Kansas City, Kansas
Sergeant Duncan O'Conner was late to the party.
Nursing a hangover from hell, he took two painkillerswith a gallon of hot coffee and steered his POS cop carthrough the light Sunday traffic and entered the gated communityin the Southwest suburbs.
The call had hit his cell phone at three in the afternoon.An hour before, he'd hauled his sorry ass out of bed. It'dtaken another half hour under the shower to peel his throbbingeyes open and get rid of the stench of cheap whiskeyand even cheaper cigars.
His first thought had been to call in and tell them to findsomeone else. Wasn't it supposed to be his damned weekendoff rotation? Let Caleb deal with the latest stiff.
Then the thought that the entire station would suspecthe'd spent the night of his ex-wife's latest wedding gettingshit-faced drunk sent him stumbling to his car. Yeah, likehis bloodshot eyes and old man shuffle weren't going to givethe game away, he acknowledged wryly. But while he couldtake the razzing, he couldn't take the thought of them feelingsorry for him.
He might be a pathetic loser, but he was a pathetic loserwho was damned good at his job.
Entering the cul-de-sac, Duncan parked his car and headedinto the brick house. He ignored the speculative glances fromthe neighbors who had gathered in a little clutch across thestreet. He was accustomed to females checking out his spare,well-honed body shown to advantage in a pair of faded jeansand black tee. Even with his short, pale blond hair damp fromthe shower and his stubborn jaw shadowed with a goldenstubble, he had the look of a man who knew what to do witha woman. Match that with a pair of hazel eyes that sparkledwith wicked charm and they were like putty in his hands.
The men tended to be more interested in the gun holsteredat his side and the hard expression on his lean face thatwarned he only needed an excuse to kick someone's ass.
His own attention was focused on the house as he steppedinto the small but elegant foyer. Not the sort of house a youngwoman could afford without some help. From daddy. Ormore likely, from sugar daddy.
Not that he was being sexist. He couldn't afford a damnedtoolshed in this frou-frou neighborhood. Even if his old dachipped in every penny he made driving a cab.
He continued to size up the bold black and white furnishingsas a uniformed officer handed him a file withthe pertinent details of the case. A beat later another officerarrived to lead him to the back of the house and a sunnykitchen with a perfect view of the pool.
He grimaced as the late spring sunlight sent a stab ofagony through his throbbing brain, then lowered his gazeto the female who was lying naked in the middle of thetiled floor.
He wasn't surprised that she was beautiful. Stunninglybeautiful with long hair that glistened with chestnut highlights,pretty features, and a slender body that was tight withthe muscles of an athlete.
What did surprise him was the lack of any sort of violence.She looked like she'd simply lain down in the middleof the floor and quietly passed away.
In his experience, lovely young women who were killedon Sunday morning were beaten to death by a jealous boyfriendor raped and killed by a passing psycho.
Not ... what?
His brows jerked together as he took a swift inventory ofthe kitchen, noting everything was in pristine place, not somuch as a coffee mug left in the sink. It could be the femalenever used the kitchen, preferring to eat out, or at her lover'splace. It could be she was OCD and her kitchen was alwaysspotless.
But his gut was telling him that she hadn't lived here longenough to stop caring if the place was a mess.
"Hola, O'Conner. Looking a little rough around theedges," the silver-haired coroner drawled, unfolding a whitesheet to drape it over the body. "Heard that Susan found herselfa decent man to make an honest woman of her."
Yeah, so decent he was banging her in Duncan's own bed.
Flipping off his companion, Duncan opened the file andglanced through the meager info that had been gathered onthe female.
"Who found the body?""A silent alarm was tripped."
"Cause of death?"
"She's missing her heart."
Duncan froze, his gaze searching the victim's unmarredskin and the obvious lack of blood.
"How the hell could she be missing her heart?"
"I don't know," Frank Sanchez admitted, the bite in hisraspy voice expressing his opinion of "I don't know." "But Iran the portable MRI over her three times to be sure."
The older man could be a pain in the ass to work with,but he knew his shit. Nothing got past his eagle gaze. If hesaid the female was missing her heart, then she was missingher heart.
Crap. Duncan hated mysteries.
"It's clean." Another growl as Frank gathered the tools ofhis trade to pack them in a black leather bag. "Too clean."
"So a freak?"
"That would be my guess."
Confused, Duncan read through the file.
Single, originally from Little Rock.
Current occupation, dancer at the Rabbit Hutch.
That would explain her location, he cynically concluded.Her salary as a dancer wouldn't cover the rent, but the clientswho frequented the high-end strip club would easily be ableto afford this place to keep a current mistress.
It didn't, however, explain why she was lying naked in herkitchen without her heart.
Lifting his head, he met Frank's troubled gaze. "You madethe call?"
The older man grimaced, not needing any further explanation.
When there was a murder that didn't have an eyewitnessor a legitimate suspect, it was protocol to call in one of themutants. And when it might involve another mutant, theywere called ASAP.
"Yep. She should be—"
On cue one of the uniforms stepped into the kitchen. "Thenecro is here."
"Perfect timing," Duncan muttered. "Show her in." Forwhatever reason, necros were almost always females.
The young man nodded, disappearing back down thehallway while Frank snapped shut his black bag.
"That's my cue for a quick exit."
Duncan grinned. "Scared?"
"Damned straight," the older man said without apology."Freaks give me the heebie-jeebies. I don't know how youcan be in the same room with one."
A bitter smile touched Duncan's lips. Like draws to like ...
No. He grimly crushed the mocking words in the back ofhis aching head. He wasn't like those mutants from Valhalla.
Lots of people could see the souls of others, couldn't they?
He swallowed his grim urge to laugh, tilting his headtoward the sheet on the floor. "You can be in the same roomwith a corpse, but not a necro?"
Frank shrugged. "I respect the dead. No one should bescrewing around with their heads."
"Even if it takes a murderer off the streets?"
"I like getting my criminals the old-fashioned way. Necrosshould be abolished along with the rest of the—"
"I prefer the term 'diviner' if you don't mind," a soft,compelling voice whispered through the room, turning bothmen toward the door like a magnet.
Even prepared, Duncan felt the air being jerked from hislungs at the sight of Callie Brown.
It wasn't just that she was a stunning beauty with hershort, spiky hair that was so dark red it shimmered like firein the sunlight. Her pale features were perfectly carved witha sensual invitation for a mouth and a proud nose.
And her body ... hell, it was slender with just enoughcurves to make a man think of black silk sheets and longweekends. Today it was displayed to perfection in a pair ofblack spandex pants and a white stretchy top.
But for Duncan it was the white aura that flickered aroundher diminutive body that made his blood burn.
So pure. So completely and utterly innocent.
And like any bastard, he ached to be the one who debauchedthat wholesomeness even as he savored the rare beauty ofher soul.
"Shit," Frank muttered, heading for the door leading tothe back patio. "Adios, amigo."
His entire body vibrating with an awareness that went waybeyond sexual attraction, Duncan barely noticed the hastydeparture of the coroner. Not that he wouldn't have Callie flaton her back and her legs wrapped around his waist with theleast hint of encouragement.
It was a sensation that should have scared the hell out ofhim. Instead a wicked smile curved his lips.
She turned her head, regarding him through the reflectivesunglasses that hid her eyes, her expression unreadable.
On the half dozen occasions Duncan had worked withCallie, he'd never seen her be anything but serene. Which, ofcourse, only encouraged him to try and provoke a responsefrom her. Anything to know there was a flesh and bloodwoman beneath that image of calm.
Why it was so important to find that woman was anotherone of those things he put on the list of "don't fucking care."
"Sergeant O'Conner," she said, moving with an unearthlygrace to stand beside the sheet.
"Duncan," he insisted, shifting to stand across the body,his gaze never leaving Callie's pale face.
"Has the body been processed?"
"As much as can be done in the field. You're free to doyour thing."
"Time of death?"
"At least an hour ago."
"Then I should have time." She knelt down, reaching forthe edge of the sheet. "The spark—"
"Yeah, no need explain." He held up a restraining hand.He might not share the prejudices of most of society againstthe freaks, but that didn't mean he wanted an insider's guideto necromancy. Christ. The mere thought made his stomachclench. "Just see what you can do."
"Fine." Cool, indifferent. Then her body tensed. "Soyoung," she murmured softly.
"Twenty-six." He crouched down, studying her silken skinunmarred by wrinkles. "Older than you?"
"A woman never shares that information."
"You share nothing."
"Do you blame me?"
His lips twisted at the smooth thrust. Most people wentout of their way to avoid freaks, but there were others whothought the only good freak was a dead freak. There wereeven a handful of cults where people trained to kill them.Mostly simpleminded idiots who needed someone to tellthem what to think and angry outcasts who had nowhere elseto go, but that didn't make them any less dangerous.
"No, not really."
"What was her name?"
His jaw tightened. Okay, he was vain. He'd spent most ofhis life knowing women found him irresistible. The fact hewasn't certain if Callie had even noticed he was a male annoyedthe hell out of him.
Then with a silent curse he shoved aside his ego andconcentrated on the only thing important at the moment.Finding the son of a bitch who'd killed this woman.
"Is that her real name?"
He shrugged. "That's all I got for now."
She paused before giving a slow nod. "It should do."
"Why do you need her name?" He asked the question thathe'd wondered about more than once.
By law they couldn't give details of the death in the fearthat the necro might be swayed into naming a murderer evenif the victim couldn't reveal the truth.
But a necro always asked for a name.
"It helps me to connect with her mind."
He shuddered. "Christ."
"You asked," she reminded him in a low voice.
"Do you need any other details?"
"I need to touch her."
"There." He pointed toward the forearm where Frankwould have prepped the victim. "It's been sanitized."
She at last lifted her head. "Would you make sure—"
"That no one enters?" he finished for her.
He abruptly frowned. "Where's your Sentinel?"
A necro never left the compound without a guardian Sentinel.Not only were they capable of opening portals to travelfrom place to place (a mysterious talent that was never discussedamong the mundane mortals), but they were alsotrained warriors who were covered in intricate tattoos. Fromwhat little Duncan had been able to learn, the ceremonialmarkings protected the warriors from magic as well as anyattempt at mind control.
And, oh yeah, they were capable of killing with their barehands.
There were also rumors that there were other Sentinels—hunterswho weren't marked and could travel among thehumans unnoticed. But info on them was kept top secret.
"I asked him to wait outside."
He lifted a brow. "Why?"
"Because you take such pleasure in tormenting him andhe's too well trained to fight back."
"Are you saying I'm not well trained?"
She ignored the open invitation to point out that he wasbarely civilized and instead returned her attention to thevictim.
"The door, please."
He slowly straightened, swallowing his groan as his headgave another protesting throb. Whiskey was the devil's brew,just as his ma had always claimed.
"No one's coming in," he muttered, "but I'll keep guard atthe door if it makes you feel better."
"Thank you, Sergeant."
"Duncan." His headache forgotten, he flashed a smile ofpure challenge. "One day you'll say it. Hell, one day youmight even scream it."
No response. With a low growl, Duncan made his way tothe door, leaning on the doorjamb to make sure no one couldenter, while keeping his attention on the woman kneelingbeside the corpse.
She ignored his unwavering attention, lifting a hand toremove her sunglasses and setting them aside. At the sametime the slanting sunlight spilled over her, catching in thesapphire blue of her eyes.
Duncan's heart forgot how to beat.
He'd seen them before. At a distance. At the time he'dthought they looked like expensive gems, perfectly facetedand shimmering with an inner light. Up close they were evenmore magnificent.
The beauty of those eyes was hypnotizing.
Priceless jewels that revealed this was no ordinarywoman.
Duncan would be pleased to know that it was only heryears of training that allowed Callie to ignore his raw sexualmagnetism.
He was the sort of primitive male that should have infuriatedher, not tantalized her deepest fantasies.
Of course, the Mave would tell her that fantasies weremeant to be filled with unsuitable desires. Why not lust aftera bad boy cop? It wasn't as if she was going to do anythingabout it. She didn't know if his flirtations were a way to taunther or if he was one of those groupies who got off on sleepingwith "freaks," but either way, it had nothing to do withher as a person.
Still, it was only with an effort that she managed to crushthe tiny tingles of excitement fluttering in the pit of her stomachand the dampness of her palms.
Now wasn't the time or place.
Tonight in her dreams ... well, that was a different story.
Clearing her thoughts, she laid her hands on the victim'sarm and closed her eyes.
It took a second to slip from her own mind and into thefemale stretched on the floor. There was always a strangesense of ... floating. As if her consciousness was hoveringbetween one body and the next. Then, focusing on thefeel of the female's arm beneath her fingers, she murmuredher name.
The soft word was enough.
With a hair-raising jolt, she was sucked from her body andinto Leah's mind.
She could easily sense the female soul, just as she couldsense she was fading.
Despite the ridiculous myths, a necromancer couldn'tcontrol or raise the dead. Her only ability was to tap into themind of the murdered victim to see the last few minutes oftheir life.
And only within a very short time frame.
Once the ... spark, for lack of a better word ... was extinguishedand the soul moved on, the memories were lost.
A meaningless talent for the most part. But on rare occasionit could mean the opportunity for justice.
With a well-honed skill, Callie touched on the female'smemory center. Just being born a diviner didn't automaticallymean that a person would be capable of reading memories.There were many necromancers who were never able to domore than enter the body and hopefully catch a stray thought.
Callie, however, was one of the most talented.
Which was why she was always sent when there was asuspicion the death might have been caused by a high-blood,as the freaks preferred to call themselves.
Finding the spot she was searching for, she delicatelyslipped into the fading memories and allowed them to flowthrough her.
Suddenly she was no longer kneeling on the hard floor.Instead she was in the attached garage, stepping out of hersleek black Jag. She sensed a pleasant weariness in her limbs,as if she'd just finished a vigorous workout at the gym, a suspicionconfirmed when she glanced down to see she waswearing a pair of stretchy pants and a matching sports bra.
Excerpted from BORN In BLOOD by Alexandra Ivy. Copyright © 2013 Debbie Raleigh. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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