llie Russo halted her Camry at the massive gate to the Segue Institute. Two guards in some kind of body armor, their hands resting on automatic rifles strapped to their chests, took position in front of the car. Her tingle of anxiety grew to a full burn of near panic. She was officially here. The thick metal and concrete gate was twenty feet high, cutting into the heavy white fog of the morning. It extended off to both sides of the road, running along the perimeter of the grounds within. Segue was a fortress, a high-security prison. It was also her only hope for a normal life.
“Not even this place can hold me,” said her shadow from the passenger seat next to her.
“We’ll see about that,” Ellie replied. She’d have to talk to the men, of course, to get through the gate. The thought made her stomach tight—she didn’t get out often. Okay, she didn’t get out at all. What she wouldn’t give for a blanket to throw over her naked shadow twin, but the material would just go right through her dark self’s body. It was the same reason her shadow couldn’t wear clothes—she had no substance to hold them up. The least the woman could do was cross her arms over her breasts, but no, her dark half couldn’t be bothered.
Her shadow shrugged indifference, those breasts lifting and falling with a little careless jiggle. “Whatever you say.”
A third guard, similarly outfitted and armed, exited the mini bunker in front of the gate.
They sure looked prepared for anything. Good.
“Oh my,” said her shadow, “that one looks cute.”
Ellie powered her window down, cold air wafting in to disperse the heat inside the Camry, and smiled brightly at the guard. “I’m Eleanor Russo. I have an appointment with Dr. Kalamos at ten.”
The guard’s gaze flicked from her to her shadow, and then back to her again. She had to give him credit; the man didn’t even bat an eye. Her shadow’s matte, dusky grey nakedness got a reaction out of everyone.
No, wait . . . somebody must have signaled a problem because a fourth guard left the bunker and joined the others around the car. The two up front were moving, prowling to new positions. Ellie’s heartbeat kicked up, but she forced herself to stay calm and steady. She expected this.
“Our list has only one visitor,” the guard at her window said.
Here goes. Nothing but the truth. “We’re the same, though,” she explained. “I mean, she
me. She’s my shadow. Dr. Kalamos knows about it, and he’s expecting us.”
Her dark self leaned over, breasts and all, purring, “Hi there, soldier.”
For the love of God.
“Whither she goest,” her shadow continued, smirking, “I goest.”
Ellie’s gaze darted from guard to guard. One’s mouth was moving, as if he were speaking into a concealed microphone, probably signaling a wider alarm. She didn’t blame him. His call for help made sense; her shadow scared everyone, including her.
“I’m going to need some identification,” the guard at her window continued.
Ellie reached for her purse in the passenger foot well.
“Slowly!” the guard commanded.
She brought out her wallet, and with a pang of reservation, decided to confess as well. She was here to solve the problem; lies would only complicate it. “I paid a lot of money for the license, but it’s a fake,” she said, handing the card over. “I can’t exactly walk into the DMV with her in tow. But there you go.”
The guard didn’t take the card. “I need a valid form of identification, ma’am.”
“I have a fake birth certificate,” Ellie offered. “A stolen credit card, too.”
“I can’t let you in the gate without verifying your identity,” the guard said.
He probably wouldn’t let her in period. This had to be a stall while they figured out what to do with her and her shadow. She just hoped Dr. Kalamos would intervene at some point and see what he could do to help her.
“I’m being honest here,” Ellie replied. No more concealing the truth. She was at the end of the road. “My guess is you’d find out they were fake anyway, and then there would be trouble. I’ve got enough of that already.”
The guard frowned. “I’ll be a moment. Stay in your car.”
He headed back to the bunker while numbers Two, Three, and Four kept watch. They were all blocks of muscle and menace. Their concentrated interest made her mouth dry. Ellie had existed housebound all her life fearing men like these, ones who’d shoot her down like the freak she was. But enough was enough.
The guard had said to stay in the car, so of course, her shadow crawled right through the windshield, shifting effortlessly through the glass, then stood in front of all and sundry. She stretched, long and sexy, in the misty lowhanging fog. Her breasts lifted as her dark body arched, her rear on display. At least her legs were crossed, making a neat triangle at her pubis.
This kind of behavior was exactly why Ellie had come. Her shadow was determined to undermine her life. Why make everything so hard? These people might be able to help them.
“Down on the ground!” number Two shouted, leveling his weapon at her shadow.
“What position?” her shadow asked.
Face burning, Ellie dropped her head against the steering wheel, which honked.
There was a dart of movement in her peripheral vision, and when Ellie turned her head to look, she found a gun aimed at her, too. More soldiers approached the car. Lots of guns. Too bad none of them could kill her shadow.
“Sorry,” Ellie said helplessly. “She doesn’t like to be bossed around.”
“Out of the car!” the guard demanded. “On the ground, now!”
“It’s probably an id thing,” Ellie babbled. But deep down, she’d known this would be difficult. They had little experience with men, so to be surrounded by all this testosterone was bound to set her shadow off.
A soldier yanked open the door. Ellie got out and went immediately to her hands and knees. Somebody had to follow directions. “Just shoot her and you’ll see. It won’t do anything to her anyway.”
Ellie was forced down to her belly, her legs kicked apart, a boot to her shoulder immobilizing her on the pavement, while her shadow called, “Me next, me next!” Ellie was pinned, cheek on the rough cold concrete, facing into the trees, so she couldn’t see what her shadow was doing. A male shout had her straining to lift her head to see more, but it only made her head hurt. Better to wait it out and let whatever would happen, happen.
No matter what, she was officially out of the house. Her life was going to change.
An engine growled far off, slowly approaching through the trees. Ellie guessed the alternate approach, rather than the road she was kissing, was to avoid opening the gate. Footsteps scuffed on the concrete. There was a shuffling and murmured words.
“Where’s the creature?” a new male voice asked. Had to be the man in charge.
More footsteps scuffed the pavement, drawing closer.
“Holy hell,” said another man. “Look at the way she can move through matter.”
She couldn’t see her shadow, but she got the sense that the dark version of herself was prowling among the men. One of them growled, “Get her away from me.”
“Get the woman up,” the first commanded.
Ellie was hauled upright. It took a moment to get her bearings. There had to be more than a dozen people present, more than she’d ever seen in one place at a time. It wasn’t even possible to look at them all at once, yet so many were looking at her. Made her skin feel prickly.
She found her shadow crouched like a wary cat in the midst of the action, attention twitching from soldier to soldier. Among them were a couple non-guard types.
Mr. Black Pants seemed to be the boss. He had gray hair, a clean shave, and a pink nose of burst capillaries. He wore a white dress shirt, open at the collar, cuffs rolled halfway up his forearms.
Next to him was a scruffy guy with a big yellowgreen bruise under one eye. He wore jeans and a World of Warcraft T-shirt, a lab coat thrown over his shoulders like a cape. Good body. His sandy hair was too long and he was starting a beard—or hadn’t shaved for a while. But his green eyes were perfect, dreamy. He had to be Dr. Cameron Kalamos, per a journal image she’d found during her online research. He looked different now, though, leaner and older, except for his eyes.
“Ms. Russo,” Black Pants said with a head jerk toward her shadow. “What is that thing? And is she dangerous?”
Ellie gulped. Mr. Black Pants was straight to the point. Okay. She’d give him the same back.
“That’s my shadow,” she responded. “I—I don’t think she’s dangerous.” Full disclosure, she reminded herself. “But she might be able to do stuff, it’s possible. I, um, had heard about Dr. Kalamos’s work with shadows and hoped he could help me.”
Mr. Black Pants turned to Dr. Kalamos. “Cam?”
“She e-mailed me several times asking for help,” Kalamos responded. “I had no idea what she was talking about, but agreed to meet her.”
Black Pants turned back to Ellie. “Can she be contained?”
Her shadow giggled, low and throaty.
“Not that I know of,” Ellie answered.
“Can she be killed?”
Her shadow dropped her humor and looked daggers at Black Pants.
Eleanor went cold, her old fear surging. But she nodded yes. “If you kill me.”
Cameron Kalamos stood toe to toe with Marshall Grouper, Segue operations manager, whose eyes had gone bloodshot with fury.
“What were you thinking to invite that . . . that
to Segue?” Marshall demanded. “Especially when Mr. and Mrs. Thorne are due to arrive tomorrow with their children.” Founder and financier Adam Thorne and his family, as well as most of the staff, used the Segue Institute as their residence and workplace. The building was well suited to both, having first been a turn of the century resort hotel. Its remote West Virginia location provided an ideal setting for researching paranormal phenomena.
“How was I supposed to know . . . ?” Cam began and dribbled off. He wasn’t really listening to Marshall, so his explanation lacked effort. His brain was still processing what he’d just witnessed: A shadow that existed as a separate entity from a live woman. The silky gray of the shadow’s skin had the gradations typical of shadows, making her body’s contours perfectly smooth and three dimensional, yet devoid of matter, solidity, mass. The shadow’s features were the same as the flesh and blood Eleanor Russo, the same swing of her hair and bat of her eyes, though physics and biological function should have little claim on the shadow. He’d never seen anything like those two, never imagined anything like them either. Segue was the coolest place to work on Earth.
“Have you any idea how many people you’ve inconvenienced, let alone put in possible danger, with that . . . that shadow moving through what is supposed to be a secure facility?”
“You approved her visit,” Cam pointed out.
“Don’t remind me,” Marshall cut back. “I have to answer to Thorne, thank you.”
The lab door slid open, admitting Dr. Leonard Shelstad, Cam’s research team leader. A soldier followed. Cam hadn’t been at Segue long enough to learn all the soldiers’ names, but since this one was a little older and more scarred, he figured he was a commander of sorts.
“Eleanor Russo has been confined in a cell within the new wraith holding facility, but the shadow roams the area at will,” the commander began. “Good thing the wraiths are still being held up in New York, and not here. Who knows what havoc that shadow would wreak. Two units are on watch, but I don’t see how they can police it.”
“And Ms. Russo?” Marshall asked.
“Compliant. Her custody required no force. She seemed resigned to her confinement, extremely cooperative. I’m guessing that her information is correct and that bullets would have no effect on the shadow. Further, Ms. Russo seems to have no ability to compel the shadow’s cooperation. She claims that they are here only for help.”
“Your assessment?” Marshall was already shaking his head.
“I don’t care what Ms. Russo claims or how cooperative she is. Lockdown will remain in effect until this is resolved or Thorne himself tells me otherwise.”
Marshall’s jaw flexed. “He’s due to arrive tomorrow.”
Everyone knew that included his wife and newborn boys. Now that the Segue renovations were finally being completed, especially the new underground wraith holding facility, the compound was filling up again with staff. Once the Thornes arrived, Cam’s research with the fae would begin in earnest.
“I advise against his family accompanying him,” the commander answered. “I’d prefer that the holding facility was jam-packed with wraiths, rather than our cooperative Ms. Russo and her shadow.”
If the Thornes didn’t come, then Cam’s work with Mrs. Thorne and the fae would be put off again. Ah, hell. Maybe he shouldn’t have made that appointment with Ms. Russo after all. The wrenches were flying everywhere.
Marshall turned to Cam. “Dr. Kalamos,” he said. The fact that he’d reverted to Cam’s professional title did not bode well. “This is your official notice that the privacy settings on your Segue accounts are now void. I’ll be accessing your e-mail, files, and history to put together a report for Mr. Thorne.”
No, this did not bode well at all. “There were only a couple of e-mails.”
Cam cocked his head with a shrug, signaling acquiescence. What else could he do? Segue had had issues with staff before. One guy, Spencer Something-or-other, had let a wraith in to ransack the place, hence the uberrenovation. Another, some lady doctor, had been selling info about Mrs. Thorne. Segue had cause to be suspicious, but Cam didn’t mind. This was his dream job—the subject matter blew his mind, nice digs, and a sunny paycheck, though he’d never tell Shelstad that he’d do this work for free. Well, at least . . . he’d do this work for enough ramen noodles to keep him alive. This was where science met magic.