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Jenna Black

Excerpt for Gifted Dead

Chapter 1

 

Cary, NC

 

The cemetery gates were locked at this time of night, so Sergei Romanov pulled his rental onto the patchy grass of the shoulder and put it in park.

His passenger looked out the window doubtfully. “You sure we ain’t gonna get stuck here?” he asked—the first words that had left his mouth since they’d gotten into the car together. The man was trying to remain cool and casual, as if he dealt with the Gifted on a regular basis here in this backwater little town, but his body language said he was scared, which was fine with Sergei. The less Sergei had to talk to him, the better.

Da,” Sergei said as he turned off the wipers. Not because he couldn’t speak English—the Anima Mundi had Gifted him with the ability to speak and understand any language with the facility of a native when he wanted to—but because it further discouraged any unnecessary conversation. Sergei’s research had revealed Randy to be a drug dealer who liked beating up his wife—and his girlfriend. Just being in the same car with him made Sergei feel dirty, and he had no interest in anything the lowlife had to say.

Rain thumped relentlessly on the windshield and roof. Maybe Randy-the-wife-beater was right and parking on the grass was a bad idea. It had been raining for hours already, and the soil was bound to be soft, almost swampy. But he had to park somewhere, and his aggressive time-line didn’t allow him the option of waiting for better weather.

Sergei stepped out into the downpour, his hair getting drenched in the few moments it took to raise his umbrella. The ground squished unpleasantly under his feet, and the humid air felt like a hot, wet blanket against his skin. It wouldn’t surprise him if it was snowing back home in Kiev. He’d hated the cold and snow all of his life, couldn’t wait to move somewhere warm, but now that he knew he might never see home again, he found he missed it.

Randy climbed out the other side with a resigned sigh, hunching his shoulders as if that might protect him from the rain. Sergei had paid him extra on account of the weather, so the sigh was his only expression of complaint.

The price tag was still glued to the handle of the shovel Sergei had thrown into the trunk. Shovels were inconvenient to transport when traveling by commercial airline, and so far Sergei had bought a new one at each of his stops. Randy peeled the label off and dropped it carelessly on the ground.

“Pick it up,” Sergei ordered. “We leave nothing behind.”

Not that he thought a soggy piece of paper on the side of the road would serve as evidence, especially when there would be no sign that a crime had even been committed. But there was too much at risk not to be careful.

Randy muttered something under his breath too softly for Sergei to hear, but he picked up the crumpled label and shoved it in the pocket of his jeans. Together, they hopped over the short stone wall that bordered the cemetery.

The systematic persecution of the Gifted had ended long ago, but the Bible Belt of the US South didn’t exactly receive their Gifted brethren with open arms. In such inhospitable regions, Gifted parishes were small and young, their cemeteries sized accordingly. Even on this dark and rainy night, it wasn’t hard to find the grave they sought, with its freshly tilled earth barely hidden beneath squares of sod.

Roberta Quinn’s grave was on the outermost edge of the cemetery, uncomfortably close to the low retaining wall and the prying eyes of passersby. Luckily, the time of night and the weather meant passersby would be few and far between. Sergei wondered if she’d been buried there on purpose to keep her away from the less controversial occupants of the cemetery. Quinn’s family had fought a long, hard battle before her admittance to the Anima Mundi was reluctantly approved by the local Parish Board. Those who had been outvoted would probably stand up and cheer Sergei’s actions. But of course they would never know.

“Dig here,” he instructed Randy.

Randy shrugged his oversize shoulders and got to work, carefully removing the carpet of sod before stabbing his shovel blade into the ground. The sod wasn’t faring well in the deluge. Sergei hoped they’d be able to put it back cleanly.

The scent of wet earth filled Sergei’s nose, and the pounding of the rain neatly covered the sound of the shovel digging into the grave. Rain soaked through the legs of his jeans, and his feet were swimming in his Nikes.

He hated this. Hated it with a passion. Bad enough that Pietro di Tommaso had turned him into a murderer, but he was now a destroyer of souls as well.

If it weren’t for Sergei’s interference, the Anima Mundi—the Soul of the World—would absorb Roberta’s soul just like the Earth absorbed her body. She would forever influence the Anima, becoming part of the great being that granted magic to the Gifted and shaped their lives and their society. She might even someday become someone’s spirit guide, helping her charge communicate with the Anima and know its wishes. The Order had deemed her worthy of that honor, had eased her family’s grief by assuring them her soul would live on in the afterlife. And in one night, Sergei would take all of that away from them.

Roberta Quinn’s family will never know, he reminded himself, but the words were a hollow comfort. The family might never know what he had done, but he would know, and he would have to live with it.

The guilt of it all had nearly crippled him in the beginning, but it was becoming easier to bear as little by little he resigned himself to his fate. His conscience had almost given up on him, putting up only a token protest. His heart was growing harder, building armor to protect him from what he had to do to keep his little sister, Anna, safe. If he failed Pietro di Tommaso, it was Anna who would suffer for it, and that he couldn’t allow, no matter the cost to his own soul.

Randy made steady progress, his broad shoulders and beefy arms perfectly suited to the task. When he wasn’t dealing drugs or beating up women, he was a construction worker. If Sergei did the digging himself, he would still be laboring when the sun came up, his unfortunately scrawny physique not suited to the task. Even di Tommaso had agreed that hiring someone else to do the digging was a regrettable necessity.

Sergei knew they were almost to their goal when the sickly sweet smell of decay wafted from the grave.

“Jesus Christ!” Randy cried, standing back and covering his mouth and nose with his arm.

“I warned you she was not embalmed,” Sergei said mildly. A soul that was bound for the Anima was buried unembalmed in the earth in a simple white shroud marked with the symbol of the Gifted—the Ouroboros, rendered as a dragon biting its tail. The embalming process would contaminate the body and prevent the soul from being properly absorbed into the Anima. “Keep digging.”

Randy grumbled some more, probably under the impression that Sergei didn’t understand the foul language being used to describe him and his ancestors, which would have been the case if Sergei hadn’t invoked his Gift for languages, fearing he might miss something important. Besides, he deserved every one of Randy’s insults and more.

The smell became stronger, almost overpowering. Randy had to pause and climb out of the grave a couple of times for a whiff of fresh air, but eventually, his shovel had uncovered most of the shroud. Sergei shone his flashlight into the hole to assure himself enough of the body had been revealed for his purposes.

“Climb out,” he told Randy.

The big man eagerly complied, his face a ghoulish green as he tried to escape the stench by breathing through his mouth. Mud caked his work boots and smeared his clothing, the red tinge of the clay-rich soil a stark contrast to the sickly pallor of his skin.

“How ya gonna get it to burn in this weather?” he asked through his shallow breaths.

Grimly, Sergei held out his hand and called upon his other Gift, the one that had first brought him to the attention of the di Tommasos, dooming him and Anna to their current circumstances.

A ball of blue fire gathered in Sergei’s palm, but it did not burn him.

“Holy shit!” Randy squealed, then backed up so fast he tripped over the handle of his shovel and landed on his seat in the mud. Sergei didn’t think Randy was a particularly religious man, but he made a clumsy attempt to cross himself anyway. As if his God had any more use for a drug-dealing wife-beater than Sergei did.

In the past, the Doctrine had strictly forbidden the Gifted from revealing their abilities to the unGifted public, but that injunction had changed over time, and now it only gently discouraged the revelation of the more frightening Gifts. Healing magic and innocuous survival magic didn’t scare people, didn’t bring out the witch hunters with their torches and pitchforks—or in these days, the congressmen with their modest proposals and grass roots campaigns. Magic like Sergei’s fireball was another story altogether—which was one reason Randy would meet an untimely end when he’d outlived his usefulness. The fact that Sergei felt only mildly regretful about his plan to murder a human being showed how low he had sunk. Pietro di Tommaso considered the unGifted lesser beings, going so far as to declare they had no souls. Sergei had never shared the sentiment; he knew that even though Randy was the scum of the earth, killing him would be wrong. Just as he knew he would do it anyway.

While Randy sprawled on the ground, Sergei stepped to the edge of the grave and tipped his hand, letting the fireball drop in. Instantly, the wet shroud caught, blue fire spreading then turning white with the intensity of its heat, forcing him to take a hasty step back. It would consume the body as thoroughly as any cremation, preventing the soul’s absorption into the Anima. And then Randy would fill the grave back in, and no one would ever know that Roberta Quinn’s soul was no more.

Sergei was too busy wallowing in his own misery to be as vigilant as he should. He didn’t notice the sound of the approaching police car, nor did he see the flash of the headlights as he squinted in the light from the consuming fire.

It wasn’t until he heard the shout that he realized there was a witness and that Roberta Quinn’s family might learn what he’d done after all.

 

Saint-Malo, France

 

Isabelle Montplaisir had spent the last two hours preparing for the moment her doorbell would ring. She’d bathed in rose-scented water, massaged lotion into her skin until it was silky and supple, used a flat iron to smooth out the coarse curls of her waist-length hair, and changed clothes three times. Almost as if she were going on a first date instead of meeting her longtime lover after an absence of three weeks. But tonight was not going to be like so many others past. Tonight, for the first time, Isabelle was going to be bold and brave and ask for what she wanted.

The doorbell rang at precisely nine o’clock. Matthew Landry was nothing if not punctual, and he was always especially eager to fall into Isabelle’s arms after he’d returned from one of his visits to the States to spend time with his wife. Isabelle couldn’t fathom why he bothered going “home” every time the Council was in recess. Once upon a time, Elders had been required to live near the Abbey, but in these modern times of video-conferencing, it was no longer strictly necessary. And yet Matt had chosen to move here anyway, which should mean he considered Saint-Malo home. It wasn’t like he and Juliana had ever loved each other, and their children were adults, hardly in need of parental supervision.

Isabelle checked her appearance in the mirror one last time before going to the door, dabbing at a little excess cherry-flavored lip gloss and straightening out imaginary wrinkles in her gossamer peignoir. Swallowing the last of her nerves, she raised her chin and opened the door, confident that she would easily out-dazzle Matt’s horse-faced, middle-aged wife.

Matt had arrived in Saint-Malo only this morning, but he had obviously not spent his day resting after his long trip. Instead of the blue jeans and button-downs he liked to wear when he was off duty, he was dressed in his robes of office, the floor-length drapes of black emblazoned with the Ouroboros giving him an unmistakable aura of power—and making him infinitely less approachable.

Isabelle must have looked as stunned as she felt, because Matt’s handsome face lit with amusement and he brushed at the robes as if he could make them go away with a touch of his hand.

“Sorry to show up like this,” he said in Latin. He had learned French for her, and she had learned English for him, and yet somehow they always fell back on Latin, the universal language of the Gifted—and what they’d spoken when they’d first met two years ago. “I didn’t have time to change.”

Isabelle gestured him inside, and with the door no longer blocking his view, he got his first look at her peignoir—and the body it barely veiled. She hadn’t bothered wearing a nightgown or underwear beneath. His breath instantly quickened, and he shut the door blindly behind him, his eyes taking slow and delicious inventory. His heavy robes hid the evidence, but she knew if she pressed into his arms, she would feel the distinctive bulge of his arousal. She turned a slow circle so he could take in the rear view. He had always been an ass man, and she knew hers was one of her best features.

Matt made a low growling sound of appreciation. There was no doubt that he found her alluring, but there had to be more to it than that or he wouldn’t have stayed with her for so long.

“I thought the plan was for us to have a quiet and unremarkable dinner in deference to my jet lag,” he said, and she heard the rustle of his robes as he approached from behind.

“There is never anything quiet or unremarkable about you,” she purred, smiling with a sense of power as she heard the slither and thump of his outer robe sliding off his shoulders and hitting the floor. She tried to turn around and face him, but his hands landed on her shoulders, his body pressing up against her back as he nuzzled her neck.

Isabelle reached up to twine her fingers in his hair without turning around, arching her neck to make more room for his kisses. His hands slid down from her shoulders to cup her breasts, and the fabric of her peignoir was so thin and sheer that it felt almost like skin on skin. His lips feathered her chin, and she turned her head so he could rid her of the cherry gloss she’d put on just for him.

He groaned as his lips met hers, his erection grinding into the small of her back as his hands squeezed almost painfully tight. Isabelle would not have to invoke her Gift for sex tonight; her body was plainly all the inspiration he needed.

“Would it be terribly rude of me to fuck you senseless before dinner?” he murmured in her ear, but he was already pulling up the hem of her peignoir, proving he knew the answer.

Isabelle uttered a throaty laugh. “On the contrary, Your Excellency. It would be terribly rude of you not to.”

He snorted at her use of his exalted title in this context, but he was too desperate to waste much time with amusement. Within scant seconds, she was bent over the living room sofa with her filmy peignoir bunched up around her waist. She spread her legs encouragingly and watched over her shoulder as Matt shed his inner robe and briefs in record time. She didn’t know how she had survived three weeks without having him inside her.

Isabelle groaned in relief as he drove into her. So good. So right. Almost good enough to keep her from wondering if Juliana had received her husband’s affections while he was in the States.

Isabelle shut that thought off with alacrity as she braced her hands on the seat of the sofa and Matt began to thrust. Here and now, he was with her, not Juliana. It was Isabelle he fucked, Isabelle he shared his nights with, Isabelle he loved. He was hers, and it was past time she claimed him.

***

Isabelle waited until they were snuggled up in bed together before she even attempted to launch the conversation she’d been both dreading and anticipating all day. Her body glowed with contentment, and the blended scents of sweat and sex were sweeter than any perfume.

Je t’aime,” she murmured against Matt’s chest, pressing herself more tightly to him and running her leg up and down his.

Matt’s fingers played with her hair, which had thrown off the effects of the flat iron and lay like a tangled, frizzy blanket around her. Usually, she braided it before getting into bed, but haircare had been the last thing on her mind when he’d carried her into the bedroom.

“I love you, too,” he said, kissing the top of her head.

She smiled, drinking in his words. He didn’t have to say them, of course—Isabelle had always known their connection went way beyond the physical—but still, they were gratifying to hear.

“Do you really?” she asked, fingers trailing over his chest.

“Of course I do!” he said, sounding affronted. “What kind of question is that?”

Isabelle dug deep inside herself in search of courage, then looked up to meet Matt’s warm brown eyes. Eyes that were currently narrowed with annoyance at her question. Maybe now wasn’t a good time to talk after all, she thought. The jet lag and the long flight over the Atlantic had taken their toll, as had their lovemaking; he was clearly exhausted. But she was afraid if she chickened out now, she might never find the nerve.

She sat up in bed, letting the sheet slide off her breasts. Matt reached up to soothe the evidence of one of the little love bites he’d left in his passion. She smiled and took that hand in both of hers. He always worried that he was being too rough with her, but she loved the small telltale marks she often bore after a night with him. Loved feeling well and truly claimed, even if Matt wouldn’t take her out in public or acknowledge her as his mistress.

“I think we should get married,” Isabelle blurted. She cursed herself when she saw how his face froze and his eyes widened. She’d spent much of the afternoon rehearsing an elegant, subtle proposal, but those elegant words had abandoned her.

Matt made a sound between a sigh and a groan as he sat up. There were shadows around his eyes, and Isabelle was now certain she’d chosen the wrong time to broach the subject. She’d thought maybe that when the reality of his loveless marriage was fresh in his mind, he might be more likely to see that staying with Juliana was pointless.

“I hate to tell you this,” he said with a forced grin, “but I’m already married.” He held up his left hand to show off his wedding ring.

He was going to try to turn this into a joke, and maybe she should just let him, but the words were already out, and she refused to take them back.

“You don’t love her,” Isabelle said simply. “You never have. You do love me. Which one of us do you really think you should be with?”

Matt extracted his hand from her grip and ran it through his gently graying hair before letting it flop back down onto the bed. “This isn’t about love, and you know it.”

“Yes, yes, I know. She’s one of the great Almeidas, and I’m just a little nobody.” Without an alliance by marriage with the Almeidas, Matt would likely never have risen to the rank of Elder. The Order had an unabashedly European bias, and Matt’s American heritage would forever be a handicap in his political career.

“Don’t be like that,” Matt said, the annoyance in his eyes more pronounced. “You knew what you were getting into the moment we first slept together.”

“I didn’t know I was going to fall in love with you,” she protested. Theirs was supposed to be something closer to a business arrangement, wherein he provided her with lovely gifts and a place to live, and she provided him with sex and companionship.

“Nor I with you,” he admitted. “But you have to know I am never going to divorce Juliana.”

Isabelle was surprised by the sting of tears in her eyes. She’d told herself over and over again that tonight’s opening salvo was meant only to plant the suggestion in Matt’s head, not win the war outright. But apparently she’d gotten her hopes up despite her logic.

“Why not?” she asked. “You’ve made it to the Council of Elders, and it’s a lifetime appointment. They can’t take it away if you get a divorce.”

“No, but you can be damn sure I’d have no chance of being elected Patriarch if I anger the Almeidas.”

Isabelle gaped at him. “Patriarch? Are you serious?” Somehow, it had never occurred to her that his ambitions soared that high. It was hard enough for an American to get on the Council of Elders, but to hope to become Patriarch … ? That was asking a bit much of his alliance by marriage—especially when he and Juliana weren’t even living on the same continent, much less sharing a home.

“Of course I’m serious.” He waved his hand dismissively. “I know I’d be the longest of long-shots, but if I lose the Almeidas’ support, I’ll have no shot at all. And everything I try to do on the Council for the rest of my life will end up blocked by the Almeidas and their supporters. I became an Elder so I could make a difference, not because I wanted to wear fancy robes and have people call me Your Excellency.”

Isabelle was sure that was true, but still … The current Patriarch was only sixty-four years old, and thanks to the connection with the Anima that was the birthright of all the Gifted, he was likely to live into his early hundreds with perfect mental acuity. Not only that, he had a son who was well-liked and was the right age to make a natural successor. “You mean to tell me that you’re planning to stay married to a woman you don’t love for forty more years in hopes that you might be considered a candidate for Patriarch when Adrian Farraday dies?” Her voice had risen with her outrage at the thought that he would deny her over such a distant and unlikely possibility. He started to speak, but she cut him off, heat rising in her cheeks and anger thrumming in her heart. “Need I remind you that you’ll be in your eighties by then?” Long life and mental acuity notwithstanding, the Council of Elders had never elected a Patriarch older than seventy-five, and most Patriarchs were in their fifties or sixties when elected.

Matt was glaring at her, no longer even slightly distracted by her bared breasts. “No, you don’t need to remind me. Need I remind you that I have dedicated my life to the Order? This isn’t just a career to me, it’s a calling. I believe that the Order needs to change, that we need to modernize with the times, and if there’s a chance I could become Patriarch, then I’m going to take it. Even if it would make me personally happier to be married to you than to Juliana.”

His voice softened at the end, as if that could somehow take the sting out of his words. But that was impossible when he’d just told her flat out that his career was more important to him than she was.

“And what about Juliana?” Isabelle tried desperately. “Is it fair to her that you will hold her hostage to your career for the rest of her life?”

Matt shook his head in disgust and slid out of bed. “I never took you for a hypocrite, Belle.”

“I’m not—”

“You don’t care about Juliana. You’ve never even met her.”

“All I’m saying is that upholding your charade of a marriage is no more fair to her than it is to me—or to you.”

Matt paused in the doorway, naked and unashamed. “Our marriage isn’t a charade. We have two beautiful children and a grandson who is the light of my life. We don’t love each other, but we are friends. I would never throw that friendship away by divorcing her for another woman. And let’s not even talk about the troubles a divorce would cause our children!”

Isabelle swallowed back a protest. Though both of Matt’s children were grown, and the eldest, Melanie, was already married with a young child, Isabelle knew he wasn’t being melodramatic. The Almeidas would consider the divorce an insult to their family, and adults or not, the children would be very much in the middle. A tear slid down her cheek, and she brushed it away, hoping that small act of feminine magic would bring Matt back to her bed. Her clumsy proposal had gone as wrong as it was possible to go, and she wanted him to hold her and comfort her and tell her he loved her again.

“I’m sorry I’ve hurt you,” Matt said softly. “I thought you understood the limitations of our relationship. I love you. And I’ll give you as much of myself as I can if you’ll let me. But I can’t marry you.”

The ache in her chest and throat sent another tear sliding down her cheek, and Isabelle tried to take a deep breath to soothe it. She had made a mess of everything, and she could almost see the emotional barriers Matt was building around himself. If she didn’t remind him of just how much he wanted her, she might well lose him altogether.

Calling upon her Gift, Isabelle threw the sheet aside, baring her entire body. His eyes latched onto her naked form as her Gift enhanced her natural aura of sexuality—and helped her gauge exactly which sexual lure would be most effective in his current state of mind. She blinked away the last of her tears, though she knew she would shed many more later, when she was alone.

“I’m the one who should be sorry,” she said, hoping she sounded more sincere than she felt. She licked her lips, then pouted at him as she rose to her hands and knees. “I’ve been a bad girl. Someone needs to put me in my place.”

Matt’s eyes kindled with forbidden pleasure and his cock rose steadily from its nest of curls. He was a gentle, kind man at heart, and before he’d met Isabelle, he’d never admitted to himself, much less anyone else, that the idea of administering a little discipline might excite him. It was part of Isabelle’s Gift that she could look at a man—or a woman, for that matter—and know which sexual hot buttons to push. Some people got Gifts of invisibility, or mind reading, or imperviousness to fire … Isabelle got fucking. But at least she made good use of it.

“Perhaps we shouldn’t,” Matt said hoarsely, his quickened breaths betraying him. “Not when we’re angry with one another.”

He was right. This was a dangerous game to play when there was anger in the mix. Isabelle hesitated for only a moment before she purred and wiggled her bottom enticingly. This was going to hurt a little more than she liked, but she knew Matt would stop the moment she asked him to. If she was sore and tender afterward and Matt should happen to feel a little guilty about being so rough … Well, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

 

Paris, France

 

Lynda Powell shut the bedroom door in her son’s face, turning the deadbolt despite Patrick’s Gift. If he wanted in, the lock would open for him, but at least she’d made her wishes clear.

“Mother, don’t be like this,” he said in the overly patient voice he’d been using with her ever since his father, her beloved Harry, had died.

Had it been only two months ago? The seemingly endless cycle of appeals had made it seem so much longer. Now word had come from the Abbey in Saint-Malo that her final appeal had been denied. The Patriarch had refused to hear her case, even though she and Patrick had flown all the way to France on limited funds, Patrick protesting the whole time, of course.

“Go away,” Lynda said. “Run off and toady up to your new friend on the afternoon your father’s soul is being destroyed. I don’t care anymore.”

They’d kept Harry’s body on ice throughout the appeals process, but by the time Lynda and Patrick returned home to Chicago, the Parish Board would have heard the verdict and gone ahead with the cremation. Despite his years of service to the Order, despite the Gifts he’d received, Gifts that were a sure sign of the Anima’s favor, Harry was not to be consecrated because the selfish, stubborn, bigoted old relics who ran things couldn’t get over a simple little youthful indiscretion. He’d gotten an unGifted girl pregnant when they were both college students, and he had the audacity to acknowledge the child was his. You’d have thought he’d had sex with a gorilla from the level of censure he’d received from the Order.

“How would it help Dad if I stayed at the hotel all day and brooded?” Patrick asked with impatience. “I have a chance to personally meet with an Elder who might—”

“Stop it!” she shrieked, covering her ears with her hands. How could she and Harry have raised a son who was so self-centered? Who wouldn’t take an afternoon to mourn the loss of his father’s soul? How could he go out and curry favor with one of the sanctimonious old men who’d denied their appeal?

Of course, Patrick had never agreed with her decision to appeal in the first place. He said Harry had known what he was doing when he refused to turn his back on his daughter, Katie. Although the Doctrine was a living, changeable document that was frequently updated by the Patriarch and the Council of Elders, the injunction against sexual relations with the unGifted had remained unchanged over the centuries. By acknowledging his half-breed daughter, Harry had made it impossible for the Order to overlook his transgression. While it was true Harry had made a conscious choice to do what he considered right while fully understanding the risks, Lynda suspected Patrick’s objections had less to do with respecting Harry’s choice and more to do with a desire not to negatively impact his own career by “making waves.”

“I can’t talk to you when you’re like this,” Patrick said, and she imagined him throwing up his hands in exasperation.

As she didn’t want to talk to him right now anyway, his condescension didn’t bother her much. When he slammed out of the hotel room, she let out a breath of relief. Angry though she was at him for his insistence on carrying on with his damned meeting as if nothing had happened, she was glad he was gone. She needed a good long time alone so she could get a head start on her trip to Saint-Malo. If he knew what she was up to, he’d no doubt try to stop her.

A strange sense of calm came over her as she opened the dresser drawer and fished around in the pile of underthings for the gun she’d brought with her from home. Everything could have gone horribly wrong before this trip had even started if she’d been caught going through airport security with it in her pocket. Unsure whether her Gift would work on people who weren’t within her field of view, she’d refused to go through the scanner despite her distaste for the invasive manual search. The metal detector had gone off when she’d stepped through, but no one, not even Patrick, had noticed. The TSA agent who was groping Lynda froze when she touched the gun, then frowned and seemed to forget what she was doing when Lynda’s Gift hit her. She let Lynda pass without even finishing the pat down.

Lynda had made it safely to Paris without anyone knowing she was armed. Now, the worst had happened, exactly as she’d expected. Her final appeal had been denied, and Harry’s soul would be destroyed. But the appeal hadn’t been the true purpose of her trip anyway. No, she was here because her spirit guide, Fiona, had set her a Quest, one that filled her with purpose and reminded her that the Anima worked in mysterious ways. That the appeal had been denied was merely a final boost of motivation so Lynda wouldn’t lose her nerve. Patrick’s selfishness didn’t hurt, either. Otherwise, she might have felt guilty for the damage she would do to his ambitions whether she succeeded or failed. Let him rub elbows with his friend the Elder today; tomorrow, not even a member of their local Parish Board would admit knowing him, much less be seen talking to him.

Tucking the gun neatly in her purse, Lynda headed down to the lobby to arrange transportation to Saint-Malo, where her destiny awaited.

 

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