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White Witch, Black Curse
White Witch, Black Curse

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White Witch, Black Curse

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018
Добавлена: 27.12.2018
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“Oh God,” I whispered. My hand went out, turning to a fist before my fingers slowly uncurled and I touched it. It was the lace teddy Kisten had given me for my birthday. I’d forgotten it was here.

“I’m sorry,” Ford rasped, and my gaze blurring from tears, I saw him slumped in the threshold.

My eyes squinted shut to make the tears leak out, and I held my breath. My head pounded, and I took a gasping breath only to hold it again, struggling for control. Damn it, he had loved me, and I had loved him. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. And it was probably my fault.

A soft sound from the threshold told me Ford was struggling, and I forced myself to breathe. I had to get control of myself. I was hurting Ford. He was feeling everything I was, and I owed him a lot. Ford was the reason I hadn’t been hauled in for questioning by the FIB despite my working for them occasionally. He was human, but his curse of being able to feel another’s emotions was better than a polygraph or truth charm. He knew I’d loved Kisten and was terrified of what had happened here. “You okay?” I asked when his breathing evened out.

“Fine. Yourself?” he said in a wispy voice.

“Peachy keen,” I said, gripping the top of the dresser. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was going to be this bad.”

“I knew what I was in for when I agreed to bring you out here,” he said, wiping a tear from his eye that I no longer would cry for myself. “I can take anything you dish out, Rachel.”

I turned away, guilty. Ford stayed where he was, the distance helping him cope with the overload. He never touched anyone except by accident. It had to be a crappy way to live. But as I rocked away from the dresser, there was a soft pull as my fingertips left the underside of the dresser top. Sticky. Sniffing my fingertips, I found the faint bite of propellant.

Sticky web. Someone had used sticky web and smeared it off on the underside of the dresser top. Me? Kisten’s murderer? Sticky web worked only on fairies and pixies. It was little more than an irritant to anyone else, like a spiderweb. Jenks had begged off coming out here on the excuse of it being too cold, which it was, but maybe he knew more than he was saying.

My heartache eased from the distraction, and kneeling, I dug in my bag for a penlight and shined it on the underside of the lip of the dresser. I’d be willing to bet no one had dusted it. Ford came close, and I snapped the light off and stood. I didn’t want FIB justice. I wanted my own. Ivy and I would come out later and do our own recon. Test the ceiling for evidence of hydrocarbons, too. Shake Jenks down to find out just how long he’d been with me that night.

Ford’s disapproval was almost palpable, and I knew if I looked, his amulet would be a bright red from picking up my anger. I didn’t care. I was angry, and that was better than falling apart. With a new feeling of purpose, I faced the rest of the room. Ford had seen the smeared mess.

The FIB would reopen the case if they found one good print—other than the one I’d just made, that is. This might be the last time I was allowed in here.

Leaning back against the dresser, I closed my eyes and crossed my arms, trying to remember. Nothing. I needed more. “Where’s the stuff?” I asked, both dreading and eager to realize what else lay hidden in my mind, ready to surface.

There was the sound of sliding plastic, and Ford reluctantly handed me a packet of evidence bags and a stack of photos. “Rachel, we should leave if there’s a viable print.”

“The FIB has had five months,” I said, nervous as I took them. “It’s my turn. And don’t give me any crap about disturbing evidence. The entire department has been through here. If there’s a print, it’s probably one of theirs.”

He sighed as I turned to the dresser and arranged the plastic bags, print side down. I took up the photos first, my gaze rising to the reflection of the room behind me.

I moved the picture of the smeared, bloody handprint on the kitchen window to the back of the stack, and tidied the pile with several businesslike taps. I got nothing from the handprint apart from the feeling that it wasn’t mine or Kisten’s.

The picture of Kisten was absent, thank God, and I crossed the room with a photo of a dent in the wall. Ford was silent as I touched the paneling, and I decided by the lack of phantom pain that I hadn’t made it. There’d been a fight here other than mine. Over me, probably.

I slid the photo behind the stack. Under it was a close-up of a shoe imprint taken under the bank of windows. My head started to throb, and with that as a warning, I knew something was here, lurking in my thoughts. Jaw tight, I forced myself to the window, kneeling to run a hand over the smooth carpet, trying to spark a memory even as I feared it. The print was of a man’s dress shoe. Not Kisten’s. It was too mundane for that. Kisten had kept only the latest fashions in his closet. Had the shoe been black or brown? I thought, willing something to surface.

Nothing. Frustrated, I closed my eyes. In my thoughts, the scent of vampire incense mixed with an unfamiliar aftershave. A quiver rose through me, and not caring what Ford thought, I put my face on the carpet to breathe in the smell of fibers. Something…anything…Please…

Panic fluttered at the edge of my thoughts, and I forced myself to breathe more deeply, not caring that my butt was in the air as primitive switches in my brain fired and scents were given names. Musky shadows that never saw the sun. The cloying scent of decayed water. Earth. Silk. Candlescented dust. They added up to the undead. If I’d been a vampire, I might have been able to find Kisten’s killer by scent alone, but I was a witch.

Tense, I breathed again, searching my thoughts and finding nothing. Slowly the feeling of panic subsided and my headache retreated. I exhaled in relief. I’d been mistaken. There was nothing here. It was just carpet, and my mind had been inventing smells as it tried to fulfill my need for answers. “Nothing,” I murmured into the carpet, inhaling deeply one last time before I sat up.

A pulse of terror washed through me as I breathed in the scent of vampire. Shocked, I awkwardly scrambled to my feet, staring down at the carpet as if having been betrayed. Damn it.

In a cold sweat, I turned away and tugged my coat straight. Ivy. I’ll ask her to come out and smell the carpet, I thought, then almost laughed. Catching it back in a harsh gurgle, I pretended to cough, fingers cold as I shifted to the next photo.

Oh, even better, I thought sarcastically. Scratch marks on the paneling. My breath came fast and my gaze shot straight to the wall by the tiny closet as my fingertips started to throb. Almost panting, I stared, refusing to go look and confirm that my finger span matched the marks, afraid I might remember something even as I wanted to. I didn’t recall making the marks on the wall, but it was obvious my body did.

I’d seen fear before. I’d seen fear bright and shiny when death comes at you in an instant and you can only react. I knew the nauseating mix of fear and hope when death comes slow and you frantically try to find a way to escape it. I’d grown up with old fear, the kind that stalks you from a distance, death lurking on the horizon, so inevitable and inescapable that it loses its power. But this outright panic with no visible reason was new, and I trembled as I tried to find a way to deal with it. Maybe I can ignore it. That works for Ivy.

Clearing my throat, I tried for an air of nonchalance as I set the remaining pictures on the dresser and spread them out, but I wasn’t fooling anyone.

Smears of blood—not splattered, but smeared. Kisten’s, according to the FIB guys. A picture of a split drawer that had been slid back out of sight. Another useless bloody handprint on the deck where Kisten’s killer had vaulted over the side. None of them hit me like the scratches or carpet, and I struggled with wanting to know, but was afraid to remember.

Slowly my pulse eased and my shoulders lost their stiffness. I set the pictures down, bypassing the bags of dust and lint the FIB had vacuumed up, seeing my strands of red curls among the carpet fuzz and sock fluff. I watched myself in the mirror as my fingers touched the hair band in a clear evidence bag. It was one of mine, and it had held my braid together that night. A dull throb in my scalp lifted through my awareness, and Ford shifted uneasily.

Shit, the band meant something.

“Talk to me,” Ford said, and I pressed my thumb into the rubber cord through the plastic, trying to keep the fear from gaining control again. Evidence pointed at me to be Kisten’s killer, hence the not-quite-hidden mistrust I now felt at the FIB, but I hadn’t done it. I’d been here, but I hadn’t done it. At least Ford believed me. Someone had left the stinking bloody handprints.

“This is mine,” I said softly so my voice wouldn’t quaver. “I think…someone undid my hair.” Feeling unreal, I turned the bag over to see that it had been found in the bedroom, and a surge of panic rose from out of nowhere. My heart hammered, but I forced my breathing to steady. Memory trickled back, pieces, and nothing of use. Fingers in my hair. My face against a wall. Kisten’s killer taking my hair out of its braid. No wonder I hadn’t let Jenks’s kids touch my hair much the last five months or why I’d freaked when Marshal had tucked my hair behind my ear.

Queasy, I dropped the bag, dizzy when the edges of my sight dimmed. If I passed out, Ford would call someone, and that would be that. I wanted to know. I had to.

The last piece of evidence was damning, and turning to rest my backside against the dresser, I shook a small, unbroken blue pellet to the corner of its bag. It was filled with a now-defunct sleepy-time charm. It was the only thing in my arsenal that would drop a dead vampire.

A faint prickling of the hair on the back of my neck grew as a new thought lifted through me and a whisper of memory clenched my heart. My breath came out in a pained rush, and my head bowed. I was crying, swearing. Pointing my splat gun, I pulled the trigger. And laughing, he caught the spell.

“He caught it,” I whispered, closing my eyes so they wouldn’t fill. “I tried to shoot him, and he caught it without breaking it.” My wrist pulsed in pain and another memory surfaced. Thin fingers gripped my wrist. My hand went numb. A thump when my gun hit the floor.

“He hurt my hand until I dropped my splat gun,” I said. “I think I ran then.”

Afraid, I looked at Ford, seeing his amulet purple with shock. My little red splat gun had never been missing, was never recorded as having been here. All my potions were accounted for. Someone had clearly put the gun back where it belonged. I didn’t even remember making the sleepy-time charms, but this was clearly one of mine. Where the other six were was a good question.

In a surge of anger, I kicked the dresser with the ball of my foot. The shock went all the way up my leg, and the furniture thumped into the wall. It was stupid, but it felt good.

“Uh, Rachel?” Ford said, and I kicked it again, grunting.

“I’m fine!” I shouted, sniffing back the tears. “I’m freaking fine!” But my lip was throbbing where someone had bitten me; my body was trying to get my mind to remember, but I simply wouldn’t let it. Had it been Kisten who had bitten me? His attacker? I hadn’t been bound, thank God. Ivy said so, and she would know.

“Yeah, you look fine,” Ford said dryly, and I pulled my coat closed and tugged my shoulder bag up. He was smiling at my lost temper, and it made me even madder.

“Stop laughing at me,” I said, and he smiled wider, taking off his amulet and tucking it away as if we were finished. “And I’m not done with those,” I added as he gathered the pictures.

“Yes, you are,” he said, and I frowned at his unusual confidence. “You’re angry. That’s better than confused or grieving. I hate using clichés, but we can move forward now.”

“Psychobabble bull,” I scoffed, grabbing the evidence bags before he could take them, too, but he was right. I did feel better. I had remembered something. Maybe human science was as strong as witch magic. Maybe.

Ford took the bags from me. “Talk to me,” he said, standing in front of me like a rock.

My good mood vanished, replaced by the urge to flee. Grabbing the shirt box from the dresser, I pushed past him. I had to get out. I had to put some distance between me and the scratch marks on the walls. I couldn’t wear the teddy Kisten had given me, but I couldn’t leave it here either. Ford could gripe all he wanted about removing evidence from the crime scene. Evidence of what? That Kisten had loved me?

“Rachel,” Ford said as he followed, his steps silent on the carpet in the hall. “What do you recall? All I get is emotion. I can’t go back and tell Edden you remembered nothing.”

“Sure you can,” I said, my pace fast and my blinders on as we crossed the living room.

“No, I can’t,” he said, catching up with me at the broken door frame. “I’m a lousy liar.”
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