This week I’m featuring my paranormal romance…
A mysterious grimoire of Celtic origins has been linked to two murders. To break the case, psychic investigator Zach Douglass seeks the assistance of a gifted translator, beautiful Jenny Murdoch. But Jenny has a dark secret. She’s spent years repressing a potent psychic talent: her ‘tiger’, which she believes killed her parents. Jenny will crack the grimoire and learn to trust her tiger, but she’ll fall under suspicion for the murders. And one of the victim’s was Zach’s fiancée.
Note: This novel is intended for mature readers.
Death has a unique stench, unpleasant and distinctive. The moment the elevator doors slid open, a whiff of the sickly-sweet, slightly rusty tang alerted Zach Douglass he’d arrived at the correct floor of the posh downtown Portland hotel. He strode down the thickly carpeted hall, followed closely by his partner. They rounded the corner into the hotel’s east wing and the heavier reek of feces assaulted his nostrils. He grimaced, erected a mental barrier against the offensive odor and paced off the final steps to the open door of the room.
The uniform stationed in the hall stood with legs braced and thumbs hooked under his gun belt. His stance bespoke authority, but the green cast to his skin and beads of perspiration on his upper lip screamed unease. He glanced warily at Zach, dilated pupils darkening his eyes. Zach tightened his mental shield, nodded to the man, flashed his security clearance and slipped under the bright yellow crime scene tape.
The spacious room hid its secrets behind a swarm of investigators performing their meticulous duties. A quiet buzz of voices whispered into individual recording devices, providing a white-noise barrier to the outside world. Zach elbowed his way in, clearing a path for his petite partner. Moving with hive-like choreography, the crowd shifted to reveal a man’s naked body in all
its grim degradation.
The victim had been handsome, a young Viking with the firm flesh of vigorous health. He lay spread-eagled on the floor, his face frozen in panicked disbelief. A thin line of some granular substance encircled the body and crossed the victim’s flesh at wrists, neck and ankles. The wound—a raw, gaping tear slitting the man’s torso from collarbone to pelvic ridge—seized Zach’s gaze. Body parts that should never have seen the light of day littered the plush carpeting.
Stomach acid surged into Zach’s throat and threatened to erupt. He wrenched his gaze from the blood-bright scene, turned and all but bowled his partner, Angie Sutcliffe, over. Grabbing her arm, he pushed her out into the hall, sank to the floor and dropped his head between his knees. After a moment’s focused breathing, he said, “Sorry, Angie, but I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“I still haven’t,” she said. Her voice held a grim edge. “Tell me what you saw. It’ll prepare me and steady you—help put things in perspective.”
He nodded, took several deep breaths and described the eviscerated corpse. His voice calmed as he spoke, proving her right, as usual. A giant intellect housed itself in Angie’s trim body. Five-foot-two—if she stretched—boyish figure, slim hips and small breasts. Short, curly blonde hair tumbled around a pixie face and framed the brightest blue eyes Zach had ever lost himself in.
Mischief often danced in Angie’s eyes, accompanied by an infectious delight in life, but her unsophisticated appearance disguised a razor-sharp mind and an unparalleled psychic talent. Whenever the Institute for Paranormal Research needed a crack investigator on site, they sent Angie. Zach understood his role. He kept the skeptics at bay so Angie could accomplish her task. They made a good team, professionally and personally.
“Right,” he said. “I’m better now. I can see a pattern emerging. The dead guy’s been laid out in a pentacle. The salt—or whatever that stuff is—it’s a warding circle.” He looked up into Angie’s blue eyes, which had darkened with concern. “Some serious shit happened in there—more than just murder, maybe ritual sacrifice.”
She nodded and said, “Okay. I’m forewarned. I can handle it. If you’re all right, let’s get back in there and see what the room has to tell me.”
Zach stood and his six-foot-two frame towered above her. “I’m fine,” he said. “I won’t lose it again.” He pushed his way back into the room and broke a trail through investigators straight to the corpse. The color drained from Angie’s delicate features, but her eyes narrowed and hardened with determination. She knelt to study the scene.
“I take it you two are the paranormal investigators?” The gruff voice sounded at Zach’s shoulder. The emphasis on the last two words held an all too familiar derision. Zach turned to face the speaker, instinctively side-stepping to place himself between the tall, rumpled man and Angie, who knelt beside the body, already deeply immersed in observation.
“I’m Zach Douglass,” he said and offered his hand to the detective. “My partner, Angie Sutcliffe, is already working. I’d appreciate it if you waited to speak to her. Perhaps we could move over there, give her a little space?”
The gray-haired detective eyed Angie skeptically, but allowed Zach to maneuver him across the room.
“I’m sorry,” Zach said. “I didn’t catch your name.”
“Lieutenant Anderson. I’m in charge of this investigation. Mind telling me how you two got here so fast?”
“Of course not, Lieutenant. I see you have our authorization.” He gestured to the piece of paper clutched in Anderson’s large hand. “We’re from the Institute for Paranormal Research.”
“Yeah, but according to this, your institute is in Seattle.” Anderson waved the form in Zach’s face. “How did you get here before the coroner even arranged transport for the stiff? Who tipped you off?”
Zach smiled, a tight-lipped little grimace. “Like I said, it’s an institute for paranormal research. Certain of our members are attuned to crimes involving, shall we say, unusual circumstances. My employer sent Ms. Sutcliffe and myself down to Portland in his private helicopter when news of this occurrence crossed his desk. He arranged for our clearance while we were in flight. The final member of our team will arrive later in the day. She’s driving down. We’ll want our own transportation while we’re here.”
“So, you’re telling me some freak in Seattle felt, what—a disturbance in the force—and your boss whisked you two down here on a whim?”
“I wouldn’t call it a whim, Lieutenant.” Zach bristled, but held his temper. He glanced meaningfully at the body. “You can see our information was accurate.”
“Too accurate to my way of thinking,” the older man said. “How do I know your informant wasn’t involved?”
An inappropriate bubble of laughter rose in Zach’s throat and he coughed to cover it, raising his fist to hide the attendant smile. “You’re welcome to check her out, but our informant is an eighty-five-year-old great-grandmother. Mary Ellen hasn’t left Seattle in, oh, I’d guess about twenty-five years, and I seriously doubt she has the physical strength to subdue a man in his prime.” He coughed again and forced his face into a stern mask. “But by all means, Lieutenant Anderson, question her yourself.”
“Don’t think I won’t.”
“Speaking of questioning people, did anyone hear anything?” Zach nodded toward the gutted corpse. “He had to have screamed like a banshee.”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But if anyone heard him, they’re not talking. None of the people in the surrounding rooms reported so much as a loud snore last night.” Anderson shrugged and turned his attention to Angie. “Here! What’s she doing?”
The detective stepped forward, but Zach laid a restraining hand on his arm. “Relax, Lieutenant,” he said. “Angie has investigated a number of murders. She won’t contaminate your evidence.” His gaze flickered to the corpse. Angie knelt just outside the glittering circle, eyes closed, face tranquil. Her outstretched hands skimmed millimeters from the victim’s open-eyed face.
Anderson scowled fiercely and brushed Zach’s hand away. “You didn’t answer my question. What’s she doing?”
“I can’t be sure,” he said, his hand dropping back to his side, “but I’d guess she’s checking for lingering impressions.”
Puzzlement settled on Anderson’s lined face. Zach sighed and explained. “A really talented psychic can sometimes read a dead man’s final thoughts, and Angie’s the best I’ve ever known. She says it’s kind of like a picture burned into the victim’s brain. If she gets there quick enough, sometimes she can filter it out.” A tingle crept across his spine and he shuddered. “It’s nasty work, reading a dead man’s mind. Most psychics won’t touch it.”
Anderson’s shoulders hunched forward. “I’m not saying I believe this mumbojumbo,” he said, “but I’m with the ones who wouldn’t try. Sounds disgusting.”
Zach shrugged. “I’m guessing the average Joe feels the same way about the medical examiner’s job. But it’s got to be done.”
“Good point.” The detective scratched his chin and glanced thoughtfully at Angie. “So, you think she might be able to tell me who killed this guy?”
“I doubt she’ll be able to give you a name,” Zach said, “but if we’re lucky, she might be able to give your sketch artist a detailed description. Heck, if the artist is at all sensitive, she might be able to transfer the face directly to his mind—let him draw it from memory, so to speak.”
“No shit?” Skepticism mingled with amusement in the older man’s voice. “If this crap is on the up-and-up, someone like her could be a real asset to the force.” He narrowed his eyes and studied Zach’s face. “Are you one of the head-jobs?”
Zach laughed, a quick bark of sound. “If you’re asking if I’m psychic, the answer is yes, but only marginally. I have some psychic ability, though not as much or as well developed as Angie’s or other psychics’ at the Institute. I’m learning to open my talent, to maximize what I’ve got.
“Head job, though? Depends on your definition, now doesn’t it? I’m a researcher with a degree in paranormal psychology. I work with psychics, but I study them while they study other stuff. I suppose that might qualify me for the title.”
“No offense,” said Anderson, flushing slightly. “I just wondered why you were standing here chewing the fat with me, if you were supposed to be examining the scene.”
“None taken.” Zach took perverse satisfaction in jabbing the detective with his next words. “Actually, you are my job. I’m preventing you from interrupting my psychic investigator’s work.”
Anderson stared at Zach with incredulity. The color drained from the detective’s lined face, to be replaced by heightening degrees of angry red. Zach observed the play of emotions and judged his timing carefully. He spoke just before he thought Anderson would pop.
“Like I said, Lieutenant, relax. Angie knows what she’s doing—and so do I.”