THE MEDUSA FILES: CASE 2
Heart of Stone
Some things are more dangerous than monsters.
Much to Morgan Jacobs’ relief, she isn’t crazy; the world is. Monsters of myth are real and she’s one of them. With only a tenuous hold on her new gorgon abilities and with some of those monsters—the Kin—trying to kill her, Morgan’s best bet is to move in with the mysterious Alexander Gage and his Kin team. Except she doesn’t know if she can trust him, or herself for that matter when he’s around. But when a young Kin woman is murdered with magic, Morgan must put aside her fear of her powers and face something more dangerous than just monsters: her emotions.
The body lay at the end of the alley in a pile of garbage bags. Crime scene technicians, the medical examiner, and police officers swarmed the area in what Morgan could only hope—for the victim’s sake—was organized chaos. She sat in the back of Lachlin’s new SUV, parked across the street, waiting.
For what… she didn’t know. She’d been in Gage’s library, almost finished the second volume in the encyclopedia set on Kin—not that she’d remember half of what she’d read—when Gage had knocked on the doorframe and told her to grab her U.S. Marshal’s identification. They had a call. Whatever that meant.
Now they were at the edge of the business district, parked at the side of the road across from the alley, waiting. She hated waiting. It was just after lunch but the patio of the restaurant beside the alley was packed with onlookers. So, too, was the front step of the warehouse-turned-fabric-shop on the other side, keeping the few uniformed officers instructed to preserve the crime scene busy.
“So what’s the deal?” She pushed a wild curl from her face, the movement drawing a dull ache from her ribs. Seven days ago, when everything had changed and she’d learned she was a monster of myth, her ribs had been broken. Now, they were barely cracked, thanks to a flighty woman—literally, she had gossamer wings—who’d been laying her healing hands on everyone on the team.
Gage glanced back at her from the front passenger seat. A set of three red scars ran across his cheek, accentuating the hard lines of his face. His dark eyes captured hers for a heartbeat, even through her sunglasses, sparking a shiver of attraction.
She drew in a steadying breath, but his heady scent of musk and mint filled the SUV, wrapping around her senses. Really, it was the April sun warming the inside of the dark vehicle and nothing else.
But boy, would she like to do some laying-on-of-hands with someone.
She shoved that thought aside. It was entirely inappropriate, particularly since she didn’t really know anything about Alexander Gage, FBI, or anyone else on the team, regardless that she was now living with them on their small estate in Old Town. Man of Mystery didn’t even begin to sum it up.
Their conversations—hell, her conversations with everyone—so far had been brief. There were times when she felt she was alone in that big house. Gage had said something about giving her space and time to adjust, and everyone had respected that and avoided her. Or were they avoiding the inevitable conversations about how dangerous her new powers were and the mother she’d inherited them from?
Perhaps this invitation out was Gage’s way of saying he was ready to talk.
She adjusted her shades and turned her attention back to the alley. “You said we had a call?”
“Routine procedure. I thought it would be a good introduction to what the team does,” Gage said.
Lachlin, who’d been surprisingly quiet in the driver’s seat, snorted. “Because we need three people to confirm a corpse. You could have taken this one yourself.”
There was the Lachlin she’d first met. Arrogant, confident, always ready to question Gage, and oozing bad-boy sex. If Gage was the marine, Lachlin was the high-end art thief.
“Right now, no one does a job solo. Not even a routine procedure.” Gage brought his phone to life. “Looks like Rika has emailed the particulars so far.” He pulled up a mug shot and scrolled to the next page. “Our victim is Scarlet Worley. She’s a sylph and therefore Kin, which means we need to follow up on her death.”
“You follow up on every Kin death?” Morgan shifted. She’d been sitting too long. She needed to get up, stretch her legs. The urge to move, which had been building for days now, was apparently a side effect of being a gorgon. Something else she was just going to have to get used to.
“We always follow up to determine if a death, particularly a murder, is Kin-related,” Gage said. “If it is, we take it from the police.”
“Since they can’t handle the truth.” Lachlin chuckled.
More like they couldn’t remember the truth with the Kin’s magical glamour making it impossible for non-Kin to remember anything Kin-related.
“Scarlet has a handful of prostitution priors so this is likely just the result of bad choices.” Gage slid his phone back into his pocket. “We’ll wait until the medical examiner has taken the body then check in with the crime scene unit.”
“But most importantly, we’ll wait for Detective Wright to vacate the premises,” Lachlin said.
“If you’d rather we didn’t, we can go now.” Gage reached for the door handle.
“No.” Lachlin shrugged and tucked a strand of black hair behind a pointed ear. It wavered and turned into a blunted, human one. “Why waste the energy.”
Morgan glanced at Gage, but his image remained the same. Dark, short-cut hair, strong jaw, normal ears. If he had a glamour hiding his true appearance, she had yet to see past it like Lachlin’s. “I haven’t even been around for a week and even I know eventually you boys are going to need to figure out what to do about Wright.”
“But now is not the case.” Gage twisted the silver ring on his right index finger.
Lachlin rolled his eyes. “This isn’t even a case. No doubt Scarlet’s less-than-desirable lifestyle ended with an entirely human demise.”
“Wow, great investigation techniques. Glad to know the assumption is alive and well.” Not that Lachlin probably wasn’t far off. People who lived hard lifestyles often died by them.
“The snake charmer has already figured everything out. Why am I here again?” Lachlin asked.
“Because I live to make your life miserable,” Gage said.
Detective Wright got into his two-toned brown station wagon and drove away. The medical examiner packed up the body and headed out, and most of the police dispersed, leaving the crime scene technicians to their job.
Gage got out of the car. Morgan and Lachlin followed.
“Most of the crime scene unit is familiar with us.” Gage straightened his black leather jacket.
“So it’s just Wright Lachlin is afraid of?” Morgan asked, unable to resist the jab.
“Oh, Kitten, try a little harder next time.” Lachlin flipped waist-length hair over his shoulder and marched across the street, leaving them on the curb. His hair shortened to shoulder-length as she watched, then lengthened again. God, she was never going to get used to that.
The traffic light at the other end of the street turned green. Half a dozen cars headed their way and she and Gage lost their opportunity to cross with Lachlin.
“We’ve been working with the crime scene unit for a couple of years now,” Gage said. “They’re used to us. But Wright transferred from Chicago six months ago and the relationship we have with the police is a delicate one, slowly built on trust.”
Morgan glanced at Gage over the top of her sunglasses. It was a dangerous move since the sunglasses helped to keep her unwanted ability to turn people to stone at bay—or at least that was the theory—but she couldn’t help herself. “Did you just say trust? Everything you tell the police is a lie.”
“We tell them what they’ll remember. Trust me, it hasn’t been easy trying to figure out what the glamour will change in their minds and what it won’t.” The traffic cleared, and Gage and Morgan crossed the street, heading to the alley. “It’s easier to work with people on an ongoing basis if Lachlin hasn’t charmed them stupid with his magic.”
As if hearing his name, Lachlin glanced up from his conversation with one of the crime scene technicians and rolled his eyes at them. They stood at the mouth of the alley, their body language casual, as if what lay beyond the threshold from street to alley wasn’t there. Lachlin was one of the first things Morgan had looked up in the encyclopedia. Gage had said Lachlin was Fae, but the entry hadn’t been helpful at all.
Fae had a variety of abilities and not all Fae had them: magically charm—usually humans although a rare few could even charm fellow Kin—spellweaving, mind reading, body control, and soul control were just a few on a long list. She did know Lachlin could sense people around him and there was something about him that pulled at an irrational, primal part of herself—a part she was determined to ignore—but that was it. Anything else he could do was pure speculation.
The man he talked to wavered into a shaggy ape-like figure then flickered back to human. She couldn’t begin to imagine what type of Kin he was, but the very fact he was Kin might explain why Gage and his team had a good working relationship with the crime scene unit. The technician’s gaze landed on Morgan. His eyes widened and stayed big.
Wonderful. She couldn’t help but wonder if Gage had lied about her having snake hair.
She ran a hand over her mess of silver curls, which was already fighting the elastic she’d thrown around it. Without a doubt, stray curls had broken free of the ponytail and were sticking out in a wild halo. Really, she should just give up trying to tame it, just like she’d given up on trying to dye it—the damned locks resisted even that. But while she might now be a gorgon, she was still a girl and cared about how she looked.
She slid her gaze to Gage. Yep, she cared how she looked, damn it. And that was stupid, potentially dangerous, and still inappropriate. She really needed her friend Kate to set her up on a date or something. Anything to get her out and distract her.
“So what have we got, Nick?” Gage asked.
The technician, Nick, continued to stare.
“Deputy U.S. Marshal Jacobs,” she said, pulling out her badge—the one she wasn’t supposed to be using since she still wasn’t back on active duty—but perhaps if she spoke like a normal person, he’d start acting like a normal… whatever he was.
Nick blinked. She raised an eyebrow.
“I believe Special Agent Gage asked you a question,” she said.
“Jeez.” Lachlin shook his head and strolled deeper into the alley, where the body had been.
Gage cleared his throat. “Nick?”
Nick shook himself. Hair bristled on his face then sucked back, hidden by his glamour. “Yes. Right. Pleasure to meet you, Marshal.” He started to hold out his hand, hesitated, then let it drop and turned his attention to Gage. “The victim was stabbed with a large blade, maybe a chef’s knife or something. Once in the heart, and all the way through. Her purse is missing and so is any jewelry she might have been wearing. We IDed her from her fingerprints and she’s in the system for prostitution.”
“So a mugging gone wrong?” Morgan asked.
“That would be my assessment,” Nick said without looking at her. “Looks like the normal human kind of monster. I’ll send my guys for coffee and wait by the van. You can have the alley for the next twenty minutes or so.”
“Thank you.” Gage headed deeper into the alley and Morgan followed.
“So that’s it?” she asked.
“Pretty much. We need to check the scene for any residual magic, since Nick is a sasquatch and not attuned to it, and the rest of his team are human, but that’s about it.”
“So some Kin can sense magic and others can’t?” She’d just assumed that because Kin were magical creatures they could sense magic—even if she wasn’t entirely sure what magic was.
“Not all are attuned to it. If you weren’t half human, you’d be able to detect just about everything.”
“But I am half human. Which means—?”
He turned his dark, bottomless gaze on her and held her captive for a second. Then he blinked, releasing her. So many mysteries with this guy. “I have no idea if you’ll be able to detect anything or not.”
“And if I do, what will it look like?”
“It differs from person to person. Some feel it like a breeze across their skin. Some see it like light flickering at the edge of their vision. It all depends.”
“Wonderful. So we won’t really know if I can sense magic and how until it happens. If it happens.” Why couldn’t there just be someone who knew all the answers about her and could just tell her what was what. While her powers hadn’t gone crazy since fighting off the smoke demon who’d kidnapped Kate, Morgan didn’t doubt it was because she’d been nice and quiet and relatively unstressed for the last seven days. But there was always the risk heat would burn across her eyes and she’d turn everything she looked at to stone.
As if summoned by her fear, a hint of heat licked around her eyes. She sucked in a calming breath and focused on the black graffiti on the alley wall. Last time she’d lost control, she’d killed a man and almost killed Gage. She never wanted to do that again.
The heat cooled. Nothing turned to stone and crumbled. One point for her. Now all she had to do was get through the rest of her life like this.
Garbage littered the alley, still wet from the showers earlier in the week. Halfway down, by a heavy back door, stood a dumpster, its dark green paint scored and flecked. It had all started four months ago in an alley just like this.
The memory of the man who’d started it all flashed into her mind’s eye. He’d slammed her head against a dumpster and rammed his knife into her chest.
She fought to blink back the memory, but it filled her, running its horrifying course.
His face had cracked. His cheek had slid free and shattered on the asphalt. He’d turned to stone and crumbled.
And now she knew turning to stone had been agonizing.
Sweat slicked her palms and the back of her neck, and her breath burned through her too-tight throat. She’d killed him. Slowly. Painfully. She was a monster. An honest-to-goodness monster of myth. Oh God.
Her legs trembled—her whole body shook. She was going to go crazy. She already was. It was impossible. Not real.
She knelt and pressed a palm to the asphalt, focusing on its bite into her skin.
That was real.
She was real.
This new reality was real, too. She’d been handling it just fine for the last week.
It had been easy to accept it when her and Kate’s lives had been threatened. It had been easy in the quiet of Gage’s library or the strange emptiness of her new room. She’d been separated from the rest of the world, in a bubble where nothing else mattered.
But here, with the heavy reek of rotting food and urine pressing around her and reminding her of how it had all started, she couldn’t remain detached. Lachlin had said she was going to lose her mind, that she couldn’t handle this.
And she’d be damned if she proved Lachlin right.
She drew in a steadying breath and twisted her palm against the asphalt, focusing on the pain, on her body, on being solid within herself. Lachlin had been waiting for her head to explode since the moment she’d arrived at Gage’s house. She could just imagine his smug expression when he realized she’d broken down. That was a pleasure he wasn’t going to have.
Gage’s scuffed boot toe stepped into sight beside her hand. “You all right?”
“Yep.” Even if the only thing holding her together at the moment was her force of will, her clenched teeth, and her determination not to give Lachlin any satisfaction. “Just ah… just looking and feeling for signs of magic.”
“It’s rare for half-breeds to sense it,” Lachlin said from deeper down the alley. “I doubt you can.”
Asshole. “Well, maybe I can.”
He laughed as if she’d just said the most ridiculous thing in the world. “Not likely.”
She flipped him off, but he wasn’t looking at her and missed it.
Gage crouched beside her, his shoulder brushing hers, sending a shiver of attraction over her. “It happened in that alley, didn’t it? The one where you were stabbed four months ago. That was the first time your powers manifested.”
The scar above her heart ached. “I’m fine.”
She stared at his boot toe, her nerves alight at how close he was. If she shifted just a fraction, their shoulders would brush again… or their thighs.
She clamped down on that thought and peeked at him from the corner of her eye. He stared at her, the depths of his dark eyes promising comfort, stillness. And more? Her hormones certainly wanted there to be more.
Boy, she was a mess. She jerked her attention to the dumpster a few feet away and something flickered. What the hell? Now she was just seeing things… fine, now she was seeing more things to add to the strange things she’d started seeing four months ago.
“Morgan,” he said, his voice soft.
“I’m fine. Let’s finish up here.”
“Sure.” He straightened and she focused on his boots again. They hesitated for a second, as if he had more to say, but she wasn’t going to look up to find out. Sure, on a better day without her desire racing through her, she would be stronger than this. But she had to live with the man and she had no idea if she could trust him. He’d already lied to her about the Kin who wanted her dead. What else was he lying about?
Although perhaps this invitation out was a peace offering. It proved he wanted her on his team. But was that because he thought she’d be a good addition or because he was one of those Kin who wanted to use and control her?
No, giving in to her urges would just make an already complicated situation more complicated.
“Almost done here?” Gage asked, his boots heading deeper into the alley toward Lachlin.
“You can sense magic, too,” Lachlin said. “You tell me.”
And the axis of her new, topsy-turvy universe righted… at least for the moment.
If things kept up this way, she wasn’t going to be able to stay long at Gage’s house. That was a disaster waiting to happen. But her reasons for moving in with Gage and his team hadn’t changed. She still had no idea about this new order to the world with monsters and fairy tales. And she had no idea who she was, who her biological mother was—the source of her unwanted powers—or how to control her abilities. If she stayed with Gage, she’d be safe, relatively speaking, and others would be safe from her, but would she be safe from herself?
She glanced back at the dumpster, determined not to let her memories overwhelm her. The flicker happened again, behind and under it.
There was something there. A piece of metal catching the sunlight? Except the early afternoon sun didn’t reach this far into the alley.
She knelt and pushed aside some waterlogged newspapers—she was not going to think about what was on what she’d just touched. There, just under the edge of the dumpster, was a small silver box. It shimmered with a white halo, sparkling like a diamond in sunlight. About the size of her palm, the box had intricate Celtic-like symbols swirling over its visible sides into a mesmerizing infinity.
She grabbed a glove from the inside pocket of her new jacket—the old one hadn’t survived the fight with the smoke demon—and picked it up. “I think I found something.”
Gage jerked his head up. “Don’t touch—”
Light exploded around them.