When FBI Agent Kyra Archer encounters a gorgeous, pointy-eared dead man on a hill near her farmhouse, it never occurs to her that this corpse will turn her life upside down. If she had known that he wasn’t really dead and is, in fact, her supernatural guardian, she would have run for the hills. Instead, he reveals a startling truth. Kyra’s not human. She’s the leader of an exiled race of magical beings known as Aetherans. Does she have what it takes to face her destiny? If not, humanity will be enslaved by demonic forces and it’ll all be her fault.
Was it wrong to lust after a corpse?
Of course it was. But, honestly, Kyra couldn’t help it. Any woman with a pulse would have felt the same attraction.
Magical energy coursed off the male victim in wave after delicious wave, penetrating her pores, sending shivers up her skin. Her gaze wandered back over his gorgeous face. His eyes were closed as if asleep. The smooth plane of his jaw begged to be caressed. And his physique, all muscles and streamlined strength, made it hard to believe the man was dead.
Kyra gave herself a mental bitch slap. Get with the program, Archer. You have a job to do, even if this victim emits enough sexual energy to light up every bulb in Conroy. She took a deep cleansing breath and waited. The crime scene technicians were scouting the area, taking samples and bagging evidence. Her boss, off in the distance, supervised the activity.
Flashbulbs popped, illuminating the night sky as the crime scene photographer snapped pictures in rapid succession. The camera’s digital clicks were out of place— disturbing in such a natural setting. Kyra’s gaze kept returning to the corpse. Something didn’t add up— there was no waxy pallor or dull lifelessness common in the dead.
Her brain needed a time out. She turned her back to the scene, filling her vision with the stunning vista of Bennington Hill. Teenagers had found the deceased on the hill’s zenith, a prime spot for star gazers and hook-ups because of the panoramic view of the surrounding valley and lack of light pollution. Kyra ought to know. She’d done some of both in that exact location during her teenage years.
Of course that wasn’t the reason why she was there now. No, her ability to sense the last moments of the dead and her expertise in arcane rituals, had landed her on the hill. At two-thirty a.m. Why couldn’t supernatural crimes happen on warm sunny days in broad daylight?
Not his fault. She chastised herself for the uncharitable thought. Mr. Dreamy couldn’t be responsible for his own death. She couldn’t shake the thought that this was all some elaborate hoax. Corpses just didn’t appear so luminous. So attractive —
“All set, Agent Archer. You can move the deceased as needed.” The photographer moved aside, his job done. The technicians were packing up.
Kyra snapped on a pair of latex gloves and knelt by the victim’s side. She wanted to reach for a stray strand of his long, glossy black hair— hair that any woman would kill to possess. If she removed the glove, she was sure it would be soft as silk. An image flashed before her eyes of how that silk would feel as it caressed her naked –
Jesus, what was wrong her?
“Hey Archer! A few inches closer and you could kiss the guy.” Special Agent Terrence Lange, boss, friend, and general pain in the rear, hovered overhead. She supposed he was entitled— they had saved each other’s asses numerous times over the years.
The FBI Special Investigations Unit didn’t chase bank robbers or normal criminals. They investigated odd mysteries other teams couldn’t solve. Like all those “unexplained” stories most regular folk laughed at, but always read in supermarket tabloids when they thought no one was looking.
Two EMTs stood nearby, waiting to remove the body. An unusual pair: One was a tall slender female, with pale pink chin length hair and an FU attitude. Her fists were tight and her body ready to pounce. The other EMT was the size of an NBA all star, at least six foot, five inches. His beefy arm muscles and chestnut red hair screamed Viking warrior. A thought popped into her head of him standing on the prow of ship, adorned in furs, his muscled arms crossed, and his chestnut red hair streaming in the wind under a horned helmet. She shook her head. Where the hell did that come from?
Neither of them looked like the care giving type. More like body guards or assassins. The woman seemed to be scanning the area. Her eyes roved, watching the dark valley below. On any other day, Kyra would probably think about questioning them on suspicion of . . . . what? Looking bad ass? Definitely not a crime.
Kyra pulled her eyes off the EMTs. She needed sleep. They had been at ten similar crime scenes in the past two weeks with no real leads or insight. Frustration and fatigue were obviously contributing to an overactive imagination.
Not that sleep brought actual rest. Absentmindedly, she rubbed the old scar between her breasts. When she did find moments to shut her eyes, there was no shortage of nightmares. Often the nightmare included a pair of ice cold, blue eyes staring down at her.
Lange’s question shifted her to focus back to the job. “See the ring of earth, around the deceased? It’s a circle of protection.”
“Great job it did protecting him,” Lange observed dryly.
“True. But notice the oily spots, they stop right on the perimeter. Whatever happened, the stains didn’t penetrate the ring.” If they had broken through the circle, she suspected the corpse wouldn’t be in such pristine condition, if it remained at all.
“Any theories on cause of death?”
“I can’t tell that yet.” Not without opening her mind. Kyra rubbed her arms. Magical energy danced across her skin.
Ever since she could remember, Kyra could see shimmering waves that she now recognized as magic. Her grandmother had schooled Kyra from an early age on how to interpret the energy and to understand magic ritual. Except all that teaching and experience weren’t helping her at the moment. The only way to gain any insight would be to drop her mental barriers and “see” the victim’s death.
“What do you make of the weapons?” Lange asked. The body was armed with a short sword in his right hand and a thin silver dagger clenched in the other.
“Unexpected.” More like weird. “Maybe he’s a role player or re-enactor?”
“Dressed like that?”
Lange had a point. Kyra doubted that jeans, a white t-shirt, leather jacket and black shit kickers were standard fantasy fare. Not unless the victim was playing gladiator biker boy.
Lange stopped a departing technician. “Did you get a sample of the black residue?”
“Yes, sir. From the grass and the circle.”
“And make sure the weapons get bagged and tagged before you leave.”
Kyra inclined her head toward the body on the ground. “He’s different than the others.”.
“Yeah, he’s not a pile of mystery goo,” Lange said.
Kyra nodded. “Yup. Whole and unscathed.”
For the past few weeks they had been investigating victims with the same physical damage. The corpses had all been misshapen, the skin always the same tar black. Internal organs and bones had a liquid consistency rendering the bodies virtually unidentifiable.
She could sense magic but couldn’t track its source or determine if it was the cause of death. And to top it off, none of the victims had been reported missing by anyone. Genetic tests had all proved inconclusive.
Very weird stuff.
“So, what do we know about him?” Kyra asked.
“It’s a white male. No identification of any sort. There are no obvious marks on the body. It looks like he was standing in a fire pit but there isn’t even a grain of soot on him.” Lange’s sea green eyes darkened as he folded his arms across his broad chest. “Use your mojo and tell me what else there is to know.”
Kyra closed her eyes and prepared to open her mind. Slowly exhaling, she cracked the mental doorway that both shielded her mind and allowed it to seek the truth of the man’s death. A glint of white light caught her eye. She abruptly stopped and peered at his face. His skin was lit up, luminescent, like captured moonlight. An earthy musk, not cologne but an essence of nature, scented the air. Leaning closer, she pushed silky strands of hair back away from his ear.
Kyra jumped back, startling Lange. “It’s all right. I just wasn’t expecting …” She lifted the victim’s hair further up and away from the face for Lange to see. “Check out his ears.”
Lange came in closer. “I’ll be damned. They’re pointy. Like Mr. Spock.”
“Yes. It’s definitely… different.” She examined the other ear confirming it was pointed too. “Look at his skin. It’s glowing.” Like a switch had been flipped on.
“Nah, it’s a trick of the light. And the ears…cosmetic surgery. Has to be.” Lange shook his head.
Kyra sighed. “Come on, Terry, you know this comes with the territory.” Relaxing her mind again, she allowed her mental shielding to drop and reached out as if she had a shadow hand. The air around her immediately became cooler as waves of power floated off the corpse
A burst of energy exploded in her head. Kyra staggered back. She steadied herself, then re-examined him again. His face seemed otherworldly. The cheekbones were higher and more sculpted, his eyebrows finely arched. The side of his throat was marked with an intricate tattoo inked in silver, the delicate lines forming an unfamiliar pattern that snaked around, disappearing around the back of his neck. Moon glow seemed to flow under his skin, lighting him from within. Nothing in her thirteen years with the SIU had prepared her for the ethereal being that lay before her.
Without warning, blue light emanated from an unseen source, covering her vision. Her mind became one with the corpse as the light spread outward, engulfing them in its cool embrace. She heard a deep masculine voice singing, the language unknown yet vaguely familiar. The baritone timbre whispered and danced, spinning with power, swirling like a song sung by an angel. Sapphire blue eyes searched the fog then captured her gaze, locking their eyes together.
A sudden darkness clouded over, squelching the blue light. Her mind locked onto his memories. High pitched shrieks shattered the song, shredding its beauty. There was a whoosh of metal speeding then colliding; a liquid squish sounded out. The darkness was rising— first two, then four, then six creatures came up the ridge.
The silver sword took out the first two easily. The next two were larger and stronger. They forced him back up the hill. The enemy’s ranks swelled again, surrounding him, outflanking him. It was too much, there were too many of them. He formed the circle, sealing himself behind magic as a last line of defense. They rushed it en masse, hammering the shield, trying to destroy it with sheer, brute force.
He cried out in pain as he directed the barrier to explode outward. The closest darklings were torn apart. The survivors fled back into the night, free to attack again. As he was fading, the blackness reached out toward her. It took all her concentration to hold it at bay. His thoughts thrust into her mind.
He had failed her. No—
Blackness came. Kyra wondered, Who had he failed? She opened her eyes.
“You okay?” Lange and the male EMT were peering over her like two tall trees. She was flat on her back in the damp cool grass. The female EMT covered the corpse, preparing to move it.
“Yes.” She gasped. Once the red haired EMT was satisfied she was okay, Kyra sat up.
“What did you see?” Lange offered his hand and pulled her to her feet.
“I saw darkness.” Kyra mopped the sweat off her face with the edge of her sleeve. Seeing Lange’s frown she elaborated. “He was attacked by the dark ink stains.”
“That makes no sense. You sure you’re all right?” Lange motioned for the EMTs to take the body as he started walking her back to the car.
“Maybe we’re thinking about this all wrong.” Exhaustion swept over her. The parking lot seemed a million miles away.
“How so?” Lange said, cupping her elbow as they made their way down the incline.
“What if the so-called victims in all the other cases were really the attackers? And that guy up there…he was defending himself.”
“That would be God damned disturbing.”
The back country rushed past the car window, field after field, interspersed with forests and small groves. Even in the pale moonlight, Kyra knew the landscape by heart. She had spent most of her life in Conroy, New Hampshire. Her grandmother, Maeve, had adopted her after her parent’s untimely death. Maeve had raised Kyra at the Archer ancestral homestead, an old farm on the outskirts of town.
Seeing the familiar landmarks wasn’t comforting at all– more like frightening when Kyra realized that her job chasing the supernatural had now intersected with her quiet community.
Not that she hadn’t ever seen strange events in Conroy. No place was entirely clean of magic . . .
Kyra’s thoughts bounced along, like stepping stones, one leading to another. Something didn’t add up. The same something that had been nagging at her since the case began. The whole thing felt so familiar.
She mentally reviewed the scene again. The corpse had no visible injuries of any kind. In fact he seemed so alive, she asked the EMTs to double check to be sure before they loaded him in the ambulance. They humored her and examined the corpse again, assuring her there were no vital signs. He was dead.
She stared at the ambulance’s tail lights. Lange sat silently behind the wheel, deep in his own thoughts. The only light came from the full moon, now high in the night sky.
In a few hours, the sun would be up again. Another night with no sleep . . . . Her cats must be miffed. They probably needed to be let out. She really needed to install a cat door. . .
A realization snapped into place.
“I’ve been thinking. And don’t go jumping all over me, but this attack took place in my home town.”
“Hey, I don’t pick the spots. I just send the team where the weird shit ‘o’ meter points us.” Lange’s eyes narrowed as if trying to see further along the dark road. “It’s a coincidence that this body happened to turn up practically in your back yard.”
“The attacker is making a trail straight up the East Coast. I wonder . . .” Kyra’s breath caught in her throat when she looked over at her boss.
Lange’s eyes glowed – pale green as if capturing the moonlight. Many times over the years she had felt sporadic twinges of energy coming from him but never mentioned it. What would she say? Hey, weird magical energy flashes off you at random times. Not gonna happen.
The road darkened. Clouds raced across the sky, blotting out the moon’s glow.
Kyra’s skin goose-bumped. The ambulance’s red tail lights blinked out.
“What the fuck?” Lange squinted. “Am I going blind?”
A wall of deep black nothing rose in front of them, swallowing the road.
Lange slammed on the brakes. The seatbelt bit into Kyra’s shoulder. Her head and body sailed forward and collided with the exploding air bag.
Kyra’s vision blurred. The acrid tang of blood and smoke choked her eyes and throat. The car must have turned sideways. She could see the ambulance next to them. The back doors flung open. She watched as the EMTs spilled out of the vehicle.
Good . . . help was coming.
Her neck ached as she craned towards Lange, batting at the airbag for a clear view. His head was down, eyes closed, but his chest moved up and down. A deep gash marred his forehead. Blood stained his face and neck.
Unholy howls, like nothing from this Earth, interrupted the quiet. Kyra turned toward the sound, straining to see into the inky darkness
Her vision blurred again, then re-focused.
I must have a concussion, she thought. The corpse leaped out the back of the ambulance, sword in hand.