death bringer (soul justice)

Death Bringer
By Kate Pearce

Book two of Soul Justice

A powerful magic user is stealing people’s faces in San
Francisco, and empath Ella Walsh and shifter Vadim Morosov have been called in
to investigate. Still adjusting to the closeness and permanence of their new
relationship, the government-paired mates are soon hot on the trail of an
Otherworld cultist from Vadim’s past.

But their target turns the tables, and after he gives Ella
someone else’s face, the couple will have to follow him to Otherworld to get
hers back. There, in an ancient world of family ties, old grudges and monsters,
where living memory stretches centuries, Ella will have to confront the
dangerous truth of Vadim’s bygone life.

Because there’s a reason the Fae call him Death Bringer, and
if Ella can’t unravel it, she may never see her mate—or her face—again.

See how Ella met Vadim in
Soul
Sucker,
available now!

78,000 words

Dear Reader,

It’s possible I say this every year, but I love October. To
me, this is the month that signals the start of a season of hot apple cider,
evenings by the fire, and curling up on the sofa with a good book, dressed
warmly in sweatpants and a comfy shirt and snuggled under my favorite fuzzy
blanket. We at Carina Press can’t provide most of those things, but we can
provide the good books, and this month we have more than a few good books!

In
Running Back
, the highly anticipated sequel to Allison Parr’s
new-adult contemporary romance
Rush Me
, Natalie
Sullivan is on the verge of a breakthrough most archaeology grad students only
dream of: discovering a lost city. Her research points to a farm in Ireland, but
to excavate she needs permission from the new owner:
the
Michael O’Connor, popular NFL running back.

If you’re like me, there are certain tropes in romance that
you fall for every time. One of mine is the main theme of Christi Barth’s newest
book,
Friends to Lovers.
(Gee, can you guess what it
is?) Daphne struggles with revealing her longtime lust for Gib, sparking it all
off with a midnight kiss on New Year’s Eve—only Gib doesn’t know it’s Daphne
he’s kissed! Also in the contemporary romance category is
First and Again
by Jana Richards, which has a special place in my
heart because this emotional story takes place in my home state of North
Dakota.

For months, this Red Cross head nurse has been aiding Allied
soldiers caught behind enemy lines, helping them flee into the neutral
Netherlands. It’s only a matter of time until she’s caught in
Aiding the Enemy
, a historical romance by Julie Rowe.
If you’re a fan of
Downton Abbey
, be sure to check
out the rest of Julie’s historical romances.

We have two mysteries for readers to solve this month.
British crime author Shirley Wells returns to the sleepy northern town of
Dawson’s Clough with her popular Dylan Scott Mystery series in the next book,
Deadly Shadows.
And in Julie Anne Lindsey’s
Murder by the Seaside
, counseling is murder, but
it’s never been this much fun.

Erotic romance author Christine d’Abo brings us the story of
Alice’s obsession with a brooding lawyer at her firm, which takes Alice on a
journey of self-discovery through the rabbit hole and into the world of BDSM in
Club Wonderland.
Also this month, the
Love Letters
ladies, Ginny Glass, Christina Thacher,
Emily Cale and Maggie Wells, round up five sizzling-hot stories to finish off
their sexy stampede through the alphabet with
Love Letters
Volume 6:
Cowboy’s Command.

Edgar Mason is losing Agamemnon Frost despite everything
they’ve been through—the passion, the torture, the heat. Frost’s fiancée
Theodora is back, and Mason can feel his lover gravitating toward her. Every day
he sees them together, it tears at his heart. Don’t miss
Agamemnon Frost and the Crown of Towers
, the conclusion to Kim
Knox’s male/male historical science fiction trilogy.

Because October is the perfect month for the paranormal, we
have a wide selection of fantasy, urban fantasy and paranormal to share with
you. In Jeffe Kennedy’s fantasy romance,
Rogue’s
Possession
, neuroscientist Gwynn’s adventures in Faerie continue in
the long-awaited sequel to
Rogue’s Pawn.
And in the
sequel to
Soul Sucker
, a powerful magic user is
stealing people’s faces in San Francisco, and empath Ella Walsh and shifter
Vadim Morosov have been called in to investigate in
Death
Bringer
by Kate Pearce. Also returning with another book in her Blood
of the Pride series is Sheryl Nantus, with her paranormal romance
Battle Scars.

Combining futuristic fiction, fantasy and urban fantasy,
Trancehack
by Sonya Clark is a compelling
cross-genre romance. In a dystopian future where magic is out in the open and
witches are segregated, a high-profile murder case brings together a police
detective and a witch with unusual powers that combine magic and technology. But
dangerous secrets, a political cover-up, and the law itself stand between them.
Don’t miss this exciting new world of witchpunk!

Carina Press is pleased to introduce three debut authors this
October. Science fiction erotic romance author Renae Jones gives us a
Taste of Passion
when lust strikes hard for Fedni, an
empath who can taste emotion, but her off-worlder neighbor is horrified by the
caste system that the former courtesan holds dear.

Two urban fantasy authors debut with us this month. In
Kathleen Collins’s
Realm Walker
, a realm walker
hunts a demon intent on destroying both her and the mate who left her seven
years ago. Also debuting in urban fantasy is Joshua Roots with his book
Undead Chaos.
When warlock Marcus Shifter performs a
simple zombie beheading, he soon finds that the accidental framing of an
innocent necromancer, falling in lust, and burning down a bar are just the
beginning of his troubles.

Regardless of whether you’re discovering these books in
October or in the middle of summer, any time is the perfect time for reading,
and I hope you enjoy all these titles as much as we’ve enjoyed working on
them.

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your
thoughts, comments and questions to
[email protected]
.
You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter
stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com
www.twitter.com/carinapress
www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

This one is for my editor, Alissa Davis, who really made this series so much better! Thank you, and everyone at Carina Press, for a thoroughly professional job.

Contents

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

Chapter Seventeen

About the Author

Copyright

Prologue

San Francisco

Brad Dailey woke to sunlight streaming through open blinds and wondered where the hell he was. The last thing he remembered was a bar in the city, being dumped by his chick and ending up talking to the bartender and the only other guy left in the place. Nice guys who’d drunk with him until he couldn’t remember the girl’s name, let alone why he’d liked her in the first place.

Her loss.

He swallowed, and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth like spit to an envelope. What the fuck had he ended up drinking? He was going to have the hangover from hell, and he was due in class at ten. He grabbed his cell phone and squinted at the numbers. It was already nine thirty. Even if he busted a gut, he’d never get there in time.

But he had to go. Dr. Blinz was a bastard. He’d be chucked out of the class if he didn’t show up again, and his parents would kill him. With superhuman effort, he rolled out of bed and staggered toward the bathroom. First, he needed to pee real bad. That accomplished, he turned on the faucets and faced his reflection in the mirror.

And screamed.

Chapter One

“What do you mean, I can’t spend the night?”

Ignoring the interested glances of the other passengers on the packed Blue & Gold ferry to Tiburon, Ella glared right back at Vadim.

“You can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because you haven’t asked nicely, and I don’t like being taken for granted. We might be stuck together for life, but it doesn’t mean you own me or anything.” She walked away from him and looked back at the city. The incoming fog crawling in under the Golden Gate Bridge was slowly swallowing up the gray, square lines and glinting glass buildings.

“Then why didn’t you say something when I got on this damn boat with you?”

He was right behind her again. His voice was quiet, but fury emanated from every pore. He wore a long dark coat and blue cashmere scarf that screamed Italian designer. Tendrils of his black hair danced coyly in the breeze, caressing his awesome cheekbones. He might look like a model in the middle of a photo shoot, but he was much more than a pretty face.

She shrugged. “I don’t know where you’re living. I assumed you must have moved over here.”

“I haven’t moved anywhere. When the hell did I have time to do that? Alexei left for Russia this evening. I paid off his extortionate bill, but kept my room on.”

“Well, that’s lucky. You can stay on the ferry and go right back again.”

“You know damn well that this is the last one tonight.”

She swiveled to face him, her arms crossed over her chest. “Then you know what you can do, don’t you?”

“What’s that, Ms. Walsh?” He moved so close that she could see into his dark blue eyes. So much bluer than the murky waters of the bay, and so much more dangerous too... His gaze flashed black, and her pulse jumped in her throat.

“You can use magic, Morosov, and fly away home.”

“Yes, I can.” He slowly let out his breath. “What I don’t understand is what the hell is wrong with you. You’ve been treating me like dirt all day.”

“What’s new?” He didn’t lighten up, and she looked away from his intense gaze. “I just need an evening to myself, that’s all.”

Silence greeted her remark. She concentrated on maintaining her mental shields, even though if he really wanted to get through them, he could do it with ease.

“You nearly died yesterday.”

“So?”

“We’ve spent the last twenty-four hours being debriefed by the SBLE authorities, and now I want to sleep for a hundred years. With you.”

“It’s not just your decision, is it?” She hunched a shoulder at him. “Oh, for God’s sake, Morosov, don’t get all primitive and possessive. I really can’t handle it at the moment.”

“You can’t handle it, period. That’s why you don’t want me here. You’re scared.”

“And you aren’t?”

“At least I’m trying to deal with it.”

“Well, good for you.”

The ferry slowed and shuddered against the pull of the tide as, engines churning, it turned clumsily toward the dock. Seagulls flew off the sea wall to encircle the craft, looking for rich pickings from the tourists.

Ella pushed past Vadim and walked over to the stairs that led to the lower deck. She stomped down them and joined the line of passengers ready to exit the boat the moment it docked. She felt rather than saw him fall in behind her.

“Go
away
, Morosov.”

“I’m just getting off the ferry.”

“And then what will you do? Sit on the beach all night?”

“If I have to.”

The older woman in the line in front of Ella turned around. “Is he annoying you, dear? Do you want me to call the cops?” Her gaze drifted up to Vadim’s. “Wow, he’s really cute. Are you sure you don’t want him, because I’d take him off your hands in a second.”

“Be my guest.” Ella smiled at the woman. “He’s almost house-trained.”

“Ms. Walsh.”

There was a definite note of warning in Vadim’s tone, but when had that ever stopped her? She turned her attention to the deckhand who was opening the gate and shuffled forward with the rest of the weary commuters. The salty air hit her like a shot of tequila, and she breathed it in. After twenty-four hours stuck at the Supernatural Branch of Law Enforcement, she’d wanted to scream. Only the thought that her testimony would put on record who had been killing empaths had made her stay and endure the endless, repetitive questions from a bunch of morons who should know better.


Agreed.

Vadim’s voice echoed in her head. Damn, she must be tired if she couldn’t keep him out at this stage of the evening. She stumbled on the uneven deck, and he attempted to catch her elbow. She jerked away and almost fell again.

“Ella, let me help you. You’re weaving around like a drunk.”

“I’m fine. Go away.”

He took hold of her arm and spun her around to face him. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m taking you home, where we will go to sleep. If you want to continue this discussion in the morning, when we’re both refreshed, I’ll be more than willing to do so.” He paused. “Are you
mimicking
me?”

“I can’t help it. You get so polite and Russian when you’re pissed with me.”

He let go of her and looked down at the ground. “I can’t do this right now. Can we just go home?”

Without giving him a direct answer, she set off along the coastal path and up the hill, toward her basement apartment. Things really were bad if they didn’t have the energy to fight with each other. He followed her silently, his breathing even, his presence a comfort she refused to acknowledge.

She still couldn’t deal with the fact that she was a) alive and b) mated to an enigma. She’d confidently expected to go nuts in a week, when she turned twenty-seven. It happened to empaths. She’d assumed it would happen to her and had lived her whole life accordingly. But in a strange twist of fate, she’d ended up with Mr. “I’m not quite human”
GQ.

She snorted. Strike that. He wasn’t human at all. He was Fae fucking royalty.

“What’s wrong?”

She’d stopped walking and was breathing hard through her nose.

“Nothing!”

Perhaps it was a good idea to let him spend the night. When she’d rested, she’d make sure to interrogate him thoroughly about his family in Otherworld before she let him eat or have sex with her ever again.

Not that she needed to have sex with him like she needed her next breath.

“Do you want a push up the hill?”

“I’m fine, thank you.” She kept walking, her gaze fixed on the looming Victorian house with its white railings, steep steps and gabled roofline.

“I’ll get the door.”

He disappeared ahead of her. Could she do that now? Use magic to get stuff done? She hadn’t actually asked Vadim how much of his power she could control and manipulate, now that they were bonded. She’d tried not to ask him anything at all.

By the time she reached the front door, he’d turned on the lights, started a fire in the grate and put the coffee on. Her mail was stacked on the countertop, and he was already in the bathroom sloshing water around. Not that she minded. He would always leave the place cleaner than when he’d entered it. It was one of his more endearing, yet annoying, habits.

Wearily, she stripped off her coat and hat and threw them toward the back of the couch. All she wanted was a shower and her bed and two days to sleep.

A blast of fragrant steam billowed out of the bathroom, and Vadim came out. He picked up her coat and put it over his arm.

“The shower’s on. You go ahead. Do you want me to bring you some coffee or anything to eat?”

Ella just stared at him until he took her by the hand and gently pushed her into the bathroom. By the time she opened her mouth to reply, he’d closed the door behind him, leaving her alone. She took off her clothes and got into the shower, sighing as the hot water streamed over her. It took all her remaining energy to lift her arms long enough to shampoo her hair.

When she finally rinsed out the conditioner and could see again, a mug of herbal tea stood on the ledge next to her. Had Vadim come in while she was showering, or was he no longer hiding the extent of his abilities? She guessed the latter. After sipping the tea, she stepped out onto the fluffy mat and found two warm towels and her favorite pink bunny pajamas awaiting her.

Damn, the man was good.

She dressed and didn’t bother to dry her hair, just wrapped it up in the towel and went back into the kitchen. He was standing at the kitchen counter, drinking coffee and watching something in the toaster. He’d taken off his coat, jacket and tie and rolled up his shirtsleeves.

“Are you sure you don’t want something to eat?”

“No, thanks. I think I’ll head straight to bed.”

He looked up. “Good night, Ella.”

“’Night, Morosov.”

When she closed her bedroom door, she realized he’d put the bedside lamp on and turned on her heated blankie. With a sigh, she threw herself into bed and wrapped the warmed quilt around her.
Bliss.

Twenty minutes later she opened one eye and listened intently to the silence around her. Where was Vadim? She couldn’t sleep without knowing what he was doing.

She got out of bed and opened the door a crack. The scent of toasted bread floated over her, but the kitchen was in darkness and so was the bathroom. Had he really gone? A feeling not unlike terror clutched at her heart. She opened the door wider and stepped into the hallway.

“Morosov?”

A slight sound made her peer into the gloom. Was that a hint of white on the couch?


Ouch!
” She recoiled as her knee collided with the chair arm.

“Ella, are you all right?”

She fumbled her way to the seat, still holding her knee, and sat down. “You’re sleeping on the couch?”

“Where else would I sleep?” His voice was low and husky. “It’s better than the beach.”

She touched his leg. “I thought you’d gone.”

“Do you want me to?”

“No.”

His fingers curled around hers, and he brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it. “Then go back to bed.”

“Okay.” He let go of her and she slowly stood up. “See you in the morning, then.”

“I’ll be here.”

“Good to know.” She went back to bed and slid between the sheets. With an exhausted sigh, she closed her eyes.


You don’t need to come and find me.
You’ll know if I’ve really gone.


How?


You won’t sense me in your head.


That would be a blessing.

She waited but he didn’t reply, and she gradually relaxed again. She might not have come to terms with him, or anything in her life yet, but she was glad he was there.

In her head.

In her heart?

With a groan, she rolled over and went to sleep.

* * *

“Coffee?”

Vadim held up the half-empty pot as Ella came out of the bathroom. She stared at him as if he were speaking Russian and briefly closed her eyes. Her blond hair was standing on end as if she’d stuck her finger in an electrical outlet. He wouldn’t put it past her. Concealing a smile, he found one of the mugs he’d just rewashed, filled it with coffee and put it on the countertop next to her.

“Do you want me to toast you a bagel?”

She clambered up onto the kitchen stool and nodded, both hands wrapped around her mug of coffee as she inhaled the rising steam. He sliced the bagel, put it in the toaster and went to the refrigerator to get the cream cheese.

“I went out for a run earlier, so I got some supplies.”

She sipped at her coffee, and her shoulders slowly came down from around her ears. It had been a stressful couple of days. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” He turned away and studied the newspaper until the bagel was toasted. “Did you sleep well?”

“I think so. I don’t remember dreaming or anything.”

“That’s good.” He’d have enough nightmares for both of them. He was surprised he hadn’t woken her. “I’m not planning on going into the office today. How about you?”

“Hold it. Stop with the casual small talk.” She pointed her knife at him. “Why aren’t you on that plane going back to Russia with Alexei?”

“Because the SBLE decided I should stay here.”

“Why?”

He shrugged. “I have no idea.”

“They don’t know about...us, do they?”

“I should imagine they’ll work it out fairly quickly when you don’t start going insane on your birthday.”

“Oh, damn. I’d forgotten about that. Maybe I could pretend to go nuts?”

“And lose the job you love so much?” Ignoring her impression of sticking her fingers down her throat, he stuck another bagel in the toaster. “And remember, they won’t necessarily know
whom
you’re mated to, just that you are mated.”

“But won’t everyone wonder why you’re still here?”

“The last I heard, everyone was hoping I’d stay because I’m the only partner you’ve ever worked with that you respect.”

She stuck out her tongue at him. He handed her another bagel.

“So you’re planning on staying, then?”

Despite the casual nature of her question, he heard the serious intent behind it.

“I thought I’d made that quite clear.”

“Are you afraid I’ll go nuts if you don’t?”

He smiled down at his coffee. “No, I’m afraid I’ll go nuts. I don’t think I would function very well if I couldn’t be with you.”

She slammed her mug down on the countertop. “Morosov, don’t
say
things like that. You’re supposed to be running away from me, not offering yourself up for more punishment.”

“It’s just the way it is.”

“I don’t like it.” She bit into her bagel and crumbs flew everywhere. He resisted the urge to fetch a dustpan and brush and gather them up. Maybe it would be better to wait until she finished...

“I can’t change my nature, Ella.”

“As to that.” She swiveled on her seat so that she could face him. “What exactly are you? I know you’re a swan shifter and some kind of Fae royalty. Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?”

“Don’t you think that’s enough to be getting along with?” He darn well hoped so. He had no intention of telling her the rest unless he was in mortal peril. “I’m sure you have questions.”

She held out her coffee mug. “Fill this up first, and then we’ll talk.”

He studied her bunny pajamas and tatty white robe. “Don’t you want to get dressed first?”

“Why? We’re not going anywhere, are we?” She slid off the stool and headed for the couch.

Vadim waited until her back was turned and swiftly cleaned up the crumbs, put her plate in the sink and wiped off the surfaces. Picking up his own cup of coffee, he joined her on the couch. She’d kicked off her slippers. Her toenails were bright pink with orange sparkles. He wanted to kiss them...

He was in deep shit.

“So tell me about the shape-shifting first.”

He forced his gaze back up to her face. “One of my...grandfathers is the current swan king. I get the ability from him.”

“It’s not much use is it? What can a swan actually do? Peck someone to death?”

“They can do much more than that.”

“Yeah?” She tucked her feet up under her. “I hear they’re really good at ballet and telling fairy tales, as well.”

He took a long, slow breath and let it out through his nose. “Are you just going to mock, or are you actually interested in learning about the abilities you’ve acquired?”

“You have no sense of humor, Morosov.”

“I believe you have enough for both of us.” He stopped talking and just stared at her.

She sighed. “I suppose you can fly, right? That’s quite useful. Can I do that?” By mating with him, she’d acquired his Otherworld powers, and he’d stabilized her empath abilities. In fact, she’d come out of the deal really well. Maybe she should be more grateful.

“If you practice.”

“Do I have to shape-shift?” She leaned forward. “
Can
I shape-shift?”

“I’m not sure. With my other powers, I can just grow wings and fly. I should imagine you’d be able to do that too.”

“That’s kind of cool.” She picked up the cushion next to her. “And if you shed, I’ll never have to worry about stuffing my cushions again.”

He sipped his coffee. “How long are you going to keep this up?”

“The jokes?”

He inclined his head a frigid inch.

“For as long as I can think of them.”

“Fine. Do you have any other questions for me?”

“I sure do, buster, don’t think I’m that easy. Why didn’t you mention that your grandmother is the queen of the Fae?”

“She’s one of the queens. There are several warring factions in Otherworld.”

“I know that, but I asked around the office yesterday, and she’s considered the most powerful one at the moment.”

“I didn’t mention it, because it never came up.”

“Bullshit. You didn’t mention it, because you hate being associated with anything from Otherworld.”

“Maybe that, as well.” He was willing to concede the point if it kept her from inquiring further. “And as I told you before, the more I talk about my Otherworld connections, the more likely they are to become aware of me.”

“Because you’ve been trying to hide out here and pass as human.”

“Obviously not very successfully.”

“You were doing pretty well, until I dragged you back there.”

“Trust me, I’d love to blame you, but Rossa already knew I was here and was keeping an eye on me. It was just a matter of time before my grandmother found a way to try and force me back there.”

“Why does she want you back?”

“Because I performed certain tasks for her and the Fae.”

“Magical ones?”

“Usually.”

“But what good is a shape-shifting swan?”

“You’d be surprised.” She’d be horrified, but he definitely wasn’t going to get into that. He stood up and held out his mug. “I’m getting more coffee. Do you want some?”

“No thanks.” She handed him her empty mug. “Stick it in the sink. I’ll use it later.”

With an inward shudder, he put her mug in the dishwasher and refilled his own. “You’re still a bit low on food. Do you want to go to the supermarket?”

She stretched her arms over her head and yawned until her jaw cracked. “I suppose I should.”

His cell phone went off, and a second later he heard hers ring too. She wandered into the bedroom to get it as he answered his.

“Mr. Feehan.”

“Vadim. We have a situation here. Can you liaise with Ella and meet her at San Francisco General? There’s a man there I want you both to see.”

“I’ll do that, Mr. Feehan. We’ll see you there as soon as we can.”

He looked up to see Ella in the doorway of her bedroom, phone clamped to her ear. “It’s Feehan. He left a message. He wants us to meet him at the hospital.” She pouted. “So much for our day off.”

Vadim shut his cell phone and put it back in his pocket. “How soon can you be ready to go?”

“Give me five minutes.” She checked her cell. “There’s a ferry leaving at ten, if we hurry. Where did you put my coat?”

“In the closet with mine.”

She turned a slow circle. “Which closet?”

“The one by the front door, where you are supposed to hang things.”

“Really?” She wandered over to it and opened it. “I always wondered what it was for.”

She tossed him his coat and suit jacket and retrieved her own. “I’ll just be a minute.”

In less than ten, they were walking down the hill toward the ferry, which had just docked. A stream of tourists poured from the gangplank, their eager faces scanning the small town and exclaiming at the views back across the bay. Getting through them made Vadim feel like a lone salmon fighting to swim upstream against the current.

They made it just in time and headed for the top desk. He would never tire of the view or the experience of approaching a great city by water. It was the first place he’d ever considered putting down roots. He glanced down at Ella in her blue and orange knitted hat, denim jacket and pink ripped jeans. But maybe it wasn’t the place. Maybe it was her. His grandmother might have meddled in his life simply to force him back to Otherworld, but she’d started a whole chain of events he didn’t even dare contemplate. He had no doubt that less benign forces would soon be on his tail, demanding his return. But now he had a mate to fight for and a reason to live.

He slowly shook his head. He was not going back willingly. They’d have to come and get him, and even in this realm, his powers still trumped most of theirs. With one snap of his fingers he could annihilate the entire city that lay before him. He smiled as they approached the pier. Let them come. He’d be more than ready.

Chapter Two

“Hey, Jose. This is a colleague of mine, Vadim Morosov. Jose’s the charge nurse on this floor.” Ella waited as they exchanged pleasantries. “Is our boss here yet?”

“Mr. Feehan?” Jose pointed at the closed door of the hospital administrator’s office. “He’s in there.”

“Cool. We’ll go and join him. Thanks, Jose.”

He winked at her and she winked back before knocking on the door, Vadim right behind her. The hospital was its usual busy self, the hallways as crowded as the subway one minute and just as empty the next. She sensed Vadim strengthen his shields and did the same. You never knew what crazy magical shit lingered in a place like this.

Feehan opened the door and ushered them in.

“You found each other, then?”

“We did. What’s up, boss?”

“I’m not quite sure.” Mr. Feehan glanced at the petite blonde female sitting behind the desk. “Ms. Phelps, this is Ella Walsh and her partner, Vadim Morosov. When necessary, Ms. Phelps acts as a liaison between the hospital staff and the university. Perhaps you should tell them exactly what happened.”

“I’ll certainly try.” Ms. Phelps gave them a distracted smile. “Brad Dailey, one of our second-year medical students, didn’t show up for class this morning. As it was a scheduled test day, his professor contacted student-support services to follow up on him. This student has missed quite a lot of school this year, and Dr. Blinz wasn’t happy about it. He wanted to make sure Brad received an official warning.”

“So what happened?”

“One of the junior administrators called his apartment. Eventually Brad picked up and started screaming incoherently into the phone. The administrator alerted the emergency services, and they went to check on him. When the police forced their way into his apartment, they found Brad in the bathroom trying to rip his face off.” She shuddered. “At first the paramedics assumed he’d taken some kind of drug that hadn’t agreed with him, but after he was sedated and brought here, the doctors realized that wasn’t the case.”

“So what do you think is going on?” Ella asked.

“As I was just telling Mr. Feehan, I have no idea. The poor boy can barely form a sentence. The staff has run every test they can think of, and nothing abnormal is showing up. In these cases, we normally contact you.” She looked helplessly at Vadim. “I do so hope you can help him.”

“We’ll certainly do our best, Ms. Phelps.” Vadim said. “Is Mr. Dailey capable of speaking to us yet?”

“I believe so. He’s been restrained for his own safety, but the medication should be wearing off by now. Not that you’ll get much sense out of him. He’s just babbling.”

“What’s he saying?” Ella turned off her cell phone and stuck it back in her pocket.

“Something about that not being him in the mirror. A classic hallucinogenic drug response, but he’s not testing positive for anything at all.”

“Maybe there’s something new on the street. Do you remember the frozen addicts?” Feehan glanced at Ella. “No? You’re probably all too young, but in 1982 in Santa Clara County, right down the street from here, some addicts took a new substance called MPTP that brought on the symptoms of Parkinson’s and literally paralyzed them overnight.”

Ms. Phelps nodded. “That’s a possibility we are aware of, but until we can confirm anything, we’d still like you to take a look at him.”

“Morosov and I would be glad to help, wouldn’t we?” Ella raised her eyebrows at Vadim, who was still smiling at Ms. Phelps. “Can you show us to Mr. Dailey’s room?”

“Sure.” She rose to her feet. “I’ll make certain you aren’t disturbed.”

When Ella came out of the office, Jose handed over her white coat. “Here you go, babe. Are you free for dinner tonight?”

“Sorry, no.” She patted his arm. “But thanks for asking.”

“Ella’s busy.” Vadim added and placed his hand in the small of her back to usher her along. He didn’t say anything else, but she sensed both his sudden alertness and a hint of his magical power wafting around.


Keep it down
,
Morosov.
You’re like a skunk marking his territory.


That guy wouldn’t pick up magic if it bit him in the face.


Don’t you mean pecked?


You’re hilarious.


I
know
,
and by the way
,
don’t call me Ella at work
,
okay?


As if I would dare
.” His smile showed a lot of teeth.

Ms. Phelps stopped at the last door in the hallway. “Mr. Dailey is in here. I’ll ask the nurse to step out of the room, but she’ll be outside if you need her. If you require more urgent medical assistance, just press the red panic button.”

“Will do.” Ella went in first, nodding at the nurse as she passed her in the doorway. Brad Dailey was strapped to a gurney on the far side of the room. His face was bandaged like a mummy’s, and his terrified gaze darted around the space, fixing avidly on Ella as she approached.

She sat on the side of the bed and took his shaking hand in hers. A hint of residual Otherworld magic trickled through her senses. “Hey. I’m Ella Walsh, and this is Morosov. Can you try and tell us what’s wrong?”

His chest heaved and he started to struggle against his restraints, his hands turning into claws. Vadim came up beside her.

“It’s all right, Mr. Dailey. We just want to help you. Take a deep breath and tell us what’s wrong.”

Ella shivered as she felt Vadim push some kind of calming magic through her and into Brad. Whatever it was, it seemed to be having the right effect, as he slowly relaxed against the gurney and his breathing evened out.

“It wasn’t my face in the mirror. What the fuck happened? Who the fuck am I?”

“When you say it wasn’t your face, do you mean you saw someone else’s reflection in there with you?”

“No, it was just supposed to be me.”

Ella glanced at Vadim, who was listening intently.

“And it wasn’t your face.”

“No. That’s why I tried to pull it off.”

“You thought it was, maybe, a mask of some kind, a practical joke?” Vadim asked. “Did you get drunk last night?”

Brad nodded eagerly. “Yeah, yeah, that’s what I thought, that some of the guys had gotten into my room and stuck stuff on me to scare me, like, you know?”

“Medical students love their pranks.”

“But it wouldn’t come off.” Brad’s voice rose. “It was me, but it isn’t me!”

“Since you damaged your face so badly, it’s hard to tell what you looked like before this happened. Do you have any recent pictures of yourself?”

“Sure, on Facebook and my cell.”

“Would you object if we looked at them?”

“You can look as much as you like, but you won’t ever see me with brown eyes and black hair. I’m fucking blond like you.”

Ella checked out the thick black hair sticking out from the top of his head. It didn’t look dyed, either.

“Okay, so if we accept that you woke up this morning with someone else’s face, how do you think that happened?”

He went silent, his gaze fracturing, his whole body caught up in some internal struggle Ella could only guess at.

“I don’t know. I don’t fucking know.” Tears slid down his face. “What’s going to happen to me now? Who am I? What am I going to do? My girlfriend dumped me last night for being too immature, I sat and had a few drinks with some guy and that was it.”

“Did the guy come home with you?”

“Don’t think so. Although I’m not sure how I made it home.”

“Perhaps he helped you?”

“And took my face?”

“Maybe. Do you remember what this man looked like?”

“Not like me.”

“Like you now, or before?”

“Neither. He was like kind of older than me.” He glanced at Vadim. “About your age, but sort of average looking. You know, unremarkable?”

“Can you tell me the name of the bar you went to and your girlfriend’s name?”

“It was the Blue Flamingo in Little Italy, and my ex’s name is Penny Jordan. She’s a student nurse here at the hospital.”

Vadim was busy recording the information, so she focused on Brad. Part of her wanted to reach into his mind and extract the terrible memories, but she couldn’t do that yet. They needed more information from both him and his associates before they could make any firm decisions as to how to deal with his horrific recollections.

“Listen, Brad, will you concentrate on getting better while we go and gather more information for this case? It’s possible that something or someone did steal your face. We’ll do our best to get it back for you.”

“You believe me?”

“Somebody has to.” She held his gaze. “We work for the SBLE, and our specialty is solving cases like yours.”

“You’re like the
X
-
Files.

“Kind of, but keep that to yourself.” She squeezed his hand. “All we need you to do is hang in there. Something is very wrong, and we’re going to do our best to fix it, okay?”

He took an unsteady breath. “Okay.”

She stood up and Vadim walked to the door and held it open. Ella gave Brad a brisk nod. “We’ll be back. Stay strong.”

He nodded and they went out past the nurse. Ella kept going until they reached the sanctuary of the administrator’s office. Feehan and Ms. Phelps weren’t in there. She shut the door and turned to face Vadim, who was already firing up Brad’s cell phone and investigating his wallet.

“That poor kid.” Ella shook her head.

“He’s hardly a kid. According to his driver’s license, he’s twenty-three.”

“Don’t split hairs. Would you like to wake up and not recognize your own face?”

“Some days, yes.”

“Morosov...”

His smile was brief. “I agree that this is a difficult situation. Did you get a sense of Otherworld from him?”

“Yes, but that was pretty much a given, wasn’t it?”

“I don’t know. There have been some pretty inventive human serial killers.”

Ella perched on the corner of the desk. “You think the guy in the bar drugged Brad’s drink and brought him home, intending to carve up his face and kill him?”

“It’s possible.”

“Apart from the fact that we both felt Otherworld magic around him.” She chewed slowly on her gum and blew a big pink bubble. “It’s got to be Otherworld.”

“Why, because you can’t imagine a human doing such a terrible thing?”

“Of course I can. I’ve seen those movies with Anthony Hopkins.”

“Who plays a fictional character.”

“I
know
that.” She glared at him. “Why don’t you want it to be Otherworld?”

He put down Brad’s phone and met her gaze. “Because there aren’t many beings like that even in Otherworld, and those are usually incredibly powerful and well connected.”

“Damn.” She blew another bubble. “So we’re going to have a hard time finding this guy and executing him.”

“Oh, I think he’ll come back.”

“Why?”

He shrugged. “I just do. I’m going to suggest to Mr. Feehan that we restrict access to Brad’s room and that he’s monitored 24/7.”

“And
I’m
going to get hold of Liz and see whether she has any data about similar crimes.”

“That’s certainly a good place to start. Do you want to go ahead and leave me to talk to Feehan and Ms. Phelps?”

“No, I’ll wait. They’ll probably be back in a moment, and we need a ride from the boss, remember?”

Vadim subsided into one of the chairs. “I’d forgotten.” He passed Ella Brad’s cell phone. “He definitely doesn’t have black hair.”

While she waited, she flicked through Brad’s photos and then checked out his social-media pages. “Gawd, I hope his parents haven’t seen these pictures. If I was paying for my kid to attend medical school, I certainly wouldn’t appreciate seeing him grinning, drinking, and fondling women in every bar in the city.”

“I’m sure your parents felt the same way.”

“They never saw a thing.” She tossed him the phone. “That was one good thing about the empath college being in Otherworld.”

The door opened and Feehan came back in with Ms. Phelps.

“What did you think of the patient?”

“Well something’s not right, is it?” Ella slid off the side of the desk. “We’re going to talk to his ex-girlfriend and visit the last bar he was in.”

Feehan hesitated. “Ms. Phelps has a request.”

“What’s that?” Ella turned to face the administrator, who’d taken up her original position behind her desk.

“Brad Dailey’s grandfather is a retired senator for the state of Michigan.”

“So?”

“His father has political aspirations too. The family has requested that the information about Brad is kept between the hospital, the Dailey family and the SBLE.”

Ella cast a sidelong look at Vadim. “Like we’d gossip to the media about a case.”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t, Ms. Walsh, but we’d just like to make certain we’re all on the same page. Brad’s parents are flying in later today to see him.”

“Do you think that’s advisable?” Feehan followed Vadim to the door. “If he’s obviously unstable, that might complicate things.”

“We’ll make sure he’s sedated.” Ms. Phelps stood too. “I hope to hear from you as soon as possible.”

“We’ll do our best.” Feehan held open the door for Ella and Vadim and closed it behind him. “She seems like a nice woman.”

“For someone who’s desperately trying to protect her ass. She’s got an influential political family breathing down her neck, which might affect future hospital funding,
and
she’s got to stop any stories leaking to the media about Brad’s stolen face.” Ella turned to Feehan. “I bet she’ll have Brad sedated. She won’t want him talking about any of this.”

She walked right into Vadim, who had stopped in the middle of the hallway. Feehan kept moving. “What’s up?”

“I think I’ll go back and see Brad and make absolutely certain he won’t wake up and scare his parents.”

“You can do that?”

He smiled. “Haven’t you ever heard of Fae who can make humans sleep a thousand years?” He turned toward Brad’s room. “Don’t worry, I can bring him out of it too. I’ll meet you in the parking lot.”