Authors: Tiffany Allee
Tags: #paranormal romance, #demon, #incubus, #succubus, #banshee, #killer, #detective, #stalker, #crime, #tiffany allee, #files from the otherworlder enforcement agency, #urban fantasy, #chicago
The spell tracer. I pulled Amanda’s file from my bag and glanced through the evidence list. No mention of a bit of hair that didn’t belong to Amanda. No evidence baggy. That would have certainly been recorded. Her spell kit was listed, and there was nothing obvious missing from it. Suddenly, I wished I had a better understanding of witchcraft.
Was the hair already gone because she’d used it? Had she traced the bastard down to his den?
“Did you confront him without me?” I whispered.
I hissed. It fit. That’s why he’d selected a cop—an otherworlder with the ability to defend herself both with her witchcraft and the power of the law. Not to mention her sidearm. She didn’t fit his victim profile, or his modus operandi. He killed her because he had to. Because she found his ass and was going to bring him in.
It was fast, too. I went through the timeline in my head. Sunday night, we met at the second victim’s house, where Amanda took the sample of her hair. Monday morning, I’d gone to the Medical Examiner’s and talked to Marisol, while Amanda prepped her tracking spell. Monday at lunchtime, Amanda stood me up for lunch—she was on his trail by then. Monday afternoon, I interviewed the second victim’s boyfriend, Jason, while Amanda ate a late lunch. Sometime between my lunch at The Grill House and Amanda’s, she’d caught up to the incubus and he’d enthralled her. Monday evening, Amanda met back up with the incubus at Sylvester’s. She took him home, made dinner for him.
The image of the two plates floated back into my mind. One practically licked clean, the other only partially finished. Amanda was usually a good eater—the late lunch, of course. She’d made the meal for him. She wasn’t hungry. Then he’d taken her in her room. Drained her dry while she probably begged him for more.
My stomach heaved, and I ran for the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet before I vomited. I rinsed out my mouth in her sink and dried my eyes. The bastard was going to pay for reducing her to something that couldn’t think for herself. For using her like a battery to recharge himself. For taking away my friend.
I grabbed her hairbrush from the bathroom drawer and walked back to the kitchen. I wasn’t technically stealing evidence from a crime scene. Not an active one, anyway. The police had been here and left, and I needed something that was closely connected to Amanda. I was no expert on spell ingredients, but objects didn’t get much more personal than DNA. I shoved the file back into my bag and tucked the brush into a side pocket. Giving the room a last glance, I headed for the door.
After some cursing, a bit of luck, and a few trips a
round the block, I found a parking spot in front of the downtown high-rise where Natalie Leigh’s office was located. The property reeked of money, and the lobby had that new building smell to it—fresh paint and new carpet. The building looked newer than some, but not
new. I gave the receptionist a quick nod, but couldn’t force a polite smile onto my face. “Natalie Leigh’s office?”
“Identification, please.” Her voice was nasally, and her nose was red. Despite her obvious cold, she kept her fake, perky smile in place.
I grimaced and pulled my badge out and flashed it at her. One advantage of being an otherworlder was immunity to most human diseases. But it didn’t make being around normals with a runny nose any less disgusting.
She gestured toward the elevators. “Fourteenth floor. As you exit the elevator, turn right. Her office is all the way at the end of the hall.”
“Thanks,” I muttered, and headed for the elevator. The receptionist picked up her phone, no doubt to warn Natalie of my impending arrival.
My cell started ringing while I waited for the elevator to arrive. I flipped it open and put it to my ear. “Confirmed with the bar owner’s daughter that we’re looking for a man. That’ll teach you to doubt my gut,” I said without preamble.
Aidan whistled. “Nice info to have. Get anything else?”
“I’m working on something now. You got any info for me?”
“Not much. Just that we can’t find anyone staying at hotels near Sylvester’s that matches what we’re looking for. No one who’s been there for several weeks. No one acting suspiciously.”
The elevator dinged. “Look, let’s talk later. I gotta go.”
The fourteenth floor was as nicely decorated as the first, with matching sconces on the walls and the same dark and light green carpets swirled together to form geometric designs. But this floor lacked the scent of new paint. Instead, it smelled of upholstery and carpet and computers—like most offices.
As the receptionist said, the etched glass door at the end of the hallway had Natalie Leigh’s name inscribed on it, with one word below her name to denote her occupation.
I opened the door and slipped through. I expected to see another receptionist, but there was only a waiting room equipped with padded chairs and small stands holding old
The door at the other end of the room stood open, and as I took a step toward it, a voice called out.
“Come in, Detective.”
The woman behind the cherry desk didn’t look like a formidable witch. She especially didn’t look worth the undoubtedly astounding rate she charged the police department for her services.
Witches—real witches—weren’t cheap.
Not that Amanda hadn’t been a real witch. She could hold her own. But amateur witches like Amanda were self-taught. Covenant witches were trained since birth, pledged to their particular branch of magic, and raised from bloodlines that could be traced back into prehistory. They were as inhuman as I was—or more.
The witch’s short, dark hair gave her a tomboyish appearance, but her face was pretty and heart-shaped, delicate. No one would mistake her for a man, even if her frame hadn’t been so slight. Her light green eyes stood out in stark contrast to her dark hair and golden skin, making her gaze almost startling. She stood behind the desk and held out her hand to me. As we shook, I took in the rest of her. She stood even shorter than me—maybe five feet tall—and she wore an expensive-looking green blouse and black slacks. The blouse, I noticed, matched her eyes. Not to mention the carpet.
“I’m Natalie Leigh. Please call me Natalie. Detective, how can I help the police department today?” Her voice was soft and lilting. I would have bet the witch could sing.
“I’m Detective Kiera McLoughlin. I need your help finding a killer.”
She narrowed her eyes. Cute or no, the witch was no fool. “I haven’t received any paperwork. No notification you were coming.” She grinned, and the expression was almost feral. “No check.”
I gritted my teeth and concentrated on not pulling my gun. “Well, you wouldn’t have. I’m hiring you myself, outside of the department.” I hesitated, but something told me that she would know if I lied. “My partner was recently killed, and I’ve been taken off the case. The PD won’t hire you except as a last resort, because you’re too damn expensive. Her killer may be gone by then.”
Natalie leaned back in her chair and watched me. I stifled the urge to tap my foot or play with my fingernails, or something equally annoying, and watched her right back.
“As you said, Detective, I’m damn expensive. And locator spells are particularly pricey.” She waved a hand in the air. “Rare ingredients, you understand. You are prepared to pay my fee?”
“Yes,” I said through my clenched jaw.
“Fine, I think you’re good for it. Did you bring something of the victim’s? Or even better, an item belonging to the killer?”
I snorted. “Yeah, like I’d be coming to your expensive ass if I had something of his.”
Natalie laughed, a musical sound, and only the knowledge of how much she was going to deplete my savings account dispelled her charm. Locator spells were much easier if you had an item owned by the person you searched for. Any amateur witch would have been able to pull that off. Trying to find them with something that was only secondarily connected to the target of the spell—like an item from someone they killed—required talent.
And my brave partner had tried it without a second thought.
The hairbrush was still in the side pocket I’d pushed it into. The pocket was one I didn’t use much so there was little chance of the space having anything of mine inside to mess up the energy or whatever witches used that would connect the hair in the brush with its owner. I set it gingerly on the desk and watched Natalie expectantly.
“How long since she used this?”
“Couldn’t be more than a couple of days.”
“Good. Follow me and bring it with you, please.”
Natalie led the way through the door in the side of her office that I’d mistaken for a bathroom when I’d first walked in. It led to a short hallway, with a bathroom on one side and a closed door on the other. By the size of the door I guessed it led to a closet. At the end of the hall was another room, this one even bigger than her office. Shelves lined the room, covering more than half of the walls. Where the shelves were absent, complicated glyphs could be seen, each intricately drawn.
Her casting room.
The circle appeared to be etched into the floor rather than just painted on. Some of the glyphs brushed on the walls were white, the others red. I grimaced at the red ones. In the poor lighting they looked like they’d been drawn in blood.
“It’s not blood,” Natalie said, voice full of amusement. “It’s not regular paint either, but I promise it’s all plant based.”
She hummed while she pulled ingredients off the shelves and started painting a symbol in the center of the circle. Her soft voice barely carried to me, and I wondered if she even knew she hummed.
“Okay then.” She stepped back from the symbol she’d been drawing and turned to me. “I need you to tell me everything you know about the person we’re looking for. Is he human? Otherworlder?”
I hesitated. Telling her he was probably an incubus might get me booted from her office. At the very least she wasn’t likely to take me seriously. “We don’t know for sure. Something that can kill without leaving marks.” That at least, was the truth.
“So not a vampire then? Could he be a witch?”
I just stared at her for a moment. I hadn’t even considered the possibility that the killer was a witch. I was pretty sure that only a Covenant witch would be capable of killing someone with magic, especially by draining their psychic energy. And Covenant witches were rare—not as rare as a species that by most accounts was extinct—but still rare. And ones with the power to kill without leaving a trace? They must be rarer still. A brief image of Natalie standing over Amanda’s prone body flashed in my mind. No. The witch could have done it—maybe. But she struck me as too smart to kill in her own backyard. “Not a vamp for sure,” I said. “What are the odds that a witch powerful enough to kill several women without making a mark got under whatever radar you guys have on the city?”
She gave me a thin smile. “Not likely. A witch powerful enough to kill like that and evade detection? I can count the ones living in this country on one hand. And none of them are likely suspects.”
“An amateur witch couldn’t have—”
She held up a hand and looked like she was trying not to laugh from the sheer insanity of my suggestion. “Not possible.”
“Good. Then I’d say we’re not looking for a witch, either.”
She replaced some of the bottles she’d removed from the shelf and took down a metal plate that had little feet on the underside to prop it up, and then waved me into the circle.
“Before we begin, I want to remind you there is only a very small chance this will work. And I cannot assume responsibility for any unforeseen consequences that may arise from the spell.”
I nodded. “Yeah, got it.”
She frowned. “I know you must miss your partner. But this is a tricky spell in the best of times. And I require payment regardless of outcome.”
“Just cast the damn spell.”
The witch nodded and grabbed Amanda’s brush from the floor and set it next to where she knelt. She pulled a city map from a small stack on the shelf and unfolded it, and then set the paper on the floor to her left. She placed the small metal plate in the middle of the circle, on top of the symbol, and dumped a pile of herbs and small pieces of wood onto of the rough surface.
Natalie whispered a word and lit a wooden match. “Kneel,” she ordered.
As I knelt across from her, she tossed the match onto the plate.
The pile of tinder exploded into a small fire, filling the air with the scent of lemons and sage, which combined with the other scents and made the air rushing into my lungs smell almost medicinal. I let out a small cough to clear the taste from my throat, but it didn’t help.
Natalie closed her eyes and murmured something I couldn’t make out. She pulled a handful of Amanda’s hair from the brush and tossed it onto the fire. A few more strands went onto the map.
Holding her palms up in front of her, she waved her fingers at me until I gripped her hands in mine.
“Close your eyes.”
I closed them and tried to steady my breathing. The overpowering herbs grew stronger, burning their way down my throat and into my lungs.
“Concentrate. Visualize your partner, what she meant to you, how much you miss her.”
Amanda’s face filled my mind’s eye, as if summoned by the witch: her sardonic grin and steady personality, her long hair and devotion to her job. Her wide, unblinking eyes. Her tangled hair hanging over the edge of her bed.
I swallowed around the lump in my throat.
“Yes,” Natalie said softly. “Now I will guide your intent. Concentrate on him. The killer who took her from you. Feel how much you need to find him.”
I forced myself to see her, to picture Amanda. And I thought of him, the man who killed her. How badly I wanted to return the favor. I felt it all. The pain and rage and fear. It was as if Natalie had opened a floodgate, and maybe she had, perhaps that was part of the spell. I didn’t know. I concentrated, blinking back tears that came more from emotion than the heavy burning of herbs in the air, and through it all Natalie hummed.