Leslie Parrish introduces Extrasensory Agents, a band of psychic investigators interested only in the cases nobody else wants-the coldest ones...
After being made a scapegoat in a botched investigation that led to a child's death, Aidan McConnell became a recluse. Still, as a favor to an old friend, Aidan will help on the occasional ESA case.
Reporter Lexie Nolan has a nose for news-and she believes a serial killer has been targeting teen girls around Savannah, but no one believes her. So she turns to the new paranormal detective agency and the sexy, mysterious Aidan for help. But just as the two begin forging a relationship, the case turns eerily personal for Lexie-and Aidan discovers that maybe he hasn't lost the ability to feel after all.
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Prequel to Leslie Parrish's Cold Sight
Two Years Ago
The missing woman's car was found on a steamy Friday afternoon, several miles from the donut shop where she'd been carjacked the previous weekend. As the investigative team moved in, Aidan McConnell, who'd provided the tip that had led the authorities to this deserted, backwoods spot, had only one burning question: Was she inside?
I guess we're all about to find out.
Staying behind, he watched the scene unfold from a clearing beside a thick tangle of moss-laden, live oak trees. Several members of the Savannah P.D. advanced, encircling the banged-up, dusty vehicle, which stood about fifty yards deeper in the woods. Even from here, a strong sense of foreboding—the unmistakable aura of death—had him on alert. An unnatural silence descended, as if the very birds in the air had been silenced by the darkness of this place, the tension of this moment.
Then a detective popped the trunk. He stiffened…staggered back. A few others leaned forward to peer inside. And one, a young-looking, uniformed street cop, turned and puked on the ground near the back tire.
Aidan's breath escaped in a whoosh. Which was when he realized he'd been holding it.
Confirmation. It wasn't just the car. They'd found the victim, too.
Well, they'd found her body, anyway. The rest of her—the faithful daughter, the good-natured friend, whatever had made twenty-year old Maggie Wilshire unique and special and human—was long gone.
The scene remained frozen for a long moment, a necessary pause for the horror to sink in. Then all the first responders burst into frenzied activity. One got on a radio, another began staking up a perimeter of bright yellow, too-cheerful-a-color crime scene tape, a third chewed-out the pale-faced rookie who'd gotten sick. And soon it was just another crime scene. The mystery of Maggie Wilshire's disappearance was solved, even if her murder investigation had only just begun.
What an ignominious ending to the week-long drama that had captured the attention of the entire city of Savannah. The media hadn't been tipped-off, the police had kept this hush-hush. Other than Aidan, there were no other onlookers. A ramshackle ruin that had once sold boiled peanuts and bait to passing fishermen was the only structure within a half-mile. And the only residents of this muck-laden, swampy backwoods hell were the mosquitoes, palmetto bugs and perhaps a few lumbering gators.
The human predators who'd committed this crime were long gone.
Within minutes, another half-dozen official vehicles had ringed the site, and twice that many officers of the law. Every once in a while, somebody—a tech, the patrolman who'd gotten sick, one of the detectives—would cast a suspicious look in his direction.
Aidan took no offense. He'd grown used to it.
He made no attempt to move closer; not that they'd let him. No way would they give some defense attorney any wiggle room in the future. He knew how they thought—if he got too close, he could later claim evidence of his presence at the scene had been left there this morning, long after the crime.
Not that there was any, of course. He'd never been here, never seen this place, other than in his mind. And he definitely hadn't killed poor Maggie Wilshire. He was just the guy who knew what had happened to the missing woman, knew roughly where to find her. The one who had directed the authorities to this old abandoned rut of a road in some back woods not far off the Intracoastal Waterway.
All of which would make any cop worth a damn eye him with suspicion. Even though most knew him, some by reputation, some from his work on previous cases.
"So how'd you know?"
Aidan barely glanced at the unmarked car that had just pulled up beside him to idle in the small clearing. A familiar detective sat behind the wheel.
"You wouldn't understand."
"Try me," the other man said, his tone less skeptical than it had been this morning when Aidan had walked into a downtown precinct, claiming he had knowledge of the college student whose disappearance had dominated the local news all week.
Aidan finally met the other man's even stare, seeing interest beneath the natural belligerence worn like body armor around every cop he'd ever known. He could try to come up with some kind of technical explanation, or else a more mystical one.
Instead, however, he simply offered Detective Gabe Cooper the truth. "The Beach Boys."
Cooper lifted a skeptical brow. "So Brian Wilson called you up and told you where to find her?"
Patient, Aidan explained. "The song Fun, Fun, Fun kept playing in my head. Has been for the past two days. I couldn't shut it out. Could hardly hear anything else."
The detective shook his head, still not getting it. So Aidan nodded toward the crime scene...and the Candy Apple Red, 1967 T-bird sitting right in the middle of it. Maggie Wilshire's restored classic car had reportedly been a high school graduation gift from her parents. Now it was her tomb.
Understanding washed over the other man's face. "Daddy didn't take her T-bird away," he murmured, "and I seriously doubt her last day on this earth was fun."
No, it hadn't been. It had been horrific. Aidan knew that, he'd mentally tapped into the remnants of Maggie Wilshire's final hours of life. The tiny bit of sensory input he'd gotten had been enough to convince him she'd died in agony, and in terror. "The song—the line about the car—was just the clue that helped me figure out who I'd been having other impressions about. The T-bird was mentioned in every news report."
Cooper slowly leaned back in his seat, nodding, though his expression remained stern. "These other impressions—they're the ones you mentioned at the station? The bullfrogs, extreme heat inside a small, confined space, the smell of boiled peanuts, the water?"
Though he nodded, Aidan didn't point out the deep croaks that had resumed to fill the silence, or the monstrous warmth of the day—he couldn't even imagine what it must have been like inside that trunk last Saturday when the temperature had topped more than one-hundred degrees in the shade. He also didn't have to mention how close they were to the river, or point to the old, closed-up peanut stand. Cooper knew all of that. He didn't understand it, but he knew.
"That all came first. I just didn't know why until the song." "Once it clicked, did you know she was...that we weren't going to find her alive?"
He'd hoped they would; but he couldn't lie. "I knew." Though he'd wanted one, there had been no miracle save this time. "But I was still hoping I was wrong."
"You and me both," the detective said, shaking his head in quiet disgust. "Everything we've learned about her so far says she was just a really nice person. She'd gone out to get her little brothers some donuts Saturday morning. And now…."
Judging by the burning reek of bourbon Aidan experienced whenever he tried to focus on the perpetrators, the thugs had downed a bottle or two while they drove the stolen car all over the county on that blistering hot day. While they partied, the car's owner slowly boiled in the trunk. By that night, when the thugs had worked up their nerve and pulled into a secluded dirt road to do whatever they'd planned to do with their carjacking victim, Maggie had already been dead.
"We gotta catch these guys. Fast."
"Is that your professional opinion?" Nodding gravely, Aidan murmured, "I'll do anything I can to help."
Their stares met. The detective looked away first. Then, Cooper, who Aidan respected as a straight shooter and an honest cop in a city where nearly everyone had a little bit of larceny in his soul, ran the back of his hand across his sweaty face. "Gonna be a hot one."
August in Savannah was called sultry by the old-fashioned, upper-crust members of local society. In Aidan's opinion, however, it was hell's steam-room. The kind of thick Georgia day when it hurt to inhale air that smelled like a mildewed jock-strap. Hot didn't even come close.
"We'll need to talk to you back at the station later," Cooper added as he revved his car engine, preparing to leave again. "Come in around four."
It wasn't a request. "Fine."
"You willing to take a lie detector test?" Aidan knew the detective didn't really suspect him, he just had to cross every T and dot every I. "Aren't I always?"
It was the same everywhere. Whenever he stepped in and got involved in a case, be it here in Savannah, where he lived, or somewhere else across the country, he always had to be cleared as a suspect himself. Didn't matter that he'd worked with official agencies for years, that he'd trained as a cop, that he'd lectured on psychic phenomenon and written a few well-received books on the subject. He had to prove himself innocent every single time. If he didn't care so much about what he did, it almost wouldn't be worth the trouble.
Before the detective could reply, he turned his head to look back at another car that was approaching along the dusty, weed-choked, gravel road. "Oh, perfect."
Aidan followed the stare, seeing a bright yellow Jeep. Not a police vehicle, obviously. When it drew closer, he made out an attractive, dark-haired woman behind the wheel. She looked familiar for some reason, though he couldn't place her at first. "Who's that?" he asked.
"You don't know her?" "I think I've seen her, but I don't recall where."
"Thought you woo-woo types all stuck together."
Woo-woo types. Nice. "I'm afraid there's no local chapter of the Spooks-R-Us union here in Georgia."
Cooper's mouth quirked, then he explained, "Her name's Julia Harrington. Maggie's family hired her to help with the case—against my advice, I might add."
"What a surprise," Aidan mumbled under his breath.
"She recently opened a new paranormal detective agency, eXtreme Investigations." The hard-boiled detective shook his head and rolled his eyes in disbelief, as if forgetting who he was talking to. "The only reason she hasn't been laughed out of town already is because she wore the badge in Charleston and has a damn fine record of service."
Cooper might be correct in thinking those on the police force would sneer at a paranormal detective agency. But, as Aidan well knew, Savannah herself was pretty accepting of the strange and inexplicable. The city was ripe with secrets and mysticism; a more genteel, less bawdy version of New Orleans. It was one thing he liked best about his adopted hometown—far from the small Arkansas one in which he'd been born and raised.
"I think I saw an article about that in the paper," Aidan admitted, though the article wasn't why the woman seemed familiar to him. He suddenly realized he'd seen her in person. In fact, if he wasn't mistaken, he'd swear he'd spotted this Julia Harrington at two other crime scenes in the past month, watching from a distance, as Aidan often did. On both occasions, he'd had the strangest feeling that she'd been just as interested in him as she'd been in the cases. Not personally, but more in a detached, assessing way.
The way she kept her stare focused on him as she pulled up beside his car, parked, and hopped down confirmed it.
"Ms. Harrington," Cooper said, sighing at the woman. "I really don't have time…"
"I'm not here to talk to you," she said, brusque and focused.
Cooper's brow went up in surprise. "Oh. So how did you know we…"
The woman waved an unconcerned hand at him. "I just knew." Then she turned her full attention on Aidan. "You found her, didn't you."
Though it hadn't been posed as a question, Aidan answered, anyway. "I had a few ideas. A police officer actually located the car."
"But you knew, somehow, where they should look. Something about a song?"
Aidan couldn't help jerking in surprise, and he noted that, in his car, Detective Cooper did the same. But, unlike Aidan, the other man obviously didn't want to hear any more. Shaking his head, he mumbled, "Woo woo stuff," then slowly backed up and drove away.
Once they were alone, Aidan asked, "Who are you?" asking about a lot more than her name.
"I'm Julia Harrington, and you're Aidan McConnell." She stuck out her hand, grasping his in a firm shake, then said, "Now, please answer the question—did you tell them where to find the car?"
Aidan nodded, more than a little surprised by the woman's pushy demeanor.
"Okay. You need to come with me."
He gawked. "Excuse me?""We've got a lead on the carjackers."
Though his heart thudded in his chest, Aidan cast a quick glance toward the dust rising from the gravel road behind the detective's departing vehicle. "Then shouldn't you…"
"No. They won't listen, not yet. Not to me." She frowned. "You've proved yourself once today. They might listen to you. But I don't have enough for you to take to them yet. The others are working on it; with your help we can put the last few pieces in place."
"Members of my team. Derek, Olivia…you'll meet them."
"Look, lady, I work alone."
It was like talking to a brick wall. She simply refused to hear anything she didn't want to. "You're not much of a psychic if you can't see that I'm strictly a solo act."
"I'm not a psychic," she informed him with a pointed stare. "I have no special abilities at all." Then, glancing at her watch and tapping her finger on it impatiently, she asked, "You do want to find out who killed this girl, don't you, and stop them from doing it again?"
"Then come on. They're ballsy—thinking they got away with it. And they're socking back another couple of bottles of Wild Turkey to work up the nerve to go back out on the prowl tonight."
Stunned, Aidan asked, "How do you know that, about the bourbon?"
"I just know," she told him. "Look, McConnell, we're wasting time. If you want to find out more—if you want to be in on this case—you'll just have to put on your nice-team-player uniform and come with me."
He wanted to know more, and something about the woman's demeanor told him she was onto something. Still, he had to clarify, "I'm not looking for a permanent job. I've got plenty of work to do."
"We'll call you a consultant. Part-time, on your terms. But please, let's go."
To his own surprise, he found himself seriously tempted. The dead woman in the trunk of the car fifty yards away deserved justice, and the city of Savannah deserved the peace of knowing two killers were behind bars.
There was more, though—the idea of working with someone so driven and determined interested him. He'd never really shared his strange abilities with anyone else, other than the grandmother who'd taught him how to use them. Trusting a complete stranger was not something that came easily to him. Yet, the temptation grew by the second. What might it be like to be around others who had similar abilities—and who used them to solve crimes, like he did?
Then he remembered what else she'd said. "But you just said you have no psychic abilities."
"That's what I said, all right." Then, as if knowing he was waffling, she turned on her heel and strode toward her Jeep. Like him coming along was all but given now.
"My partner," she said, calling to him over her shoulder. "He's the one who sees and knows all."
His own curiosity, and her urgency, finally helped him make his decision. Without another word, he followed, hopping into the passenger seat of the Jeep. Aidan didn't know if he was making the right choice, but knew he'd regret it if he didn't at least explore what this woman was telling him.
She offered him a quick smile. "Glad to have you on board."
"For this case," he insisted.
"Understood." She jammed the key in the ignition. "Buckle up."
He did, sensing she was as impatient at driving as she was at explaining anything.
"So, this partner, he's the one who has a line on these carjackers?"
"Yep. Morgan Raines. My former partner on the Charleston P.D., and my silent partner in eXtreme Investigations."
"I'll look forward to talking to him," Aidan said, filing away the information so he could do a little more research on the woman and her partner, at a less critical moment.
"Didn't you catch the 'silent' part?" she asked. She didn't wait for him to answer, jerking the gearshift into reverse, gunning the engine, and spinning the four-wheeler around.
As they took off through the woods, Aidan had to raise his voice to be heard over the hot breeze rushing into the open-topped vehicle. "You mean, nobody knows he's involved in your business?"
"Not exactly," she told him. Julia flipped her sunglasses down off of the top of her head, covering her eyes as the Jeep burst out from beneath the covering trees into the blazing hot Georgia sunshine.
"Well, what do you mean?" he asked, wondering why she suddenly seemed evasive.
She didn't even look over, merely grinning slowly as she floored the gas pedal, as if reminding him that he was committed now, and had no way out.
"I mean, nobody else can talk to him. He's been dead for seven years."
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