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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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Raef had sat there, bloody, confused and—embarrassingly enough—bawling, while his best friend called his name over and over, trying to get him to snap out of it. “Raef! Raef! Raef …”

“Mr. Raef? Raef? Are you there, sir?”

Coming back to the present, Raef shook himself, mentally and physically, and picked up the phone, punching the intercom button off. “Yeah, Preston, what is it?”

“Mr. Raef, your zero-nine-hundred appointment is here, thirty minutes early.”

Raef cleared his throat and said, “You know, Preston, it’s a damn shame my Gift doesn’t include predicting the future, or I’d have known that and been ready for her.”

“Yes, sir, but then I would probably be out of a job,” Preston retorted with his usual dry humor.

Raef chuckled. “Nah, there’d still be all that filing to do.”

“It’s what I live for, sir.”

“Glad to hear it. Okay, give me five and send her in.”

“Of course, Mr. Raef. Then I’ll get back to my filing.”

Raef blew out a breath, grabbed his half-empty coffee mug and stalked over to the long credenza that sat against the far wall of his spacious office. He topped off the coffee and then stood there, unmoving, staring out the window. Not that he was actually seeing the excellent view of Tulsa’s skyline on this crisp fall day. Kent Raef was trying to scratch the weird itch that had been tickling his mind all morning.

What the hell was wrong with him? Why the walk down memory lane this morning? God, he hated the thought of that day—hated remembering that scared, crying kid he’d been. He’d just wanted to be shortstop for his team, and try to fit in with everyone else. Instead, he’d been a psychic. The only one in his class. Norms didn’t react so well to a Psy—especially not a nine-year-old Psy that could Track violent emotions, no matter how supportive his parents had been—no matter how cool it had been when the USAF Special Forces had recruited him. Raef hated remembering those years and the pain in the ass it had been learning to deal with his Gift and the way asshole Norms reacted to it.

It made him feel like shit to go back there—to revisit those memories. Today it also made him feel kinda shaky, kinda strange. If he didn’t know better he’d think he was picking up emotions from someone—soft emotions, like yearning and desire, overshadowed by a deep melancholy.

“Shit, Raef, get it together,” he grunted to himself. He did know better. Soft emotions? He snorted. His psychic powers didn’t work that way—didn’t ever work that way. A pissed-off jerk who took out his problems by kicking his dog was the softest Psy Tracking he’d ever picked up. “I need to get a life,” he muttered as he returned to his desk and sat down, just in time for the single knock on the door. “Yeah, come in,” he snapped.

The door opened, and his secretary, Preston, announced, “Mrs. Wilcox to see you, Mr. Raef.”

Raef automatically stood as the tall blonde entered his office. He held out his hand to her, and ignored the fact that she hesitated well into the realm of rudeness before she shook it. A lot of Norms didn’t like to be touched by his kind, but she had come to him, not the other way around, and so she was going to have to play by his rules. On his team, a handshake was nonnegotiable.

Of course, her hesitation might be due to the fact that his skin was too brown for her liking—she did have the look of one of those fiftysomething, old-oil-money cougars who were convinced that their shit didn’t stink, and that the only reason God made anyone with skin a darker shade than lily-white was because of the unfortunate but unavoidable need for menial laborers.

“Constance Wilcox,” she said, finally taking his hand in a grip that was surprisingly firm. He recognized the name as belonging to one of Tulsa society’s elite, though he definitely didn’t move in those circles.

“Kent Raef. Coffee, Mrs. Wilcox?”

She shook her head with a curt motion. “No, thank you, Mr. Raef.”

“All right. Please have a seat.” Raef waited for her to settle into one of the straight-backed leather chairs in front of his wide desk before he sat. He didn’t particularly like the fact that he’d had old-world gentleman programmed into his genes, but some habits were just not worth the effort it took to break them.

“What can I do for you, Mrs. Wilcox?”

“Don’t you already know that?”

He tried not to let his annoyance show. “Mrs. Wilcox, I’m sure my secretary explained that I wouldn’t be Reading you. That’s now how my Gift works. So, relax. There’s no reason for you to be nervous around me.”

“If you can’t read my mind, how do you know that I need to relax and that I’m nervous?”

“Mrs. Wilcox, you’re sitting ramrod straight and you’ve got your hands so tightly laced together that your fingers are white. It doesn’t take a psychic to tell that you’re tense and that your nerves are on edge. Anyone with half a brain and moderate powers of observation could deduce that. Besides that, my Gift deals with the darker side of the paranormal. People don’t come to me to find lost puppies or communicate with the ghost of Elvis. People come to me because bad things have happened to them or around them, and bad things happening in a person’s life tend to make him or her—” he tipped his head to her in a slight nod “—nervous and tense.”

She glanced down at her clasped hands and made a visible effort to relax them. Then she looked back at him. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m not comfortable with this.”

“This?” No, hell, no. He wasn’t going to make it any easier for her. Not this morning. Not when it felt like something was trying to crawl under his skin. He was fucking sick and tired of dealing with people who hired psychics from After Moonrise, but acted as if they’d find it more desirable to work side by side with someone who was unclogging their backed-up septic tank—by hand.

“Death.” She said the word so softly Raef almost didn’t hear her.

He blinked in surprise. So, it wasn’t the psychic part that had her acting like an ice queen—it was the dead part. That was easier for him to understand. Death, specifically murder, was his job. But that didn’t mean he liked it, either.

“Death is rarely a comfortable subject.” He paused and, realizing there was a distinct possibility he had come off like a prick, attempted to look understanding. “All right, Mrs. Wilcox, how about we start over. You do your best to relax, and I’ll do my best to help you.”

Her smile was tight-lipped, but at least it was a smile. “That sounds reasonable, Mr. Raef.”

“So, you’re here because of a death.”

“Yes. I am also here because I don’t have anywhere else left to go,” she said.

He’d definitely heard that before, and it didn’t make him feel all warm and cuddly and saviorlike, as it would have made some of After Moonrise’s other psychics like Claire or Ami or even Stephen feel. Which made sense. They could sometimes save people. Raef only dealt with the aftermath of violence and murder. There was no damn salvation there.

“Then let’s get to it, Mrs. Wilcox.” He knew he sounded gruff, intimidating even. He meant to. It usually made things move faster.

“My daughter Lauren needs your help. She’s why I’m here.”

“Lauren was murdered?” Raef dropped the gruffness from his voice. Now he simply sounded clinical and detached, as if he was a lab technician discussing ways to deal with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. He picked up his pen, wrote and underlined Lauren at the top of a fresh legal pad, and then glanced back at Mrs. Wilcox, waiting semipatiently for the rest of the story.

She pressed her lips together into a tight line, clearly trying to hold in words too painful to speak. Then she drew a deep breath. “No, Lauren was not murdered. She is alive, but she’s not whole anymore. She’s only partially here. I need your help to restore her spirit.”

“Mrs. Wilcox, I think there has been a mistake made in scheduling. It sounds to me like you need to meet with another member of the After Moonrise team—one of our shamans who specialize in shattered souls. My powers only manifest if there is a murder involved.” He started to lift the phone to buzz Preston, but her next words made him hesitate.

“My daughter was murdered.”

“Mrs. Wilcox, you just said that Lauren is alive.”

“Lauren is alive. It’s her twin, Aubrey, who was murdered.”

Raef put down the phone. “One twin was murdered, and the other’s alive?”

“If you can call it that.” Her face was pale, her expression strained, but she was keeping herself from crying.

Despite his bad mood his interest stirred. A living twin and a murdered twin? He’d never encountered a murder case like that before.

“Mr. Raef, the situation is that one of my daughters was murdered three months ago. Since then my other daughter has become only a shell of herself. Lauren is haunted by Aubrey.”

Raef nodded. “It happens fairly often. When two people are very close—siblings, husband and wife, parent and child—and one of them dies or is murdered, the deceased’s spirit lingers.”

“Yes, I know,” she said impatiently. “Especially when the murder is unsolved.”

Raef sat up straighter. This was more like it. “Then you have come to the right psychic. I’ll need to be taken to the murder scene, and will also need to speak with Lauren. If her twin is haunting her, then I can probably make direct contact with Aubrey through Lauren and piece together what happened. Once the murder is solved, Aubrey should be able to rest peacefully.” He rubbed his forehead, wishing the uncomfortable feeling of yearning would get the hell out from under his skin. He was not that nine-year-old kid anymore. He was tough, competent, and he knew how to handle his shit.

“Yes, peace. That’s what I’m here to find. For both of my girls.”

“I’m going to try to help you, Mrs. Wilcox. You said Aubrey was killed three months ago? And the murder hasn’t been solved yet? It’s unusual that the forensic psychic wasn’t able to close this file.”

Her blue eyes iced over and the sadness that had been shadowing them was frozen out. “Is solving my daughter’s murder what you mean by closing this file?”

Damn! He’d actually said that aloud. What the hell was wrong with him? He might not have the graveside manner of someone like touchy-feely Stephen, but Raef usually showed more tact than offhandedly insulting an already upset client.

“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry that my wording seemed callous. I assure you that I am cognizant of, and sorry for, your loss.”

She continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “The reason Aubrey’s file wasn’t closed is because the police psychic couldn’t communicate with my daughter about the murder. Either one of them.”

Raef frowned. “That’s highly unusual, Mrs. Wilcox. Did you give legal permission for your daughter’s spirit to be questioned?”

“Of course,” she snapped. “But it’s not that simple with Aubrey and Lauren. It never has been.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t understand what—”

Her imperiously raised hand cut him off. “Perhaps it would be easier if I showed you.” Without waiting for Raef’s response or permission, she stood and walked quickly to the office door. Opening it she said, “You can come in now, Lauren.”
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