Chapter One: Nadia
Cemeteries shouldn’t be easy to sneak into, but they are. The walls aren’t meant to keep things out after all. All NOLA P.D. worries about when it comes to Lafayette Cemetery is how many kids are getting drunk and tagging the crypts. Their time is better spent monitoring the drunks on Bourbon Street.
All it took for me to get in was a glance to my right, a glance to my left, and one good hop up over the wall. Throwing myself over the edge, I dropped down inside the city of the dead with a gentle thud. My boots sank into the dirt, and a cold wind whipped between the buildings. It wasn’t the first time I’d made the jump. Life as a P.I. is never easy. It leads you to all sorts of strange places. Though, smelling the copper tang of fresh blood in a cemetery was new, even for me.
I tugged my cellphone from my pocket and turned the flashlight on the mausoleums closest to me. I saw no source for the smell. Everything looked normal, or as normal as a cemetery in New Orleans could be. Every grave was a literal house for the dead. Their bodies left on shelves to decompose until they could be pushed into the undercroft and be replaced with the newly dead.
The further I walked, the stronger the aroma became. I could taste it on my tongue. I passed the line where the human crypts gave way to the supernatural community, and a second smell joined the first. Marigolds. A flower used by Spanish witches to draw spirits back from the grave.
I flexed my fingers instinctively, calling fresh magic up from my core until it buzzed like an electric current beneath my skin. My spellcasting abilities weren’t exactly stellar, but I could still sling enough telekinetic energy around to get myself out of almost anything. I slowed my breathing to a quiet inhale exhale and walked forward.
My gut told me where I’d find the source of the smell. There was only one place the person I’d come to meet would have waited for me. Searching for names I recognized, I turned down the closest path. I passed only a handful of buildings before I found the one I was looking for. It was the largest crypt in the yard, and my family name blazed above the door even in the dark. My name, my curse. Devereaux.
I turned to the other side of the walkway and there she was. Laid out in the center of a ceremonial square, quiet and still, as if she were sleeping. The marigolds were spread around her head like a wreath, and ever inch of the stone beneath her was covered in blood.
I sighed. “Dammit, Nadia. You weren’t supposed to go out like this. What did you do?”
I picked my way to her side, trying not to disturb the scene. The cops would eventually have to go over everything with a fine-toothed comb. Leaving unnecessary fingerprints would only complicate things.
Nadia Lenkova had come to my office two days ago, asking for help. She thought someone was trying to kill her, but I couldn’t see it. I touched her three times and it wasn’t there, and I should know, death is my superpower. When I touch someone’s skin, I can see exactly what’s out to kill them. It usually changes with every decision you make, but when someone is planning to murder you, they’re all I can see until your dead or they change their mind.
I tried to explain that to Nadia, but she didn’t want to hear it. She was adamant something or someone was out to get her. When it became obvious, I didn’t believe her, she begged me to at least teach her some way to protect herself. I suggested a local self-defense class taught by a friend of mine. He’d helped a couple of my clients in the past. She said no, and demanded I teach her blood magic instead.
Had she asked for defensive spells, I would have agreed to help her. Defensive spells are easy, and every witch deserves the right to defend herself. But she asked for the one thing I’d never give.
Blood magic is as dark as the craft gets and highly illegal. Even implying that I could show her how to use it meant death for me and my family. So, I kicked her out of my office. I told her to find someone else willing to break the law for her, and now she was dead.
Crouching over her body, I reached to check her pulse, but two dark figures darted out from the mausoleums, and I froze. Their flashlights clicked on and for a second, I was blind.
“NOLA PD, hands in the air,” a male voice shouted from behind one of the giant white spots burning my eyes.
I looked down at Nadia and thanked the gods that I’d remember to wear my gloves when I left the house. I hadn’t touched her body, or anything else. They wouldn’t even find my fingerprints on the wall I’d jumped over.
“Get on your knees,” said a woman behind the flashlight glare. “Interlock your fingers behind your head.”
I recognized that voice. Squinting in her direction, I smiled. “Natalie Davis is that you? I thought you’d gotten yourself transferred to another Parrish.”
“Hands in the air,” the man repeated. His voice shook. I could almost hear him puffing up his chest, trying to look tough.
I rolled my eyes, and stood up like he asked, hands raised. “Easy, I’m a friend. My name is Rebekah Devereaux. I’m a private investigator and I consult for the Aegis Task Force.”
“Keep your hands in the air,” Natalie said, turning off her flashlight. I blinked the spots from my eyes as I heard the sound of clicking handcuffs and boots on the platform. “Walk towards me.”
“Oh, come on.” I met her at the edge of the square, suppressing the urge to groan. “You know me, you know I’m not a killer.”
She scoffed and grabbed my right arm, wrenching it behind my back. She closed a silver bracelet a little too tightly around my wrist, and repeated the process with my left hand, snarling in my ear. “I know exactly who you are, Rebekah, and you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. I know you can afford an attorney so please, oh please, resist arrest. Give me a reason to use force.”
“You can’t possibly still be mad about what happened with Zane.” I rolled my eyes. “He was a dirty cop. I did you a favor!”
“A favor?” She spun me around. Her eyebrows lifted to her hairline. “You got my partner thrown in jail.”
“He was extorting half the restaurants in the Quarter for protection money!”
“Uh, Davis, you know this woman?” The second cop asked, still hidden behind the beam of his flashlight.
Natalie glared at me. “I’ve arrested her a dozen times.”
“Hazzard of the job.” I sneered at him. “I’m guessing your Nat’s new partner. Mind lowering your flashlight? I’m already seeing stars.”
The light clicked off, and he cleared his throat. “It’s Officer Gates to you.”
“Nice to meet you. I’d shake your hand, but I’m a little restrained at the moment,” I said, wiggling my fingers behind my back.
Gates smiled. “I’d say it’s nice to meet you too, but there’s a dead body at your feet.”
“It looks like we’ve got some babysitting to do, Gates. Call in the body,” Natalie said.
He nodded and started talking into his radio. Dispatch responded and Natalie towed me away from the square to the bench built into the side of my family’s crypt. I started to sit, but she jerked me upright by the arm.
“You know I’ve gotta pat you down,” she said. “I’m guessing you still keep that baton in your boot. Got any other weapons I should know about?”
I held out my right foot. “My baton is where it always is, and you know I don’t like guns.”
“What about knives or needles?”
My jaw dropped. “I’m not a drug addict, thank you very much.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” she said, crouching to pull the baton from my boot. “Done any magic lately? Pulled any rabbits out of your hat?”
I snorted once and looked away. Only a handful of cops knew the truth about my abilities, and Natalie wasn’t one of them. She was a skeptic, and like most of the police force, she considered me either delusional or a fraud. If she only knew what really went on in her city.
Baton in hand, she pushed me down on the bench. “So, why’d you kill her?”
I glared at her. The stone beneath me felt like ice, still wet form the recent rain. “I didn’t.”
“Then what are you doing here? What were you doing to her body?”
“Ew, I wasn’t doing anything,” I said. “I got a call from your victim over there. She begged me to meet her here. Said it was a matter of life and death. I saw her car outside, and the gate was closed. So, I jumped the wall and found her like that. I was reaching to check her pulse when you surprised me.”
Natalie glanced at her partner. “Watch her, I’ve gotta make a call.”
“What?” My heart leapt into my throat. “Why do you have to make a call?”
“Be quiet,” Natalie snapped as she walked away.
“Nat please don’t call him. Please don’t—” I rose from the bench, intent on following her.
Gates shoved me back down. “Stay put and behave.”
“Let someone else take the case, Nat!” I shouted after her and sank back against the wall. “Don’t drag him into this mess. He doesn’t deserve it.”
“What are you so worried about?” Gates asked.
I groaned and dropped my head between my knees. “This is worse than getting arrested. She’s gonna get me in so much trouble.”
“How so?” Gates snorted. “She callin your mom or something?”
My head snapped up and I glared at him. “My parents are dead.”
“Sorry.” He raised his hands in surrender. “I’ve gotta ask though, what’s with the gloves? If you didn’t kill her, what are they for? It’s like eighty degrees.”
I shifted on the bench and looked away from him. “I’m a germaphobe.”
“Ah, and do germaphobes often hang out with dead bodies? I mean this is a pretty weird place to get caught.”
“You think getting caught standing over a dead body is weird? This doesn’t even crack my top ten. One time I was found handcuffed inside a dog pound cage, wearing nothing but a trench coat.”
His jaw dropped, but Natalie came back before he could say more. She looked at her partner and then down at me. “Jackson will be here in an hour. We’re to keep you with us until then.”
Gates frowned. “Shouldn’t we take her to the station? We founder standing over a dead body.”
“It’s a favor to Detective Sinclair,” Natalie said, adjusting her gun belt.
“Oh Jeeze.” I chuckled. “You should know that’s not gonna work. You can do Jackson all the favors in the world, but it’s not gonna get you a place on the task force. Hell, it won’t even get you into his bed.”
“I suggest you exercise your right to be silent,” she snapped.
“What’s this case to Sinclair?” Gates asked, changing the subject.
Natalie’s lips curled into a wicked grin. “Rebekah is his wife.”
I rolled my eyes and the hour and a half that followed crept by like molasses from a bottle. A handful of other uniforms arrived to secure the crime scene. Techs and the medical examiners put up floodlights. I watched it all, unable to move or help in any way until Jackson Sinclair stepped around the side of the mausoleum beside me.
“What the hell have you gotten yourself into now?” he asked, looming over me. He’d cut his hair and trimmed his beard since the last time we spoke. His bangs were swept back from his face, and expertly tended stubble covered his chin. The very definition of tall, dark, and handsome. Right down to the crooked smile twitching at the corners of his lips. He was enjoying the sight of me in cuffs way more than he should.
I glared up at his six-foot frame. “What took you so long?”
“Traffic.” He shrugged. “So, what did you do?”
Jackson had the uncanny ability to make me feel like a little kid getting scolded by her parents. I stood up taking away some of his advantage. “You’re a bad liar”
“What can I say?” he smiled. “It’s fun watching you sweat. Makes you smell good.”
“First of all, ew,” I said, lowering my voice. “Only a werewolf could enjoy the scent of a woman sweating in a cemetery. Second, will you please get these cuffs off me. My shoulders hurt.”
“Not until you tell me what happened. Nat said she found you standing over the body. Did you touch it?” he asked, folding his arms over his chest.
“I didn’t get a chance. Officer Davis and her partner blinded and cuffed me before I could figure out what happened.”
“Did ya kill her?”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh, yeah, I killed her and then stuck around to get caught by the cops. Of course, I didn’t kill her. I was coming here to meet her. She was a client.”
“They couldn’t find a wallet. What’s her name?”
“Nadia Lenkova. She lived in Algiers. I think.”
Jackson’s eyes slid past me to the uniforms crowded around the square. He waved his hand and Natalie came sauntering over to us. I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw the added swagger in her step.
“Hey, Detective,” she crooned as her eyes raked up and down his body.
“Jesus, get a room,” I said, just loud enough for Jackson to hear.
He elbowed me in the ribs and gave the woman his politest smile. “Nat, can I please have your cuff keys and my wife’s weapon?”
“She shouldn’t have taken them in the first place,” I growled.
“Behave,” Jackson warned, undoing my cuffs. He was careful not to touch my skin.
“Detective…” Natalie cleared her throat, resting her hands on her gun belt. “She was found standing over a dead body. We need to take her in and get her statement at the very least.”
“I’ve already got her statement,” Jackson said. “If she turns out to be the killer, I’ll arrest her myself. For now, though, she knew the victim, so she’s consulting on the case.”
A dog with a bone, Natalie shook her head. “I still have to put her in my report.”
“Go ahead,” Jackson said, smiling. We both knew that her report would disappear the moment she filed it, just like all the rest.
“Where’s my baton?” I asked, rubbing my shoulder. No one should have to sit with their arms pinned behind their back for an hour and a half. Especially, when they’ve broken their collarbone in the past.
Natalie held the stick out to Jackson, but I snatched it away from her and shoved it back into my boot. She walked away, and Jackson narrowed his eyes at me. “Do you have to antagonize everyone you meet?”
“It’s part of my charm.” I shrugged, rubbing my shoulder again. The muscles along my neck would be burning for the rest of the night, thanks to Natalie and her handcuffs.
“You okay?” Jackson asked.
“I’m fine. Tweaked my shoulder, that’s all.”
“I’ve got Advil in my car if you need it.”
I met his eye for a second and then turned away. “I’m fine. Let’s look at the body.”
He sighed and led me through the crowd. Jackson waved off the man taking pictures and yawned. “So, how far did you get before Butch and Sundance showed up?”
“Ouch, calling Nat butch? That’s harsh. Kevlar vests are unflattering on everyone,” I said, letting my eyes take in the scene under the floodlights. I’d missed a lot in the dark.
“Very funny, what were you doing here so late? Why’d Nadia hire you?”
“Why does anyone hire me?” I said. “She was afraid.”
There were too many humans close by for me to tell him the whole truth. If any of them heard my story, and somehow managed to suspend their disbelief in magic, I’d become their number one suspect. I was seemingly the last one to talk to Nadia, and we’d had an argument two days before her death. Until the scene was processed, all signs pointed directly at me.
A familiar voice called out from the crowd of people to my right. “Rebekah?”
I turned and found a familiar head of neon pink hair in a medical examiner’s coat. My cousin Shado was crouched in front of a field kit sitting on the steps of the Devereaux mausoleum. Her hair was swept into such a tight bun, I almost didn’t recognize her.
I smiled. “Fancy meeting you here.”
She hopped to her feet and pulled into me a bone crushing hug. “What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into now?”
“Have a little faith cousin. I’m on a case.”
She snorted. “Of course, you are.”
“I am, so…” I gestured vaguely at the body in front of us. “What can you tell me? What’s your preliminary exam?”
All lit up, Nadia looked like a ghoulish Halloween decoration. Every inch of her skin was covered with words, alchemical symbols, numbers, and runes that disappeared under her sleeves and showed up again at the collar of her sweater. Even her cheeks had marks on them.
Shado sighed. “From what I can see it looks like a ritual kill. The cause of death at first glance is a stab wound to her carotid artery, but these markings look at least a month old and there’s too much blood on the slab to have been from one wound. I don’t want to do your job for you, but I don’t think she was killed here. I’m guessing they stabbed her somewhere else, and then threw all the blood around to stage her like this.”
“Do you recognize any of the markings?” Jackson asked, tapping his boot against mine. He kept his voice low so only the three of us would be able to hear.
“Some of them,” I said, pointing as I spoke. “That’s the alchemical symbol for silver. Those are runes for strength and protection. Those are pain and death. That’s Latin for blood. It’s definitely a ritual of some kind, but I can’t tell for what. I’d have to do some research. But Jack, these weren’t here two days ago.”
“Interesting,” he said. It was all he could say. A cop talking about magical anomalies would draw the wrong kind of attention. That part of our investigation would have to wait till later.
“I can send you some photos once I get a better look,” Shado offered, drawing my attention back to the body.
I smiled at her. “That’d be great.”
“Yeah.” Jackson cleared his throat. “But please, keep that between the three of us.”
“It’s not my first rodeo, Detective.” Shado glared at him.
“Mine, either,” he said. “Let me know as soon as you have the report ready.”
“Of course,” she said. Shado was under the impression that Jackson had cheated on me. Which would never have happened, but I wasn’t going to correct her. It was easier than listening to her ask me endless questions about what really happened.
I flexed my hands at my sides until my fingers burned. “I’m going to try something.”
“What?” Jackson and Shado asked together.
I shook my head and focused on the magic buzzing under my skin. Something in my gut told me there was more to see around the body. I twisted my fingers through the air, between my knees, and exerted my will beyond the edges of my physical body. It wasn’t a spell exactly, but it would give me an idea of what kind of power lurked behind the markings on Nadia’s skin.
To the outside observer, I appeared like someone staring off into space. But I felt my pupils expand, and my vision shifted. The world turned a mottled shade of grey, and multicolored lines of energy threaded through the air in front of my nose.
Angry red and black strings tangled around Nadia’s body. I brushed one with my index finger and pain shot up my arm into my neck. I gasped.
“Rebekah?” Jackson knelt beside me. “Are you okay?”
I exhaled, “Yeah.”
Every time I’d done the spell in the past it stung. Typically, that pain faded, but not this time. I pushed my will harder against the magic in front of me and pain burned along my spine, radiating out into my arms and legs. My hands shook violently, and my vision started to blur.
“Bex, stop,” Jackson demanded, dropping his hand down onto my shoulder. I shifted to pull away and his index finger brushed my neck. I gasped, and the spell snapped. The sensation of his skin against mine was like a taser shock. I leapt to my feet and took a giant step back away from him and the body.
Jackson reached out to steady me, but I threw my hands up warding him off. “No, don’t touch me. I…I need some air.”
I turned on my heel and darted away between the crypts. Jackson and Shado both called after me, but I ignored them, running deeper into the cemetery.
My heart vibrated against my ribs with every step, but I kept going until my head spun and I staggered into a stone wall. I pressed my back against it and slid to the ground hyperventilating.
Jackson filled every corner of my mind. My nose was full of his scent, and my skin crawled with want. I craved his touch, but I couldn’t touch him. The moment I did, I’d see him die again. I’d see his blood all over that room, all over my hands. That vision haunted my dreams every night. I knew I’d be the one to kill him if we stayed together, and that was enough. It was safer for us both if I kept my distance.
EYES OF THE GRAVE
With one touch Rebekah Devereaux can either solve a murder or prevent one. So, when one of her would-be clients turns up dead in the middle of Lafayette Cemetery, and all signs point to Rebekah being the killer, this private detective must employ her special abilities to discover the truth.
With the help of her intrepid cousin, and estranged husband; Rebekah sets off on the hunt for the killer, diving into the secrets of her past.
Killer or not, she has to find the answers, before someone else turns up dead.
US Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZMKPX9G
CA Link: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07ZMKPX9G