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Year:
2015
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Language:
english
ISBN 13:
9781101589809
Series:
Bishop-SCU 15; Bishop Files 2
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		 			PRAISE FOR KAY HOOPER’S

BISHOP/SPECIAL CRIMES UNIT NOVELS

			“Seethes and sizzles. A fast-paced, atmospheric tale that vibrates with tension, passion, and mystery. Readers will devour it.”

			—Jayne Ann Krentz

			“Kay Hooper . . . provide[s] a welcome chill on a hot summer’s day.”

			—Orlando Sentinel

			“A stirring and evocative thriller.”

			—Palo Alto Daily News

			“Filled with page-turning suspense.”

			—The Sunday Oklahoman

			“A well-told, scary story.”

			—Toronto Sun

			“It passed the ‘stay up late to finish it in one night’ test.”

			—The Denver Post

			“Harrowing good fun . . . [Readers] will shiver and shudder.”

			—Publishers Weekly

			“Fans will be captivated—at every turn . . . [Hooper’s] creative blend of the paranormal and suspense are truly distinctive.”

			—Suspense Magazine

			“You won’t want to turn the lights out after reading this book!”

			—RT Book Reviews

			“Hooper’s unerring story sense and ability to keep the pages flying can’t be denied.”

			—Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

			“Enjoyable . . . thought-provoking entertainment.”

			—Calgary Herald

			“A full-force, page-turning, suspense-driven read . . . It had this reader anxiously gripping the pages.”

			—The Mystery Reader





TITLES BY KAY HOOPER


BISHOP / SPECIAL CRIMES UNIT NOVELS

			Haven

			Hostage

			Haunted


THE BISHOP FILES

			The First Prophet

			A Deadly Web





		 			THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

			Published by the Penguin Group

			Penguin Group (USA) LLC

			375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014



			USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China

			penguin.com

			A Penguin Random House Company

			A DEADLY WEB

			A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author

			Copyright © 2015 by Kay Hooper.

			Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright l; aws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

			JOVE® is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

			The “J” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

			For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

			a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

			375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

			eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-58980-9

			PUBLISHING HISTORY

			Jove premium edition / April 2015

			Cover design by Rita Frangie.

			Cover photo © Romany WG / Trevillion Images.

			This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.




Version_1





CONTENTS


			PRAISE FOR KAY HOOPER’S BISHOP/SPECIAL CRIMES UNIT NOVELS

			TITLES BY KAY HOOPER

			TITLE PAGE

			COPYRIGHT

			THE BISHOP FILES: REPORT

			PROLOGUE

			CHAPTER ONE

			CHAPTER TWO

			CHAPTER THREE

			CHAPTER FOUR

			CHAPTER FIVE

			CHAPTER SIX

			CHAPTER SEVEN

			CHAPTER EIGHT

			CHAPTER NINE

			CHAPTER TEN

			CHAPTER ELEVEN

			CHAPTER TWELVE

			CHAPTER THIRTEEN

			CHAPTER FOURTEEN

			CHAPTER FIFTEEN

			CHAPTER SIXTEEN

			EPILOGUE





The Bishop Files

			Report

			March 12


To Whom It May Concern:

			My understanding of the situation involving psychics has increased substantially since my last report, even though I still do not have proof that would stand up in court. As I last reported, I know psychics are being taken, vanishing without witnesses, while others at least appear to have died in accidents that left bodies all but destroyed. I suspect, but cannot prove, that at least some of those “victims” were in fact also abducted rather than murdered, the bodies left behind “identified” by falsified dental records and planted DNA.

			“Bodies,” of course, implying that other innocent people are being deliberately murdered only to provide cover for what are true abductions. I suspect but cannot prove that these bodies are most often likely transients, people expected by local law enforcement to move on or disappear, with no family to know or care what happens to them, no one to file missing-person reports. However, I also believe at least some bodies of supposed psychics were not transients; there have been too many “convenient” and unsolved deaths along the way for me to believe anything else.

			That alone would most certainly be cause for grave concern, above and beyond the disappearance of psychics. An enemy ruthless enough to murder innocents for no other reason than to have a convenient body is an enemy who will stop at nothing. An enemy who has far too great an access to medical and investigative documents and files—and quite likely has allies or confidential informants inside law enforcement, possibly even inside government.

			Aside from that elusive information, what both interests and troubles me is the fact that at least some psychics are simply abducted, vanishing without warning and without a trace. My only explanation for that is a growing understanding that until they are abducted, the psychics who merely disappear live very quiet and normal lives, attracting no attention to themselves, perhaps unwittingly making themselves targets simply because their disappearances raise few if any alarms. When they disappear, it seems to be or is reported by law enforcement to be a local family tragedy: runaway teenagers, unhappy wives, men overwhelmed by family responsibilities. Perhaps inexplicable but attracting little if any attention even from a news-hungry media when so much of seemingly greater importance is happening all over the globe.

			Still, though I have learned more, the ultimate answer eludes me. I know some psychics are aware of a faceless enemy, that they fear being taken or killed, but I also know they seldom trust and never trust lightly, which makes it all the more difficult to even locate them, far less protect them effectively. I know that throughout my years-long search for psychics suited for law enforcement work, I have met and spoken to some who have since vanished without a trace.

			I know there is some kind of organization or group of people fighting to help and protect psychics. They are nearly as secretive as their enemy, and with good cause. I have learned more about that group, and have managed not only to make contact with at least one “cell” of their organization, but even, I believe, to at least begin to win their trust. I do have some resources they lack, and long experience in locating and contacting psychics. I have value to them.

			How much remains to be seen.

			In this report, I offer the circumstances and results of my contact and interaction with the group, and of the events taking place at the time, events that for our purposes began in January of this year.


Respectfully submitted,

			Noah Bishop, Unit Chief

			Special Crimes Unit, FBI





PROLOGUE


			The roses will be beautiful this year . . .

			. . . and he said to me, he said it was all my fault . . .

			That poor child always has bruises, and I know, I just know what’s really going on in that house, but should I get involved?

			No vacation this year. Lucky we don’t have to sell the house . . .

			Should I call the cops again when I hear her scream? They didn’t do a thing last time, didn’t even go inside the house . . .

			The carpet in the bedroom really should be replaced.

			How will I feel when she turns up dead or disappears?

			They’re coming.

			How was I supposed to know he hated pets? What I get for letting friends fix me up, dammit.

			Jesus, why don’t people know how to drive . . .

			. . . you know how your mother is, and what am I supposed to do?

			You put up with her, it’s just for two lousy weeks.

			Yes, but—

			The concert will be fun, you know that.

			No, my mom won’t let me go—

			They’re coming.

			The club sandwich looks good. Maybe I’ll have the club sandwich.

			The lawyer said I had a case. I can’t just stand by and pretend the bastards aren’t walking all over me.

			They should serve wine with lunch. I don’t have to drive, after all.

			I’m so afraid he’ll hit me again. I have the gun. But do I have the nerve to use it? I’m so afraid . . . if I miss he’ll kill me.

			They’re coming.

			She’s cheating on me, goddammit. I know she is.

			I don’t know why they can’t trim their side of the hedge, it looks ridiculous like this . . .

			He’ll never promote me, the son of a bitch. Millions in sales for his fucking company, and he still believes women should be fetching coffee when they aren’t barefoot and pregnant.

			Coming . . .

			If I’m very, very quiet, if I don’t make him mad, then maybe he won’t hit me again . . . Maybe I don’t need the gun. Maybe . . .

			Really gorgeous roses . . .

			If her dog shits in my yard one more time . . .

			Coming . . .

			Painting their house just shows how much mine needs it . . .

			If I’m a good girl. I try to be a good girl . . .

			There’s just no money to buy a new car, we’ll have to fix what we’ve got and live with it for a while.

			Here.

			What d’you mean I can’t play baseball this season? Dad—

			He’s here.

			The blue dress, I think.

			You know . . .

			I look good in the blue dress.

			. . . he’s going to . . .

			Damned high heels . . .

			. . . kill you . . .

			Damned . . .

			. . . don’t you, Tasha?





ONE


			Her eyes snapped open, and Tasha Solomon fought to control her breathing. Fought not to betray the dagger of icy fear slicing deeper than her marrow.

			The cacophony of voices in her head was instantly muted, shut in a room in her mind, the door slammed closed against them. She could still hear them, but only distant whispers now.

			Most were her neighbors or at least from this general area, not all of them here but most nearby or passing by, their homes or jobs all around this small local café, their thoughts the ordinary ones of ordinary lives. Observations, absent thoughts, pain. Irritation, fretting, planning, worry, admiration, jealousy, envy.

			Fear.

			Worry about some poor little girl being abused.

			Tasha wanted to home in on that one, that worry, so she could find out which neighbor was hurting their kid. She’d damned well do something about that, and it wouldn’t involve cops. And the abused wife, who was that? Living in her secret hell, probably behind a smile of normality, thinking of the gun she had dared to buy but probably lacked the will to use. Alone. So alone.

			Tasha wanted to help her too.

			But . . . it was that other voice that kept her mental door firmly closed, at least for now. Because she couldn’t risk reaching out again, listening again, opening herself up like that again. That other voice, or maybe it was many voices, she could never tell for certain. Many voices speaking as one. That was how it felt, how it sounded in her mind.

			Many, many voices. Certain. Implacable.

			And when she tried to see them . . .

			Shadows.

			Tasha always felt more than saw them. Shadows. Watching. Listening. Waiting. All around her, but not close enough to touch.

			Not yet, at least. But they had been getting closer, she knew that. Biding their time, but creeping nearer.

			So they could watch her, as they had watched her for a time now.

			It was difficult to focus in such a public place as the café where she sat, especially filled with a lunchtime crowd, but she closed her eyes and tried. Opened that mental door cautiously just a bit, just far enough, she hoped. Still somewhat protected, but . . . She tried to listen, see, with senses other than her ears and eyes.

			Shadows.

			Dark, misshapen, slipping away when she tried to see them, vanishing like smoke through her fingers, the shadows were as elusive as they had been for more than a month now.

			Elusive—but always near.

			Always watching.

			Even in broad daylight, they watched her. Followed her. And she couldn’t tell from the faces around her, as she moved through her days, whether any belonged to the shadows. She didn’t want to believe that anyone or anything watching her was so near, literal shadows on the edges of her life. But she didn’t know. In a crowd, how could she tell?

			She couldn’t.

			If Tasha had been a nervous sort of woman, she’d be in a straitjacket by now. Or at least heavily medicated.

			As she would be if she had told anyone about the shadows.

			Because that was crazy, right, being haunted by shadows she could see only in her mind? That was nuts. Virtually always feeling an almost primitive sense of danger, the inner urge to run or hide—

			But not alone. Every instinct compelled her to stay visible as much as possible, to avoid dark corners or quiet places where they could . . .

			What? Kill her? Hurt her? Take her?

			Change her life forever?

			“Miss?”

			Tasha blinked, brought herself back to the here and now. She looked up at the waitress, who was displaying slightly uneasy concern.

			“Miss, are you okay?”

			Forcing a smile, Tasha said, “Yeah, fine, thanks. Meditation. When it’s crowded like this, I try to . . . go somewhere else in my mind.”

			The waitress’s young face relaxed and she even popped her gum, cheerful again. “Oh, I see. I wish I could do that. Often.” She glanced around, then smiled wryly. “Can I clear this away for you? Would you like coffee?”

			Tasha glanced down at the plate before her, at the half of the turkey sandwich still untouched, and knew she wouldn’t finish it. “Yeah, thanks. To both.”

			“Would you like a box for the rest of the sandwich and fries?”

			She wouldn’t eat it herself, Tasha knew, but there was a big dog in a fenced yard she always passed on her way home, and he always welcomed leftovers. “Please.”

			The waitress smiled brightly. “Be right back.”

			Tasha looked at the check lying on the table, grimaced, and dug in her purse for her billfold. She was taking up valuable table space with her lingering, and she could see that there were a few people waiting at the front with varying degrees of patience to be seated. She pulled out cash to cover the bill, plus a generous tip. Generous enough that the waitress would be happy to allow her to sit here a bit longer and enjoy her coffee.

			Not that she would enjoy it. There wasn’t a lot she enjoyed these days, and that was something she resented.

			Something that pissed her off.

			Because as much as the weird and mysterious shadows she sensed made her afraid, they also made her angry. She’d lived her whole life with the ability to pick up the thoughts of people around her, most people, and she’d learned to deal with that, privately, without becoming some kind of public freak.

			The trick was not talking about it. At all.

			To anyone.

			She didn’t hang out a shingle and tell fortunes or claim to be some kind of mystic, bending over an outstretched palm even as she listened with that odd extra sense to the thoughts of the person across from her.

			Well . . . she had once. A charity fund-raiser, and she’d volunteered to be the “psychic.” Yards of colorful, silky material draped around herself, and fake gold bracelets jangling on her arms, and a crystal ball lit from below to look properly mysterious.

			Tasha had done that only once. It had been unexpectedly exhausting to sift through the chaos of impressions to find mental truths and mine just enough nuggets to impress her “clients” without scaring the shit out of them. And even so, she knew at least a few people had left her tent not a little spooked by her accuracy.

			She’d had to consciously dial that back, making use instead of vague “impressions” that led her to predict happy lives and prosperity and correct decisions made.

			That had been a year ago, and Tasha had no intention of doing anything like that again. Just that one innocent event had roused the uneasy suspicion of several people she knew, and it had taken all the casual amusement she’d been able to muster to convince them of what they wanted to believe anyway.

			That it had all been pretend. Not real.

			Because it couldn’t be real, of course.

			Nobody could do that sort of thing.

			—

			The man in the black leather jacket stayed close but took care not to allow himself to be seen. There would come a time for that, a moment now and then to be briefly visible, to allow her to catch only a glimpse of him slipping out of sight.

			They had learned the effectiveness of such glimpses, and just how to build on them, just how to elicit the fear and even panic that served them so well.

			First only a glimpse, barely noticed, easily dismissed. Nothing identifiable except that black leather jacket, a subliminal trigger of uneasiness for so many people in this culture, a hint of danger. Then a glimpse elsewhere, here and there along the regular routine, and so the almost wordless suspicion of being followed.

			A glimpse just before darkness. Slipping away, too far to identify except by that jacket. A glimpse in the neighborhood, outside a store, a theater, a church. At the bank, the dry cleaners, the local coffee shop, a favorite restaurant. A lurking presence that could not be innocent and so had to be potentially dangerous.

			He was watching. Was he following? What did he want?

			A glimpse outside, across the street, the automatic checking that doors and windows were safely locked for the night interrupted by uneasiness. Locks checked again. Security systems tested and set. Because everyone knew stalkers weren’t just after celebrities, not anymore.

			So . . . possible. Maybe. A faceless enemy.

			Somebody watching? Somebody waiting for a chance, the right moment in which to act . . .

			Maybe.

			Shattering the illusion of safety.

			They had learned well how to unsettle, to worry, to panic.

			People who panicked made things so much easier.

			People who panicked made mistakes.

			—

			Grace Seymore woke to darkness, and for a long and panicked minute or two she thought she was blind. But then she realized she could see dim shapes around her. People moving—but with an eerie silence.

			She wanted to speak, to call out a question and demand someone tell her what the hell was going on, but for some reason she was unable to make a sound. And her memory was . . . fuzzy. She thought she had been at home, taking advantage of the waning winter sunlight to do a little yard work. Not that she could do much except weed this time of year, but that was enough, that was necessary, and it kept her from thinking very much.

			Usually.

			Her second marriage had just crumbled around her, and Grace felt nothing but bitterness about that. It wasn’t her fault, after all, that she’d been born with the family curse. She’d been raised to hide it, naturally, since it totally creeped people out if she reached for a phone before it began to ring, or knew things about people she shouldn’t have known.

			It wasn’t her fault her abilities had grown stronger over the years.

			That they’d grown more and more difficult to hide.

			As for the two men she had loved and married, she honestly couldn’t decide if she was a bad judge of character or if both husbands had simply been unable to live with a woman who too often knew exactly whom they’d had lunch with that day.

			Or that they’d spent that lunch in a motel room.

			Grace pushed that out of her mind and tried to remember today. She had been on her knees wrestling with a stubborn weed and then . . . nothing. A moment of icy coldness that had made her wonder idly if a rare winter storm was heading for Charleston—and then blackness.

			Now, she was . . . here. Wherever here was. Lying on something hard, in darkness, unable to speak. And—when she tried—unable to move.

			She was strapped down.

			Hard as she tried, no sound escaped her. Fear became terror, roiling around in her mind and body, leaving her even colder than she had been in this cold place. In desperation, she reached out with that other sense, that curse she’d been born with.

			Shadows. Misshapen, distorted, blacker than black. Sliding away when she tried to focus on them, uttering low sounds that made the hair rise on the nape of her neck in a primitive response.

			Bad. Very bad. Evil. Not . . . human. And they want . . . they want me . . . they . . . No. Oh, please, no! Don’t make me . . .

			But she couldn’t protest out loud. Couldn’t cry out against the prick of a needle that made the fear recede, made her feel as though she were floating on a peaceful sea. For a moment. And then she became aware that they were moving her body, spreading her legs, raising her knees.

			Oh, God, no!

			Their hands on her were cold, so cold, and she could feel breathing, even colder than the touch, cold and reeking of something that smelled old, older than the earth, older than time. She wanted to cry out, to scream a protest, but she could make no sound.

			No sound when she felt them penetrating her body. No sound when she understood what it was they were doing to her.

			Grace Seymore could do nothing except lie naked and exposed on a cold table in a cold, dark room, while the monsters changed her life forever.

			—

			John Brodie was always cautious; it was his nature as well as his job. But he was more cautious than usual about this particular meeting because even the idea of it made him profoundly uneasy.

			There were so few in law enforcement they could trust.

			A precious few, as he had been reminded.

			“He can help us, John.”

			“From all accounts, he has his hands full with that unit of his.”

			“All the better for us. Despite their efforts to remain low-key in the public eye, the truth is that the Special Crimes Unit is the most safely visible group of psychics we know of—and they’re within law enforcement. We haven’t been able to find a reliable, trustworthy source inside law enforcement; to have someone like Bishop on our side can give us an enormous edge.”

			“I don’t know about that, boss. We don’t know who Duran has on his payroll. It seems every time we turn around, we stumble over another dirty cop or fed working for his side.” Brodie found that knowledge very grim, and it showed.

			“Granted. Which makes it vital for us to have a well-placed source of our own. Someone with high-level access to information and the authority to act with virtual autonomy. Someone who knows the value of discretion. Someone who knows about psychics and psychic abilities, quite likely more than we know. But aside from all that, just to have a unit chief inside the FBI . . . You know what that could be worth, potentially, John.”

			“He has as many political enemies as he does allies.”

			“Arguable, I suppose.”

			“Do we really want to catch the attention of either?”

			“I don’t believe we will. Not through Bishop. No one else on his team, other than his wife, knows about us. He says he doesn’t plan on sharing with his team, unless and until we okay it, and I believe him.”

			“Yeah, maybe, but isn’t his team largely made up of telepaths? I’m guessing it’s hard to keep a secret in that group. And even if he manages that, odds are that sooner or later one of his people is going to have a close encounter with either one of our psychics or else with somebody on the other side, and if he or she is as powerful as Bishop’s people are supposed to be, then we’ve got even bigger trouble than we have now.”

			She was thoughtful. “Maybe not. The one thing most of Bishop’s people have that ours tend to lack is consistent experience in using their abilities, and much stronger shielding to close out the minutiae of everyday life, the background chatter that tends to bombard most telepaths and clairvoyants. With only a few exceptions our psychics are rarely able to shield effectively and are understandably wary of exploring the limits of their abilities. And rightly so, since we know it draws all the wrong kind of attention to them. So even those who use their abilities do so defensively, not as weapons or even tools.

			“But Bishop’s agents use their abilities as investigative tools, often openly and virtually always under the intense pressure of deadly conditions, and under law enforcement and media scrutiny.”

			“Okay, but I don’t see how that helps us.”

			“I don’t know that it will, except in the sense of keeping them too well known to be considered viable targets; having a team of powerful psychics beyond the reach of the other side could be an ace in our pocket. And maybe there’s a lot we can learn from Bishop in the meantime. As a good-faith gesture, he’s provided us with an extensive file containing information on several of their more complex investigations, cases where psychic abilities made the difference between success and failure.”

			“Names redacted, I assume,” Brodie offered dryly.

			“Of course. As well as some of the details on nonpsychic aspects of the cases. Which is understandable, given his position. I’d be less trusting if he seemed willing to share everything.”

			“True enough. Is any of the info helpful?”

			“Maybe. Some of his people have displayed some pretty remarkable abilities, which at the very least makes room for possibilities with our own psychics. Those willing might be able to learn how to make better use of their abilities and even shift the balance in this struggle. We have people going through the file.”

			“Well, let me know what they find if there’s anything useful to us. I, for one, really am getting tired of mostly fighting a holding action. In the meantime, what I want to know is how Bishop found out about us. None of us approached him, right?”

			“Certainly not officially, though as you said, it was bound to happen that he or one of his team would encounter one of us. That’s what happened, and why he asked for a meet.”

			“Who did he cross paths with?”

			She smiled.

			Brodie sighed. “And you’re not going to tell me.”

			“It isn’t necessary for you to know, not just now. All you need to know is that he was already aware there was a . . . situation. And that his awareness makes sense. He’s spent years searching for and tracking psychics, for the SCU and for that civilian investigative organization he co-founded, Haven. He’s apparently crossed paths with a number of us at various times, and even interviewed a few psychics who weren’t suitable for law enforcement work but who later joined us. Since he’s far from being stupid, he realized—a long time ago, I think—that something was going on. He began to notice patterns, the same sort of patterns that alerted so many of us. Psychics he met there one day and gone the next. Too many convenient accidents involving psychics to be coincidence. Too many reported deaths with no bodies recovered, or bodies too damaged to be identified by more than dental records or DNA—both of which we know the other side can and does plant or fake.

			“The other side has taken extreme forensic countermeasures, including spreading out their activities so that no one law enforcement agency would be able to connect even two events, given differing jurisdictions and the reluctance of most agencies to share information. There was no notice on a national scale or by any federal organization, no awareness that something was happening. Until Bishop saw it.”

			“I’m surprised he didn’t launch an investigation,” Brodie said.

			“I’m not. He was building his unit and forging as many potentially useful connections as he could find, both inside the FBI, other areas of law enforcement, and in the private sector, all the while working to make sure psychic abilities as investigative tools would be taken seriously within the FBI and other law enforcement. Everything grounded and reasonable, not fanciful or outlandish. Abilities based at least on scientific possibilities, nothing mystical or magical, no mystery about it, nothing that isn’t entirely human and even remarkably commonplace. If he had gone out publicly or even within the FBI and declared there was a conspiracy to abduct or kill psychics, reasons unknown but mysterious, how long do you think he would have lasted, let alone his unit?”

			“True,” Brodie admitted grudgingly. “He wouldn’t have been taken seriously at all, and that had to be the last thing he wanted. Bad for his purposes and work, but best for ours. It’s what’s kept our problems on a par with Bigfoot and alien abductions as far as the media is concerned. On the rare occasions when something is noticed, at best we’re conspiracy nuts and at worst deluded people imagining some faceless enemy around every corner. Not fun to be considered crazy, but we’d never be able to operate as quietly as we do otherwise.”

			“Well, I give Bishop credit for not only noticing, but finding the time and energy to put enough disparate pieces together to realize something was going on. Not his line, not serial killers or other murderous psychopaths, not crimes the FBI could or would legitimately investigate. But something involving psychics, and if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that he knows and values psychics.”

			“True he’s one himself?”

			“A touch-telepath, very powerful. He also has an ability to focus his normal senses in a hyperacute way his team informally refers to as spider senses.”

			“Comic book terms?”

			“Well, informally. But it’s something that allows him—and some members of his team—to see and hear things normally beyond the limits of those senses.”

			Brodie eyed her. “He’s seen them?”

			“I’m not sure it’s that definite. All I can tell you is that he knows about the shadows. Calls them that, a term he was not given by any of us. And says they’re something he’s never sensed even in the worst cases the SCU has investigated.”

			“Comforting,” Brodie said sardonically. “I’m assuming he’d have to touch one to know for sure?”

			“I assume the same thing. Though even if he did touch one of them, there’s at least a twenty-five to thirty percent chance he wouldn’t read anything from them, assuming they can be read. Bishop says his solid range tends to be about seventy-five percent of the people he meets; those he can read. Others are apparently not on his . . . frequency.”

			“What happens if he touches somebody like me, somebody on our side without much of a shield who knows maybe too many of our secrets? Do I shake hands with the man and give up more information than I want?”

			“Brodie, he’s perfectly aware of his own abilities, and despite having his shields raised—which he promised to do—I’m betting he’ll take care not to touch you at all. He wants to help and protect psychics, and that means he wants our trust. Being suddenly in possession of too many of our secrets without our permission wouldn’t exactly be a good first step.”

			“Okay. But, so far, I’m not seeing much benefit for us in taking him into our confidence.”

			“John, he can get us access to the kind of information we could never get on our own even with all the sources we do have, and he can do it quickly.”

			“Without attracting official notice?”

			“If anyone can, it’s Bishop. Plus, I’m betting he knows the whereabouts of a lot more psychics than we do, and the word I got was that he monitors those he’s met—and a few he hasn’t. He keeps eyes on them, or has a different way to monitor them, but however he does it, he knows what’s going on with them. Maybe even in time to save some of them. And from a purely practical point of view, just because he knows they aren’t suitable for the FBI or investigative work when he encounters them doesn’t mean he believes that’s always going to be true, or isn’t aware they might someday need his help or protection.”

			After a moment, Brodie shook his head. “Mine not to reason why, I guess.”

			“You know better than that. And you also know that if you aren’t convinced Bishop can be trusted and can help us once you’ve met him, that’s it. He won’t be brought into any of the cells or used as a resource.”

			“But he’ll still be aware of us, boss.”

			“We can’t stop that. Also can’t stop him trying to put the puzzle pieces together on his own, something I doubt very much we want to happen.” She paused, then added, “He kept an eye on the situation with Sarah and Tucker. In fact, I’m reasonably sure he was present more than once while they were trying to get to safety, remaining in the background observing unobtrusively.”

			Brodie opened his mouth and then closed it, frowning.

			She nodded. “Yeah, there was no way he could step in to help, not when he wasn’t sure what was going on. He likely would have made bad worse, and I give him credit for recognizing that.”

			“Okay, that makes a certain amount of sense. Anything else I should know about him?”

			“He shares his wife’s precognitive abilities. Extremely powerful precognitive abilities.”

			Brodie frowned. “Have they seen a future in this?”

			“If so, Bishop didn’t say. Why don’t you ask him?”

			“Maybe I will. Because if he has that answer . . .”

			“Then he could be a lot more to us than merely another useful resource, another ace in the hole. He could be a game changer.”





TWO


			Moving had seemed like a very good idea.

			Tasha Solomon had, around six months before, sold the Atlanta house her parents had left her and bought a condo in the downtown area of Charleston. It had cost her a pang to give up the house, but since her parents had shared a nomadic nature as well as jobs that allowed them to settle in different parts of the country for a few years at a time, they had lived in the house for less than a decade before their deaths in a car accident.

			And since Tasha had been in college for part of that time, she really didn’t have all that many family memories associated with the house. But it was the last place she had shared with her parents, and clearing it out to put it on the market, boxing up memories to put into storage, had been unexpectedly painful.

			She might have kept the house, except that the vague uneasiness that had plagued her since shortly after her parents’ death had grown stronger in the year afterward.

			She did not like being alone.

			There was something . . . vulnerable about it.

			It hadn’t helped that the house was a solid one with good locks on the doors and windows and a dandy security system she’d updated herself. It hadn’t helped that neighbors were friendly and helpful, and that the house was, really, in a very good, historically safe neighborhood where little was really required for security except a deadbolt.

			It hadn’t even helped that she was well trained in self-defense and perfectly capable of taking care of herself.

			She had still felt too . . . isolated. Too vulnerable. Not safe even behind locked doors.

			And she had been aware of the strong urge to leave Atlanta, perhaps having inherited more of her parents’ nomadic natures than she had realized before then.

			Perhaps.

			Besides, change was inevitable, wasn’t it? And she had options. As painful as it had been, the deaths of her parents had provided her with not only life insurance bequests, but also a healthy investment portfolio and a very nice house that had sold at well above market value even in a depressed economy.

			The third-floor corner condo she had found and purchased was small by comparison but very nice and more than adequate for her needs and comfort, the complex very secure even to the point of having manned twenty-four-hour security/concierge desks in the lobby, monitored cameras on all the entrances and exits and the hallways, and individual security in each unit, and it was virtually new.

			The view she saw out her windows was hardly desolate or lonely; her main windows looked out on the bustling area of Charleston filled with galleries, stores, markets, and restaurants, everything conveniently within walking distance and well lit all night long. The area had a relaxed vibe despite the usual crowds, an area filled with art and music and wonderful cuisine.

			There were virtually always people near, people around her, and from her first night in the condo, that had given her comfort.

			There was alone—and then there was alone.

			The inheritance had also allowed Tasha to quit her unsatisfying job as a paralegal and take some time to decide what she really wanted to do with her life. She had rather idly attended a few classes on various subjects and attended the occasional interesting-sounding seminar, but so far nothing had really drawn her toward a particular field.

			She had found a great deal of satisfaction in volunteering with the Charleston Animal Society two or three days each week, and had made friends in the world of animal rescue as well as among some of her neighbors, but . . .

			She was still alone, reluctant to get too close to anyone for reasons she couldn’t always explain even to herself. And still hesitant about plotting some specific direction for her life. Not so much because she felt a tendency to drift with the tide, so to speak, or even because she lacked interests to choose among from which to plan a future.

			No, it was . . .

			It was the wrong time. The wrong time to plan a future. There were things she had to do first. Things that needed to happen first. She didn’t know what those things were, but every instinct told her that until she found her way through this very odd and unsettled part of her life, the future wasn’t something she should be thinking very much about.

			Something wasn’t . . . right. Something around her, close to her, was . . . unnatural somehow.

			And a threat.

			Even here, even feeling safer and less alone in the condo, in Charleston, she was still aware of a niggling unease, a sense that she needed to look over her shoulder.

			Often.

			Most of the time.

			A sense that, sometimes, she was being watched.

			Most of the time. Now.

			And that whoever or whatever was watching her wasn’t friendly.

			Whatever?

			Now why had that very unsettling word entered her mind? How could a thing be watching her? A camera, maybe? Was somebody taking pictures of her, even filming her, for reasons unknown?

			A stalker?

			Oddly enough, that was almost reassuring. Not that she wanted a stalker, of course, but at least that was something . . . normal. Well, not normal, but at least not . . .

			She didn’t finish that. Even in her head.

			Tasha left the café and headed home, stopping at the fenced yard of one of her neighbors, to the delight of the big mixed-breed dog who came bounding over to greet her with a bark and then sit politely, waiting for the treat he knew was coming.

			“You’re spoiling him,” her elderly neighbor called from the other side of the yard, where he was pulling summer weeds from his flower beds—a leisurely task that seemed to occupy him for most of what passed for winter in Charleston.

			And gave him an excuse to spend time in his small, neat front yard and interact with his friendly neighbors.

			“As long as you don’t mind,” Tasha called back cheerfully.

			“Nah, he’s a good boy. Besides, you never give him junk that could make him sick.”

			Tasha wasn’t at all sure Max the dog was even capable of eating anything that disagreed with him as far as people food went, but since she had fed him this exact food before, she didn’t worry about it. Instead, she leaned over the fairly low wrought-iron fence Max could have jumped any time he felt like it and fed him the leftovers from her lunch. As always, he took the food gently and politely, and when the last French fry was consumed, he offered a paw in thanks.

			“Tell me you taught him that, Mr. Arnold,” Tasha asked with a laugh as she shook the offered paw.

			“Nope, all his own idea.” The elderly Arnold was clearly proud of his dog, the only family Tasha had ever seen about the place.

			“Then he’s a very good boy indeed.” She straightened back up, waved a casual good-bye, and continued on toward her condo, dropping the take-out box into a trash container as she passed.

			Very clean place, this part of Charleston.

			The pause to feed the dog and chat briefly with her neighbor had occupied her attention, but now that that was past, Tasha found the almost-constant uneasiness returning. She really wanted to look back over her shoulder—but when she did, nothing unusual was there.

			She felt a bit better as she neared her condo complex and the sidewalk strollers and shoppers became more of a crowd. She felt . . . safer.

			Still, even with the relaxed crowd all around her, the uneasiness never entirely left her. And she was bothered by the fact that even after she greeted the pleasant security guard in her very safe building and headed up to her very safe condo, she was still tense.

			Even inside, door locked and security system activated, she was tense. Hell, she even checked out her closets and under her bed, peering into corners, looking behind draperies.

			Nothing.

			She was alone.

			So why didn’t it feel that way?

			—

			“She’s getting jumpy, boss,” Murphy reported, using a disposable cell as was her habit.

			“How do you know?”

			“Usual. Glancing back over her shoulder, tense, preoccupied. In that state, I get the sense of all defenses up and ready. I also get the sense that sometimes, very cautiously, she reaches out, or at least opens herself up. Seemed to almost go into a trance in the café, but passed it off to the waitress as meditation.”

			“Maybe she’s picking up on you.”

			“I’m closed up tight as a drum. If she can feel me around her she’s more than psychic.” Murphy was one of the very few psychics on their side who could shield, could hide her abilities from every other psychic they knew she had encountered. And one of even fewer trusted to be actively involved in virtually every aspect of their struggle, out and about most of the time on her own, gathering information as well as serving other functions.

			“Do you think she senses them?”

			“Could be. Do we have anyone close enough to scan her?”

			“On the way. But if she knows how to block, you know we won’t get much. And since she’s lived with this all her life, it’s a safe bet she knows how to block.”

			“Ah, shit,” Murphy muttered. “It means I get to play conduit, right?”

			“Well, it increases the chance of successful contact, using two psychics when one of them has your unique ability to link with a third. Besides, the psychic capable of scanning her can’t get too close or take the chance of being seen by any of Duran’s goons.”

			Murphy knew exactly whom they were talking about then, but all she said was, “Tell her to take it easy, will you? Last time I thought my head was going to explode.”

			“Copy that.”

			“And make sure somebody tells me if we find out Solomon can identify any of these bastards. I mean before they arrange a neat little accident and disappear her.”

			“You think they may be planning one?”

			“Hard to say. I’ve spotted a couple of their watchers in the last week or so, but they’re hanging back pretty far, not quite being their usual creepy hovering selves.”

			“Any idea why?”

			“Maybe because she caught them off guard when she moved here and began taking care never to be alone except in her condo. Her very secure condo. I’d think twice about trying to get in there myself. She’s on the third floor, and on the corner, with main windows very visible, and in an area of the city that really doesn’t sleep.”

			“So any move they made against her there would have to be a very public one.”

			“Yeah, unless they managed to pay off the security and concierge staff. I did some checking, and my bet is that isn’t likely. They’re well paid with great benefits, plenty of manpower, and many in security are ex-cops or retired military with very good records who got in their twenty and retired to a nice city and a very good job to supplement the pension and other benefits. A job they appear to enjoy, with no signs of restlessness or boredom. Not the sort of people Duran could hope to bribe unless he can offer something one or more of them really wants. Not the sort to have dirt in their pasts to invite blackmail—and I looked. Very clean records, and not the sort to bow to pressure. Just not in their natures, at least as far as I can tell.”

			“And the concierge staff?”

			“Pretty much the same. Well paid with outstanding benefits, highly trained, more than enough manpower so nobody’s overworked and the job gives them good time off in a wonderful city.” Murphy paused, then added, “The people who built Solomon’s condo complex knew what they were doing. It ain’t cheap, but most working professionals could easily afford to live there. They provided a safe, service-oriented set of homes for busy people living in a lively city, and they didn’t cut corners doing it. They even built well above code for hurricane safety.”

			“You think she was consciously looking for safety?”

			“I think she had a lot of choices, especially given her sizable inheritance, and chose a place where security, especially for singles, was at the top of the list of selling points.”

			“Has she made friends?”

			“Selectively. Through volunteer work with an organization here helping animals, a neighbor or three outside the complex but nearby, a few casual acquaintances met through school, a couple of other single women in the complex she occasionally meets for dinner, maybe one or two in the gym she goes to. She doesn’t lack for acquaintances, just doesn’t seem especially close to anyone. I get that’s an intentional choice, not a cold nature.”

			“She’s a beautiful woman. Dates?”

			“Not that I’ve seen. She’s worked with a few men in the volunteer organization, and of course some attended the same classes she was taking or auditing, but when I audited some of the classes myself, it looked to me like she rebuffed a few tentative passes. Politely and pleasantly, but not really leaving any room for a second try. If I had to guess, I’d say she was a bit wary of men, though I’m not sure if it’s because of what she senses or some past experience.”

			“Nothing stands out in her past, certainly no trouble with men or any man, at least that anyone noticed. Good family, no abuse suspected or reported, she did well in school, even kept her nose clean in college, as far as we can tell. Not known for partying and got top grades in every class. Casual dates, more often with groups, but she did see a few men during her college years and nothing unusual was noticed or reported.”

			“Well, then, my bet is that whatever she’s sensing, it feels male to her whether she’s conscious of that or not, and threatening, and she’s leery of taking chances. In this age of stalkers, and given the stats surrounding women who get murdered, I can’t say that I blame her much. If she does have shields, she’s probably keeping them up and especially solid around men.”

			“Brodie’s going to love that.”

			Murphy smiled. “Yeah.”

			“And so will you. Because it’ll cause Brodie problems.”

			“I take my fun where I can get it, boss.” Murphy’s tone was unapologetic, and brisk when she continued. “Solomon strikes me as a very strong woman with nothing fragile about her, emotionally or physically. She believes she can take care of herself, and in just about any situation she’s probably right; she’s had self-defense courses on top of martial arts training from childhood right up through the present. Even if all the training is an enjoyable activity to her, something to help her keep in shape, merely precautionary or something she followed through on after childhood due to simple interest or habit, the fact is that she’s been taught to be aware of her surroundings and alert to any possible danger. She listens to her instincts, and her instincts are naturally suspicious. She’s going to mistrust a hand of friendship, at least initially.”

			“So if she can’t read Brodie, she won’t trust him.”

			“Not as far as she can throw him.”

			“What do you know about her psychic abilities?”

			“Being buttoned up myself, no more than what you told me. She’s telepathic, open rather than touch, and possibly clairvoyant. Born active, or became active as a teenager the way so many do. Learned how to hide it, and fast. Maybe even did her best to deny it. Plenty do.”

			“Maybe why it took this long for her to show up on our radar.”

			“Could be. Far as I can tell, she’s taken care not to draw attention to herself and hasn’t done anything that could even hint she might possess psychic abilities. If we hadn’t stumbled on them keeping an eye on her only because we were keeping an eye on some of them, we might never have known about her.”

			“Any idea why Duran is suddenly interested?”

			“No—unless it’s because she’s become aware of them. Maybe that makes her dangerous to them. Or maybe it makes her more valuable. One of those things we don’t understand yet, right?”

			“Unfortunately.”

			“Okay, well, I’ll keep on lurking and see if anything changes before Brodie shows up. Where is he, by the way?”

			“Making contact with a new ally.”

			“Hope he or she is a good one,” Murphy said matter-of-factly. “We’ve lost too many soldiers as it is. We’re in this thing up to our necks and still don’t know enough of what it’s all about.”

			“Yes. Report in if anything does change, Murphy.”

			“Copy that.”

			“Base out.”

			Murphy turned off the phone, automatically pulled the battery out, and unobtrusively tossed phone and battery into separate trash containers as she moved casually past them.

			I should have bought stock in disposable cell phones.

			There were half a dozen others, as usual, in her roomy shoulder bag.

			The Charleston street was busy but not especially crowded. Murphy blended in. It was one of her things, blending in.

			When she wanted to.

			She wandered with the crowd a bit, finally winding up near but not too near to Tasha Solomon’s condo complex. A sidewalk café provided a secluded corner and a dandy view of Solomon’s condo.

			Murphy ordered a latte, one of her few weaknesses, and a muffin she didn’t really want.

			Then she settled back to lurk.

			—

			Tasha couldn’t have said what woke her somewhere around three o’clock in the morning. One moment she was dead asleep, the next wide awake and straining to listen.

			She had spent so much time over the years practicing raising and lowering her mental walls that she was usually able to keep them up while asleep—at least she thought she could—so those senses were registering nothing.

			Neither were the normal five.

			But something was wrong, and she knew it. Instincts deeper than any senses told her so.

			She slipped out of bed, hesitated for an instant, then quickly straightened the sheets and duvet and put smooth pillows in place so that the bed looked as if no one had slept there during the night.

			If I were them, I’d check underneath the duvet for warmth, though.

			They? Who on earth were “they”?

			All her instincts were screaming at her to leave now and think about the why and who later. But she still paused an instant in the doorway of her bedroom, looking back to make sure it appeared undisturbed.

			It did.

			The pajamas she wore were of the boxer shorts and tank top variety, so she was decently covered, and she didn’t stop to grab a robe or take the time to change or even find her shoes. Instead, she moved quickly through the apartment, grabbing her purse and keys from the entry hall table, to the door.

			She looked through the spyhole, not surprised to see an empty hallway.

			But they’re close. They’re nearly here.

			She slipped out of the condo quietly, making sure the door locked behind her, hesitated for only an instant in the hallway, then headed for one of the two stairwells each floor allowed access to.

			They’re coming up in the other stairwell.

			Tasha had no idea how she knew that, but what she felt was certain. As was the absolute certainty that even though hallways and stairwells were covered with security cameras, somehow they had been tampered with or interfered with. And that access codes to all the security doors had also somehow been breached.

			Security is an illusion. You know that.

			For the first time, Tasha wasn’t entirely certain that voice in her head belonged to her own mind.

			Chilled, she used the security keypad beside the stairwell door and punched in the code, then opened the stairwell door as quietly as possible and passed through, closing it just as quietly behind her. There was a small, high window, heavy-gauge wire between two pieces of shatterproof glass discouraging anyone who might have made it this far from an attempt to reach through, even if they could pop the glass out, and open the door from the hallway; it was high enough that Tasha, a tall woman, had to stand on tiptoe in order to see through it.

			The stairwell was well lit, but the lights dimmed at night; the computer controlling security for the building controlled that and would, in an emergency situation, turn all the lighting up to full wattage and, in case of a fire or other official need to evacuate the building, disarm all the security doors so that residents and staff could exit quickly and safely without having to remember security cards or codes.

			It was one reason the system had to be monitored 24/7 by experienced security personnel, and one of the major reasons Tasha had chosen the building. Because it was the most up-to-date and security-conscious of any she’d looked at.

			And security is an illusion. Got it.

			She kept back at an angle, making herself as unseeable as possible as she fixed her eyes on the far end of the hallway and that other stairwell.

			In less than a minute, three men entered from that stairwell.

			Tasha was somehow surprised that they seemed . . . ordinary. Like anyone she might pass on the street without a glance. They wore casual clothing rather than being in all-black as she imagined an ordinary burglar would wear.

			Then again . . . these men were not burglars. She didn’t know much, but she knew that, felt that. Not burglars. And stalkers, as far as she knew, were always singular, one person stalking another.

			Kidnappers?

			Assassins?

			Neither possibility made sense, but Tasha pushed that aside to be considered later. She studied them, baffled. They moved with evident quiet, yet didn’t seem to worry about cameras or being observed any other way. They were all curiously interchangeable, nothing about any of their faces especially memorable.

			Just ordinary men, perhaps in their thirties, well built but not imposing, all with brown hair and regular features.

			Expressionless.

			That last gave her another chill, for though they moved with ease and without, seemingly, undue care, there was something . . . implacable about them. Something cold and relentless and remorseless.

			They didn’t speak to each other.

			Apparently, they didn’t have to.

			They didn’t hesitate at any point in the hallway but went straight to her door. Standing rather close together, they blocked her view of the door handle, but whether it was with a key or some other means, the door was open within seconds, and the three men slipped inside the condo.

			She hadn’t seen any sign of weapons, but Tasha was nevertheless very glad she had fled the apartment. She could imagine, with total clarity as though she watched from inside, them moving with that same relentless determination through to her bedroom, knowing exactly where it was, because they would and because it was a small condo with the two bedrooms in a fairly obvious location.

			Would they search the condo when they found her not there?

			If so, they were incredibly fast, because in less than three minutes by Tasha’s internal clock they were back at the door, moving out into the hallway, still expressionless.

			If her absence either surprised or disappointed them, they gave absolutely no indication.

			Tasha hesitated, then slid back along the wall and, very swiftly and silently on bare feet, climbed the stairwell up to the fourth floor. She pressed herself against the wall beside the door in case she might need to escape the stairwell that way.

			She’d pull a fire alarm if she did. Yell. Pound on doors as she passed them.

			They want this to be quiet. They need it to be quiet.

			She heard the very slight sound of the third-floor door to the stairwell opening. Straining her ears, but keeping every other sense as quiet and still as possible, she heard the click of it closing.

			She counted to ten, then moved just far enough forward so she could see the stairwell below.

			They had already reached the ground floor and moved to exit the building, leaving as silently as they had come.





THREE


			It was probably a good ten minutes before Tasha could persuade herself to return to her apartment, and even then she argued with herself for at least half that time.

			Notify security.

			No, don’t.

			Why? They should damned well have been watching. Why weren’t they watching?

			They were. They thought they were. It’s a computerized system; anybody could have hacked in and put the camera video on a loop or something. This late, there wouldn’t be much if any movement in the hall except for the guards, and even if they do vary their patrol patterns like I was told, there has to be plenty of time they wouldn’t be visible on any one floor. The guard downstairs at the desk probably saw . . . just what they wanted him to see.

			Sure, because that’s a common skill, computer hacking.

			Not all that uncommon these days, especially with so much Wi-Fi.

			The building has a closed system, apart from the Wi-Fi residents can use. Remember? You have to use a special code to access it, and that code is a lot more elaborate than the usual Wi-Fi system. One of the reasons it seemed like such a safe system. Unhackable.

			No system is unhackable. It could have been hacked. Had to be. Unless I find sleeping or missing security guards downstairs, what else could it be? Those men damned well weren’t invisible.

			Maybe to cameras they were.

			And to guards?

			Maybe. Sleight of hand. Misdirection.

			How?

			I don’t know how. But they got through the doors easily enough. Even the ones requiring cards and codes. Did they get cards somehow? Did they know the codes? Or did they have a way to bypass those locks?

			You don’t know much, do you?

			No. I don’t.

			And during all that, tumbling through her mind below the surface thoughts was the cold realization that even though they hadn’t found her there, the men could have left something behind in her condo. Something bad.

			Something to finish the job they hadn’t been able to finish.

			You think they want to kill you.

			What else could it be?

			Kidnap you?

			And ask ransom of who? My financial manager?

			Maybe.

			No. It can’t be that. Not . . . not, at least, for money. I’m not worth that much, not worth enough for the trouble. Investments and other assets would have to be liquidated, which takes time. And, anyway, kidnappings for ransom have gone way down. I read about it. Easier ways to make money, even illegally. Because of all the cameras everywhere, on the streets, in stores, at ATMs, never mind nosy people with cell phone cameras, it’s harder to grab someone, harder to get to a cash drop unseen, and electronic money transfers are traceable.

			No one would have seen you being grabbed tonight. Apparently.

			There was that.

			Tasha finally persuaded herself to return to her condo, to unlock the door and reenter warily. She paused right there, touched the small LCD screen/keypad by the door, and called up the lobby security camera, the one camera all residents could access. For peace of mind, the real estate agent had told Tasha when she’d been condo shopping. So she could always be reassured that the security staff were doing their jobs. And so the security staff were aware that anyone could check on them at any time.

			Extra motivation to be alert on the job.

			The security desk was manned—and nobody was asleep.

			She could just barely see the bank of monitors where one guard sat; from all appearances, he was alertly scanning the different feeds of all the cameras on his monitors. Each camera in its own square, what looked like nine per large-screen monitor. There were no dark squares, nothing to indicate that any of the cameras had for any reason malfunctioned. Just clear images of doorways and hallways and the parking spaces out behind the building.

			No movement anywhere, as far as Tasha could tell.

			Two other security guards stood talking a couple of feet from the desk, then separated, one going outside to presumably do his perimeter check, while the other headed for the elevators to, presumably, begin the hourly check of each floor.

			Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, every floor was patrolled at least once each hour by a security guard. And they varied their patrols, since burglars liked nothing better than routine.

			As Tasha watched the security monitors in the lobby, the guard who had gone outside appeared on the front door monitor as the other became visible on a different monitor getting into the elevator.

			At the concierge desk, the night clerk was also awake and clearly aware, doing something on his computer that might have been work and could have been solitaire or a role-playing game, or some online social networking site. Or just e-mail.

			How the hell did those men get past everyone? How did they even get in? You can see the front and rear entrances from the lobby, see the stairwell doors, see the elevators. Both exterior doors are security doors that require an ID card swiped and a code punched in; if you’ve forgotten your card or the code, you can call the desk from the system’s intercom right there at the door. But they never just let you in without checking. Never. A guard comes to meet you, and if you’re a visitor, they call the resident you’re visiting before you can come in.

			Almost all the windows on the ground floor were in front, the lobby. Not many other windows, and those covered by “decorative” security bars. Outside lighting around the doors, plus landscape lighting all around the rest of the building meant no blind spots, no dark places in which to hide. No residents on the ground floor, either, just office services, that small gym, maintenance rooms and closets.

			Those men should have been seen. Why weren’t they?

			More disturbed with every moment and every increasingly baffled inner question, Tasha remained wary as she left her purse and keys on the entry hall table and began a methodical search. Room by room, closet by closet, even checking the kitchen cabinets. And underneath her bed. Making sure all the windows were secure. Turning on lamps and other lights as she went.

			Nothing.

			Not a single sign that anyone but she had been here.

			She stood in her bedroom for several minutes, looking around. Nothing disturbed. The bed as she’d left it, duvet smooth, pillows neatly decorative. The book she’d been reading earlier in the evening on one nightstand, along with the usual nightstand clutter.

			Lamp. A bottle of water. A clock radio that also served as a sound machine providing assorted soothing noises. A box of tissues. And on the other nightstand, another lamp, a stack of books she wanted to read, her cell phone plugged into its charger.

			Her cell phone.

			Tasha walked around the bed, eyeing the phone. She had to charge the thing every single night, all night, and even then it virtually always went dead at some point during the day. It didn’t matter what kind of cell phone, what brand, what service provider, how much or how little she used it. They all died on her within a matter of hours.

			The fact that it was here, in this day and age when so many people were practically attached by umbilical cords to their cell phones, would be evidence to some that she had not just gone out somewhere, but had fled the condo in haste.

			To some. Maybe to those men who had come for her?

			She hesitated a moment, then leaned down and rather gingerly touched the screen so it would light up. Then she pressed her thumb to the screen, using yet another layer of the security that had become such a big part of her life. Anyone who had her very unlisted number could call the phone, leave a message or text, but once there it was locked in her phone until she unlocked it. Without her thumbprint, the phone offered only a lighted screen with a box in the center, a box blank until it read her thumbprint. Then only she could access information contained in the elegant little device, numbers, contacts, even the number of the phone itself and the apps she used.

			The home screen came up, just as it always did. Showing her the time, the date. Call and text icons. Message icon. Menu and browser icons. Icons for the apps she used most often.

			Tasha checked to make sure that the last call made was the one she had made. Checked to make sure there weren’t voice mail or text messages waiting for her.

			There was one text message, chillingly simple.


Dead.

			—

			“He did what?” Duran looked up from the file he’d been studying, his coldly handsome face not showing nearly the displeasure his normally calm voice betrayed.

			“Left a text on her phone.” Alastair kept his own voice calm, his own face expressionless. It hadn’t, after all, been his fuck-up.

			“A text.”

			“Yes. Just one word. Dead.”

			“She has a secure phone.”

			“Yes, sir. Fingerprint activated. Her print, of course.”

			“Which Graves bypassed.”

			“Yes, sir.”

			“And did he say what possessed him to do something so idiotic?”

			“He said he thought the idea of tonight’s mission was to rattle her. You had told them she wouldn’t be in the condo, that you were sure she’d sense they were coming and would get out before they could get in. So the idea, or part of it, was to let her see the team getting in and out so easily, see them apparently bypass all the expensive security of her building, her condo, even her cell phone, let her be rattled by them. Threaten her sense of being safe. Graves thought the text would help accomplish that objective.”

			Gently, Duran responded, “And did he explain why he felt the need to think for himself?”

			“No, sir.”

			Duran leaned back in his chair. “When we’re done here, send him to me.”

			“Yes, sir.” Alastair was very glad it hadn’t been his fuck-up.

			“She was gone, as expected.” It wasn’t really a question.

			“Yes. We had the real-time security video, of course; she slipped out of the condo and waited in the stairwell, hardly more than a minute before the team arrived on the third floor. The stairwell the team wasn’t using, obviously.”

			“Even though that stairwell was farther from her apartment.”

			“Yes. Didn’t take the time to dress, even put on shoes, but had her purse and keys. And she had made the bed look as though no one had been sleeping there only minutes before.”

			Duran considered briefly. “But she left her cell phone behind.”

			“Yes, sir. That’s what gave Graves the idea. It was on the nightstand, charging. He used one of the disposable cells to leave her the text.”

			“Not a complete idiot, then.”

			Alastair thought it prudent to remain silent.

			“Did she notify building security afterward?”

			“No, sir. According to the security computer, she did access the lobby security camera as soon as she returned to her condo.”

			“Checking to see if the guards were where they were supposed to be.”

			“I assume so.”

			“And, of course, they were.”

			“Of course, sir.”

			“So now she has reason to doubt or even mistrust the security personnel, the security system—any illusion of safety, in fact.”

			“Yes, sir.”

			“And now we know for certain she has some awareness of us. Or at least some awareness of danger.”

			“Yes, sir. But she didn’t run away; the stairwell cameras show that she stood at the door and watched as the team came and went. Climbed up to the fourth floor before they entered the stairwell to exit the building.”

			“So alert and careful, but also curious.”

			“Apparently.”

			“And confident of her ability to escape.”

			“I suppose so, sir, yes.”

			“When she returned to her condo, did she find them?”

			“No, sir.”

			Duran’s smile wasn’t at all a humorous thing. “Good. That’s good.” He returned his gaze to the file before him on his desk, adding almost indifferently, “Send Graves up here.”

			“Yes, sir.” Alastair didn’t waste any time leaving the office, and he didn’t waste much sympathy on Graves.

			Stupid bastard. They all knew it wasn’t wise to cross Duran, and in his eyes any deviation—any deviation—from his orders was considered by him a betrayal.

			Everybody knew that.

			Alastair did wonder, briefly, what fate lay in store for Graves, but his mind skittered away from the question before he could really begin to ponder it.

			There were some things it really was best not to know.

			—

			Miranda Bishop watched as her husband cradled the phone in their hotel room. Cell phones were convenient—unless one was a psychic and routinely drained their power. Bishop seldom carried one these days, at least not on or near his body, despite the fact that their bright boys and girls on the technical side of things had designed protective cases that allowed most psychics to at least drain their cell batteries at a slower rate.

			Not that it mattered at the moment.

			“Still no luck?” she asked.

			“No. Katie Swan isn’t answering.” Bishop was frowning, which was rare.

			Normally Miranda would have known every thought and emotion her husband was experiencing because they had a unique and rather remarkable psychic/emotional connection. But that connection had been shut down as much as possible by both of them, because in this particular place and time it could prove a definite and deadly danger.

			“The list is getting longer,” she noted quietly.

			Bishop nodded.

			“And,” she added, “you aren’t content to just report it to your new contact and walk away.”

			“Brodie told me himself that once a psychic goes missing, they’ve never been able to recover him or her. They become notes in a Lost column. Some supposedly turn up as bodies destroyed beyond recognition; some are reported as runaways; some have a backstory in place before they supposedly jaunt off to another country somewhere. And some just vanish.”

			“Never to be heard from again?”

			“The suspicion seems to be that at least some psychics are taken to be used as soldiers in this secretive war. To gather information, to monitor psychics on this side, to look for weaknesses, to . . . label all the players.”

			“You have a problem accepting that?” she suggested.

			“Not exactly. I think some abducted psychics are being used as tools. But there has to be more at play here, there just has to be. Something this big and . . . sprawling . . . has to have more structure than we’re seeing. I believe Brodie’s side is organized just as we thought, composed of smaller cells around a central base only a handful of their people know anything about. But the other side, the ones they’ve been fighting so long . . . There has to be an ultimate goal, and that can’t just be . . . inexplicably collecting psychics.”

			“Some have said that’s what you do,” she ventured.

			“Sure. Collect them, train them, and give them badges or private investigators’ licenses, for the SCU or for Haven. But what I do, what we do, is very much out in the open. We may keep things quiet, but even the most suspicious cop hasn’t called us secretive. We use our psychic abilities as tools, as quietly—or as openly—as necessary to do the job.”

			Miranda nodded. “And this group, this faceless enemy, has to be doing some kind of job or have some kind of goal. Otherwise none of it makes sense. They can’t just be about trying to beat Brodie’s group to psychics.”

			“Exactly. Brodie and his people believe that this other group has been taking psychics for decades, at least. But they must have been a lot more careful and quieter until fairly recently, if that’s true. Because I never got a hint about them during the early years when I was searching out psychics for the SCU.” He shook his head slightly. “Granted, I wasn’t nearly as powerful then as now, and I wasn’t looking for patterns, but I interviewed a lot of psychics, Miranda. All over the country and even a few overseas.”

			“And there were no fearful psychics?”

			He leaned back against the desk behind him, frowning. “Plenty of fearful psychics. But naturally fearful, of their own abilities and the way other people in their lives reacted to them. Wary, suspicious, a lot of them in denial. But none I talked to was frightened by a secret conspiracy of stolen psychics and shadows.”

			Thoughtful, Miranda suggested, “Maybe there’s a difference now. Maybe they’re running out of time for some reason, feeling pushed to accomplish whatever it is they set out to do. Maybe Brodie and his group have had more of an effect on this enemy than they realize.”

			“Could be.”

			Eyeing him, Miranda said, “You promised not to interfere.”

			“I did, didn’t I?”

			“But?”

			He smiled slightly, a smile few but his beloved wife ever saw. It made the scar on his left cheek all but disappear, and warmed his cool silvery-gray eyes by a good twenty degrees. “But Katie and Henry aren’t psychics Brodie and his people have been aware of. At least, I’m fairly certain they haven’t.”

			“So you wouldn’t really be interfering if you did a little quiet detective work of your own.”

			“As long as your shield holds out, love, they’ll never know we haven’t gone obediently back to Quantico. Not, at least, unless or until we want them to know.”

			—

			Not surprisingly, Tasha didn’t sleep much the rest of the night. She went over and over in her mind every thought, every question—and every action of those men.

			Who they were was such a giant question mark that she didn’t spend too much time considering that for now.

			They were men who intended something bad for her.

			That much she was certain of.

			Why, she didn’t know; another giant question mark.

			How they got into the building . . . that was the most immediate worry. Because if she wasn’t safe here, in a building like this, if men could slip in past all the security both technological and human and get to her here, then safety really was an illusion. And then there was her cell phone. They shouldn’t have been able to leave that text without the number, and she could count on the fingers of one hand how many people had that number. With fingers left over. So how had they managed that? How had they managed to so easily just walk through all the security barriers she had wrapped around herself?

			What was she supposed to do, lock herself into a bank vault?

			I think they’d get to me even there.

			Don’t let fear rule you.

			How about panic? I think panic is good.

			Not panic either. Don’t let others dictate your responses.

			My responses?

			They act. You react.

			They who?

			We aren’t thinking about that right now.

			For several long minutes, Tasha stopped thinking about anything but the growing certainty that she really wasn’t arguing with herself. Because that other “voice” in her mind seemed way too calm, and way too knowing about what might have happened tonight—and why.

			Tasha.

			Go away. Whoever you are.

			I can help you. We can help you.

			Well, that was sure as hell unnerving.

			We? There’s a we? A we and a them?

			Two sides. They want to hurt you. We want to help you.

			Oh, yeah? And why is that?

			Which? A twinge of humor there.

			Oddly reassuring.

			Both. Who are they? Who are we?

			We don’t know who they are. A group. Motives unknown, but actions definitely deadly. We believe they’ve been . . . active . . . a long time. A large group. Organized. Secretive. Incredibly skilled at . . . disappearing people.

			Disappearing people? Why?

			Tasha, their interest is in psychics.

			Another unnerving moment. Tasha wished the sun would come up. She wished daytime would come. Because everything was normal in the day. Normal, and ordinary, and not scary.

			The other voice in her head was hers, that was it.

			Anything else was her imagination.

			You know better. You know yourself. You know this voice isn’t yours, isn’t you.

			Sure. Sure.

			All right. Think that way if you wish. For now.

			Enough. I’m over this. I don’t know what happened tonight or why, but tomorrow I’m going to the building super and—

			And what? Tell him someone broke into your condo in the night, you watched them do it, the security cameras didn’t and the security guards didn’t, but you did? You watched from the stairwell and alerted no one? You don’t know who they are or why they were here. You can’t explain how they got past security. You have nothing missing, no damage. No witnesses. And the building’s security system won’t show any signs of tampering.

			How do you know that?

			Because they’re good, Tasha. Very, very good. They don’t leave evidence behind. They don’t leave witnesses.

			I’m still here.

			Yes. You sensed them coming.

			Tasha hesitated, but . . . Yes.

			Maybe that’s what they wanted to accomplish. To find out if you’d sense them coming.

			That doesn’t make sense.

			Be rational. Think about it reasonably.

			There’s no reason to this.

			There’s reason to everything, even if it’s only their reason.

			Which is exactly zero help to me, because I don’t have a clue what their reason could be.

			You’re psychic, Tasha. They value psychics.

			Why?

			We don’t know.

			Then why the hell should I believe you?

			Think about it. Reason it out. There were three of them. Professionals. They weren’t here to kill you; it only takes one to kill someone sleeping in bed, as any normal killer would have expected you to be.

			Normal killer. Nice world you live in.

			You live in it too, Tasha.

			Tasha threw back the covers and slipped from bed. She went to the window and stood to one side looking through the blinds out on the quiet Charleston streets below. Even this late, this early, there were a few people about. Early-morning joggers. People who went to work very early or came home very late. A street-cleaning crew. A couple of yawning people who looked as if they had dressed in the dark walking their dogs; there was a small park half a block west, and most dog owners in the area clearly took advantage of it.

			A normal morning. Normal people doing normal things, things they did even before the sun came up.

			Tasha.

			Go away. I don’t believe in you.

			I want you to think about tonight. I want you to come up with a reason why those men would have come to your apartment.

			I already said. There’s no reason.

			They didn’t steal anything.

			No.

			They didn’t lie in wait for you to return.

			Another unsettling possibility Tasha hadn’t considered.

			Tasha?

			No. No, they came and went quickly. Very quickly. Maybe five minutes on this floor. Seven minutes at the outside.

			Also not here with rape on their minds. A gang rape is a brutal assault triggered by surroundings, by actions, by a situation. Almost never something cold-bloodedly planned beforehand.

			It made her feel queasy, but . . . Yes. I know. That’s not what they wanted.

			And yet they did want you.

			I can’t know that.

			Yes. You can. That’s why you sensed them. That’s why you were able to escape them tonight.

			Tonight. Escape them . . . tonight.

			Do you really believe it’s over, Tasha? Believe they won’t try again?

			“No,” Tasha heard herself whisper aloud. “I don’t believe that. I believe they will try again.”

			Yes. They will. And next time, you may not sense them coming.





FOUR


			Tasha wasn’t sure whether she was able to erect her walls and so finally block that other voice in her mind or whether it simply went away; all she knew was that the inner conversation ceased.

			At least for a while.

			Not that she was able to sleep. In the end, by the time morning sunlight began to brighten her windows, she was up, showered, dressed, and very restless.

			That other voice had made a lot of sense about the uselessness of Tasha going to the building’s superintendent to report the break-in, seeing as how she had no evidence it had happened. And hadn’t reported at the time or afterward anything she had seen. Of course, she could always at least ask to see the security videos from the previous night, but . . .

			What would that accomplish?

			Nothing.

			Electing to have her morning coffee and some kind of muffin or pastry out of the apartment that no longer felt at all safe to her, Tasha went downstairs and through the lobby, casually greeting the security guard at the main desk and the concierge at hers as she passed.

			She knew both of them by name, just as she had known the guards she had seen working the previous night. She had made it her business to know who guarded her building, her condo.

			For all the good that had done.

			Security is an illusion.

			Definitely her own voice in her mind now, nothing else.

			Tasha went out into the mild January morning, joining the other early risers on the sidewalk. It was a Saturday, so the people moving about were mostly casual and unhurried, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air.

			At least, that was how they appeared.

			But Tasha had the notion that at least some of them were not what or who they appeared to be. She wanted to chalk that up to paranoia, but it was less a thought than a . . . an odd, inner chill breeze causing the hair on the nape of her neck to stand out.

			Instinct.

			She felt surrounded somehow, and not at all in the sense of being part of a crowd. Not because she was on a city street. Not because people were all around her, most clearly preoccupied by their own thoughts and concerns.

			What Tasha felt was something a lot more primitive, even primal.

			There was a threat.

			Someone was watching her.

			Right now.

			She hesitated for only a few moments near the doorway into her building, then ignored her own uneasiness and headed for the crosswalk, her ultimate destination the coffee shop on the corner diagonally across from her condo.

			It wasn’t part of a chain, the coffee shop, but a local business that had been here for a long time. There were little tables both inside the shop and outside on the wide sidewalk. Tasha as usual chose a table outside, sitting with her back to a little corner niche that was brick rather than glass window. Something solid at her back, positioned so that no one could approach her unseen.

			She’d begun to think of it as “her” seat, and had been amused to find herself feeling offended the previous week to find it occupied one morning. She thought she might have even glared at the woman who had sat there totally focused on her cell phone.

			Tweeting. E-mailing. Sending someone a text or replying to one. Playing a game.

			Who knew?

			Just a few moments after Tasha settled into her corner, someone came to take her order. As jittery as she felt, she still needed her morning caffeine, and so she ordered a double-shot latte and a muffin.

			Waiting for her order to come, Tasha wished she could pull out her cell phone and occupy herself with it. But there were two reasons why she couldn’t do that. One, the more she used the phone, the quicker it died on her, and she was wary of not being able to use it if she really needed to at some point.

			And, two, there was no way she could focus on anything as innocuous as e-mail or a game.

			Not when she felt so edgy.

			Not after last night.

			And there was a third reason she really didn’t want to think much about. That text. She didn’t want to look at her phone and find another text like that one waiting for her.

			Dead.

			A threat?

			A promise?

			Or just a taunt?

			Tasha didn’t know, but as she looked out on the people moving casually along the sidewalks, the Saturday traffic passing her little corner of the world, she admitted to herself that it was something she couldn’t avoid thinking about.

			And yet . . .

			It was, if anything, less unnerving than watching three men silently enter her apartment in the middle of the night. The text was . . . like a flourish somehow. Done for show rather than purpose.

			It had certainly given her a chill, if that had been the objective. But the eerily silent visit from those men had been more than enough to do that much.

			She was still chilled, if the truth be told. And she found her gaze roving all around, not really looking at any one person, yet watching all of them.

			Wondering who was watching her.

			—

			“That’s a lot of aspirin,” Brodie noted as he watched Murphy swallow half a dozen pills with a drink of her coffee.

			“I have a lot of headache.” Murphy grimaced and shifted her chair a bit back under the shade of the awning. “Jesus, it’s bright out here.”

			“The sunny South.”

			She grunted.

			“Not a morning person, are you?”

			Murphy didn’t waste a glare. “No. Not when I’ve been up all night.”

			“You couldn’t take a break?”

			“She was awake, so I was awake.”

			“And you didn’t see how they got into the building.”

			“I did not.” There was something in her grim tone that said she took that failing personally.

			“And they were able to hack into the security system. Without raising any red flags.”

			“Apparently. Building security looks calm today and I doubt they would if they were aware of what happened last night. No technical people in the building to check out, service, or fix anything. The other residents I’ve seen leave the building so far also looked as though they had no worries at all. She’s the only one, and you have to look close to realize just how jumpy she is.”

			“She knows she’s the one they came for.”

			“She watched them come for her. From the stairwell.”

			Brodie looked thoughtful. “So alert but curious. I’m not sure that’s such a good thing.”

			“She’s known for a while she was being watched. Last night, she saw men come for her. Three men. So she knows, if she had any doubt, that it isn’t a stalker kind of problem. It’s worse than that. A lot more inexplicable than that. A lot more deadly.”

			“She didn’t call the police?”

			“She didn’t even call the building super or the security desk in the lobby. She’s not a stupid woman, Brodie, and she doesn’t know who to trust. All she knows is that danger is all around her. That she’s safer with people all around her. And she’s not sure if it’s instinct or something else urging her to stay put rather than run.”

			“How long were you in her head?”

			“It’s not quite like that, and you know it.”

			“How long?”

			“Off and on all night.”

			“That part of the reason for your headache?”

			“Oh, yeah. Sleepless nights I can handle. It’s no sleep on top of being a psychic conduit that’s causing the jackhammers pounding inside my head.”

			“You need to get some sleep.”

			“No shit.”

			Brodie sighed. “Look, I’m sorry I was delayed. It couldn’t be helped.”

			“Meeting a possible new ally. I heard. Good one?”

			“Very, I think. Offers us a pretty long reach inside law enforcement. But his position is . . . a little tricky. A lot of people are close to him, maybe too close. Maybe close enough to know too much about us before we’re ready for them to know. If we ever are. And I’d feel better if I knew how he found out about us. He was very elusive about that without raising red flags in my head. Neat trick, that.”

			Murphy eyed the big man across the table from her. He was a physically powerful man, enough so as to give anyone pause even slouched down in the chair as he was. And he was very good-looking in a dark, brooding way. But his eyes, those very, very sharp eyes, sentry eyes, gave the lie to his seemingly relaxed body.

			He was a born guardian.

			A born Guardian.

			Murphy wondered, actually for the first time, if that was the way of things in their very unusual world. Had they all been born to do this, after all? Was it as random as it appeared, or was it fate? She had often felt that she herself had been born for this work.

			“You’re frowning at me,” Brodie told her.

			“My headache is giving me ideas I don’t like.”

			His brows lifted in question.

			“Never mind.” Murphy glanced around them, more by habit than anything else, to reassure herself they couldn’t be overheard. Yet she still lowered her voice when she said, “You were meeting Bishop.”

			Brodie’s sentry eyes became even sharper. Sharp enough, Murphy thought idly, to slice through something.

			Or someone.

			“Want to tell me how you know that?”

			“Just trying to ease your mind. He knows about us because he made contact with me a few months back.”

			Brodie didn’t look as if his mind had been eased. At all.

			She shook her head slightly. “I move around more than most, you know that. I’ve crossed his path a few times, his and some of his team members.”

			Grim, Brodie said, “Please don’t tell me any of his team know about us. He said not.”

			“He was telling the truth. Just him and his wife. Miranda. A unique connection between those two, and it has nothing to do with marriage vows or wedding rings.”

			Brodie refused to be sidetracked. “From what he told me, nearly every member of his team is psychic, and a fair number of them are telepaths. You really think something like this can be kept secret inside a group like that? Doing the sort of work they do?”

			“It’s because they do the sort of work they do that they aren’t likely to even notice us. Bishop trains his people to shield whenever possible, and to focus—very narrowly. Their focus is killers, mostly of the serial variety, and they have plenty to occupy their minds. Which is sad when you think about it. On the other hand, they go up against murderers they can actually chase and catch and cage—or kill. And we have on our hands virtually invisible enemies and a mysterious conspiracy. Or several of them. I’ve never been quite sure.”

			“Murphy.”

			She frowned at him. “Look, Bishop put that unit of his together in the teeth of official opposition and scorn within the law enforcement community. It’s been an uphill battle for him all the way, still is in some situations. But the thing he’s held to with teeth and claws is that there’s nothing at all unnatural or inhuman about psychic abilities; they’re just other senses not everybody happens to have.”

			Brodie waited.

			“He and his people have worked their asses off for years tracking and caging or destroying human monsters, and they’ve done it using a combination of law enforcement and investigative training and their psychic abilities. Which they bend over backward to keep matter-of-fact and firmly grounded in scientific possibility. Just other tools in the toolbox, like their guns and expertise with computers or martial arts or profiling, or whatever else each agent specializes in.

			“Bishop and his people can’t do their jobs if other law enforcement officials can’t take them seriously. Any hint of some vast, mysterious conspiracy linking abducted psychics, and his unit would be laughed out of the Bureau. It’s in his best interests to keep our secrets to himself, and nobody knows that better than he does.”

			After a moment, Brodie said, “I don’t doubt his intent. Much. But in a unit full of telepaths—”

			“Listen, you know that old saying about how two people can keep a secret only if one of them is dead?”

			“Yeah.”

			“Well, we both know people can keep a secret. People can keep a lot of secrets, for a long time. If the stakes are high enough. If the secrets are important enough. If it matters enough.” She paused. “It matters to Bishop. What’s happening to psychics, the threat against them. It matters to him. If we need him to, he’ll take our secrets to his grave.”

			—

			Henry McCord had a lifetime of practice in hiding what he could do. Thirty-six years, more or less. He could actually remember the first time he had seen a spirit.

			At his grandfather’s funeral. The old man had stood on the other side of the casket and winked at him.

			Henry had been six.

			So, thirty years of learning to cope in whatever way he could. Realizing early on that grown-ups didn’t want him to talk about the dead people, that it made them really uncomfortable. Which had puzzled a childish Henry, since it seemed they would have liked to know that something of themselves survived death. It had reassured Henry, at least then.

			Now . . . he didn’t even know if he still believed that. And despite his several conversations with Bishop, he was still unconvinced that he could ever learn to control his abilities well enough to make some use of them. He had tried to open a connection, a “door,” Bishop had called it, without success. He had tried meditation and biofeedback, which had left him feeling calm but still unable to see spirits when he wanted to.

			There had even been a few dark times when he’d tried both alcohol and various drugs, also to no effect. Except to leave him grateful that he didn’t have an addictive personality.

			So Henry went on with his pseudo-normal life, as an architect who specialized in restoring historic old buildings, and never told anyone—except Bishop—that his seemingly uncanny knack for finding valuable original doors and windows and other fixtures for old houses was simply the fact that most original owners showed him where to look.

			He never asked. They just appeared and showed him.

			Unlike what he’d seen in various movies and TV shows about ghosts and hauntings, Henry had never had to face a negative experience. No angry or malevolent spirits, no spirits that looked disfigured or deformed or even showed the causes of their deaths.

			Just helpful spirits dressed in period costume who led the way through basements and attics and storage buildings to things that belonged in whatever building he was restoring.

			His own theory was that because he was restoring old buildings to their former glory, there was no reason why any spirit should have negative feelings toward him. Bishop had said it wasn’t that simple, but Henry hadn’t been interested in learning more and it had showed.

			Just because he had to live with this didn’t mean he especially wanted to understand how it worked.

			So Henry went about his life as though everything were normal. He did his work, talked to investors and clients and landlords, and of course an endless parade of inspectors whose job it was to make sure he was doing his job correctly. And followed a seemingly endless succession of spirits to odd storage areas where he recovered original fixtures and fittings and even furniture designed and built—probably on-site—for the project he was working on.

			Long and erratic hours had prevented him from having much of a social life, or at least that was what he told himself. It was okay with him, because he was a solitary soul at heart, and perfectly comfortable with his own company.

			But then, while working just after the New Year on the restoration of a plantation house outside Charleston, he gradually realized that spirits had stopped showing up. Common sense told him there should be a lot of spirits at a place like this one, because it sure as hell had a lot of history.

			But no spirits showed up.

			He hadn’t tried reaching out for them in a pretty long time, and didn’t consciously do so then. But, entirely without thinking about it, he opened a door.

			Almost at once, he was aware of spirits all around him. But . . . hiding somehow. Drawing back away from him, as if in fear.

			Henry barely had time to register the absurdity of that when he became aware of something else. It was getting dark.

			In the middle of the chilly January day, inside a huge house whose many windows let in lots of light, it was getting dark.

			He thought maybe a rare winter thunderstorm was brewing up at first, but when he turned to look at one of the windows, he saw that it was very bright outside, the sunlight glinting off the windshield of his car. And the glimpse he could catch of the sky showed it clear and blue.

			But it was getting darker all the same.

			Close the door!

			Close the door, hurry!

			Henry, you have to close the door!

			“What the hell?” he muttered. Because the spirits had never talked to him. They led, they pointed, they smiled. Silently. Even inside his own head, only silence.

			Until now.

			The urgency was unmistakable, and Henry tried to close a door he wasn’t even sure how he’d been able to open.

			He tried.

			And then he felt as well as saw the shadows closing around him; not spirits, something else. Something that made his very soul quiver in absolute terror. He kept trying to shut the door but felt some kind of force he didn’t recognize holding the door open so they could get to him. Inky black, icy cold, sliding and blending and slithering all around him, touching him. Taking him.

			The blackness swept over Henry McCord, and the last thing he remembered was suddenly wishing he hadn’t lived his life quite so alone.

			—

			It was one of her volunteer days at the shelter, and Tasha was grateful to be busy and occupied, even above the satisfaction she always felt in doing the work of helping abandoned dogs and cats. And there were people around all day, people she knew, people she had never once felt threatened by in any way, so that helped too.

			For a while she was almost able to forget a threat existed.

			Almost.

			At the end of the day she went along with a few others to a casual restaurant near the shelter, because they were all tired and the only decision they wanted to make about dinner was to point at something that looked good on a menu.

			So it was a bit later than usual when she pulled her car into her space outside the condo, well after the winter night darkness descended. Her space was as close as possible to the building, another of her attempts at safety and security. And the entire parking area was, actually, designed with safety in mind. It was well lit and surrounded by wrought-iron fencing that was attractive but would also be difficult to scale; residents gained access to the small courtyard via a gate that, as part of the entire security system, was manned around the clock.

			The guard manning the gatehouse tonight had been cheerful and calm, nothing at all in his bearing indicating he felt at all uneasy about the security of the parking lot that was his area of responsibility.

			And still, with all that, Tasha found herself hurrying to the building’s door, hurrying to swipe her card and punch in the code, hurrying to close the door behind her.

			She didn’t realize she’d been holding her breath, and for way too long, until she leaned against the wall by the door and heard it escape her tense body in a rush.

			Dammit.

			Tasha hated to feel so . . . out of control.

			Someone was watching her. She knew someone was watching her. But she couldn’t see them, didn’t know where they were or who they were—or why the hell they were watching her at all. She wasn’t being paranoid, she knew that. She was being watched.

			Because she was psychic, that other voice in her head had told her the previous night. The voice that, all day today and even now, even when she let herself think about it, was absent.

			“Everything all right, Ms. Solomon?”

			She started and looked at the security guard. “Yes. Yes, of course, everything’s fine, Hawes.”

			His last name, no title; it was the compromise the security staff and residents had reached after some debate when the building had been completed and waiting residents moved in. No one liked the formality of honorifics or titles for the security staff or the informality of first names on either side, so they were left with this.

			So far, it worked.

			“I’m heading back toward the elevator,” Hawes said.

			Tasha managed a brief laugh. “Do I look . . .” She didn’t quite know how to finish that.

			“It’s an odd night,” Hawes said, matter-of-factly. “Most everybody who’s been out tonight has come home jumpy. I expect it’s the full moon. Affects people even when they don’t realize.”

			Tasha hadn’t even realized the moon was full.

			She headed for the elevator, Hawes walking more or less beside her. He was a former cop, she knew that much, a Chicago street cop who had chosen to semi-retire in a warm southern city.

			Most of the security staff had the same sort of background, former cops or retired military, if anything overtrained for security jobs in a residential condo. They were all very calm and seemingly unflappable, the women as well as the men; the security staff was roughly one-third female, while the concierge staff was about two-thirds female.

			Every single one of them a trained professional who at least appeared to take this job as seriously as they had taken their previous ones.

			So how had those men gotten past them the night before?

			Tasha almost asked Hawes about it. Almost.

			Instead, keeping questions and doubts to herself, she stepped into the elevator when the doors opened and lifted a hand in farewell as they began to close. “Good night.”

			“Good night, Ms. Solomon.”

			The ride to the third floor was brief and uneventful. The hallway was empty of any threat. The apartments she passed on the way to hers were quiet no matter what activities might have been going on inside, thanks to excellent soundproofing.

			For the first time, Tasha thought that maybe the soundproofing shouldn’t be quite so good.

			Because if anyone inside were to cry out for help . . .

			Refusing to finish that thought, she let herse