue sky.
We were in a ghost town.
Without consciously intending to, I started down the disheveled sidewalk, moving away from the house we’d come to see. A strange buzzing permeated my senses. It seemed to emanate from the houses, vibrating along the rotted wood siding, draping over the doors and windows.
Three houses down from the first house, I held my hand up to one of the doorways. The buzzing beckoned me, asking that I enter.
No. Not me. The squishy part in my center. It was tugging at my spirit. My soul.
“Is this the spirit trapper?” I asked quietly, thinking about the magical electricity I’d encountered in the government building. It hadn’t beckoned to me, but when I’d focused on it, it had buzzed.
A strange scratch between my shoulder blades invaded my thoughts, the feeling of being watched Bria had mentioned. I usually equated that feeling to dangerous things. But Kieran had vowed to protect me.
“Jack, is that you?” I called, stalling. If it wasn’t, I’d be running.
“Yes,” a deep male voice whispered. “I’ve got your back.”
“Do you know if there is anyone in these houses?”