Psychotherapist Cate Duncan is done with danger. Her training at the MacGregor Group’s parapsychology clinic has brought one crisis after another. So when Skeet, her research colleague, offers Cate and her boss-turned-boyfriend Ben a working vacation at his secluded hunting lodge, they jump at the chance.
But the idyllic Mercier Lodge is teeming with secrets: Skeet’s unorthodox research methods, a tragic death that occurred at the lodge over a year ago, and its connection to Cate’s past.
As they delve into Mercier’s unsavory history, Ben and Cate stick close together, trusting in their love for each other to keep them safe. But when a scheme separates them, Cate must rely on the MacGregor Group’s paranormal abilities, some surprise allies, and her own determination to track Ben down and crack Mercier’s mysteries before the strange place claims any more victims.
Praise for the Healing Edge series:
“Eden creates a unique world that readers will find fascinating.” —RT Book Reviews
“A delightful world of paranormal phenomena and engaging characters.” —Rosanna Leo, author of Covet
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ParaTrain Internship, Day Six
It's just a meeting. Nothing to be nervous about. I wiped my damp palms on my skirt and ordered my brain to focus on something else. Like the Jag, I thought. Focus on the fact that you're finally getting a ride in the Jag.
And not just any Jag — the British 1936 Jaguar SS100 Ben had restored. He'd found the car in a barn in Pennsylvania, sitting on blocks and covered in hay bales. Now, it looked like it had just left the showroom. My fingertips roamed across the soft leather seat as I admired each piece of shining chrome and the deep glow of the wood on the dash. The car's transformation was a testament to Ben's workmanship — not to mention to his patience and tenacity when it came to the things he loved.
The things — and the people, I thought, smiling down at my ring. I hadn't exactly made things easy for Ben, but now, two gold birds were wrapped around my finger, holding a lustrous piece of Scottish agate between their wings. He'd wanted to give me a tangible reminder of how he felt, a talisman to guard against anxiety and doubt.
I stole a glance at Ben. He was completely in his element, left hand loosely holding the steering wheel, right elbow propped up on the door. Everything about him was solid and squared-off, from the angle of his jaw to the way he carried his shoulders. These qualities were augmented by his charcoal gray suit and crisp white shirt — worn sans tie, as usual. I marveled that no matter what internal battles he might be fighting, Ben always exuded a quiet confidence.
"Enjoying yourself?" he asked.
"Completely." I closed my eyes and inhaled my new favorite scent — a mixture of fine wool, cotton, and vintage leather that clung to Ben like an olfactory tattoo. "My mom would have loved this, you know."
His light brown eyes softened. "You think so?"
"Absolutely." Every summer when I was a kid, she had taken me to the local car shows. Back then, we could only look, never touch. Riding along with Ben, I felt like a glamorous movie star. I struck my best Hollywood pose, and he smiled.
It was such a pleasure — not to mention a relief — to see Ben relax after the nonstop drama of the past two weeks. There had been too many life-and-death situations, too much tension. And more than anyone, Ben had earned a vacation. With that in mind, after our meeting at the Smithsonian, we planned to spend the rest of the weekend on the Eastern Shore. That evening, we had a dinner date with my mother's cousin, Ardis, and a reservation at a nice bed-and-breakfast. Sunday's schedule was still open. I thought we might head to the ocean; I loved the beach in the fall. Or we could take the ferry to Smith Island, wander around St. Michaels, go sailing ... As I considered the possibilities, I nearly forgot to be nervous.
Then we entered downtown D.C. I sobered as stately suburban homes gave way to modern office buildings and massive structures of chiseled granite. Before long, the Smithsonian office building came into view — ten stories of tinted glass reflecting the cloudless blue sky like a darkened mirror. It took up half a city block.
Ben caught me biting my lip. "You know there's nothing to be nervous about, right?"
"I know," I lied. The truth was, I couldn't believe we were actually there. It had been less than twenty-four hours since Ben told his mother, Dr. MacGregor, about our group's experience with the double kheir ritual. Now we were on our way to meet with her world-class paranormal research team — and not just to exchange information. We'd been asked to give a demonstration, as well.
I had dressed up for the occasion, wearing a dove gray pencil skirt and a wine-colored cashmere sweater my mother had given me one Christmas. Still, I couldn't shake the feeling that I didn't belong at the Smithsonian — not as anything more than a tourist, anyway.
"Well, just in case," he said, "let me remind you that you have nothing to prove here. None of us do. My mother already told her colleagues what happened with our ritual, and they're keen to know more. But they don't have any definite expectations; after all, half of them still think the double kheir is just a myth." In a conspiratorial tone, he added, "Think of it this way. I know you have a lot of questions. Today, you can ask anything you like."
"Hmm." I bit the tip of my finger. "Anything?"
"Like whether The Da Vinci Code was based in fact? And whether they're all members of the Illuminati?"
He chuckled as we pulled into the underground parking garage. "If you ask them those questions, I'll make sure you get a substantial year-end bonus."
"Deal," I said, smiling tentatively. I was still getting used to the idea that my new boyfriend was also my new boss.
Ben was the manager of the MacGregor Group, an alternative healing clinic founded by his mother and housed in a repurposed church. I first met him when my former employer, Dr. Nelson, sent me to the MacGregor Group for treatment. My mother's recent suicide had left me in pieces, unable to function. As close as she and I had been, somehow I hadn't seen that my mother was in crisis. Her shocking loss had debilitated me, and I could barely leave my house, let alone return to my job as a psychotherapist. What Dr. Nelson hadn't told me was that Dr. MacGregor was a psychiatrist who specialized in paranormal gifts, and that instead of "treating" me, she and Ben were enrolling me in ParaTrain, a paranormal skills training program. My first lesson had been to learn the definition of an empath — and that I was one.
Since then, my life had changed so dramatically that it was unrecognizable. Dr. Nelson, Dr. MacGregor, and Ben had all worked hard to convince me that because I was an empath, the key to maintaining my mental health was to leave my job as a therapist and go to work for the MacGregor Group. The idea of leaving my beloved therapy clients was nothing short of heartrending. But after due consideration and several persuasive paranormal experiences, I had agreed to take their advice. Before I could officially start my new job, though, I had to complete a three-week training program: one week of preparation, followed by a two-week internship.
My time in ParaTrain had flown by. Although I was starting my final week of the internship, I still didn't feel anywhere near ready to take on my new role as an empath healer. Before I met the MacGregors, I hadn't even known that empaths existed, so I was still struggling to find my bearings. And the unexpected romance between Ben and me was keeping me permanently off-balance. Add in the mind-blowing experience we'd had with the double kheir the previous week, and ... Well, I didn't even know what had happened there, so I was fairly certain that I'd make a fool of myself trying to describe it to the Smithsonian research team.
That thought had me wiping my palms on my skirt again. "I am nervous, though, about this demonstration we're supposed to give. The researchers may not have any definite expectations, but surely they're hoping to see something. And unlike the rest of you, I have no idea what I'm doing."
"You'll be fine, Cate," Ben reassured me as we pulled into a parking space. "Kai's got it all figured out. He said he has something simple and easy planned, so just follow his instructions. Even if nothing interesting happens, that's still useful information for my mother's team. They're scientists, remember? In an experiment, even a negative result is valuable."
I had no reason to doubt Kai. He was a highly capable expert in ancient rituals, among other things. But when it came to the paranormal, I had a track record of unintentionally messing things up. "What if I forget our instructions and start reading people's emotions?"
Dr. MacGregor had passed on a request from her project director that we refrain from using our paranormal gifts on the members of the research team without their specific permission. Apparently, they were much more comfortable observing others than being observed themselves.
"The fact that you're already worrying about that means it's highly unlikely you'll forget," he said. "And even if you do, who's going to know?"
Only everyone, I thought. My poker face was nonexistent. I buried my face in my hands. "I'm just afraid that I'm going to embarrass myself. And you. And your mother. And disappoint everyone."
Ben turned off the ignition. I felt him lean towards me and gently tuck an escaped strand of hair into my braid. "That's not possible."
His optimism was endearing, if ill-founded. "Oh, I assure you, it's possible."
"I'll tell you what." He rested his hands on my shoulders. "If you start to feel uncomfortable, give me a thumbs-down sign, and I'll do something so humiliating that it will draw the focus off of you completely."
I couldn't help it; I was intrigued. Pulling my hands away from my face, I asked, "Like what?"
He paused for a moment, considering. "I could drop my pants."
That was just about the most un-Ben-like thing I could imagine. I pressed my lips together to keep from smiling. "Well that wouldn't help."
"Because then I'd be uncomfortable for a whole new reason."
His eyebrow arched. "You'd be uncomfortable?"
"Of course! I'd probably start thinking all sorts of inappropriate thoughts — which Asa could easily pick up." I was confident that Asa, our group's resident telepath, would have zero interest in knowing the intimate contents of my head, especially when it came to Ben.
"Oh, I see." Ben leaned back in his seat and smiled roguishly. "You're right; we wouldn't want to scandalize Asa. Well, if the need arises, I promise I'll think of something."
"And you always keep your promises." That Ben could be counted upon was one of the things I'd learned for certain over the past couple of weeks.
"Yes, ma'am." Ben got out, then came around and opened my door for me. "I promised you a ride in the Jag, didn't I? And here we are."
In spite of my nerves, Ben had managed to make me smile again. "Even if I'm not feeling uncomfortable, I may give you the thumbs-down sign at some point, just to see what happens."
He took my hand and helped me out of the car. "Just another example of why 'Trouble' is the perfect nickname for you."
I shot him a glare. I'd hoped Ben would forget that annoying and only partially valid moniker. But when I opened my mouth to object, he swooped in for a kiss that was firm enough to silence me, but gentle enough to leave my lipstick in place. Dammit, I thought as my knees went weak — right before the most intimidating meeting of my life.
* * *
We passed through three security checkpoints before making it up to the fourth floor lobby. Dr. MacGregor was waiting for us there, neatly stylish as usual in a mint green, fitted suit. She was petite and wiry, and her red-framed reading glasses hung from a beaded chain around her neck. How I wished Ben and I were at her house, having a nice, quiet lunch. That had been our original plan for the day — until the Smithsonian meeting was called.
"There you are!" She smiled warmly as we stepped off of the elevator.
"Are we late?" I asked as my nerves began to jangle again.
"No, not at all! You're just the last ones here." She ushered us down the hallway. "This way."
Most of the doors we passed were closed, but the open ones revealed offices with an academic feel to them. They housed overflowing bookshelves, reams of file cabinets, and desks covered in computers, piles of papers, and more books. Near the end of the hallway, we followed Dr. MacGregor into a small conference room full of people.
"Here they are!" she announced, pointing Ben and me toward the remaining two vacant chairs. "My son, psychologist Benjamin MacGregor, and Miss Cathryn Duncan, clinical social worker."
There was a general murmur of greeting. I felt a wave of relief at the sight of our friends, the other members of the MacGregor Group. Then Dr. MacGregor introduced her colleagues.
"This is Dr. Morgan, the director of our research project," she said, nodding toward a tall woman with short blonde hair on the other side of the table. She was so well put-together that I imagined a whole team of stylists had been involved.
Dr. Morgan stood, greeting us warmly. "Welcome, and thank you so much for coming, especially on such short notice. We've heard quite a bit about you — especially you, Dr. MacGregor. Your mother is quite proud of the work you've been doing at the clinic."
"No need to get up. And please, just call me Ben," he said. "It's much less confusing that way."
"Yes, I imagine it is." Dr. Morgan smiled as we all took our seats. "All right then, Ben. We are very grateful to you and the rest of your group for being here."
"It's an honor," Ben replied. "My mother has told us great things about the research you're doing, and we're all anxious to hear more."
"And so you shall." A lanky man with rimless glasses and a bushy gray beard spoke. "I'm Dr. Byrne. My area is ancient history. Dr. Morgan and Dr. Singh are archaeologists, and Dr. Abera here is our expert in linguistics and anthropology."
"It's a pleasure to meet you," Dr. Abera said, her eyes alight. Tossing a long silk drape over her shoulder, she moved with the elegance of a dancer, leaning across the table to shake my hand and Ben's. "We're so excited to talk to you about the double kheir."
"We are indeed," Dr. Singh cheerfully agreed. He looked every inch the archaeologist in his khaki vest with multiple pockets, his hair curling down over the collar of a slightly rumpled shirt. "But first things first. It is Saturday morning, after all, and Dr. MacGregor has rousted us all from our beds. Does everyone have coffee or tea?"
I felt an immediate kinship with Dr. Singh, who clearly shared my priorities. We were given a few minutes to get our beverages from a table set up in the back of the room. I took advantage of the chance to say hello to the other members of our group.
I ran into Kai first. Only minimal makeup accentuated his strong Greek features, and his wardrobe was more understated than usual — leopard print leggings and a long black tunic. Even his usual high heels had been replaced with ankle boots. He smiled and arched an artfully shaped eyebrow. "Look at you, all dressed up!"
"Yeah, not too shabby, sis," said Pete. He called me "sis" because I reminded him of his little sister, Lydia. Pete slid his arm around Kai's waist. He had swapped out his blue jeans for black jeans, but otherwise he wore his usual button-down flannel shirt, cowboy boots, and ten-gallon hat.
Vani joined us, giving me a quick hug. "Yes, well, Cate clearly knows how to dress for a professional meeting," she said in her clipped London accent as she cast a disapproving eye toward Pete's hat.
"Excuse me, ma'am." Pete smiled, removed his hat, and placed it on the table.
Vani looked flawless as always. Her shining black hair was pulled into a French twist, and she wore a striking color-block sheath dress. Vani and Dr. Morgan both looked like they had either just stepped off of movie sets, or were about to step on.
"You want me somewhere on a Saturday morning, you get weekend causal," Kai said, flipping his hair back. "Those two obviously agree."
Kai pointed to the last two members of our group, Eve and Asa, who were making their way over to us. Eve wore her usual layers of torn, black fabric and sported multiple facial piercings. The only change was that her spiked hair was now tipped with fuchsia, instead of purple like the day before. Asa wore his customary khaki slacks and T-shirt, although it was a plain navy shirt, not his usual graphic tee. I guessed that was his way of acknowledging the seriousness of the meeting.
"They're still in college," Vani whispered. "They have an excuse."
Kai just shrugged as Asa and Eve approached us. "Isn't this awesome?" Eve asked, grinning. "The Smithsonian! I told my parents; they are so psyched."
"When did you all find out about this meeting?" I asked. Our group and Dr. MacGregor had been guests at a banquet in D.C. the day before, but Ben and I had left early and driven home to Baltimore. We were notified about the Smithsonian meeting in an early-morning phone call from his mother.
"Dr. MacGregor told us after the banquet yesterday," Vani said. "Since we all still had our suitcases packed, it made sense to just stay in town. She put us up in a place just a few blocks from here."
"Our hotel was sick!" Asa exclaimed gleefully.
"How would you know? You barely left the room — up all night playing video games!" Vani gave Eve and Asa a warning look. "You'd better not fall asleep during the ritual."
"Don't worry," Eve said. "We're too pumped to be tired!"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "All the Light There Is"
Copyright © 2017 Anise Eden.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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