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Authors: Leslie Parrish

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Somehow, though, she didn’t find her own words comforting. In fact, she

found them pretty damn depressing.

Chapter 2

Though the week had started out badly, it was finishing off pretty wel . First of

al , Olivia had had no more bad dreams since Monday morning. Second, she

and the rest of the eXtreme Investigations team had helped solve a case

involving a missing woman. And third, it was almost the weekend, and she

hadn’t had one additional near-death experience—hers or anyone else’s.

No, not a bad week at al .

“Especial y considering you started it by almost becoming roadkil ,” she

mumbled as she finished showering Friday morning.

She’d thought about the near miss several times, though she hadn’t

mentioned it to anyone. Not only because she stil felt foolish about walking out

in front of a speeding car but also because of that strange, urgent compulsion

that had drawn her to the scene of the fire.

Then, of course, there had been that good-looking cop who’d saved her.

She would have liked to have met him under different circumstances and

wished she’d gotten his name. At the very least, she’d like to replace his

sunglasses, dol ar store or not. She’d been keeping an eye on TV news

stories about the case but hadn’t seen him in any of the coverage. A couple of

cops had been quoted in the paper, but there were no clues that would help

her identify the man who’d saved her life.

Nor had the articles contained much additional information about the crime

itself. So far, the police had been pretty closemouthed about the case, beyond

final y acknowledging that there had, indeed, been human remains found on

the site.

Frankly, she’d feel better when those remains were identified, so she could

stop this crazy wondering that had plagued her since Monday.

“Best to just let it go,” she told herself. Looking back on it, that weird urge

she’d had to go down there the other day seemed more than a little ridiculous,

not to mention embarrassing.

Wrapping her hair in a towel and donning a robe, she headed downstairs to

the kitchen, needing a cup of coffee to get her going. It was a bright, sunny

morning, sunlight spil ing through the bank of windows running across the

width of the kitchen. Poindexter had already staked out his favorite spot on the

windowsil . When she’d gotten out of bed, he’d been sleeping on her pil ow.

Now he was sleeping in a shaft of sunlight, the key word being
sleeping
.

“Feels good, doesn’t it, Dex?” she said. “But only because you don’t have to

go out in it.”

He offered her his standard, baleful kitty stare, reminding her who was top

dog around here, then dropped his head back onto his paws.

dog around here, then dropped his head back onto his paws.

It suddenly hit her. She’d become a cat lady: a single, living-alone,

muttering-to-herself, hadn’t-been-on-a-date-in-months, hadn’t-had-sex-in-far-

longer-than-that cat lady.

She chuckled in spite of herself, knowing how that would have horrified her

late grandmother, the one who’d left her this house. Olivia Wainwright,

daughter of a multimil ionaire, granddaughter of a former senator, cousin of a

current one, descended from a long line of Southern debs and socialites . . . a

spinster. Frankly, she suspected her grandmother would be more horrified by

that than she would by the fact that her granddaughter had an unhealthy

connection with the dead and worked with a bunch of eccentric paranormal

types.

After setting the coffeemaker, Olivia stuck a piece of bread in the toaster, if

only to keep herself from reaching for a donut when she got to the office. Julia

brought them in almost every day—a habit that had lingered from the other

woman’s previous days as a Charleston cop. Of course, a donut obsession

wasn’t the only thing that had stuck around after Julia left Charleston. Her last

partner had, too. Not that he could be seen by anybody but Julia.

Ghosts
. Huh. Once upon a time, the very idea would have made Olivia

laugh in outright disbelief. That was before she, herself, had become a

semiregular in the land of the dead. Now, it wasn’t that tough to believe

anything. eXtreme Investigations was staffed with the best of the paranormal

best.

There was Julia, of course, her boss, who was seldom without her ghostly

best friend. Aidan McConnel ’s psychic visions had proved remarkably helpful

in solving crimes. Mick Tanner’s ability to touch something and know its entire

history had led them al in some interesting directions. And Derek Monahan’s

ability to see a murder victim reenacting his own death again and again

added to the power of Olivia’s own shared-death experiences.

“Crazy stuff,” she muttered. But al part of her life now.

Not real y thinking about it, she picked up the remote and flipped on the

smal TV that stood on a corner counter just in time to hear a news anchor say,

“Coming up after the break, the latest on remains found after Monday’s fire at

a bar on Ogeechee Road.”

Her stomach tightened instinctively, her mind immediately tripping back to

those surreal moments Monday morning when she’d felt like somebody else

was propel ing her body to that crime scene. Olivia was used to feeling like

she’d stepped into other people’s bodies; the feeling that someone else had

taken over hers was something she didn’t like. Not one bit. Especial y since it

had nearly gotten her kil ed.

You should turn it off. You don’t need to be thinking about this.

But of course she didn’t.

The news program segued into a long commercial break, but the cheerful

jingle of a national fast-food joint didn’t distract her. Instead, despite al her

efforts, her tension rose.

After pouring her coffee, she buttered her toast and took a few bites. She

stopped chewing as soon as the familiar news program logo reappeared.

“And now, more on a story we broke Monday morning, about a fire at a bar

cal ed Fast Eddie’s, which revealed a disturbing discovery: human remains

concealed inside a wal . This morning, sources inside the Savannah-Chatham

Metropolitan Police Department are tel ing us that the remains most likely

belonged to a child.”

Olivia swal owed hard, her hand shaking a little, or a lot, judging by the

coffee that sloshed out of the mug and hit her skin. Lowering the cup to the

counter, she absently reached for the sink, turned on a stream of cold water

and let it run over the side of her stinging thumb.

The news anchor introduced a reporter who was delivering a live update

from outside one of the local police precincts. The perky-looking woman gave

her intro and then introduced a police officer, whose image soon fil ed the

screen.

“You,” Olivia said, the word riding out of her mouth on a pleased sigh.

Because there, easily recognizable, was the man who’d saved her from a

run-in with a car. The bottom-of-thescreen graphic identified him as Detective

Gabe Cooper.

“Gabe.” A nice name. She liked how it felt on her lips.

Cooper squinted at the camera, his rugged face bathed in harsh morning

sunlight.
Probably because some clumsy idiot made him break his

sunglasses.

Dark smudges under his eyes and a weary slump to his broad shoulders

said he hadn’t been sleeping wel . She wondered if anybody surrounded by

crime and murder ever could.

“Detective Cooper, can you give us any more information on the victim?” the

reporter asked. “We’re getting reports that you have identified a child?”

“No, that is incorrect,” the detective said, almost cutting the reporter off. She

sensed Gabe Cooper didn’t like reporters. “We haven’t
identified
him at al .

The coroner’s office has confirmed the skeletal remains found at the scene of

the fire belonged to a male child, likely Caucasian, approximately ten to twelve

years of age.”

Olivia slowly lifted her hand and turned off the faucet, then reached for the

remote and jacked up the volume. Her heart had begun to thud a little harder,

her pulse picking up its pace.

A boy. Ten to twelve years of age.
God
.

“Has a cause of death been determined?”

“I’m not at liberty to discuss specifics of the murder investigation. But we do

need the public’s help with the actual identification,” the detective said.

“What about dental records or DNA?” asked the reporter, as if reading off a

CSI
script.

“We’re working on those,” Cooper said, “but this child doesn’t appear to

have had any dental care in his short life.”

The reporter nodded, looking pious and sympathetic. She obviously wanted

to appear saddened rather than merely thril ed at scooping the other local

stations this early on a Friday morning by landing an interview with the lead

detective on a tragic murder case.

“They’re not al media cockroaches,” Olivia reminded herself, remembering

she and the other agents at eXtreme Investigations no longer loathed al

members of the media the way they once had, mainly because of Aidan

McConnel ’s new girlfriend, Lexie, a reporter.

“His remains also appear to show signs of regular and extended abuse.”

Olivia’s mouth had gone dry, but she didn’t lift the coffee cup because she

had the feeling her suddenly churning stomach would reject anything she tried

to swal ow.

Abused. Neglected
.

“Judging by some property records we’ve discovered, we suspect this boy

might have been hidden in the wal twelve years ago, during a renovation after

a previous fire.”

Twelve years.

Was this real y possible?

“Whoever this boy was, his life was very difficult,” Cooper said, his voice

thickening, as if he were taking this case personal y. “We want to catch

whoever did this to him. Badly.”

“How can the public help?” the TV reporter asked.

“A forensic artist has created a sketch of what the victim might have looked

like at the time of his death.” Then the detective stared into the camera,

intensity revealed in a pair of attractive green eyes. “If you recognize this boy,

or if you recal a child you might have suspected was being abused who has

since disappeared, please contact our office.”

The screen split. Olivia held her breath, waiting for what she knew would

appear beside the live scene outside the police station—the drawing. It

wouldn’t be perfect, of course, based merely on the shape of the skul , the

measurements between the eyes, the prominence of any bones. She knew

that and was prepared to find nothing familiar in the impersonal sketch.

After a brief technical pause, an image appeared. She stared at it.

A sound fil ed her kitchen, making Poindexter leap up and run out of the

room. It took a second before she realized it had been her own voice, emitting

a long, helpless moan.

“Again, if you have any information or think you might recognize this child,

please contact the authorities,” the reporter said, the voice merely a dul

background noise now because Olivia’s entire focus remained on the

drawing.

As expected, it was basic. Simple. Like any of the dozens of police

sketches she’d seen before but, of course,
not
like any of the dozens she’d

seen before.

The shade of the hair was wrong, as was the eye color. But the face . . . Oh,

God, the face … Those prominent cheekbones, the thin, sal ow cheeks—like

those an abused, neglected child might have. The deep-set eyes, the smal

mouth, the hooked nose. Al of it familiar. So damned familiar.

Olivia stared at the face for as long as it remained on the screen, awash in

mental images of the last time she’d seen it. Her memory inserted sunken,

too-old-for-theiryears brown eyes, a smattering of freckles over pale, bruised

cheeks and a mouth twisted with pain, sadness and mistrust.

She knew this face, knew this boy. It was the same one she’d dreamed

about, the one she’d searched for again and again over the past twelve years.

Her kil er. Her tormentor. Her savior.

Jack.

Why don’t you drown her?

He’d sentenced her to death in the most awful way imaginable. And then

he’d brought her back from the other side. She owed him everything and had

long told herself that someday she would find him, would repay him.

Once she’d been rescued, the authorities had listened to her story and had

tried to locate him. But eventual y, when the leads went nowhere and the case

had been deemed otherwise closed, they’d lost interest. Then her father had

hired private investigators. And once she’d grown up and moved out on her

own, Olivia had done the same thing.

Al for nothing. They’d been searching for a child who’d probably died not

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