Heart of Shadows—Chapter One
Wellington, capital city of New Zealand
Wednesday 2:35 a.m.
IF THE GHOSTS OF EVERYONE I’ve had to kill floated through my dreams, I’d never sleep. So I have a ritual. As soon as my baby brother’s face makes its nightly appearance behind my eyes I kiss his cheek, tell him I love him, and hand him my sniper rifle. Only when I’ve set him in front of the closed and barred door to my mind do I let myself fall into the dark.
In twenty-five years Jorge has never failed me. Maybe because he understands what really happened that day. Maybe because he doesn’t. I don’t know. It’s a ritual, and it works.
But I’d take my chances with those ghosts for the rest of my life if I could just send him down the hallway to guard my elder daughter’s dreams.
For the third night in a row, reality ripped me awake, Sassy’s scream still echoing through the house.
The next scream pierced my heart as I reached the hallway and snapped on the light.
In the first flash of illumination I saw my younger daughter, Evie, standing at her sister’s door, her black hair sticking up on one side of her head, her pink Princess Barbie nightdress trailing behind her like a train.
“Stay outside,” I called.
“Sassy won’t let me in,” Evie said. “Look.” She pressed the hand holding her rag-tailed stuffed kangaroo, against the open doorway as I came up, and red light flashed under her palm. “It’s back, and it’s not angry, Mummy. It’s sad. Roo says.” She waved the kangaroo at me. “I can make it better. Sad things need cuddles.”
“Not this one.” I couldn’t see Sassy’s face—her back was to the doorway—but any “sad thing” that hovered, a smoky, writhing mass of God-knew-what, over one of my kids didn’t need a cuddle. It needed knifing. Or shooting. Or an exorcism. “Sassy. Wake up.”
“Shhhh.” Evie tilted her head. “It’s talking to her.”
A sad, talking thing. Screw that.
I angled closer to the door edging Evie out of range. Yes. It was definitely bigger than it had been on Monday. Darker than yesterday. Escalating. “Sassy. Can you hear me?”
Around us the air went heavy, filled with the odor of paint and burned wet wood. Sassy rolled over flailing her arms.
I caught my breath at the sight of blood-streaked sheets tangled tight around her legs. “Saskia Murphy. Wake up.”
“No,” she whimpered. “I can’t. Don’t—”
And it didn’t matter that I wasn’t psychically gifted. It only mattered that something was hurting my child.
“Leave her alone.” I shoved against whatever was blocking the doorway, fury flashing to molten pain as I was shoved back again. “Whatever you are, get the hell away from my daughter.”
On the bed, Sassy froze. Her eyes opened. All pupil, no one home.
“Killed him,” she whispered. “Kill. It’s in my blood.”
Icy sweat popped on my forehead. I knew all about killer bloodlines.
“Blood’s nothing, Sassy. Love’s what counts. You’re my daughter, and no psychic ball of fluff is going to change that. And you”—I stabbed a finger at the writhing smoke—“can go to hell. I don’t care what you are, or what you want. She’s mine. You can’t have her. Leave. Now. And don’t come back.”
I expected a replay of the previous night—an increased swirl and dance of smoke and the rustling of voices on the edge of hearing. Instead, the mass stopped writhing. Pulsed once. Disappeared.
So did the invisible wall.
Relieved, heart-sick, I started into the room.
“No!” Evie’s small hands grabbed my pajama pants and pulled me back. “No. Mummy, no. Let me.”
Everything in me growled a protest, but I was an assassin, not a psychic. If it breathed I could kill it. If it was already dead, or on some alternate plane, I was worse than useless. Logically, Evie was better equipped to handle the situation.
I crouched down so we were eye-to-eye. “Be careful. Sassy’s”—volatile, dangerous—“not herself.”
Evie blinked wide eyes like a baby owl. “Who is she then?”
“I mean her psychic control isn’t good at the moment.”
Evie blinked again. Nodded. “Okay.” She glanced over to the bed. “I’ll help her, Mummy. I’ll be careful.”
“I know.” I kissed her nose, and then stood up. “When you’re ready.”
There in the doorway, balanced between pride and pain, I watched my beautiful three-and-a-half year old baby once again walk into a danger I couldn’t fight. Watched her chubby fingers travel over the pale face of the sister she adored.
My girls. Evie and Saskia. Light and Darkness. Love without limit, and Justice without mercy. My reason to live.
At the bed, Evie whispered something.
Slow seconds dripped by.
Then Sassy sighed. Her blank eyes closed. Opened. Focused, aware once more.
She blinked, coughed, and held out her hand to me. “Mum,” she croaked. “Mum, I’m sorry.”
Pushing down my emotion I stepped into the room and over to the bed. “For what? Being a teenager? Starting your menstruation and having the period from hell at the same time? Not your fault.”
“For scaring you.”
“You didn’t.” I sat down on the sheets, avoiding the blood, and took her in my arms. Slim body. Fragile bones. Heart of a lion. “Never have. Never will.” I smoothed black hair over her temple. “Evie’s the scary one.”
“Yup. Me.” Evie wriggled under my arm and shoved both herself and Roo into the cuddle. “Cos I’ve got no self preversation. Roo says.”
“Preservation,” I corrected automatically. “And Roo’s right.” Evie’s loving heart gave me more bad moments than an up-close kill on a military base at midday. “You need to think before you act, sweetie.”
“Especially now,” Sassy said, and leaned closer. “Mum, what’s wrong with me?”
The internal phone rang in the living area. “I don’t know, sweetheart. But we’ll work it out.” I stood up. “Guess you woke Nan and Poppi. Have a shower. I’ll talk to Nan before she comes downstairs with chamomile tea again. Evie, get some clean sheets from the linen cupboard, would you, please?”
Evie nodded. “You can have my special Princess Barbie ones, Sassy. To make you feel better.”
I left them arguing over bed linen, and made my way to the living room to reassure our landlady turning on more lights as I went.
I didn’t believe in destiny, or fate, and I believed in God enough to know I was eternally lost. Yet, for the third night in a row, I prayed. Please. I’m a lousy human being but these little ones are innocent. You know what’s hunting them. I’ll kill if I need to. Die if I have to. Just keep my babies safe.
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