Second in the new series from the author of Heart Fortune, Heart Journey, and other Celta novels
What lies beneath...
Clare Cermak’s adjusting to a new man in her life—and a lot of ghosts. The passing of Clare’s aunt gave way to a sizeable inheritance of not only money, but also the ability to communicate with the dead. At the same time, she met Zach Slade, a private detective with a rough past, and just like Clare, he’s not yet ready to accept her gift—or his own.
But Clare has another matter to look into. A multimillionaire needs her help after relocating an old ghost town to his mountain estate. The bones of a murdered prospector are making nightly appearances in his guests’ beds. When the gold miner’s ghost contacts Clare, she promises to help find the name of his killer—but someone doesn't want the past revealed and might find her first...
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Robin D. Owens is the RITA Award-winning, bestselling author of the Celta novels.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
DENVER, COLORADO, SECOND WEEK OF SEPTEMBER
ZACH SLADE’S NEW cane had been delivered when he was gone. It was a necessity, but also a better weapon. The hook handle could snag and yank a leg. The box the cane had come in leaned against the gray rough-cut stone of the mansion where he rented the housekeeper’s suite. Sticking both old and new canes as well as the box under his left arm, he unlocked the side doors to the great house. Since he’d been shot below the knee, which severed a nerve, and his left ankle and foot didn’t flex, he lifted his knee high simply to walk into his apartment.
Yeah, he was disabled. Had foot drop. His career as an active peace officer, his most recent job as a deputy sheriff, was over at thirty-four.
He and his partner had pulled over a drunk driver, an ex-cop his partner had known. His partner had treated him friendly and hadn’t searched him for weapons, and Zach hadn’t corrected her mistake. The drunk had pulled a gun, and in a scuffle, Zach had been shot just below the knee, which shattered the bone and severed his peroneal nerve.
Instead of wallowing in anger, he had to move on to damned acceptance. He wouldn’t slip back into denial again. He’d finally gotten beyond that. Maybe.
The heavy security door slammed behind him. Cool air flowed over him and he realized how sticky he was from the long two-day drive from Montana. At least his clothes fit better. He’d finally packed on more muscle after his weight loss due to the shooting.
He tossed the box and his old cane on the empty surface of the long coffee table in front of the big, brown leather couch in the living room. Then he slashed the new wooden cane through the air in fighting moves. He was learning bartitsu, the Victorian mixed-martial art that featured cane fighting.
There’d been no bartitsu studio in Montana, where he’d been called back to testify against the parole of a serial killer he’d put away a year and a half ago. He’d been gone for six days . . . had only had a single easy day before that with his new lover, Clare.
Very new lover, along with his new life—moving from Montana in the first place, finding a job and an apartment . . . and Clare.
While gone, he’d thought often enough of her to keep track of the days. They’d met only two weeks ago tomorrow, so about thirteen full days.
If he wanted to do the calculations of twelve days, twenty-some hours, and minutes and so on, he could do that. But he’d leave that up to Clare, the ex-accountant good with numbers.
Still, of the thirteen days since they’d met, he’d just been gone six. Not a good average.
He held the cane in both hands, tested it . . . yeah, he could snap it if he wanted; his upper body strength had increased what with being on crutches for three months.
The peace of his apartment wrapped around him. It had come furnished for a man, except for the small twenty-inch TV screen. He liked the couch he could sleep—or make love—on. A couple of deep chairs, the sturdy coffee table, and a thick old rug with faded colors that must have been expensive at one time.
A floral scent teased his nose and he saw a colorful bouquet of fresh flowers on the dark granite counter of the breakfast bar separating the Pullman kitchen from his living space. He didn’t need flowers in his apartment, but guessed that both the old ladies—the housekeeper, Mrs. McGee, and the wealthy owner of the mansion, Mrs. Flinton—thought he did.
He’d pushed the drive because he’d wanted to see Clare, even though those seven days with her had been the weirdest in his life . . . what with Clare learning to see ghosts and help them move on and all.
During that week, Clare’d had to accept that she wasn’t going crazy, but that she had an unexpected and unwanted psychic gift. That if she refused to believe in the gift, she’d go mad. And if she denied the psychic powers she’d inherited through her gypsy blood, she’d die.
Zach’d had to decide whether he could accept a woman with such a psychic gift, and him being able to see ghosts when he touched her . . . and that he’d work with her to send that gunfighter spook on to whatever came next.
Yes, the week with Clare had been weirder than when he’d gotten shot a few months ago. That had just been stupid and devastating.
Right now all he wanted to do was sluice off the travel grime and rest a little so he’d be in prime shape for Clare.
After a quick rap on the door between his apartment and the rest of the mansion, Zach’s elderly landlady, Mrs. Flinton, opened the door and glided through it with her walker. He’d met her the same day as he’d met Clare. Mrs. Flinton had taken him under her wing when he’d arrived in Denver and insisted on renting him this place at a nominal fee.
“Zach, it’s so good you’re back,” Mrs. Flinton said.
He grunted, then realized he wasn’t among his former cop colleagues anymore and had to actually respond. “Good to see you, too. Good to be back in Denver.” And the hell of it was, that was the truth. He’d left his job and the scene of the shooting in low-populated Plainsview City, Cottonwood County, Montana, and traded it for big-city Denver, and remained okay.
Mrs. Flinton stopped close and tilted her creased cheek as if for a kiss, so he gave her a peck. She smelled better than the flower bouquet, her perfume fresh and perky. “Have you called Clare yet?” she asked.
He leaned against the back of the couch. “Not yet. I just got in ten minutes ago.”
Scowling at him, Mrs. Flinton poked his chest with a manicured, pale pink fingernail. “Did you two talk while you were gone?”
“We texted,” he mumbled. Then he rubbed the back of his neck. His hair had grown longer than he’d ever kept it as a deputy sheriff. But his neck, and his fingers, and the whole rest of his body recalled intimately Clare’s fiddling with that hair, how she liked it shaggy.
“The week with Clare before I left was pretty extreme,” Zach told the older woman. Yeah, extreme with events, and incredible sex, too . . . and startling intimacy. His body yearned for Clare.
Mrs. Flinton tsked and shook her head. “You’re doing the rubber band thing.”
“Coming close together, then drawing back.”
“It’s not only me!”
She sniffed. “Clare needs support during these first weeks of learning her new psychic gift, as I know from my own experience. There aren’t many people who can or would help her.”
“She’s got that damn phantom dog, Enzo, to help her,” Zach said.
Another finger poke and a steely gaze. “That’s not the same. And you need to talk to someone about your own gift.”
“I don’t have a—”
“Yes, you do, and don’t pretend to me you don’t.” She gave him a stern look. “When was the last time you spoke to anyone about your gift?” she persisted.
He might have thought, once, that he’d shared an extraordinary talent with his older brother. But everything had changed the day Jim had died in a drive-by shooting when Zach was twelve. None of that was Mrs. Flinton’s business.
His phone buzzed, and he welcomed it, then paused when he saw Clare was calling. Mrs. Flinton noticed, too. Suppressing a sigh that his first call with Clare after he’d returned to town would be overheard, he answered, “Zach here.”
“Hi, Zach.” She sounded like the former accountant she was, cool and professional. Her voice still zinged down all the nerves in his body.
“I just received a call from your boss, Tony Rickman . . .” Zach lost the rest of the sentence at the pang that he was now working as a private investigator for money instead of in the public sector to serve and protect.
Mrs. Flinton elbowed him, bringing his attention back to the call.
“Sorry, missed that, say again?” Zach asked.
“Zach, do you know why Mr. Rickman would like to meet with me?”
That made him blink. “No. He didn’t say anything to me about that. When did he ask you?” Zach’s thumb skimmed over his phone, hovered on the icon for video calling. He wasn’t ready to push it and see Clare’s face if she was on visual, get slammed with more mixed feelings.
“Rickman called not more than ten minutes ago and wants me there within the hour.” Her words were crisp.
“Meet her there,” Mrs. Flinton said.
“I’m sorry?” Clare asked. “I didn’t hear that.”
Now Zach rubbed his forehead. “I just got back from Montana. If you want, I can meet you there at the top of the hour.”
“You didn’t tell her when you were coming home?” asked Mrs. Flinton.
“Zach?” Clare asked.
“No, Mrs. Flinton,” Zach said loudly. “I didn’t tell either of you when I’d be in. Wasn’t sure of the drive myself. Get over it.”
Mrs. Flinton pouted, then angled closer to Zach’s phone. “Hello, Clare, you and dear ghostly Enzo-pup need to come over for tea again.”
“Oh.” Just one small word and Clare sounded confused, wary. Just like Zach. He smiled.
“Do you want me to meet you at Rickman’s?” Zach asked.
A small pause. “All right. I’ve never met the man, and don’t know what he wants. I only did that little accounting job for him.” Clare sighed. “The ghosts have been bothering me more lately, especially downtown. I’ll call the car service.”
“That sounds excellent, dears,” Mrs. Flinton said.
“Gotta clean up. Later,” Zach said, bending a stern look at Mrs. Flinton. She just smiled and sashayed out of his apartment. He understood why the housekeeper, Mrs. McGee, preferred to live in the carriage house. At the moment, a little space between him and the mansion would be welcome.
Zach rubbed his neck again, limped over to close the door behind his landlady—he only had his orthopedic shoes on for driving, not the light brace—and headed to his bathroom.
A few minutes later when he left his apartment and his ass complained at hitting the seat of his truck again after driving for so long, he just grumbled under his breath. Then he looked up and saw crows sitting on a power line, half a dozen of them, quiet in the heat. His jaw clenched. He hadn’t seen any of the damned birds in Montana, but here they were.
As always, the “Counting Crows Rhyme” his maternal grandmother had taught him ran through his mind.
Six for gold.
He ignored their beady eyes as he exited the circular drive.
· · ·
Clare Cermak changed clothes just because she’d be seeing Zach—from new designer jeans and a silk blouse to a thin peach-colored sundress. She didn’t care what Rickman—whom she’d never met—or anyone else at his business thought of her . . . except Zach, her newish lover.
They’d gotten so close when she’d thought she was going crazy. It turned out that along with her great-aunt Sandra’s fortune, Clare had inherited the family “gift” for seeing ghosts and helping them move on to . . . what came next. She still had a shaky grasp on that, particularly since she preferred rationality in her life. Her now exploded past life as an accountant.
Hello, Clare! We are going OUT? Enzo, the ghost Labrador dog, sent mentally. He’d materialized from nothing to sit panting at her feet, gray-white shadows and shades.
“Yes. Zach’s boss, Tony Rickman, wants to see us for some reason.”
We are seeing Zach? Enzo hopped to his feet and his whole body wiggled front to back.
“Yes, apparently he’s back from Montana.” She frowned, not knowing exactly how she felt about that. She’d missed him outrageously in bed. No, scratch that thought, she missed him outrageously, period, darn it. She wanted him . . . and she’d forever be grateful that he’d helped her during the time she’d had to deal with her first major ghost. Did that make her dependent on Zach? She didn’t think so. They had a lot in common, and he was just plain fabulous in bed . . .
She thought back to what Enzo had asked. “Yes, we are seeing Zach.” Grudgingly, she added, “You can come with me.” Not that forbidding Enzo would make any difference. He appeared and vanished as he pleased.
I would like to see a new place with new people and maybe some ghosts?
“A high-rise downtown.” All right, she admitted she was curious about Zach’s place of employment. Frowning, she glanced at the old map of Denver she’d hung on the wall of the tiny bedroom she’d designated as her “ghost laying” office in her new home. “There might have been buildings there in the late eighteen hundreds,” she said to Enzo.
The dog itself—himself—had told her that the human mind could only comprehend ghosts from one slice of history. From her experimentation this last week, she’d determined that her period was from 1850 to 1900. She seemed to specialize in Old West phantoms.
A toot in the driveway announced that the car service she now had on retainer had arrived. She couldn’t drive in heavily ghost-populated areas anymore—it was too dangerous when apparitions rose before her or pressed around the car, or invaded it.
She locked up, greeted the driver, and sat in the back of the Mercedes, heart pounding at seeing her lover again.
· · ·
Zach arrived at Rickman Security and Investigations before Clare, shoved through the heavy glass doors—wouldn’t surprise him if they were bulletproof—and into the lobby area. The walls were pale gray, the reception station dark gray stone with a glossy black top, and black computer and phone accessories.
He nodded to the receptionist before heading straight to his boss’s door. Zach stood with his hand on the lever until the electronic lock buzzed to let him into the inner office, decorated in gray and cream.
Two men watched him with military assessment as he entered. Tony Rickman, a craggy-looking man in his late forties with buzz-cut salt-and-pepper hair wearing an engraved wedding band, sat behind his dark wooden desk.
The guy standing near the desk, six foot six, two hundred and seventy-five pounds, pale white blond hair in another buzz cut, light brown eyes, had “ex-special-ops” written all over his body and attitude. He wore expensive black trousers with knife-edge creases, dull but not scuffed shoes, a black silk shirt, and a lightweight black jacket.
“Hello, Zach,” Rickman said.
Zach nodded and made an effort to keep his walk as smooth as possible, even with his cane and brace, as he headed toward the far left of the four gray leather client chairs. “Hello, Tony.”
“Clare Cermak called you?”
“Obviously, you’re back from Montana.” A note in Rickman’s voice told Zach that the man had expected Zach to check in.
“Just arrived a half hour ago.” He sat and stretched his jeaned legs out, propping his cane against the chair.
“Make yourself at home,” Rickman said.
Zach smiled. “Thanks, I will.”
“I don’t believe you’ve met another of my operatives, Harry Rossi. Harry, this is Zach Slade.” Rickman gestured to the guy, who scrutinized Zach and his threat level. Zach stood, studying Rossi with his flat cop stare. Something—shadows—in the man’s eyes sho...
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Buchbeschreibung Berkley, 2014. Softcover. Buchzustand: Sehr gut. 141 Gramm. Artikel-Nr. 00105382