Penguin.com (usa)

Ghosts & Echoes

Lyn Benedict - Author

ePub eBook | $7.99 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9781101186992 | 368 pages | 27 Apr 2010 | Ace | 18 - AND UP
Additional Formats:
Summary of Ghosts & Echoes Summary of Ghosts & Echoes Reviews for Ghosts & Echoes An Excerpt from Ghosts & Echoes
The new urban fantasy series that has readers jumping at shadows.

Chicago cop Adam Wright has picked up a spiritual hitchhiker, the ghost of a dead man who desperately wants to live again. So he turns to supernatural P.I. Sylvie Lightner to rid him of the spirit-a spirit she finds strangely familiar.

Just before 2 p.m., South Beach traffic was as slow as it ever got. The sidewalks were white-hot under the June sun, and the only people walking about were red-shouldered, red-nosed tourists going puffy in the heat. The glass storefronts gave back reflections of sunlight, and the palm fronds shivered, seeking a breeze.

Sylvie idled her battered truck, waiting for a cluster of bathing-suit-clad students to pass in front of her. Once they ambled on by, Sylvie pulled into the alley between her office and Frankie’s Bar.

She let the truck engine hum and rattle for a moment—two o’clock. She could get away with not going into work, decide it was too late to make it worthwhile, and go home. What was one more day off tacked on to a month of days?

Maybe one day too many.

There was a difference between taking time off to get her grief and rage under control and taking time off because she was scared to go back to work. Scared to test her self-control. Scared she might get someone else killed the way she’d gotten Michael Demalion killed.

The ocean hissed and seethed and slapped at the nearby piers, boats bobbing in the waves, and Sylvie wondered how the ocean could sound so welcoming on Sanibel and so threatening at home.

You’ve never dropped bodies into the Gulf of Mexico, her little dark voice whispered. Only Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic.

“Yeah, didn’t miss you,” Sylvie murmured. Home for less than an hour, and her dark-natured backbrain was mouthing off again. Her vacation was definitely over. Time to go see what havoc had been wrought while Alex had been running the store.

The glass front was smudge-free and shining; the letters reading SHADOWS INQUIRIES crisp-edged and free from salt scour. Sylvie traced the curve of one of them, thought it might have been repainted in her absence. She opened the door, blinked in the contrast of light, from sunny Florida outdoors to dim fluorescence. The scene revealed itself to her in bits; Alex puttering in the dimly lit kitchenette, the German shepherd dozing on the leather couch beneath the window, the front desk piled high with files, the yawning gap of a dark stairwell leading upward to Sylvie’s private office, and the dark scent of coffee vying with cleaning solutions.

The checkered linoleum, black and white, gleamed in a way that suggested Alex had taken ruthless advantage of Sylvie’s absence to see things set back into place. Even the green-leather couch sported a patch or two, neat joins where the werewolf-clawed furniture had been repaired. That was beyond Alex. Alex had raided petty cash and called for the cleaners.

And why not? Clean start, a clear heart. Ease back into things. No hurries, no worries, no fuss or muss. Even her little dark voice, that primitive and baser side of her, usually so quick to demand action, only murmured lazy agreement. After a month of inaction, it was in a near stupor, smothered by sun and sand and enough tropical cocktails to keep a frat party happy.

Alexandra Figueroa-Smith, her business partner, looked up as Sylvie entered. Her expression, serious and a little bored, lightened, and she squealed, “You’re back!” She launched herself in Sylvie’s direction, all long limbs and bright makeup; the computer monitor rocked on the desk as she passed. “And you’re not even burned. I hate you—how the hell?—the way you were lying out, you should be toast. A carcinogen briquette.”

“Charming image,” Sylvie said. She evaded the hug, hit the kitchenette, and turned off the snazzy, easy-serve espresso maker a grateful client had given them. She swept the litter of punctured containers into the trash, and the unused pile—scarily smaller—into a cupboard, closed it firmly. “You’re cut off.” Guerro, lounging on the couch, thumped his plumy tail once in what Sylvie swore was gratitude.

“I’ve been doing the job of two people for the past two weeks. That means I get to drink coffee for two. ’Sides, it’s the good stuff.”

“Yeah?” Sylvie said. Alex reached into the cupboard, pulled out one of the little pods, and waved it at her. Sylvie sighed. Alex looked more like a grunge barista than an investigator, with her pierced brow, pink hello-kitty baby tee, and camo cargos falling too long over yellow flip-flops. Sylvie kept meaning to have talks about business dress, but she liked Alex’s irreverent outfits. Besides, they were of a size enough that if important meetings came up, Alex could borrow Sylvie’s spare clothes kept upstairs. The coffee pod bounced under Sylvie’s nose, and she sighed again.

“Fine, give it,” Sylvie said. She switched the machine back on, but wandered away, and fiddled with the blinds above the battered, green-leather sofa. “Off, Guerro.”

The dog, sighing heavily, obeyed; Sylvie slung herself onto the sofa and assumed the position she’d practiced so well the past month—on her back, elbow crooked above her eyes, comfy. Alex set the tiny cup on her stomach; Sylvie curled her fingers around its warmth and looked up at the window’s gilt letters shining in the afternoon sunlight. It was good to be home.

She sipped the coffee—Alex was right; it was tasty stuff—and said, “So. Anything pending?”

“There’s always something,” Alex said, shoving Sylvie’s legs over and sitting down. “You want interesting, dull but profitable, or all kinds of special? ’Cause, honestly, the special’s piling up a bit.”

Sylvie kept her smile with a tiny expenditure of effort. Yeah. It always did. The Magicus Mundi never stopped knocking at the real world’s door. At best, it was as persistent and as annoying as the small child playing doorbell pranks and sniggering in the bushes. At worst, it smashed windows, crawled inside, and took lives. Sylvie rarely got called for small problems, mostly because people were too blind to notice anything short of a disaster.

Sometimes she thought that the conflicts between the two worlds—human and magical—were more recognized than people let on, that it wasn’t blind stupidity, the utter failure to observe what was really happening, but was, instead, a vast conspiracy to deny the Magicus Mundi any toehold in real-world society. After all, if you knew it existed, you had to make laws to deal with it. The world wasn’t doing so hot with the rules it already had.

She took a slug of her cooling coffee. “So. What’s on offer?”

“Parents who tried to deprogram their kid—thought he was in a cult, not a coven—now their house is cursed.”

Sylvie grimaced. “Pass. I’ve pissed off enough witches lately.”

“A werewolf who wants you to mediate—”

“Pass,” Sylvie said. “They squabble worse than high-schoolers, and someone always ends up peeing on my shoes.”

“Missing woman, disappeared in the ’Glades. Car found, but no sign of foul play. Husband thinks it was aliens.”

Sylvie propped herself up on her elbows, the better to convey her exasperation. “Aliens? Magicus Mundi’s bad enough without little green men. Did you give him the Good Shepherd’s number?”

“You keep it close,” Alex said.

“Sorry,” Sylvie said. “Any missing persons like that, call him. He does this thing with magical gates—” At Alex’s opening mouth, Sylvie shook her head. “Don’t ask. I don’t know how it works. I’ll get you his number for your files.”

Alex nodded, grinning. Sylvie closed her eyes, the better to miss that triumphant smile. She still had reservations. There was a distinct difference to Alex’s knowing that Sylvie took on cases that involved the supernatural and Alex helping Sylvie in that world. The Magicus Mundi killed people.

We kill people, the dark voice that haunted her said abruptly, like a drunk startled awake to join a conversation. Sylvie counted to ten under her breath, thought of waves stroking the beach, and the voice subsided, still conjugating the ways she had, did, and would again, kill people. Some genetic legacies were purely good. Some were more complicated.

An enhanced survival trait like the voice in the back of her mind might keep her alive, but it also liked to dwell on blood.

Opening her eyes, she caught Alex making the “sneaky face,” biting her lip, frowning slightly, the face she made when she was about to try to convince Sylvie to do something.

“Don’t spin it or sell it. Just tell me,” Sylvie said. “What’s the case?”

“There’s a cop—”

Sylvie was already shaking her head; her hair rasped across her shoulders with each shake.

“He’s having an identity crisis, strange dreams, voices in his head, all that; he thinks he’s possessed or haunted.”

“Psychiatrist, psychologist, priest, or rabbi,” Sylvie said. “Anyone but me. That it?”

Alex slapped the notepad onto the desk. “He needs help.”

“Not the kind I can give. Anything else on offer?”

“What do you want?” Alex said. “Might be easier to narrow down what you do like in a case. Your dislikes apparently fill a phone book.”

“Don’t snap at me,” Sylvie said. “Cops have big problems and bad attitudes. I don’t want big problems. What I want? No dead things, no mayhem, no weeping relatives, missing people, long-lost loves, and just in case you missed it the first time, no life-and-death struggles.” She thumped the couch for emphasis, raising dog hair, dust, and the scent of coconut oil from long-ago sun-lotion spillage. Guerro thrust his head under her hand, and she petted his ears absently, aware, very aware of Alex studying her. Judging her.

“Okay,” Alex said, and put humor in her tone, a deliberate step away from touchy subjects. “Slacker Sylvie. Who’da thought?”

Sylvie flipped her off, though the tight knot in her belly was already easing. Part of the reason she hated it when Alex tried manipulation games was that she was so damn good at them. She set her feet down, gave the couch back to the dog, and stretched. “Let me know if something good comes in. Something nice. Clinical. Easy.

“Like what?”

“Surprise me. Until then, you know where I’ll be.”

“Upstairs, making sure I didn’t screw up the books, dooming us to bankruptcy, auditors, and ultimate penury.”

“Bingo,” Sylvie said. She went around the desk and climbed the narrow stairs wedged between the little kitchenette and bathroom. Her office door creaked ominously when she opened it, and she yelled back down, “Stellar job with the WD-40, Alex.”

A rude mutter floated upward, and she shut the door, smiling. Her desk waited, nice, neat, only one file in the center position, a man’s name written on the tab. Adam Wright. She flipped it open. Yup. The Cop With Issues.

Sylvie slid it to the side and opened the right-hand drawer. She tugged the gun out, rested its weight in her palm, settled her finger on the trigger. She sighted along it, aimed at the stress crack in the far wall’s stucco. “Bang,” she whispered. The little dark voice roused, waiting to see what bled.

Sylvie was afraid that, despite a month off doggedly avoiding conflict of even the tiniest kind, she was exactly the same as before. Aggressive. Belligerent. A trigger-happy trouble magnet prone to holding grudges. And still, no matter how she tried to pretend, she was still The Murderer’s Child. The descendant of Cain, the first murderer, and Lilith, the disobedient.

Lilith the dead, the dark voice purred.

Yes, Sylvie answered back, wordlessly. Yes.

She and the dark voice shared a moment of utter satisfaction before she tamped her vicious pleasure down. Her ancestry gave her a few useful perks: healthy paranoia, boundless determination, and a sense of self that refused to roll over even for the most powerful of magical denizens. On the downside, it brought an array of character flaws: cynicism, overconfidence, and an easily roused rage at life’s inequities, at abusive systems, at anything that presumed to call itself an authority.

It had been a peculiar sort of wake-up call to realize that Lilith and she shared a personal motto: Cedo Nulli. I yield to none. Lilith’s refusal to obey her god had burned so deep and so long that it entered her bloodline and came out in Sylvie’s. All unknowing, Sylvie had tattooed the motto on her skin the first moment it occurred to her to do so.

Maybe, if Sylvie had never involved herself in the Magicus Mundi, that spark of Lilith, that little dark voice that preached survival and dissension, would never have roused. It made her twitchy, made her wake at nights wondering what she had loosed into her psyche.

Alex tapped on the door and came in; her face tightened as she saw the gun, a dark splotch on the weathered pine. Sylvie flipped the file folder open to cover it, and Alex said, “You’re going to take Wright’s case?”

“No,” Sylvie said. “Did you need something?”

“Your dad called earlier, I forgot. Zoe’s coming over. She’s grounded or something, and you’re supposed to watch her.”

“What?” Sylvie asked. “Now?”

“Yeah,” Alex said.

“All right, then. Forewarned is forearmed and all that.”

Alex nodded and headed back downstairs. Sylvie rolled up the thin file on the troubled cop and chucked it after her. “Take that, too!”

Desk cleared of imminent problems, she sat back to enjoy the peace. With Zoe on the way, it would be short-lived.

Sylvie sighed. She shouldn’t begrudge her sister her attention. She hadn’t seen her for a month, barely saw her before that. This year had been hell for family responsibilities; she was up for the bad-sister award. Zoe had called her several times, but Sylvie had always had other things to do. First, it had been relocating werewolves, then Rafael’s dying, followed by the whole Chicago clusterfuck and Demalion—

Her hands tightened, made empty, impotent fists. Her shoulders knotted. Sylvie let her breath out, as steadily as the tide, dropped her shoulders, rolled her neck. The monthlong retreat was supposed to have put an end to that kind of tension. Dwelling on all the ways she was a screwup wasn’t helping.

She had to give herself at least one virtue point: When she’d made her impromptu retreat to Sanibel, she’d invited Zoe to join her. Zoe had been tempted. Gnawed her lip, eagerness in her eyes, but her best friend Bella had clutched her round the neck and laughingly told Sylvie that she couldn’t take her Zoe away, that they had school finals, plus a special project due.

Zoe, reluctantly, had agreed.

Sylvie had been as relieved as she’d been disappointed. She’d forgotten about school. These days, high school was barely a blip on her radar. Her parents would not have been pleased if Zoe’s junior-year finals took second place to a meaningless vacation. So she’d taken Alex instead. Alex had lasted a bare week before boredom sent her back to Miami’s faster-paced days.

But Sylvie was back now, and there weren’t any cases on deck, so Zoe could come first. Hell, if Alex honored her wishes—if the new cases fitted her new criteria, there’d be time enough to spend with her sister. Last summer for it, really. Zoe was headed into senior year, and all her plans revolved around her friends and college, a future Sylvie couldn’t even imagine. A normal life.

Sylvie leaned back in her desk chair, fighting a tinge of envy. She’d had that kind of future planned out once, had been on the right path—college, a business degree almost within her grasp. Then a friend from her high-school days came to her with an impossible story—her husband was trying to sacrifice their child to gain immortality—that turned out to be true. Sylvie’s normal future had never materialized.

Spend too much time with Zoe, and you’ll blight hers, the little dark voice murmured. It sounded almost sad as it dished out unpalatable truth. Zoe was observant, determined, clever; she’d find out about the Magicus Mundi if she spent any real time with Sylvie. And the genes were the same. If Zoe got a good look into the Magicus Mundi, what might wake in her? Her own dark voice? Her own bloody determination? A violent life to rival Sylvie’s?

New plan, Sylvie thought. Forget about the crazy lunch tour they had launched in an attempt to eat at every restaurant in Miami. Forget about the late-night phone calls where Zoe giggled and dished gossip that Sylvie could barely follow. Forget it all and fuck sisterhood. Keep Zoe at a safe distance.

Yeah, that was going to go over well. Zoe didn’t need a magical wake-up call to be determined. She’d been born that way.

The quiet below was broken. The front door banged open, Guerro barked, and Alex’s voice rose up the stairs, faintly muffled by the closed door. “Sylvie?”

A walk-in? Zoe earlier than anticipated? Sylvie pushed herself to her feet, grabbed the Hurricanes windbreaker hanging over the back of her chair, tucking the gun into its pocket. Just in case.

Thumping down the stair, she drew to a halt, a smile forming as she saw the young man waiting by the doorway. “Frankie?”

“Hey, Shadows,” he said. “Got a minute?”

“For you, sure,” she said. She leaned on the reception desk next to Alex.

Frankie was the boy next door, in this case literally; he and his partner, Etienne, ran the bar across the alley. Frankie, she liked. The woman lingering in the doorway behind him, she didn’t. Lisse Conrad, owner of the art gallery down the street, had started her relationship with Sylvie by passing a petition to deny her business space. PIs, apparently, were not posh.

Conrad looked uncomfortable now; high spots of color bloomed on her sculpted cheekbones when she met Sylvie’s eyes. Her mouth twisted. She jumped when Guerro barked. That was all right with Sylvie. Art dealers weren’t high on her happy list, right now. Not after Lilith had nearly brought about the end of the world in the guise of one.

“Don’t tell me,” Sylvie said. “You want my help.”

Conrad looked to Frankie. Sylvie looked at him also, at his hands stuffed in his chinos, rocking back on his heels, trying for the look of an innocent schoolboy and failing.

“What gives, Frankie?” Sylvie asked.

“Things have been kind of weird around here last month or so, don’t know if you two were in the loop?”

“Consider us excluded,” Sylvie said. Alex coughed. A warning of bad behavior.

“Please, have a seat,” Alex said, gesturing toward the sofa. Frankie led Lisse to the seat, settled himself beside her. “Coffee?”

“No,” the woman said. She flicked her fingers, pushing dog fur away from her skirt.

In the gaps of the miniblinds, Sylvie saw an older-model grey Taurus slowing to a halt, holding up traffic just outside the door.

Sylvie opened her mouth to kick the woman out; she wasn’t interested in helping. Alex cut her off. “Syl, your sister’s here. Why don’t you let me talk to Lis—” At the woman’s sour expression, she continued, “Ms. Conrad.”

Sylvie hesitated. Letting Alex talk to Conrad was as good as taking the case. Alex was a soft touch, and she approved of income.

The front door slammed open, slammed shut, and brought in a teenage girl, all bad temper and self-importance.

On the desk, the silver warning bell rang twice uncertainly. Alex set her fingers to it, stilling the echo, but looked around warily. The bell was a witch’s gift, alerting them to any dark magic entering their shop.

Sylvie turned her attention away from the bell as it fell back to inert metal. Just a fluke. It wasn’t bad magic walking in, only a teenager with a penchant for slamming the door. Even the window had rattled briefly; no surprise, then, that the bell had shifted.

“Nice,” Zoe said. “You can’t have a bell over the door like everyone else?”

“You can’t come in without slamming doors? How old are you, six?” Sylvie sniped right back. Ah, sisterhood. She waved at her dad as he drove on by, having committed his personal hit-and-run on her life.

Lisse Conrad picked at the patch on the couch, her nails finding the old damage unerringly.

“It’s Friday,” Zoe said. “How lame is this? I’m grounded for something so stupid, you won’t even believe it.” She turned to throw herself on the couch, her usual sulk pattern, and blushed scarlet when she saw Conrad watching her with a frown.

“Don’t want to get grounded?” Sylvie said. “Don’t get caught. C’mon, brat. Upstairs. You can tell me what you did. Then we can go get dinner and bitch about the folks.”

Zoe blew sleek hair out of her face on a sigh, smoothed the seaming of her crisp white blouse before taking the narrow stairs ahead of Sylvie. Checking that she still qualified for fashion-model status, Sylvie thought. But that was Zoe. Sylvie had taught her to drive the day she turned fifteen, loaned her the truck the day she turned sixteen, and tried—and failed—to persuade her parents that Zoe needed a car of her own. It wasn’t altruism on her part. Sylvie’s weekends had been subject to being held hostage at the mall while Zoe worked her way through the sale racks at Banana Republic and Armani Exchange, interrogated the women at Sephora, and turned herself into ms. junior fashion plate.

Sylvie looked down at her own worn jeans, her T-shirt, the faded ’Canes jacket, and wondered if they were truly related. Zoe liked the nice things in life, and Sylvie, whose clothes were ruined as frequently as they were bought, didn’t bother much with trying to look anything beyond clean and presentable.

Once they were in the office, Sylvie slumped down behind her desk, and said, “So, spill?”

Zoe ambled about the room, poking at things. She ran her fingers over the pile of phone books in the guest chair, pulled the dusty roman blinds up so she could stare down into the alley. “Stayed out overnight without asking first. It’s not like it was even a school night! It’s summer, for god’s sake. Ari and I had been shopping all day, trying on a billion ugly swimsuits, then hunting for furniture. She’s going to redo her room. I was just too tired to drive home after all that, and it was too late to call. I was being considerate. Catch me doing that again.”

Sylvie snorted, trying to hide a laugh. That much excuse mingled with indignation? It had to be a lie. Teenagers never understood the concept of less being more.

Zoe sighed and grinned. “Look, you probably have things to do. Let’s just make a deal.”

And sometimes, she knew in her bones that they were sisters. In some ways, the brat reminded her of looking in a fun-house mirror—same brown hair, same brown eyes, same rangy build, only distorted—made smaller, made innocent.

“Syl, you’ll let me go out, right? I mean, Mom and Dad totally overreacted. And I’ve got a date with Carson.”

Sylvie said, “What happened to Raul?” Not committing to anything.

“Oh, great. Bring him up,” Zoe said, sweet entreaty defaulting right back to teenage indignation. “He was only three boyfriends ago. You know, if you can’t bother to call me back, you could at least read my blog. . . .”

“It’s not safe for you to be out roaming the streets late. Miami’s a dangerous—”

“How after-school special,” Zoe said. “C’mon Syl, you act like I’m out there turning tricks. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself. Not that you know that. Since you’re never around anymore.”

“I’ve been—”

“Busy. So you say. For someone who’s quick to question me, you’re not big on sharing the details.” Zoe propped herself on the edge of Sylvie’s desk, tried to stare her down.

“I’ve got bigger problems than schoolwork and dating,” Sylvie said. A quick flicker of memory, Demalion leaning over, pressing a small, sleepy kiss to her shoulder. She shook it away. Taking it easy meant not thinking about him.

“And I don’t?” Zoe’s cheeks flushed; her lips thinned. “You have no idea how hard—”

“I’m sure shopping really takes it out of you,” Sylvie snapped, regretted it instantly. Zoe jerked to her feet. Sylvie’s apology derailed as she saw the glint of unexpected rage in her sister’s eyes. The mirror isn’t so distorted after all, she thought distantly, then it was only Zoe again, and Sylvie said, “Zo, I’m sorry. Just, it’s been a real bad time around here. I shouldn’t take it out on you.”

The discontent and bad temper in Zoe’s face faded and didn’t come back. “So, I can go out, right?”

“And she never gives up,” Sylvie said. “Sorry, brat, you know the drill by now. No boys, no girls, no going out, and fork over the cell phone.”

Alex’s tap on the door and subsequent entry derailed Zoe’s first retort but not her scowl. Alex flashed a check in Sylvie’s face, a quick here and gone, but Sylvie caught the amount—$1200. Standard two-day fee for clients Sylvie didn’t like.

Sylvie opened her mouth to bitch, just for the sake of it, and Alex’s expression went from pleased to flat. She leaned over the desk, hissed, “You wanted an easy case. This is it. A couple of stakeouts, you turn the results over to the cops. Bloodless. Easy. And a chance for goodwill among our stuck-up neighbors. You don’t get to bitch when the universe gives you exactly what you requested.”

“But Conrad’s such a—” Sylvie caught the whine in her own voice, caught her sister smirking, and gave in on principle. No bad role models here. “Stakeout?”

“Give me twenty minutes, and I’ll have a file ready for you with the most likely address. I’m chasing a pattern to the robberies. But you’ll be able to start tonight.”

Sylvie slumped, thinking, yeah, Alex with a full partnership was going to be a pain in her ass. Then another thought occurred, brought a smile to her lips. “Tonight? Fine. But you’re sitting Zoe overnight.”

“What?” Two voices in outraged harmony. Amazing, Sylvie thought. Alex and Zoe so rarely agreed on anything at all.

“She watches Doctor Who and wears weird clothes with dog hair all over them,” Zoe wailed. “I’ve got better things to do!”

Alex grimaced. Sylvie said, hastily. “I owe you one, Alex.”

Zoe stopped whining long enough to say, “Her? What about what you owe me?”

“You’re going to owe me a big one,” Alex said.

Given that Zoe was now nicely aggravated anyway, Sylvie grabbed her sister’s purse and dumped it out. Grounded girls didn’t get to play with their toys. Zoe yelped, but the deed was done. Sylvie ruthlessly confiscated the iPhone—wondering how the hell Zoe had conned her parents out of that chunk of change; she hadn’t had it the last time Sylvie got to play prison warden—another cell phone, iPod, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, and an orange bottle of prescription drugs. Sylvie rolled the bottle in her hand. Maybe her parents were right to be concerned. She and Zoe had done this song and dance before, but there’d never been drugs involved.

Kids could get in over their heads really damn fast. Sylvie had seen it more than once. The parents worried about the kid’s grades, the boyfriend/girlfriend, and by the time they started really worrying, by the time they showed up on Sylvie’s doorstep, their baby was gone for good.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Alex slinking out, playing at discretion. Sylvie turned the bottle again, listening to the pills clicking inside. The label read AMOXICILLIN. The contents, when she popped the lid off, were clearly not.

“Those aren’t mine,” Zoe said.

Sylvie tilted the bottle up, reading the name on the label. Isabel Martinez. “So I see. You holding them for her or taking them for her?”

“Holding,” Zoe said.

“That the truth?”

“Yeah.”

“Like you told me you quit smoking?”

“I did.”

Sylvie held up the cigarette pack. The two cigarettes left in it rattled loosely. “You holding these for Bella also?”

“You know what? Screw you,” Zoe said. “I haven’t even hung out with Bella in weeks. If you were around, you might have known that. She’s all messed up, and I know when to walk away. I’m old enough to make my own decisions.”

“I’ll believe that when you start making sensible ones,” Sylvie snapped. More worried than she wanted to be—she was taking things easy, dammit—she shoved the rest of her sister’s belongings back into her Vuitton knockoff: wallet, a slide of cash—twenties and tens—enough cosmetics for three makeovers, a couple of small candles in red and gold, spare earrings, a perfume sample, a comb, and a double handful of salt and powdered creamer packets from some fast-food place. She turned the last over a couple of times, trying to figure out why they were there. The powdered creamers worried her, made her think of drugs being cut. The salt . . . She couldn’t imagine what Zoe would need salt in that quantity for.

“The cafeteria sucks,” Zoe said. “They always run out of condiments.” She snatched them back, shoved them in on top of everything else, and Sylvie narrowed her eyes. Was Zoe nervous? Or telling the simple truth?

Zoe took the bag, clutched it to her chest, and watched as Sylvie swept the confiscated items into her own satchel. “It’s nearly dinnertime. Alex’ll take you next door. Frankie’ll feed you for free, he owes me one, but don’t make his life difficult by asking for a drink.”

Zoe shrugged as if the thought had never crossed her mind. “You’re really sending me off with her? We’re not even going to do dinner together?”

Sylvie shoved her sister toward the stairs. “Work calls. Go play nice, Zo. Or I’ll drag you on the stakeout with me. You’d like that even less. We can talk tomorrow. Promise.”

Liar, her little dark voice said. You’ll find another excuse. For her own good.

“What are you staking out, anyway?”

Alex met them at the base of the stairs with a promptness that suggested she’d been eavesdropping via the intercom.

“Potential burglary,” she answered, handing Sylvie the promised file. “A gang’s working the south Florida circuit. No one knows how they’re getting in. Hit the jewelry store up the street, the art gallery, loads of others. Sylvie’s been hired to find them.”

“Oh,” Zoe said, her voice gone small and tight as if she’d never considered that Sylvie’s job might involve real criminals. “You think you’ll catch them?”

“That’s the plan,” Sylvie said.


To keep up-to-date, input your email address, and we will contact you on publication

Please alert me via email when:


The author releases another book