The Coveted (The Unearthly #2), p.1Laura Thalassa
Leaves crunched underfoot as Catherine O’Connor walked over to her bag and shoved the sprig of hemlock into it, right next to the mugwort and meadowsweet.
Now all I need is lilac, and then I can get out of here.
She moved her flashlight back over the woods. Beyond the beam of light the shadows seemed to gather and sway. She ignored the way her heart thumped and her pulse pounded in her ears. Out here, so close to the Otherworld, the natural laws didn’t work quite the same way. At least that’s what she told herself as she went back for the lilac.
Her mother had taught her differently—taught her to trust her instincts as a witch—but Catherine was pressed for time and Glen Maye was the best place to get these ingredients.
Somewhere above her the moon shone brightly, but the thick clusters of trees blocked out most of the moonlight.
Behind her leaves stirred. Catherine swung her flashlight around, noting the way the shadows scuttled away from the light.
Nothing. There was absolutely nothing there. That didn’t reassure her. Some of her most frightening fears were formless.
She tried to swallow, but her mouth was too dry.
She strode back to her bag and hung it over her shoulder. A little distance away her bike waited for her.
At least, it should’ve been waiting for her.
When Catherine approached the familiar boulder, the boulder she’d leaned the bike against every few weeks for the last year, it was gone. Vanished.
She drew the light to the ground around the rock. She even walked around the boulder just to make sure her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her.
Behind her, a branch snapped.
Catherine swiveled around. The light jiggled as her hand shook. It seemed that the shadows pressed in on her.
Coming here was a bad idea.
“Oh yes, it was.”
A hand grabbed her hair and jerked her head back. She began to whisper a prayer. But she never finished. Sharp teeth sank into her neck. And then her words became shrieks.
I woke up to the sound of a scream. I propped myself up in bed and clicked on the light. Across the room Leanne sat up in bed, clutching her throat.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. I could smell her fear.
Her hand dropped from her neck. “Nothing,” Leanne murmured. “Sorry to wake you.” She repositioned herself and soon her breathing evened out, as if she hadn’t woken up screaming just moments before. Then again, she’d woken up from nightmares on and off for the past couple weeks, so maybe she was used to it by now. I sure wasn’t.
I glanced at my clock on the nightstand. It was one in the morning and I felt wide awake. Crappy vampire genes.
I lay back in bed and rubbed the rough wool of Andre’s blanket between my fingers. It no longer smelled like the sea and him, but it still brought me the same strange comfort it always had. I let my eyes close and my mind clear, trying to once again entice sleep.
I’d just nodded off when my phone began buzzing. Across the room Leanne moaned.
I cursed under my breath and threw the blankets off my bed. The clock indicated that it was almost three in the morning. I guess I had gotten some shuteye after all.
Grabbing my phone and slipping some shoes on, I stepped out into the hall. I read the caller ID. Hellhole.
Now it was my turn to moan. Not the Politia. Not now.
When I’d agreed to work with the Politia, the supernatural community’s police force, a month ago, I definitely hadn’t realized the time commitments. Still, late night calls were rare even for them.
“Yeah?” I answered the phone.
“Hi Gabrielle. This is Inspector Comfry. We’re calling you in on official business.”
I felt my eyebrows shoot up. “I’m sorry—right now?”
“Gabrielle, a girl was murdered tonight, and we think you can help us solve the case.”
An hour later I entered Castle Rushen, the Politia’s headquarters and another big effing castle located on the tiny Isle of Man. A group of inspectors loitered right inside the entrance.
The sound of the closing door drew their eyes to me. I tried not to wince at the hard looks I received—especially the one from Caleb’s father, Byron Jennings. Since I had joined the Politia, I had gotten used to the fact that not everyone here liked me, but it didn’t make seeing it any easier.
Inspector Magdalene Comfrey, my boss, pulled away from the group. By her looks, you would never know that almost ten years separated us in age. Small and lithe, her auburn colored bob framed a youthful face. But her sweet appearance was deceiving. She was tougher and scarier than most of the men in the room, probably to make up for her looks.
She didn’t even bother saying hi. Instead she took my hand and closed her eyes.
“Maggie what are you—” My words cut off when she began to speak.
“She’s been asleep since eleven o’clock,” Maggie said to the group, eyes still closed. The room seemed to let out a collective sigh at her words, but the flinty stares didn’t go away.
She opened her eyes and loosened her hold on my hand. I pulled it from her grasp and shot her an accusing look.
Inspector Comfrey was a psychometric, meaning that she could pull memories and facts from objects—including skin. Only she was so good at it that it was essentially the same thing as mind reading. No memory was safe from her.
However, unlike Leanne, who could foresee events, Maggie could only get a read on past events. It was a useful trait for an inspector, and I was sure I’d been paired with her for this reason. She was a walking lie detector, and I was untrustworthy.
Maggie shrugged. “Don’t give me that look,” she said. “You haven’t seen the victim yet.”
Before I could ask what she’d meant by that, the door opened and a bleary-eyed Caleb walked in, carrying a cardboard tray of coffee.
He nodded to his dad then flashed me a sleepy smile. “Hey partner,” he said. “Got you a coffee. Thought you might need it.”
“Awesome—thanks.” I didn’t bother to mention my vampy abilities made waking up and staying up at night increasingly easy. Not while I was one comment away from getting shanked by these angry villagers—I mean inspectors.
“Ah, perfect,” Inspector Comfrey said. “Now that you two are here, let’s get going.”
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“To the morgue.”
Maggie, Caleb, and I entered the morgue, appropriately located in the castle’s basement. My nostrils flared at the smell of preservatives, bodily fluids, and decay. The taste of coffee on my tongue soured.
Chief Constable Eugene Morgan was already in the room chatting with the pathologist, and at the interruption Morgan glanced up. “Ah,” he said, noticing us, “you’re all here.” His gaze rested on mine. “Sergeant Fiori, glad you came,”—as if I had a choice—“perhaps you in particular can lend us some of your vampiric insight.”
I glanced between him and the pathologist, uncomfortable by the attention and confused about what exactly the chief constable wanted me to do. Chief Constable Morgan was the head of the Politia, and though I had met him before, this was the first time I’d ever worked directly with him.
“Uh, sure,” I said.
“Good, good.” He nodded to himself and rubbed his cinnamon and salt mustache. “Maggie,” he said, turning to Inspector Comfry, “have you had a chance to read the victim?”
Maggie nodded once. “I touched the body earlier, but it’s no good. The overwhelming impression was fear. It overrode anything important I might’ve otherwise been able to pick up on.”
“Damn. That’s too bad.” Chief Constable Morgan looked up at the pathologist. “Well then, why don’t you pull out our victim?”
Caleb, Maggie, and I moved towards the wall of metal human-sized drawers. Involuntarily I shivered, the movement causing the coffee I held to slosh inside its container. The last time I was in a room like this, I was on the other side of those drawers.
The pathologist grabbed the handle for one of the drawers and pulled. He rolled out a petite woman with fiery red hair.
My stomach clenched at the sight and smell of her. Her body was too pale, even for her alabaster complexion. And the smell . . . ammonia overpowered my olfactory senses. Whoever she was, she was scared before she died.
Then my eyes traveled to her neck. Or what used to be her neck. What must’ve once been a delicate swathe of skin was now a red, meaty pulp. Someone had torn it apart.
The pathologist clucked his tongue. “The victim’s body was drained of nearly every drop of blood.”
“You okay?” Caleb asked not coming too close.
He found me in the hallway outside the morgue, bent over a trashcan; my coffee and the contents of my stomach now rested at the bottom of it.
I nodded, but I wasn’t okay. Far from it.
Was it Andre? Someone else? Do they think I killed her? Maggie’s earlier behavior suddenly made sense. She wanted to know if I’d done it.
As if reading my mind, Caleb said, “They don’t think you did it.”
I glanced up at him. “And how would you know that?” I asked. Either he was lying, or the inspectors were telling Caleb more than they were telling me.
He was silent, but only for a moment. “Think you can go back in?” he asked, switching subjects.
“Do I have to?” Please say no, please say n—
“We’ve been assigned to the investigation.”
Of course we’d been.
I exhaled. “Fine.” I rose to my feet.
When we walked back into the morgue, the rest of the group was waiting for us.
“Feeling better?” Chief Constable Morgan asked.
I nodded, trying not to breathe in through my nose. Maggie laid a comforting hand on me, which was probably just a ruse so that she could continue to get a read off of me.
“Great, well then, let me fill you in on the victim.” My mutinous stomach rolled again. I so did not want to hear about the victim, especially not with her sprawled out in front of me.
“Her name is Catherine O’Connor. Age seventeen. She was a senior attending Peel Academy,” Morgan said. “From her belongings it appears she was a witch.”
He scratched his mustache. “Someone killed her out in the woods earlier this evening—near the Glen Maye entrance to the Otherworld—while she was out collecting herbs. We found her crumpled bike off to the side of the road.”
Morgan paused. “Her throat had been ripped out and her body drained of blood. She’d then been placed in a cruciform position.”
Now he looked to me—they all did.
“Um, interesting,” I said lamely.
“Sergeant Fiori, we were hoping you might tell us something that we hadn’t yet noticed.”
I swallowed. “Don’t you have someone more qualified for this?”
“Andre was called in to the crime scene around the time we found her.” My heart jumped at Andre’s name. He’d been pulled into the case as well? “He, however, could only tell us she was savagely murdered and that it could have been a vampire.”
The chief constable frowned and I stifled a smile. What a dirty little politician Andre was. This had to be the work of a vampire, but he wouldn’t even confirm that to the Politia.
“We’ve had an uneasy truce with vampires for over a century, but the truce is just that—uneasy,” the chief constable said. “We’d prefer that you, a pseudo-vampire and one of our own, work on this case with Caleb and Inspector Comfry, even if you have less knowledge on the subject than someone like Andre.”
I opened my mouth to tell them they picked the wrong girl, that there was no such thing as a pseudo-vampire, that I couldn’t help them. But instead of forming those words, my mouth formed others. “She smells like ammonia,” I said, referring to the girl in front of me. “If it was released before she was killed, then like Maggie said, she was probably terrified when she died. It probably also means her death wasn’t quick.”
I studied the victim’s neck. “I’ve never bitten anyone, so I wouldn’t know if that’s normal or not.”
“It’s not,” Maggie chimed in.
“Then whoever did this wanted to cause her pain,” I said.
My throat worked. I wanted to unsee and unlearn all that I had over the last hour. Instead, I was on the case.
I dropped my bag and slid behind my desk in my anthropology class, resting my head on my folded arms in front of me. I needed a nap like a fish needed water.
“Hey ho,” said a familiar fairy boy. “Where were you this morning? Leanne and I waited forever for your skanky ass to show.”
“Oliver,” I groaned, dragging my head up.
Oliver started at my appearance. “Whoa, what happened to you?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” I’d already seen my bloodshot eyes and the dark circles beneath them.
He flashed me a knowing look. “Did you and Andre finally kiss and make up?”
“Is there an off button on you?” I asked. Fantasies of my bed flittered through my mind.
“Oh my God—you did, didn’t you, you hot slut!” Oliver squealed. “Give me the scoop! And don’t leave out the juicy details—you know they’re my favorite.” We were getting looks as the rest of the class filed in.
I slapped a hand over his mouth. His eyes widened.
“Just—shut up for a moment.” His eyes narrowed. If I removed my hand now without an explanation, more sass would pour out of that mouth of his than I could handle.
I lowered my voice. “A girl was murdered last night, and the Politia placed me on the investigation.”
He nodded once, and I slowly I removed my hand. He paused before asking thoughtfully, “Was that before or after you made up with Andre?”
I put my head in my hand. I could already tell today was going to be a winner.
After class got out, Oliver and I parted ways, him to grab lunch with Leanne, and me to sleep.
I wound my way through the busy corridors of Peel Castle. Hundreds of pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns lined the walls. Between them sat enchanted caldrons, which bubbled and steamed.
Every so often I passed a set of knight’s armor. Someone had gone to the trouble of pla
All the decorations were in honor of the upcoming holiday, Samhain—more commonly known as Halloween—when the doors between worlds opened.
I exited the castle and crossed the expansive lawn.
“Hey, wait up Gabrielle.” Caleb’s voice came from behind me. Unconsciously my muscles tensed.
I paused and watched him jog over to me. He smiled when he reached me and kissed my cheek in greeting. His lips lingered longer than was polite.
“Isn’t it crazy?” he whispered into my ear.
I leaned away from him. “What are you talking about?”
His eyes sparkled. “Being on an investigation—together.” The Politia had paired Caleb and I together. Just like my boss, Inspector Comfrey, I didn’t think this was a coincidence. But I’d never voiced my opinions.
I shrugged and began walking again. “It’s definitely creepy,” I said, stifling a yawn.
His hand captured mine, his fingers sliding between my own. There it was again. The subtle signals that he wanted something more from me than just friendship.
So I not-so-subtly removed my hands from his. “Caleb, what do you want?”
But when I turned to face him, he was gone.
I entered my room and leaned against the door. Finally, some peace and—
“I was hoping we could look over the report together.”
I screamed. Caleb stood next to me, stark naked.
“All that is holy Caleb!” I said, shielding my eyes and throwing him a towel to cover himself with. “You could’ve just signed in downstairs.”
“You wouldn’t have invited me up.”
Damn, but he was perceptive. “That’s because I want to sleep.” I glanced out my window. His clothes sat out on the lawn in a rumpled heap. Huh, I should’ve noticed that.
“We should get a head start on the investigation,” he said, wrapping the towel around himself. “Inspector Comfrey will want to see our progress when we meet next.” He folded his arms over his sculpted torso. I tried not to stare.
The Coveted (The Unearthly #2) by Laura Thalassa / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes