Whisper of Shadows
Belle Bridge Books (April 22, 2016)
War is coming . . .
When the FBI uses an anti-magic law to arrest and torture Riley’s boyfriend, they have no idea what hell they are about to unleash. If Riley can’t rescue Clay before he breaks, the result will be a disaster of epic proportions.
With time running out, Riley and her family must rely on two people more likely to stab them in the back than actually help. And, even if Riley manages the rescue, she’s still got to deal with two kidnappings and the return of her dad from the dead–the same dad who’d been willing to see her dead to protect his secrets.
What’s a girl to do? Kick ass, take names, and protect those she cares about at all costs.
Praise for Whisper of Shadows:
Life just got a whole more problematic for tracer heroine Riley Hollis. Like its predecessors, the third installment of the exceptional Diamond City Magic series wastes no time diving into the action and throwing major complications at its protagonists. Along with the thrilling action, there are boatloads of character developments and revelations that will leave readers pumped for the next chapter! Bravo! —Romantic Times Book Review 4 stars review
I had a whole lot of questions for the man standing in front of me. All of them starting with why.
Why did you leave, Dad?
Why didn’t you tell me where you went, Dad?
Why did you abandon me and the rest of your family, Dad?
And probably most important of all: Why did you put a psychic bomb in my brain to kill me if I breached your carefully constructed walls locking away my memories and my ability to trust, Daddy Dearest?
That last question probably should have been the first. Having to ask the question at all says something about my life, as does the fact that the bomb in my brain wasn’t even my most recent near-death experience of the last few days. I’d come close to dying at least twice since the brain bomb, plus had my thumb cut off.
I’ll admit I wasn’t in the most charitable frame of mind as I stared at my father. For ten years I’d had to wonder whether he was dead or rotting in prison somewhere or even living on Mars. Someone else might have gotten through all the emotional baggage and given him a big hug. Mostly I just wanted to kill him. Except killing him wouldn’t get me the answers I needed.
While I tried to calm down from the shock of finding him in my stepmom’s living room, standing there like he’d never ditched us, I rubbed a finger over my thumb knuckle just to make sure it was still there. Maya, a tinker friend who was quickly earning enough from me to build a vacation home in the Bahamas, had reattached it. The reattachment between my dad and me wasn’t going to be so easy. Inwardly I snorted. Impossible was more like it.
He’d been the last person, place or thing I’d expected to see tonight. I don’t see the future. I’m a tracer. I can see the magical trails people leave behind by merely existing. I can even see dead trace, which makes me unique, and dangerous to all the wrong kind of people. My abilities are the modern day equivalent of a chimera or a Sasquatch or a snipe. Only I actually exist.
My last couple of cases “outed” me. Now everybody wants a piece of me—whether to hire me, to enslave me, or to kill me. I’d formed an uneasy truce with Gregg Touray, the boss of one of the most powerful Tyet organizations in Diamond City. His half-brother Clay Price was my . . . boyfriend of sorts, a former detective who’d traded his own freedom for mine, and quit the force to work for his brother as part of the bargain for Touray’s leaving me alone.
Tonight was about finally introducing Price to the half of my family he hasn’t met—namely my step-mom Mel, and my stepbrother Jamie. He’s already met my sister, Taylor, and my other stepbrother, Leo. Since I’ve never in my life brought a date to dinner, it’s a pretty big deal.
Actually it was more like a gauntlet, where my metal working stepbrothers wrapped him up in a cage and either threaten him if he hurts me, or tickle him to death. They aren’t exactly predictable, and even though they are older than me, they still have a healthy teenage practical joker streak going on. That, or my stepmom Mel decides to get in on the action and interrogates him about, well, pretty much his entire life. As an FBI reader, she can read emotion. She’s also an Einstein-level psychologist, so pretty much she’s a walking lie detector who can get anybody to spill their guts about every last little thing. Another reason I’d been avoiding her since the whole thing with Price started. I couldn’t keep secrets when she turned her detection skills on me.
On top of that, I had planned to announce that Price and I are moving in together. Silly me, I’d thought that last tidbit was going to be the shocker of the evening. Then my dad shows up. Now I had to wonder if he was planning to try to kill me or kidnap me. It wouldn’t be the first time for either.
My stepmom felt the need to warn me, warn Price actually. When she opened the door, Mel acted kind of cold, which is not her. When she shook his hand, I could tell she did something. As a reader, she can also transmit feelings when she wants to. Whatever she sent to Price, morphed him into stone-cold brutal mode. He’d edged in front of me, lacing his fingers tightly through mine, using that connection to angle me behind him as w
e followed Mel into her expansive living room, not that it was big enough to hold the tension.
My brothers, Jamie and Leo, stood on opposites sides of the room. Leo’s expression was harsh, like he was made of rage. He has long dark hair that he combs back in waves. His face is chiseled. The only thing that keeps him from looking pretty is that his nose is crooked and the bridge is flat.
Jamie has reddish brown hair he keeps clipped short enough to stay out of his face. Like Leo, he can’t be bothered to shave more than every few days, if that, so he’s constantly got five o’clock shadow. He also usually had dimples, but right now, he looked like he’d never smiled in his life. He flicked a glance at me as I walked in. His jaw knotted.
Taylor sat on a stool at the mahogany bar. She looked shell-shocked. Not a look she wore often. She was a pilot and had worked in Iraq and Afghanistan for several years, flying for private security firms and other businesses. She usually had nerves of ice, but right now, she looked like she’d been stabbed in the chest a dozen times. Her hand wrapped a drink glass, her knuckles white. I don’t think she even remembered she was holding it.
The focus of everyone’s agitation sat in a hobnailed leather chair near the fireplace.
“Look who’s here, everyone. Riley and her beau,” Mel announced, her tone carefully neutral.
My father stood as I walked in. The air went out of the world. A hurricane spun up inside me. I couldn’t begin to tell what I felt. I wanted to hug him for a split second. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run. Then I wanted to hit him. Instead I stood there, drinking him in.
As far back as I could remember, he’d had short red-blond hair. Now it was more silver than blond. His eyes were the same sleepy blue, but red-rimmed now, and he had crow’s feet. He was tanned, like he’d been in the sun recently. He barely scraped six feet and looked fit—no paunch dewlapping his belt. It seemed that the last ten years had been kind to him—that is, as far as I could remember. But then again, I couldn’t trust my memories about him, could I?
He’d made me forget things—I didn’t know what, just that he’d done it. When his little brain bomb had gone off in my head, a dreamer friend, Cass, had gone into my head to put me back together. She’d saved my life, but she couldn’t retrieve what my father had taken. All she knew was that real memories had been uprooted and fake memories had been planted. Maybe he’d done the same to the rest of the family. The thought was enough loosen my tongue. Anger does that for me.
“Oh look. It’s dear old dad, back from . . . wherever. Tell me, Dad, will the rest of us be remembering this little chat or are you going to fix that before you diseappear again? That’s what you do, right? Play with people’s memories? Mess with their lives, and then go your merry way?” I asked.
I don’t know what he expected. Maybe that I’d faint in shock. Maybe that I’d run and hug him. Maybe that I’d pull a gun and shoot him. From the way his lips flattened, I could tell he didn’t like the sarcasm. Or maybe it was the truth he hated. Probably it was the truth. Too fucking bad. Point for me.
That’s when I noticed Dalton. He’d been my shadow for weeks. I’d thought that Price’s brother had hired him to keep me out of the “wrong hands.” That meant any hands but Gregg Touray’s. Unfortunately, he turned out to be my father’s henchman. Point for Dad.
Dalton was handsome in a not-quite-finished sort of way. His face was long, his nose strong and blunt. He had high cheekbones like he might be part Native American. The weird part about him was his eyes. They were discs of silver, and sometimes the edges would glow different colors. They were tinker mods, but I didn’t really know what he could see. It gave him an eerie inhuman quality. If I hadn’t already distrusted him, his eyes would have done the trick.
As I scanned him over, my brain kicked into high gear. A whole lot of dominoes started falling just then and I could barely begin to grasp the meaning.
Dalton had come around with a security squad just after my secret talents as a tracer had been exposed. He’d said he’d been anonymously hired to protect me. At that point, I’d stupidly assumed that his boss was either Touray or Price, neither of whom I’d been talking to at that point. I’d been too stubborn and idiotic to pick up the phone and ask them. Instead I did my own background checks, which didn’t trigger any red flags, and when Dalton had known details about me only Price or Touray could have given him,, I’d let him hang around.
Not my finest decision. He’d freed—or maybe just stolen—the man who’d infected me and my sister with Sparkle Dust and then cut off my thumb. That would be Percy Caldwell, a sociopath and maker of Sparkle Dust, a magical drug that had been sweeping through Diamond City, killing just about everyone who chanced taking it. The drug was literally made out of drug addicts. Their bodies were harvested to make more SD. That meant, if Dalton was working for my dad, then my dad had Percy Caldwell and the key to making SD. Was he setting up to manufacture it?
The idea made my stomach twist. Weeks ago I’d have been able to say no way, my dad would never be a part of anything so depraved and horrifying. Unfortunately, I knew now better. If he was capable of killing his own daughter, nothing else, no matter how awful, could be off the table.
“What do you want?” I asked finally, when he remained silent, refusing to rise to the bait I’d thrown out about erasing memories..
He smiled, a quick quirk of his lips. My heart twisted. I remembered that smile. Despite myself, I clung to the memory. Maybe everything about my childhood wasn’t a lie.
“Straight to the point,” he murmured. “Just like your mother.”
I flinched. Price’s fingers tightened on mine. I held on to his hard strength. He had my back. He always had my back.
“Taylor.” Her voice came out in a rasp.
She stared at Dad like somehow she could cut him open and see what he was really thinking. The wounded look had faded and been replaced with animal fury. There was a wild edge to her that hadn’t been there a week or so ago. She’d seen her hangar invaded and then her friends and employees gunned down. A family in her waiting room had been slaughtered. Then she’d been exposed to Sparkle Dust. Cass—the same dreamer who’d mended my brain after dad’s bomb went off—had fixed Taylor as much as she could be fixed, but the drug had changed her. I wasn’t sure what those changes were, but she didn’t usually lose her cool. Right now it was probably good she didn’t carry weapons.
Dad’s face softened. I caught myself. Did I still call him that? It didn’t feel right. Calling him dad implied love. Whatever I felt for him, love wasn’t it. His old name had been Samuel Hollis, but I doubted he went by that anymore. Not that he went by Dad anymore either. He’d quit that a decade ago.
He faced Taylor. “I’ve mostly been out of the country and traveling.”
“Why? Why did you leave?” Taylor swigged down the rest of her drink and set it down before standing up. She held herself still, her arms wrapped around her stomach, her gaze unblinking. “Why did you disappear and never call?”
Dad—Sam?—blew out a soft breath. “It was too dangerous to stay. For you. For all of you.” His glance gathered all of us in. “I had—I have—enemies who wouldn’t hesitate to hurt you to get to me.” He looked at me. “One of them murdered your mother.”
Sometimes my mouth gets going before I have a chance to really think. “So mom gets murdered. Your reaction to your bloodthirsty enemies is to get remarried, have another kid, play house for years, and then out of the blue, you vanish off the face of the earth, but not before taking the time to set bombs in my head. It’s like a Christmas movie. You’re amazing. I mean, if it had been me, I probably would have just taken my daughter and I don’t know, gone into hiding with her instead of playing Brady Bunch for a decade. But clearly I don’t have the vision you do.”
“There are things you don’t know.”
“Yeah. There are. Things that some asshole scrubbed out of my head. Memories someone stole from me. The one thing I do know for sure is that my dad raped my brain and then set booby traps to kill me if I broke through his walls. Thanks for that, by the way. Do you have any idea what it’s like to watch yourself go insane, to have your brain so terrified that it tells your body to quit breathing? Worse, you made it Price’s fault—the man who loved me so much he’d cut his heart out of his chest for me had to feel like I’d picked suicide over trusting him.”
Price’s hand clenched on mine so hard it hurt. Neither one of us were going to forgive my dad for putting us through that any time soon. I tightened my grip reassuringly, never looking away from my dad.
“If it wasn’t enough that half the world is out to kill me, I get to have you doing it, too. So back to the question. Why are you here? Oh! Maybe you want to explain to your wife why you abandoned her? Did you at least bring flowers? Fancy chocolates?” Expensive jewelry? What do you get your wife when you disappear? Copper? Wood? Plastic? Is there an abandonment anniversary gift chart?”
I was shaking. I don’t know if I was more mad or more in danger of falling to pieces. Price let go of my hand and put his arm around me. I leaned into him, grateful for his solid strength.
Mel, Jaime, and Leo still hadn’t said anything. I wondered what they were thinking. Mel had loved my dad. My memories said they’d been gloriously happy. But my memories could be lies. So could hers. All the same, this was her husband. A man who’d abandoned her and left her to raise four children alone. A man who’d made her promises and then tossed her aside like used toilet paper.
“Perhaps we should hear Sam’s explanation.”
Mel sounded unfazed and totally in control. Her calmness gave me something to cling to. Right now I felt raw. I needed some sort of armor to protect me from him, from all of this. Mel wasn’t armor, but she took his focus, settling on the emerald camel-backed couch, crossing her legs elegantly and lifting a brow at her husband. “Provided you’ve come to explain?”
Dad tipped his head toward Mel. “As best I can.”
His cagey answer made my stomach churn. Would we get any truth from him at all? Or would it be carefully cut and shaped, turning the ugly reality into a pretty snowflake lie?
That’s when my rational brain caught up with my emotional-overload brain. My dad was a dreamer, which meant he could worm his way into any of our minds without touching us. He could cause us to see visions, change our thinking, give us false memories, all without any of us knowing. I had a knack for sensing magic, which mean I could usually sense when someone was actively attempting to use it around me. Plus I had a strong sensitivity to dreamer touch. I could feel it when one tried to wriggle into my head. I had to wonder if that had anything to do with him. Had he taught me that? Or had his tampering made me extra sensitive?
Didn’t matter, and now was no time to consider. Dear old dad hadn’t attempted to come after any of us yet, as far as I could tell, but just in case . . . I slid my hand down to touch Price’s belt. Inside the leather were a dozen silver disks, each one a null. I activated one.
A magical dead zone surrounded Price. No spell—good or bad—could affect him until the null was deactivated or its power was drained.
“I don’t trust you,” I said to my dad. “Everybody, activate your nulls.”
I’d made each of my family powerful nulls in various shapes and forms. Sometimes jewelry, other times zippers on clothing—though nulls didn’t hold up well to multiple washings. I felt each of theirs activate almost before I finished speaking. I took a little comfort in knowing I wasn’t the only one so caught off guard I’d not thought about protecting myself.
Mel was the only one who hadn’t triggered a null. I understood why. She wanted to be able to read Dad’s emotions. She couldn’t if her powers were nulled. Neither Dad nor Dalton had active nulls either, probably for the same reason.
I stiffened with another realization. Everybody leaves behind trace. It’s a ribbon of light that only tracers can see. Some can only see it for a few minutes, others for an hour or two. I can see it always, even after a person dies. The only time I can’t is when someone nulls out their trace, which means for as long as that nulls is active, their ribbon vanishes. Those were the rules. Except that when my father disappeared, his trace vanished with him. One day it’s looped all around our house and my life, the next it’s gone like he’d never existed. Every last scrap of it. Just like dad. It should have been impossible.
For years, I’d tried to puzzle it out and just recently I thought I’d figured out the trick. He hadn’t erased his trace, but rather he’d simply made it impossible for me to see it He’d gone into my head and blinded me to him. Now I had the chance to test my theory. I dropped into trace sight. Nothing.
I don’t know why it bothered me so much. I mean, he’d tried to kill me. By comparison, this was nothing. And yet—it went to the core of who I was. He’d made me doubt myself, made me feel like a failure when I couldn’t find him. I bit my lips so that I wouldn’t swear. My eyes burned with tears I refused to let fall. One of these days I was going to figure out how not to care. Thanks to my family, thanks to Price and my friends, I’d moved on. I’d broken through dad’s prison shackles. He didn’t matter any more.
I told myself that and tried to believe it.
Dad nodded to Mel. “That’s why I came. I am here to explain what I can. Riley, I am glad to see you well after your recent interactions with Mr. Caldwell.”
I glared. “Dalton told you about all that, did he? Did Dalton also tell you that he tried to kidnap me, too?”
“He merely wished to get you to safety.”
Dad smiled. I sucked in a breath, my heart aching. I had so many memories of that smile. Good memories. Or they had been. Now they seemed fake, as if he’d been wearing a mask. Hell, for all I knew, they were fake and he’d planted them in my head.
“I doubt my safety was uppermost in Dalton’s mind,” I said, my lip curling.
Dad turned to glance at Mister Tall, Dark, and Broody, and then back at me. “You can trust him. He’s a friend.” He focused on Price. “Clayton Price, I presume?” He actually held out a hand like he expected a shake.
Price eyed it and then looked back up at my dad. “I am.”
Dad let his arm fall, seemingly unfazed. “Your brother is Greggory Touray?”
“Aren’t you the one who’s supposed to be answering questions?” I demanded. “You aren’t welcome here. So do us a favor, get to the point of this little visit and then get out. What do you want?”
He scanned us all, his gaze lingering on each of us, finally returning to me. “It’s quite simple, really. My absence no longer protects you. There’s no point in hiding any more. It’s time for us to be a family again.”