In Too Deep
Book One of the Looking Glass Trilogy
The New York Times bestselling author begins a new trilogy set in a secluded coastal town in Northern California-a mysterious place where danger and passion run deep...
Fallon Jones: three years earlier . . .
Paranormal fire burned in the darkness. Auroras of psi splashed across the ether. The night sky above San Francisco was ablaze with light from across the spectrum. Fallon Jones gripped the condo balcony railing with both hands, fighting to anchor himself to reality. There were spectacular patterns wherever he looked: wondrous, astonishingly intricate webs of connections and links that illuminated the path back to the heart of the universe.
The dazzling radiance of the midnight world was compelling beyond anything he had ever experienced. He was certain that if he only looked closely enough, he would be able to distinguish the light from the dawn of creation, perhaps even grasp a fistful of the raw power of chaos that fueled the forces of life and death.
“Good night for a walk, isn’t it?” Tucker Austin said.
Fallon turned to look at the figure silhouetted in the opening of the sliding-glass doorway. There was something wrong. Tucker looked as if he stood on the other side of a waterfall. It was impossible to focus on him. He held something in his hand but Fallon could not make it out.
“What are you doing here?” Fallon asked. He was vaguely aware that he sounded drunk. But he was almost positive that he’d had only one glass of wine with dinner.
“We both know why I’m here.” Tucker moved out of the doorway and went to stand at the railing a short distance away. He kept the object in his hand out of sight against his left leg. “The magic lantern really slammed your senses, didn’t it? That’s one of the interesting side effects of the device. The higher the level of talent, the greater the impact. You are literally off the charts on the Jones Scale. That makes the lantern the ideal weapon to destroy you without arousing any suspicions. By now you’re lost out there on the paranormal plane. There’s no coming back from this trip.”
“You came here to kill me,” Fallon said. A simple statement of fact, nothing more or less. It was good to know he was still able to think logically.
“I did warn you that one day your talent would be the death of you.” Tucker sounded amused. “I’m not alone in that opinion, as I’m sure you’re aware. Fortunately, a lot of people are convinced that a chaos theory–talent as powerful as you is doomed. And there have always been those rumors about the men in your family who inherit that aspect of the founder’s talent. Everyone knows that Sylvester Jones was a paranoid whack-job at the end.”
“Sylvester died more than four hundred years ago,” Fallon said. “No one knows what really happened to him at the end. And rumors are, by definition, not facts.”
“But as you have often pointed out, an interesting rumor always has more influence than a boring fact.”
Fallon shook his head once and blinked a couple times, trying to bring Tucker into focus. The small motion caused the universe to shift around him. The disorientation was so fierce now that he had to clench his hand around the balcony railing to stay on his feet.
“Why?” he asked. It was a foolish question. He knew the answer. But for some reason he wanted to hear Tucker put it into words. Then again, that had been the problem all along. He had wanted to believe Tucker Austin.
“I’m afraid there’s no other way out.” Tucker rested both elbows on the railing and contemplated the night. “It’s either you or me this time. Survival of the fittest and all that. The magic lantern has certain hypnotic effects. In addition to creating those fascinating hallucinations you’re currently viewing, it makes you vulnerable to suggestion. For example, you feel like taking a walk off this balcony, don’t you?”
“No,” Fallon said again. He tried to move, but when he took a step he stumbled and went down to his knees.
Tucker gestured toward the building across the street. “You know what you should do, Fallon? You should cross that crystal bridge. Halfway over, you’ll have a terrific view of the heart of the universe. How can you resist?”
Fallon tightened his grip on the railing and hauled himself upright. He tried to focus, but the crashing waves of the auroras that lit up the night were too distracting.
“What bridge?” he asked.
“Right there.” Tucker pointed. “It leads from this balcony to the roof of the building across the street. Just step over the railing and you’ll be on your way.”
Fallon looked down. Strange machines moved on the street below. Lights glowed and flashed. Cars, some part of his brain whispered. Get a grip. You’re fourteen floors above the street.
“Don’t you see the bridge?” Tucker asked. “It leads to all the answers, Fallon. You just follow the crystal brick road to find the wizard.”
Fallon concentrated. A crystal bridge materialized in the night. The transparent steps were infused with an internal light. He pulled harder on his talent. The bridge brightened and beckoned. But a tiny sliver of awareness sliced through the wonder of the scene.
“Think I’ve seen that bridge before,” he said.
“Yeah?” For the first time Tucker sounded slightly disconcerted. “Where?”
“In the movies. Damn silly plot, but the special effects were mildly entertaining.”
Tucker chuckled. “Leave it to Fallon Jones to come up with a logical explanation for a perfectly good hallucination. Well, it was worth a shot. But if you won’t do this the easy way, I guess we’ll have to go with Plan B.”
He moved suddenly, bringing up the object in his hand. Fallon tried to raise one arm to block the blow, but his muscles would not obey. Instinctively he twisted aside instead. He lost his balance and went down hard on the tiled floor.
The object Tucker wielded was a hammer. It struck inches away from Fallon’s head. He heard the crack of the tiles. The entire balcony shuddered with the force of the blow.
Somewhere in the night a woman started screaming.
“You crazy son of a bitch,” Tucker said. He raised the hammer for another blow. “You’re supposed to be out of your head by now.”
Fallon rolled away and reached for more talent. The hammer struck the floor of the balcony again.
He managed to scramble to his feet. The sparkling, iridescent night spun wildly around him.
Tucker charged him in a violent rush. The promise of imminent death sent another rush of adrenaline through Fallon, producing a few seconds of brilliant clarity.
He finally succeeded in getting a focus. For an instant the familiar features of the man he had considered a trusted friend were clearly visible in the light from the living room. Tucker’s face was twisted with a maddened rage. Fallon realized that he had never known the real Tucker until tonight.
The shock of being so terribly, horribly wrong brought another dose of clarity. People had died because of Tucker Austin, and Fallon knew that he was, in part, to blame. He summoned up the full, raging force of his talent, reached into the heart of chaos and seized a fistful of fire. He hurled the invisible currents of paranormal radiation into Tucker’s aura. Not exactly Zeus with the lightning bolts, but good enough to get the job done.
Tucker grunted once, clutched at his heart and instinctively reeled backward to escape the onslaught of energy. He fetched up hard against the balcony railing. He was a tall man. The barrier caught him at midthigh. The force of his momentum sent him over the edge.
He did not scream, because he was already dead. But Jenny’s scream went on forever. Fallon knew he would hear it for the rest of his life.
Isabella: one month ago . . .
She was not expecting the killers to come for her in the lingerie department.
She was always especially alert at night after work when she walked through the mall’s deserted parking garage. She never entered the cheap motel room that she rented by the week without checking for the telltale paranormal fog indicating an intruder. When she shopped for groceries, she was careful to keep an eye on strangers who invaded her personal space, and she never, ever ordered in. No one had an excuse to knock on her door.
But for some reason Isabella had felt reasonably safe selling women’s underwear in the discount department store for the past week. The sight of the two men loitering across the aisle in women’s sportswear sent a frisson of electricity across the nape of her neck. When you were psychic, you paid attention to your intuition.
She heightened her talent cautiously, bracing for the unpleasant chill of awareness. She possessed the ability to perceive the unique energy generated by those who kept secrets. Everyone harbored countless mysteries, small and large, however, so it was a given that if there were people in the vicinity, there would be a lot of fog.
Her coworkers and the shoppers around her were abruptly surrounded by misty auras. She wrestled with her talent for a few seconds, concentrating on those two men. Although she was prepared, the sight of the hot, seething energy around the pair made her go cold to the bone. Definitely talents of some kind, probably hunters.
You’re the one they’re hunting, her intuition whispered. Run. Sure, like she could outrun two trained men who would be as quick and ruthless as a pair of wolves.
She struggled to maintain her outward composure. Panic would get her killed as surely as any gun or knife.
The middle-aged woman standing directly in front of her tossed three pairs of lacy thong panties onto the sales counter with a defiant air.
“I’ll take these,” she announced, daring Isabella to object.
The customer displayed all of the visible hallmarks of a woman who had just gone through a nasty divorce. Isabella did not need the psychic side of her nature to pick up on the cues: a pale white line where the wedding ring had been; eyes too wide and tight from a recent surgical lift; new haircut, fresh dye job; trendy, tight-fitting clothes. The woman’s life had recently crashed and burned.
I know the feeling, Isabella thought. Sort of. The truth was, she had never actually had a real life. Still, for a while during the past six months she had come close, so close, to feeling normal. Face it—you weren’t born to be normal.
She managed a polite smile and picked up the panties. “Great buy, aren’t they?”
“Yes.” The customer was somewhat mollified now that she was assured she wasn’t going to be mocked for buying the thongs. “That’s why I’m buying three pairs.”
“Good idea. The price will go back up next week after the sale,” Isabella said.
She watched the two men in women’s sportswear out of the corner of her eye while she rang up the panties. The hair on the back of her neck was standing on end. Goose bumps covered her upper arms. A cold sweat formed between her shoulder blades. Her senses were screaming. Her pulse was pounding. Get out of here. Now.
Viewed in normal light there was nothing to mark the two hunters as anything other than what they appeared to be: bored shopping escorts waiting for their companions to come out of the dressing rooms. But Isabella noticed that customers in their vicinity edged away from them. The two were probably really cranked, preparing to close in on their prey. As a result they were giving off so much energy that even people without any measurable talent sensed the threat on a subliminal level.
“Excuse me, I’m in a hurry here,” the woman on the other side of the counter snapped.
“Sorry.” Isabella smiled apologetically. “Cash register is a little slow today.”
She pushed the credit card receipt and a pen across the counter. The woman scrawled her name and grabbed the shopping bag containing the thongs. Isabella forced herself to smile at the next customer in line, a young mother with a baby in a stroller.
“Can I help you?” Isabella asked. Run.</p>
“I want to buy this.” The customer put a pale blue nightgown on the counter and leaned down to pick up the small plush toy the baby had tossed out of the stroller.
“This is such a pretty color,” Isabella remarked, falling back on the one day of training the department store had given her at the start of her employment. Always compliment the customer’s good taste. She folded the nightgown in the precise way she had been instructed and reached for a sheet of tissue. “Such a beautiful shade of blue.”
The woman straightened, brightening immediately.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s my favorite. Good price, too.”
“You were smart to get here early for the sale.” Isabella started to wrap some tissue around the nightgown and paused, frowning. “Hmm.”
“There’s a small spot on this gown,” Isabella said.
Alarmed, the woman leaned over the counter. “Where?”
“Right here.” Isabella whisked up the nightgown, careful to hold it so that the customer could not see the mythical spot.
“It’s the last one in blue in my size,” the woman wailed.
“Don’t worry, I think I’ve got one more in the back room, same color and size. I’ll only be a moment.”
Nightgown in hand, Isabella turned and went quickly toward the discreet door directly behind the counter.
She knew the hunter-talents saw her go through the door into the stockroom, but with luck they would not realize that she had spotted them. Even if they were suspicious, they were unlikely to follow her. One of the clerks would be sure to call Security.
She dropped the nightgown onto a table and started toward the door that opened onto the emergency stairwell. Darlene, one of her coworkers, emerged from between two rows of floor-to-ceiling shelving crammed with boxes of undergarments. She had a stack of lacy bras in her hand.
“Annie, are you okay?” Darlene asked, frowning in concern. “You look like you’re not feeling well.”
“I’m fine, thanks,” Isabella said.
She had used the name and ID of a nonexistent woman named Ann Carstairs to get the job in the department store. There was only one individual on the face of the earth who knew her real name. In the past week she’d been forced to face the possibility that that person, her grandmother, might be dead. If no one knows your real name, do you even exist? she wondered.
That’s it, she thought. Stop right there. Negative thinking will get you nowhere. Until it was proven otherwise, she was going to go with the assumption that her grandmother was alive. Meanwhile, her job was to keep herself breathing. That meant avoiding the two hunter-talents.
“You look a little shaky,” Darlene said.
“Low on caffeine,” Isabella replied. “I’m going on break. Thought I’d use the stairs to the coffee room. I need the exercise.”
“Huh.” Darlene hurried toward the door to the sales floor. “Seems to me we get plenty of exercise during a sale. My feet are killing me. I’m going to be exhausted by the time we get off work tonight.”
“Me, too,” Isabella said. “Would you mind taking the blue nightgown out to the counter? There’s a customer waiting for it. Tell her there was no spot, after all. Just a trick of the light.”
She waited until Darlene disappeared out onto the sales floor, and then she opened the stairwell door.
More fog swirled on the concrete staircase, but unlike the energy that enveloped the hunter-talents, this stuff glowed with a cold fire. It was the kind of fog she had learned to associate with impending death.
“Oh, crap, not now,” she whispered.
She was running for her life. She did not need any distractions.
She started down the stairs, determined to ignore the atmosphere of the stairwell. But there was no ignoring the seething fog cascading down the steps. It was so very cold.
She stopped and looked up. The fog came from the rooftop of the three-story mall, one floor above. The part of her that had been dealing with her talent since her thirteenth year screamed at her to follow the luminous trail. There was something at the top of the emergency stairwell that needed to be found immediately. Time was of the essence.
The thought of getting cornered on the roof by the two hunters held no appeal. But the odds were good that the pair would assume that she would flee down into the mall garage or out onto the street. Going up might be an excellent strategy.
Okay, she was rationalizing. Still, there was a slender thread of logic involved. The bottom line was that she had to find whatever was waiting to be discovered on the mall roof and she had to find it quickly.
The emergency stairwell was a highly efficient echo chamber. The sound of footsteps carried from top to bottom. If the hunters realized that she was not coming back out onto the sales floor, they would surely guess that she had escaped via the emergency stairs. If they decided to risk following her into the stairwell, they would hear her climbing up toward the roof.
She slipped out of her flats, clutched them in one hand, and went quickly up the stairs in her stocking feet. At least she was dressed for flight, she thought. She always wore trousers and flats or boots to work, always dressed to run for her life.
She had been living on the edge for ten days. Lately she had begun to wonder how much longer she could keep up the unrelenting vigilance. The fact that Julian Garrett’s men had found her so easily tonight was a sure sign that her life in hiding was taking a toll on her senses. She could not go on like this much longer.
Start thinking like that and you might as well jump off the roof when you get there.
At least it would all be over. If her grandmother was dead, there was no one left who was linked to her by bonds of blood. Ten days ago, she had been forced to sever the workplace friendships she had forged at Lucan Protection Services. Now she was profoundly alone in a way that most people could never imagine. In a world where everyone possessed an identity, she was utterly anonymous. In a very real sense she did not exist.
So why go on?
Rage kicked in, generating heat and energy and another burst of adrenaline. She dashed up the stairwell. She did have something, she thought. She had an enemy. His name was Julian Garrett. She would not let the bastards win so easily.
Always nice to have a goal.
She made it up the final flight of stairs, breathless now, and opened the door. Warily, she stepped outside into the balmy Arizona night. The lights of Phoenix, Scottsdale and the neighboring communities glittered and winked below. A nearly full moon bathed the scene in silver.
The vast expanse of the roof was dotted here and there by the looming shapes of several tons of HVAC equipment. It took a lot of air-conditioning for a mall to survive summer and winter in the desert.
She hesitated, trying to concentrate on the possibilities that might be available if the hunters followed her to the top of the mall. She could see at least three other stairwell entrances that opened onto the roof. But the river of icy fog did not lead toward one of the potential escape routes. It illuminated a path to the edge of the roof. At the end of the trail of freezing mist, a woman stood silhouetted against the city lights.
Isabella slipped into her shoes and went slowly toward the woman.
“Hi,” she said. Her heart was pounding, but she managed to keep her voice calm and soothing. “Are you okay?”
The woman gasped and turned quickly. “Who are you?”
“This week I’m Annie. What’s your name?”
“Sandra. What are you doing here?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sandra sounded angry now.
“You’re thinking of jumping off this roof, aren’t you?”
“Don’t come any closer.”
“Okay.” Isabella stopped. “I’d really like to help you, but we’re going to have to make this fast. I don’t have a lot of time.”
“Got another appointment?” Sandra’s tone was utterly flat now. “Don’t let me keep you.”
“The thing is there are a couple of guys downstairs who want to kidnap me.”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
Isabella inched closer. She was still too far away from Sandra to do what needed to be done.
“They’re hunting for me as we speak. It won’t take them long to realize that I’m not coming out of the stockroom. It would be good if I could get off this roof before they find me.”
“Two men are hunting you?” Sandra’s voice rose in disbelief. “Is this some kind of sick joke?”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“You’re probably on drugs. Did you stiff your dealer? Look, I don’t want to get involved, okay? I’ve got my own problems.”
“No, honest,” Isabella said. “This has nothing to do with drugs. Ten days ago I stumbled into a very dangerous conspiracy. Someone set me up to take the fall. The real conspirators think I know too much. I’m afraid they may have murdered my grandmother because I told her about the scheme. And now they’re trying to kill me. Oh, damn, I really don’t have time for this conversation.”
“Are you some kind of nutcase? One of those conspiracy freaks?”
“That opinion has been floated occasionally.” Isabella edged closer. Almost there. Another couple of feet and she would be able to touch Sandra. All she needed was physical contact.
“Stop,” Sandra said. “Don’t come any closer. I mean it.”
Muffled footsteps sounded inside the nearby stairwell.
“I think we just ran out of time,” Isabella said. “Here they come.”
“Who?” Bewildered and distracted, Sandra turned her head toward the stairwell.
“The killers,” Isabella replied.
She pounced. Seizing Sandra’s wrist, she found a focus and pulsed some energy.
Sandra’s face became expressionless. She stared off into the distance.
Isabella yanked her behind the massive metal housing that shrouded the HVAC equipment. She pushed her down onto the rooftop. “Stay here. Don’t move and don’t say a word until I tell you it’s safe to come out.”
Sandra did not respond. Isabella pulsed a little more energy and then released Sandra’s arm. The woman sat very still, her back against the metal housing, and gazed out into the night.
The door of the stairwell slammed open. Isabella knew that there was no point trying to hide on the rooftop. The killers would conduct a thorough search.
She moved out from behind the HVAC tower and looked at the figure that had just emerged from the stairwell. The hunter-talent didn’t see her at first. Moonlight and neon glinted on the small pistol in his hand.
“Hi,” Isabella said. She waved.
He turned toward her with preternatural speed, gun elevated.
“Got her,” he called over his shoulder.
His companion emerged from the same opening. He, too, gripped a gun.
“Did you really think we wouldn’t find you?” the first man said. “You’re coming with us.”
“I’m a little busy at the moment,” Isabella said.
“No shit,” the second man said. “So are we. Wasted over a week trying to find you. The boss is not happy.”
He moved forward and seized Isabella’s arm.
The contact acted like a psychic electrical contact, making it possible for her to pulse energy directly into his aura.
She got a focus and sent out a small blast of disruptive psi.
“Get lost,” she said softly.
The gunman went still for a few seconds. Then he turned and started to walk toward the edge of the roof.
His companion stared. “What the hell? Hey, Rawlins, where are you going?”
Isabella took a step toward the stairwell doorway.
“Don’t move,” the man snarled. He lunged forward, grabbed her wrist and turned back to his companion. “Rawlins, have you gone crazy? Come back here.”
Rawlins continued toward the edge of the roof as though captivated by the clusters of lights sprinkled across the desert.
“Rawlins,” the second man shouted. He sounded on the verge of panic. “You’re gonna go off the damn roof, man. Come back.” He put the barrel of the pistol against Isabella’s head. “What did you do to him, you little bitch?”
“I just told him to get lost,” she said. She got the fix and pulsed energy into his aura. “Same thing I’m telling you. Take a hike.”
The gunman froze for a beat or two and then he lowered the gun. She took the weapon from his unresisting hand. He turned and started to follow Rawlins toward the edge of the mall roof.
“Oh, good grief,” Isabella said. “I’ll admit, I’m tempted to let you both walk off this roof, but it would probably cause more trouble than it’s worth.”
She put down the gun, hurried forward and stepped in front of Rawlins. She touched him lightly.
“Wrong way. Come with me.”
He stopped obediently, his face a complete blank. She took the gun from him and set it down. Then she took his wrist in one hand and grabbed the other man’s arm. She guided them both toward the stairwell. When they reached the doorway, she urged them inside.
“Go down the stairs, leave the building and keep walking,” she ordered. “Cross the streets only at the crosswalks. Wait for the green light.”
Sometimes the hypnotic suggestions worked; sometimes they didn’t.
Rawlins started down the stairs. The second man followed.
There was no way to know how long the trancelike state would last. She simply did not have enough practical experience. It was an aspect of her talent that did not allow for a great deal of experimentation. But with luck she would have time to get out of the mall and disappear. Again.
She went back to where Sandra sat, took hold of her wrist and pulsed a little energy.
Sandra blinked and came back to her senses.
“I know you,” she said, frowning. “You’re the nutcase who thinks people are trying to kill her.”
“Right, let’s go.” Isabella guided her toward another stairwell. “I hate to rush you, but I’m in a hurry here.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you. You’re crazy.”
“Hey, I’m not the one who was about to jump off the roof.”
“I’m not crazy,” Sandra said, annoyed. “I’m depressed.”
“Whatever, you’re coming with me.”
“Where are you taking me?”
“To the nearest hospital emergency room. You can explain everything to someone who will know what to do. I’m not a shrink.”
Sandra paused at the doorway of the stairwell. She looked back out at the edge of the roof.
“I don’t want to jump anymore.”
“Glad to hear that.” Isabella drew her down into the stairwell.
“But if you hadn’t come along when you did, I wouldn’t have had a chance to change my mind.”
“Always a good idea to give yourself time to reconsider the really big decisions.”
“I’ve been planning to jump for weeks and suddenly I changed my mind.” Sandra frowned. “Why would I do that?”
“Because you’re smart and stronger than you think.”
“No, it was something about you that made me decide not to jump. Something in the atmosphere around you.”
“You’re the one who made the call. Don’t ever forget that.”
They went down the stairs to the parking garage. Isabella stuffed Sandra into the beat-up junker she had bought for cash ten days earlier and drove to the hospital. She escorted Sandra into the emergency room and stayed with her until an orderly came to take her into a treatment room.
Sandra paused in the doorway and looked back. “Will I see you again, Annie?”
“No,” Isabella said.
“Are you an angel?”
“Nope, just a garden-variety conspiracy theorist who thinks some people are out to silence her.”
Sandra studied her intently. “I remember the footsteps on the emergency stairs. I remember you telling me to stay quiet and not move. And I saw a gun lying on the mall roof. Be careful, Annie.”
“Thanks,” Isabella said. She smiled. “I will. You do the same, okay?”
“Okay,” Sandra said.
She followed the orderly down a white corridor.
Isabella went back outside to the hospital parking lot. She would have to leave the car behind. They had found her at the mall. She had to assume they had a description of the junker.
She opened the trunk, took out the small backpack she kept inside and closed the lid. She slung the strap of the pack over one shoulder and walked through the garage toward the street.
She knew where she was going now. The events of the evening had left her no choice. To get to her destination she would use the one form of transportation that did not leave a paper or computer trail.
She would hitchhike to Scargill Cove."The Elite is Pretty in Pink for the millennium generation."
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