Her smile was tight-lipped, but at least it was a smile. “That sounds reasonable, Mr. Raef.”
“So, you’re here because of a death.”
“Yes. I am also here because I don’t have anywhere else left to go,” she said.
He’d definitely heard that before, and it didn’t make him feel all warm and cuddly and saviorlike, as it would have made some of After Moonrise’s other psychics like Claire or Ami or even Stephen feel. Which made sense. They could sometimes save people. Raef only dealt with the aftermath of violence and murder. There was no damn salvation there.
“Then let’s get to it, Mrs. Wilcox.” He knew he sounded gruff, intimidating even. He meant to. It usually made things move faster.
“My daughter Lauren needs your help. She’s why I’m here.”
“Lauren was murdered?” Raef dropped the gruffness from his voice. Now he simply sounded clinical and detached, as if he was a lab technician discussing ways to deal with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. He picked up his pen, wrote and underlined Lauren at the top of a fresh legal pad, and then glanced back at Mrs. Wilcox, waiting semipatiently for the rest of the story.
She pressed her lips together into a tight line, clearly trying to hold in words too painful to speak. Then she drew a deep breath. “No, Lauren was not murdered. She is alive, but she’s not whole anymore. She’s only partially here. I need your help to restore her spirit.”
“Mrs. Wilcox, I think there has been a mistake made in scheduling. It sounds to me like you need to meet with another member of the After Moonrise team—one of our shamans who specialize in shattered souls. My powers only manifest if there is a murder involved.” He started to lift the phone to buzz Preston, but her next words made him hesitate.
“My daughter was murdered.”
“Mrs. Wilcox, you just said that Lauren is alive.”
“Lauren is alive. It’s her twin, Aubrey, who was murdered.”
Raef put down the phone. “One twin was murdered, and the other’s alive?”
“If you can call it that.” Her face was pale, her expression strained, but she was keeping herself from crying.
Despite his bad mood his interest stirred. A living twin and a murdered twin? He’d never encountered a murder case like that before.
“Mr. Raef, the situation is that one of my daughters was murdered three months ago. Since then my other daughter has become only a shell of herself. Lauren is haunted by Aubrey.”
Raef nodded. “It happens fairly often. When two people are very close—siblings, husband and wife, parent and child—and one of them dies or is murdered, the deceased’s spirit lingers.”
“Yes, I know,” she said impatiently. “Especially when the murder is unsolved.”
Raef sat up straighter. This was more like it. “Then you have come to the right psychic. I’ll need to be taken to the murder scene, and will also need to speak with Lauren. If her twin is haunting her, then I can probably make direct contact with Aubrey through Lauren and piece together what happened. Once the murder is solved, Aubrey should be able to rest peacefully.” He rubbed his forehead, wishing the uncomfortable feeling of yearning would get the hell out from under his skin. He was not that nine-year-old kid anymore. He was tough, competent, and he knew how to handle his shit.
“Yes, peace. That’s what I’m here to find. For both of my girls.”
“I’m going to try to help you, Mrs. Wilcox. You said Aubrey was killed three months ago? And the murder hasn’t been solved yet? It’s unusual that the forensic psychic wasn’t able to close this file.”
Her blue eyes iced over and the sadness that had been shadowing them was frozen out. “Is solving my daughter’s murder what you mean by closing this file?”
Damn! He’d actually said that aloud. What the hell was wrong with him? He might not have the graveside manner of someone like touchy-feely Stephen, but Raef usually showed more tact than offhandedly insulting an already upset client.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry that my wording seemed callous. I assure you that I am cognizant of, and sorry for, your loss.”
She continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “The reason Aubrey’s file wasn’t closed is because the police psychic couldn’t communicate with my daughter about the murder. Either one of them.”
Raef frowned. “That’s highly unusual, Mrs. Wilcox. Did you give legal permission for your daughter’s spirit to be questioned?”
“Of course,” she snapped. “But it’s not that simple with Aubrey and Lauren. It never has been.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t understand what—”
Her imperiously raised hand cut him off. “Perhaps it would be easier if I showed you.” Without waiting for Raef’s response or permission, she stood and walked quickly to the office door. Opening it she said, “You can come in now, Lauren.”
The woman who entered his office looked like a younger version of her mother—a leggy, twentysomething blonde with waves of platinum hair so light it was almost white. Her body was lusher than her mother’s, who had the appearance of too many carb-free years and maintenance liposuction. Lauren, on the other hand, looked like she might enjoy a burger and a beer once in a while. Scratch that—the expensive silk knit sweater and the designer slacks and shoes said she might enjoy a fillet, a fancied-up potato and some expensive red wine once in a while.
His gaze traveled from her curvy body to her gray-blue eyes, and he felt his own narrow in response to what he saw—emptiness. Her smoky eyes were as expressionless as her face.
Lauren stopped in front of his desk and stared blankly over his shoulder. Then there was a shimmering in the air around her, and a transparent duplicate of her materialized.
It was as Raef got to his feet to face this new apparition that it hit him like a punch in the gut. The ghost radiated waves of emotion—yearning, desire, loneliness, longing—emotions Raef had never picked up from another human being, dead or alive, since his psychic talent first manifested that day so many years ago.
He tried to throw up his mental barriers, the ones he used at murder scenes to successfully block out the lingering spirits and their terror and pain and anger, the only emotions he had, until now, ever been able to Read. But his barriers weren’t working. All he could do was stand there and be battered by the desire and longing that emanated from the ghost.
“Kent Raef?” The spirit’s voice drifted through his mind.
He cleared his throat before he answered, but his voice still sounded scratchy. “Yes. I’m Kent Raef.”
The spirit sighed with relief. “Finally!” She glanced at her twin. Lauren blinked, as if coming awake after a long sleep, and the ghost and the girl exchanged smiles. “Good job, sis.”
“You knew I’d figure it out eventually,” Lauren said.
“And you know it bothers me terribly when you speak to the air like that,” said Mrs. Wilcox.
“I can tell that corncob is still firmly inserted up your butt, Mother,” said the ghost.
Lauren coughed to cover a giggle, which was echoed by the ghost, who laughed out loud.
The laughter in the room raced across his body like static electricity, tingling and bringing all the nerve endings in his skin alive, totally disconcerting him.
Raef pulled his thoughts together. Ignore the emotions. You can figure out what the hell is going on with that later. Right now he just needed to do his job—solve the murder, put the spirit to rest, close the case file.