Authors: Charity Parkerson,Regina Puckett
Tags: #Paranormal romance
Seventh Level #1
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--Warning: This book is intended for readers over the age of 18.
Copyright © 2016 Charity Parkerson & Regina Puckett
Editor: Vicky Reese
Photographer: Konrad Bak
All rights reserved.
She died on this corner. It seemed strange it would be right here where she caught the bus each morning and evening. She couldn’t recall why she had been there at that exact time but it didn’t change the outcome. She was dead.
She had been brought up to believe things would be different when this day came. There would be light, trumpets…peace. Kylie had none of those things. Instead, she stood looking down at her lifeless body in shock.
Maybe this is what happens when you’re murdered.
That thought lingered on the outer rim of her disbelief.
“At least my nails still look good,” she said tilting her head to get a better look at the rounded pink tips she’d gotten done the day before. At her statement, the man hovering over her empty shell lifted her hand from the ground and inspected her nails.
“It doesn’t look as if she tried to defend herself.”
No shit Sherlock
, she thought with a roll of her eyes. She craned her neck attempting to get a better look at the man’s face. He was big and rugged looking, as if he hadn’t shaved in at least a week. The beginnings of a dark beard covered his chin but in a harsh contrast to his dark hair, his eyes were a light blue almost exactly the same shade as the sky. He was a sexy one she realized with a pang of regret for the life she had lost.
“Thank God I wore my good panties.”
He lifted her skirt. “Underwear’s still in place. She doesn’t appear to have been raped.”
“Put that down you dirty little bastard. Sheesh! Who is this guy?” He dropped the material and smoothed it down over her knees. It was a sad day when a girl ended up murdered on a street corner and couldn’t even hold onto her modesty afterward. Damn, why hadn’t someone as sexy as him wanted to check out her girly bits while she’d still been able to enjoy it? Typical.
Detective Liam Stone wasn’t sure why he tugged the dead girl’s skirt down past her knees. He’d needed to check. It was part of his job, but the moment he’d glanced underneath her dress, he’d felt like the lowest of perverts. Normally, he never thought twice about such things. She was dead, after all. However, there was something about this one. He didn’t want her lingerie shown to the public.
“Why would she have been on this corner?”
“A bus picks up here,” Mark, his longtime partner, replied.
Liam shook his head. He hated the thought of such a sweet looking girl catching the bus alone at night. This was the exact reason why. It wasn’t a high crime area but there were crazies in every town. All they needed was opportunity.
“Find out who has this route and show her picture around. Let’s find out who she is.”
“Driver’s over there,” Mark called out, pointing to an elderly man wearing an RTA uniform. He stood at the edge of the police tape appearing almost bored until he realized Liam was heading in his direction. His shoulders squared and his jaw hardened as if he was preparing for the worst.
“Is it true then?” he asked as soon as Liam was within earshot. “Is Kylie dead?”
“We’re not sure, Mr.…” Liam rolled the examination gloves off his hands and stuffed them into his pocket.
The man pulled off his hat, tucked it under his arm and smoothed his hair flat before holding out his hand for Liam to shake. “Mr. Rogers,” he supplied. “And what do you mean you’re not sure?”
Liam accepted his hand for a quick shake before shoving his hands into his jacket pockets. He hated touching people. He had his reasons. He knew a head doctor would love to get hold of him, but he didn’t care for the living.
“Mr. Rogers, I’m Detective Stone. I say ‘we’re not sure’ because she doesn’t have any ID on her and she wasn’t carrying a purse. If I escorted you over, do you think you would be able to tell me if it is who you are looking for?”
The old man’s gaze shot past his shoulder before bouncing back to Liam’s face. Liam could tell he was nervous about seeing a dead person. That wasn’t unusual. Sometimes Liam had to remind himself he was the oddball, not the everyday citizen.
“Don’t worry. She looks as if she’s sleeping,” Liam reassured him.
“Okay then,” he said, popping his hat back on his head. Liam lifted the yellow tape allowing the man to skirt beneath and follow in Liam’s footsteps to the girl’s side.
A few feet from the body, Mr. Rogers slowed and inched forward. Liam watched his face closely studying his reaction. His jaw quivered before going tight, as if he’d locked his back teeth together. “That’s her. That’s Kylie Trace.”
Kylie Trace full of grace.
The whispered words floated through the air leaving a chill behind on Liam’s skin. His head whipped around as his eyes sought the owner of the voice and his heart notched up a few beats faster when a dark mist darted away from the body. When he had first turned, it looked as if the mist been hovering over the body, but it happened too fast to be certain of anything.
When he turned back around, Mr. Rogers was looking around as if trying to see what he thought was so important. Avoiding the man’s gaze, Liam pulled a small notebook and pen out of his shirt pocket. He flipped through the pages until he found a clean sheet of paper. He poised the pen above the blank slip before focusing on the older gentleman again. “Did you see what happened here?”
The bus driver tugged at the collar of his short-sleeved dress shirt and then wiped the sweat off his forehead. “I had just turned the bus onto St. Charles so my attention was focused on the car in front of me. They were stopped right in the middle of the intersection. I didn’t realize until a few seconds later the driver was looking over at somebody lying on the side of road.”
He pointed at his bus illegally parked on the other side of the street. “I pulled over and called 911. The operator told me to stay on the bus. She also said she was sending out an ambulance and the police.” He wrung his hands together and then wiped at his forehead again. “I didn’t begin to suspect it was Kylie laying there until after I made the call. I would have come over if I had known. Kylie shouldn’t have been over here by herself, not even in death. She’s a sweet girl and so thoughtful.” He sighed. “You have no idea how it is driving people around every day. They treat me as if I’m part of the bus and not a person. They’re always staring at their phones ignoring everything, but not Kylie. She always smiled and spoke every morning. Sometimes, when she had the money she brought me coffee. She was a true lady.”
Liam looked up from his notes. “What happened to the guy in the car that was stopped in the intersection? Didn’t he stay?”
Mr. Rogers looked around as if trying to spot the guy. “No. He must have driven off.”
Liam motioned toward the body. “What made you think it was her if you were still in your bus on the other side of the street?”
Mr. Rogers pointed down at the girl. “I recognize her blouse. I’ve never seen another one like it.”
Liam looked at the bright yellow sunflower designs. Not many women could have carried off wearing such an outlandish thing and look as beautiful as the dead woman did. She must have been a real character in life to walk around in public in such an outfit. The blouse and bright yellow flowing skirt would be hard to forget. He didn’t doubt the bus driver’s story about recognizing its owner from across the street.
If she weren’t dead, it would have been embarrassing to have two men scrutinizing her clothes as if trying to decide whether or not she had been crazy for wearing it. She loved happy colors. Her clothing made a statement to the world. It said “fuck you” to the business world or “pay no attention to the fat roll behind the flower”. Either thing worked for her.
It broke Kylie’s heart to see Mr. Rogers under so much stress and to know she was the reason for it. She had secretly adopted him to be her substitute grandfather the first day they met six months earlier when she had jumped on his bus. It had been her third day in a new apartment and the first night on a new job. She had been a nervous wreck thinking she had made a terrible mistake by revealing her true nature after so many years of trying to fit in. But Mr. Rogers had opened those bus doors and smiled at her as if they had known each other forever. That warm smile had given her hope when she had been at her lowest. That smile was the one thing she had waiting for every morning. It had given her courage in a friendless, despondent city.
Kylie was so focused on the older man she almost missed the ominous black mist hovering nearby. She looked around for help and then remembered she was dead. Damn. She scooted closer to the handsome detective out of pure instinct. It wasn’t until she was right next to him that she saw the mist shrink away from her. She touched her hand to the crook of the detective’s arm and the darkness dissipated completely. As an experiment, she moved a few feet away from the detective and the wind picked up. A few steps more and a humming began inside her head. For a moment, she thought thousands of cicadas were burrowing their way out from underground. Her chest tightened and her stomach heaved as smoke began to engulf her. Beating her way out of the haze, she nearly collapsed before she could reach Liam’s side again, but the closer she got to him, the more the air cleared. That was all the convincing she needed. She was sticking with him.
She looked at her savior and tried to figure out what it was about him. He was big, in a tall and muscular sort of way, but he seemed normal. If she were still alive, he would have been someone she would have been attracted to. Hell, she was dead and she was still fascinated by his features. None of that explained anything. She stared hard at his profile in an attempt to solve the puzzle but instead of making headway on her traumatic experience, she felt a girly sigh well up inside her. There was something extremely sexy about a military style haircut. For some reason she wanted nothing more than to run both hands over it.
She’d always been good at compartmentalizing. That’s how she would look at this. Things didn’t look good but obviously there was something about this man. She would stay with him until she figured it out. Her unusual life had given her an even stranger way of coping but death brought with it an odd sense of detachment. Seriously, she couldn’t concentrate on anything. She wanted to touch him in order to feel grounded but she also wanted to scream at being handed another round of bullshit to deal with.