It made Raef want to puke. The instant he felt sick, actually felt his own feelings again, it was like turning off a light switch. The rope disappeared, along with the telescope and the vision of Brandon’s house, leaving Raef back in the very painful, very embarrassing present.
Raef opened his eyes and said the first thing that popped into his head. “How can you blame your mom for your dad being so mean?”
Brandon’s body got real still. It was like he quit breathing. Then his face turned beet-red and he shouted down at Raef, spit raining from his mouth. “What did you just say about my mom?”
Raef often wondered why the hell he hadn’t just shut up. Got up. And run away. Instead, like a moron, he’d said, “Your dad picks on your mom like you pick on girls. I know ‘cause I just saw it. Inside my head. Somehow. I don’t know how, though.” Raef had paused, thought for a second and then added, trying to figure it out aloud, “Your dad was calling your mom an ugly, stupid bitch last night. You watched him.”
Then the weird got, like, weird squared because Brandon reacted as if Raef had all of a sudden grown two feet, gained a hundred pounds and punched him in the gut. The big kid looked sick, scared even, and started backing away, but before he turned and sprinted down the street, he yelled the words that would cling to Raef for the rest of his life. “I know what you are! You’re worse than a nigger, worse than a creeper. You’re a Psy—a fucking freak. Stay the hell away from me!”
Oh, shit. It was true. No way … no way …
Raef had sat there, bloody, confused and—embarrassingly enough—bawling, while his best friend called his name over and over, trying to get him to snap out of it. “Raef! Raef! Raef …”
“Mr. Raef? Raef? Are you there, sir?”
Coming back to the present, Raef shook himself, mentally and physically, and picked up the phone, punching the intercom button off. “Yeah, Preston, what is it?”
“Mr. Raef, your zero-nine-hundred appointment is here, thirty minutes early.”
Raef cleared his throat and said, “You know, Preston, it’s a damn shame my Gift doesn’t include predicting the future, or I’d have known that and been ready for her.”
“Yes, sir, but then I would probably be out of a job,” Preston retorted with his usual dry humor.
Raef chuckled. “Nah, there’d still be all that filing to do.”
“It’s what I live for, sir.”
“Glad to hear it. Okay, give me five and send her in.”
“Of course, Mr. Raef. Then I’ll get back to my filing.”
Raef blew out a breath, grabbed his half-empty coffee mug and stalked over to the long credenza that sat against the far wall of his spacious office. He topped off the coffee and then stood there, unmoving, staring out the window. Not that he was actually seeing the excellent view of Tulsa’s skyline on this crisp fall day. Kent Raef was trying to scratch the weird itch that had been tickling his mind all morning.
What the hell was wrong with him? Why the walk down memory lane this morning? God, he hated the thought of that day—hated remembering that scared, crying kid he’d been. He’d just wanted to be shortstop for his team, and try to fit in with everyone else. Instead, he’d been a psychic. The only one in his class. Norms didn’t react so well to a Psy—especially not a nine-year-old Psy that could Track violent emotions, no matter how supportive his parents had been—no matter how cool it had been when the USAF Special Forces had recruited him. Raef hated remembering those years and the pain in the ass it had been learning to deal with his Gift and the way asshole Norms reacted to it.
It made him feel like shit to go back there—to revisit those memories. Today it also made him feel kinda shaky, kinda strange. If he didn’t know better he’d think he was picking up emotions from someone—soft emotions, like yearning and desire, overshadowed by a deep melancholy.
“Shit, Raef, get it together,” he grunted to himself. He did know better. Soft emotions? He snorted. His psychic powers didn’t work that way—didn’t ever work that way. A pissed-off jerk who took out his problems by kicking his dog was the softest Psy Tracking he’d ever picked up. “I need to get a life,” he muttered as he returned to his desk and sat down, just in time for the single knock on the door. “Yeah, come in,” he snapped.
The door opened, and his secretary, Preston, announced, “Mrs. Wilcox to see you, Mr. Raef.”
Raef automatically stood as the tall blonde entered his office. He held out his hand to her, and ignored the fact that she hesitated well into the realm of rudeness before she shook it. A lot of Norms didn’t like to be touched by his kind, but she had come to him, not the other way around, and so she was going to have to play by his rules. On his team, a handshake was nonnegotiable.
Of course, her hesitation might be due to the fact that his skin was too brown for her liking—she did have the look of one of those fiftysomething, old-oil-money cougars who were convinced that their shit didn’t stink, and that the only reason God made anyone with skin a darker shade than lily-white was because of the unfortunate but unavoidable need for menial laborers.
“Constance Wilcox,” she said, finally taking his hand in a grip that was surprisingly firm. He recognized the name as belonging to one of Tulsa society’s elite, though he definitely didn’t move in those circles.
“Kent Raef. Coffee, Mrs. Wilcox?”
She shook her head with a curt motion. “No, thank you, Mr. Raef.”
“All right. Please have a seat.” Raef waited for her to settle into one of the straight-backed leather chairs in front of his wide desk before he sat. He didn’t particularly like the fact that he’d had old-world gentleman programmed into his genes, but some habits were just not worth the effort it took to break them.
“What can I do for you, Mrs. Wilcox?”
“Don’t you already know that?”
He tried not to let his annoyance show. “Mrs. Wilcox, I’m sure my secretary explained that I wouldn’t be Reading you. That’s now how my Gift works. So, relax. There’s no reason for you to be nervous around me.”
“If you can’t read my mind, how do you know that I need to relax and that I’m nervous?”
“Mrs. Wilcox, you’re sitting ramrod straight and you’ve got your hands so tightly laced together that your fingers are white. It doesn’t take a psychic to tell that you’re tense and that your nerves are on edge. Anyone with half a brain and moderate powers of observation could deduce that. Besides that, my Gift deals with the darker side of the paranormal. People don’t come to me to find lost puppies or communicate with the ghost of Elvis. People come to me because bad things have happened to them or around them, and bad things happening in a person’s life tend to make him or her—” he tipped his head to her in a slight nod “—nervous and tense.”
She glanced down at her clasped hands and made a visible effort to relax them. Then she looked back at him. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m not comfortable with this.”
“This?” No, hell, no. He wasn’t going to make it any easier for her. Not this morning. Not when it felt like something was trying to crawl under his skin. He was fucking sick and tired of dealing with people who hired psychics from After Moonrise, but acted as if they’d find it more desirable to work side by side with someone who was unclogging their backed-up septic tank—by hand.
“Death.” She said the word so softly Raef almost didn’t hear her.
He blinked in surprise. So, it wasn’t the psychic part that had her acting like an ice queen—it was the dead part. That was easier for him to understand. Death, specifically murder, was his job. But that didn’t mean he liked it, either.