THE MEDUSA FILES: CASE 1
Written in Stone
The monsters of myth are real and she’s just discovered she's one of them.
Every instinct U.S. Marshal Morgan Jacobs has screams she’s dangerous. And all logic says she’s crazy. She couldn’t have turned that man to stone with her gaze. That’s impossible. Except she has no other explanation for what she remembers about that night or how she got away from him four months ago. And when her friend is kidnapped, Morgan must partner with the mysterious FBI agent Alexander Gage and face the truth... monsters are real.
Every time Morgan closed her eyes she watched the man turn to dust. His face had frozen in terror, his mouth opened in a silent scream, and his skin turned grey and coarse. Their gazes had locked and an intense rage had burned across her eyes, setting her face on fire. Cracks had shot through the man’s cheeks. They raced to his temples, fracturing into a spider’s web. His hand on her jaw hardened and cracked. One finger broke off, then another. With a snap, his cheek slid free, shattering on the ground beside her head.
She had struggled against his grip, desperate to stop the inferno in her eyes, desperate to get him off her. But his weight was enormous, his flesh heavy as solid stone. His wrist cracked, and she shoved him aside. He hit the garbage-strewn asphalt. His head slammed against the dumpster and shattered. Pieces snapped apart, crumbling, until all that remained was dust.
Morgan pressed her palm to her chest where the man’s knife had plunged, barely missing her heart. It had been four months, the scar was still raw, and when she closed her eyes and saw him die again, it ached, a burning reminder of the impossible.
She pushed a wild lock of silver hair from her eyes—the bane of her existence ever since she’d realized as a little girl she wasn’t supposed to have grey hair and discovered it wouldn’t stay dyed. She dragged her attention across her apartment building’s lobby to the dark street outside. Beyond the glass, light reflected in the puddles on the road and sidewalk. At one in the morning, the street was quiet, her chance of running into anyone, slim. She stepped toward the door. Perhaps it was safe to venture out.
And yet, no matter how many times she told herself it was, she still closed her eyes and watched that man impossibly turn to stone. Even just thinking about him made her eyes burn. She couldn’t risk making eye contact and—
God, she couldn’t risk that.
When she’d been released from the hospital, she’d tried to pretend it hadn’t happened, that everything was normal. Except every time she looked someone in the eye, a spark blossomed and the fire threatened to consume her, something that had never happened before that terrible night. She’d locked herself in her apartment, working out relentlessly to keep at bay her fear and frustration, and pacing the too-small rooms like a caged animal.
She was a caged animal. She even went so far as picking up her mail at midnight to avoid meeting anyone and ordering her groceries online, having only the briefest contact with the delivery guy—she could at least avoid looking him in the eye for the thirty seconds it took to answer the door, take the bag, and say thank you.
But no more than that. Every fiber within her being screamed she was dangerous, regardless that she didn’t know how or why.
It had happened… It couldn’t have happened…
It had to have been the shock of having her head bashed against that dumpster and being stabbed. That was what had made her imagine it and made her imagine the fiery sensation in the days that had followed. She hadn’t noticed the burn in at least a month. Maybe it really was her imagination.
Yet she couldn’t shake the feeling it had been real and she was dangerous.
Her neighbor stepped into sight, his collar turned up against the April drizzle. He grabbed the handle to the outside door, his gaze meeting hers through the glass. His image wavered. Horns shot from his head, and his nose and jaw morphed into a goat’s.
She jerked back.
Her neighbor frowned and opened the door. The image of her attacker turning to stone flashed through Morgan’s head, and fire itched around her eyes. She yanked her attention to her mailbox and fumbled with her keys for the smallest one on the ring.
“You’re up late, or early.” Her neighbor chuckled, a rich sound edged with a hint of nerves. “Or whatever it is.”
“Yeah.” She bobbed her head, focusing on her keys, trying to blink away the fire. She shouldn’t have read that extra chapter in her novel and put herself off schedule. She should have picked up the mail when she usually did. Please just leave. She was dangerous. At the very least, crazy. Just go away.
“Thought you were a ghost. Haven’t heard a peep from you since you moved in, what? Four months ago?” He stepped close and slid his key into the lock beside hers. “Did the landlord tell you I work nights and you have to be quiet?”
He inched closer to reach inside his mailbox, and she fought the urge to shy away. She was not going to be some simpering weakling and fear human contact, although she was still in her yoga sweats and hadn’t washed her hair today. In this case, it might be polite to back off.
“I suppose with you up at this hour, you probably work nights as well.”
“Unhunh.” She didn’t work at any time, not since the attack. That, however, was going to have to change soon since her savings were running out. But she just couldn’t go back to work, not when reading people and searching their eyes for the truth was such an important part of her job.
Her neighbor locked his box and stepped away—thank God. “Well, see you around.”
“See you.” She offered a smile, but doubted he saw it, and she wasn’t going to look to check if he had. She pressed her forehead against the cool wall of mailbox doors and squeezed her eyes shut. Money was running out, but she was still feeling the fire, and now she was seeing things.
Her attacker crumbling to dust flooded her mind’s eye.
She struggled to focus on the lock an inch from her nose. There had to be something she could do that involved working from home. That was best for everyone. Maybe she could be an analyst at the marshal’s office, or a researcher, or something.
This was ridiculous. She wasn’t dangerous. No one could kill someone with just a look. The sensation of fire was psychosomatic—and she wasn’t just psycho.
With a twist, she unlocked her mailbox and pulled out half a dozen regular-sized envelopes, likely bills, and one large brown envelope. That had to be paperwork from the office. Her boss’s not-so-subtle way of telling her it was time to come back to work.
“Deputy Marshal Jacobs?”
She jumped and glanced at the man who’d snuck up on her—not that he’d likely done it on purpose; she just hadn’t been paying attention.
His black leather jacket hung open, revealing a black T-shirt straining against a broad well-muscled chest, and his brush-cut dark hair accentuated the chiseled lines of his cheeks and jaw. He raised an eyebrow, drawing her to bottomless brown eyes.
Her pulse pounded and her breath caught in her throat. She could drown in those eyes, spend an eternity examining their depths and never know all the secrets they kept.
“Deputy Marshal Morgan Jacobs?”
Shit. She’d been staring in his eyes. She jerked her attention to her mailbox. “Who wants to know?”
“The local office said you were here.” He leaned against the mailbox doors. His scent enveloped her, a heady mix of musk and mint and all male. She bet his breath was the mint. That made her think of his lips and what they’d feel like under hers. And how terrible she must look with her untamed curls, no makeup, and—
Oh man, she really needed to get out.
She snapped her mailbox closed. “And you just assumed I was Jacobs?”
“You did open her mailbox.” He tapped the apartment number engraved on the door beside her hand.
“Maybe I’m just a helpful neighbor.”
“Getting the mail at one in the morning?”
She fought the urge to look at him. She was certain he had a smug smile, and she’d love to wipe it off—or kiss it off—his lips.
Wow, she really did need to get out.
Except going out meant risking she really was dangerous or crazy or both. She’d hallucinated when she’d looked at her neighbor. What made her think her broken mind wasn’t playing tricks on her now with this guy?
“Listen, I also looked at your file. Not a bad picture, I might say.”
Wonderful, so the man knew she was on medical leave and likely a nutbar.
“I’d like your consultation on a case.”
“I’m not a marshal anymore.” It hurt to say it, but it was true, and she was just going to have to live with it. She’d figure something out. She always did.
“This is time sensitive.”
“Aren’t they always.” She’d been with Fugitive Operations for the United States Marshals Service and almost everything there was time sensitive. The thrill of the hunt was one of the things she’d loved about the job, but she wasn’t anything special. There were dozens more marshals like her and there would be dozens more. “I’m sure, Marshal…”
“Gage. Alexander Gage. And it’s not marshal.”
“I’m sure, Mr. Gage, the office can put you in touch with someone more appropriate.” She fought the urge to glance at him, or breathe in anymore of his heady scent—she wasn’t going to ponder how a non-marshal had gotten a look at her file, or what that might mean about who he really was—and turned to the stairs. No way in hell was she waiting for the elevator.
He grabbed her wrist, stopping her. “Please. This is important.”
“I’m sorry you’ve wasted your time.” She tugged against his grip, but he held tight.
“If you’d just come with me.”
“I don’t think so.” Who the hell was he to boss her around? She tugged harder. There was no way she was going with him, no matter how much she wanted to step out those doors. She just couldn’t risk it. Maybe if he saw she was crazy and dangerous and who-knew-what else, he’d back off.
She lifted her gaze. Just a fraction. But heat flooded her face and eyes, and her pulse raced. What was she doing? She couldn’t look at him, couldn’t risk being right.
But God, she couldn’t be right. That was impossible.
She jerked her attention back to the envelopes now trembling in her hands. Some marshal she was. “I can’t help you.”
“You don’t understand.”
She wrenched her arm free. “No, you don’t understand. I can’t help you.” She stepped toward the stairs and the world exploded.
The sound roared over her and the force of the blow shoved her forward, bashing her shins against the first step. Glass and stone flew past, biting her back and legs and arms. Dust filled the air, dancing around her head in the twisting light and shadow.
Ears ringing, she dragged herself around. She reached for the gun at her belt that wasn’t there, her brain stuttering, as insanity stepped into the lobby.
A monstrous man towered above Gage. Flecks of rain on his bare chest and arms caught the wildly swinging light above him, accentuating grey, coarse skin. Behind him, the lobby doors were a wreck of crumpled steel, shattered brick, and shards of glass, as if a truck had plowed through it.
Morgan struggled to breathe. This was not happening. It was impossible. She had to be hallucinating. But the monster snarled and the muscles in its thick arms bunched. It hefted an enormous hammer and swung at Gage.
Gage ducked. The hammer slammed into the mailboxes with a boom. Metal squealed and bent, and doors flew open.
Morgan ground her teeth. It had to be a normal man. It had to. Her mind was transforming him into a monster—just like the flash of her neighbor moments before. But the vision didn’t fade. He whirled toward her, turning inhuman yellow eyes on her, and curled back his lips, revealing large pointy teeth.
Just a man.
“Back off.” Gage pointed his gun at the man… monster.
He growled. “That isn’t going to stop me.”
Gage fired. The man-monster jerked but didn’t fall. He swung the hammer toward her.
She threw herself to the side, against the metal railing. The hammer crashed into the stairs beside her.
Another two bangs exploded from Gage’s gun. Man-monster roared. Blood oozed from three holes in his chest, but he looked more mad than anything else.
He swung again and Morgan scrambled back. The hammer crashed into the railing, ripping it from the stairs.
Gage fired another shot. With a jerk, faster than Morgan thought possible for someone his size, the man-monster tossed his hammer at Gage. It grazed Gage’s shoulder, whirling him into the broken mailboxes. His head cracked against a metal door, he sagged, and his gun dropped from his limp hands.
Morgan seized Man-monster’s wrist to wrench it around and lock it behind his back, but he twisted and grabbed the front of her shirt. He hauled her up and shoved her into the wall.
Her breath burst from her lungs and her head slammed against the wall. The man-monster’s face wavered. In its place was a normal human face. Square and meaty with a day’s worth of stubble on his cheeks and shaved head.
He clasped his other hand around her neck, hefted her, and smashed her into the wall again. She couldn’t catch her breath. Her vision blurred and the monster with yellow eyes and fangs leapt back into sight.
She clawed at his hand. It tightened around her neck and he flashed his fangs at her again. Her lungs burned. Specks danced around her vision. She twisted and kicked him in the groin, drawing a chuckle.
He pressed his enormous weight against her. “Now you’re just flirting.”
“Fuck you,” she said and punched him in the eye.
He staggered back but didn’t release his grip. The destroyed lobby twisted in and out of focus.
She swung again, but he jerked back, his arms longer than hers. She dug her nails into his hands, trying to pry his fingers free, but her arms and legs grew heavy, too heavy to fight.
Everything slowed. Her heart, the swinging lamp above them, even the man-monster.
From a great distance away something clicked.
Gage pointed his gun inches from Man-monster’s head. Man-monster’s eyes widened and the world exploded in a cloud of red mist.
The foyer careened to the side and she hit the floor, still staring into Man-monster’s yellow eyes as blackness swept over her.