Cate’s enemies aren’t just surrounding her—they’re inside her head.
Therapist Cate Duncan has just accepted a job with the MacGregor Group, a unique collective of alternative healers. She’s excited by the prospect of honing her empathic healing techniques among others like herself—aura readers, telepaths, crystal healers, and more. The fact that Cate just started dating Ben, her magnetic new boss, is an added bonus.
Before Cate can settle into her new routine, the poisoning of a prominent neuroscientist draws the entire MacGregor Group into both a federal investigation and an even more insidious threat. But for Cate, unraveling the mystery means reopening wounds that had just begun to heal—and discovering differences between her and Ben that strain their budding romance. When a new crisis looms, Cate must trust in her colleagues’ gifts and the strength of Ben’s love, finding the courage to confront her deepest and most terrifying demons—or her own life will be at risk.
“Peopled with engaging characters and filled with intrigue, this book will delight readers of paranormal romance. This series occupies a special place at the top of my favorites list and I can’t wait to see what Ms. Eden brings us next.” —Rosanna Leo, author of Covet
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In my dream, only the crabs' lives were in jeopardy. Mom and I chose a spot on the pier that was shaded by a nearby oak, hoping for some relief from the humid heat. The buzzing and clicking of crickets and cicadas swelled as the summer afternoon ripened.
"Hold it perfectly still, Catie," Mom whispered. "We want them to think it's just a strange-looking plant."
"I'm trying." But after an hour, my arm ached from holding the crab net steady. "Maybe the bait isn't rotten enough to attract them."
Mom jiggled the string with the chicken neck tied to the end, making it dance just beneath the water's surface. "Should I pull it out so you can check it?"
"Ew, gross!" I grimaced. "No thanks. I believe you."
Suddenly, her whole body tensed. "Look, there's one!"
The water was green and nearly opaque with algae. Staring down, I could just make out the ghostly limbs of a blue crab swimming up toward the bait.
"Wait until he's really absorbed in what he's doing and then scoop him up," she murmured. "Not too quickly, though. You don't want to scare him."
"Right." Once the crab started attacking the chicken neck, I slid the net beneath him and slowly lifted it to the surface.
"You got him!" Mom jumped to her feet. "Pull him out, and let's have a look!"
"He feels really heavy!" We exchanged smiles of victory as I raised the dripping net up to eye level.
"Oh, no," Mom said. "It's beautiful, a great catch. But we have to throw it back."
"Don't say that!" I moaned. "Why?"
"It's a female. It's poisonous."
I examined the crab. She was right: it had a full, rounded apron. With a sigh, I tossed the crab back into the water. "Females aren't poisonous, Mom, just illegal to catch. You know that."
"Whatever you say." Mom walked over to the edge of the pier and turned around to face me. "I have to go now. Don't follow me." Before I could even grasp what she was doing, she had folded her arms across her chest, closed her eyes, and tilted her stiffened body backwards into the water.
"Mom!" I leapt forward, reaching the edge of the pier just as she hit the surface with a sharp splash. Remembering my lifeguard training, I got down on my belly, lay on the wooden planks, and thrust my arm into the water. But she was already out of reach.
I grabbed the crab net and plunged the handle down towards her, but she kept her arms folded, eyes closed. "Mom, grab the handle!" I cried out, but she kept sinking. Within seconds she was nothing more than a whitish blur.
"Don't worry! I'm coming!" Screw lifeguard training, I thought as I kicked off my shoes and prepared to go in after her. But just as I was about to dive, something dragged me backwards by the waist.
I looked down to find a man's arm wrapped around me — a man's arm in a blue suit jacket. A familiar voice said, "Oh no you don't."
"Ben, let go of me!" I struggled to free myself from his hold. Then I realized that I was yelling out loud, awake and in bed, thrashing about and wrestling with the python of sheets tangled around me. My cell phone beeped and vibrated along the surface of the bedside table as the alarm went off. Meanwhile, my heart pounded in my throat. In my mind's eye, all I could see was my mother sinking further and further into the river.
Goddammit, I thought, vigorously rubbing the tears from my eyes. Would my dreams ever stop transforming into nightmares — reminders that I had failed to see that my mother was in crisis, that I had failed to save her?
I strained to hear Ben bounding up the stairs to see what the yelling was about, but there was only silence. Had I only cried out in my dream? "Ben?" I called, loudly enough for him to hear me if he was awake. Still no response.
So he was still asleep. That was odd. Ben told me he'd never lost the early- riser habit he had developed in the Marine Corps. I turned off my cell phone alarm, put on my robe and slippers, and padded down the stairs. But he wasn't on the sofa, where I'd left him the night before. In fact, he was nowhere.
I scanned the first floor of my tiny row house and found a note he'd left on the coffee table. "Had to go in early. See you at work. Bring a bag packed for a few days."
Well, that's cryptic, I thought as a bud of irritation formed. I flopped down on the couch and breathed slowly, trying to bring my heart rate back down to normal after the dream I'd had. "Bring a bag packed for a few days." But packed for what? Given how focused he was on my training, I somehow doubted that Ben was planning a romantic getaway.
I tried Ben's cell. No answer. I tried Pete's cell. Again, no answer. Whatever was happening at the office, it must have been keeping them both occupied.
At least I had another way to find out what was going on with Ben. I sat cross-legged on the couch. With my hands resting on my knees, I closed my eyes and took a few slow, deep breaths. Then I pictured the filament of light that connected my heart to Ben's, and focused my mind.
In an instant, the psychic portal between us opened. As my consciousness reached out and touched his, I fell back against the couch, struck by the intensity of his emotions. He was worried about something or someone, and there was a definite sense of urgency. Still, there was no actual fear. That told me that while some kind of crisis was going on, at least Ben was safe.
Then his feelings for me crashed through the portal, flooding me. Whatever else he was dealing with, I was on his mind. Once again I was overwhelmed by the strength of his feelings. Although I knew the portal only flowed one way, I tried to send my own feelings back in his direction. I pulled my consciousness back into my body and opened my eyes.
My gaze immediately settled upon my right hand, and the exquisite ring Ben had given me the day before. The gold band was carved to look like two birds in flight, holding a luminous round piece of Scottish agate with their beaks and the tips of their wings. He'd wanted to give me something concrete to remind me of how he felt about me when he wasn't there, to reassure me when I had worries or doubts. A soft warmth bloomed in my chest as I twirled the ring slowly around my finger, admiring its craftsmanship. We'd agreed that I would decide when to tell people that the ring was from him — and that we were dating. In the meantime, we were keeping both things a secret. I wasn't quite ready to go public with our new relationship, and Ben didn't want me to feel any pressure.
As I went upstairs and laid my suitcase open on the bed, I thought about my disturbing dream. My mother's fall into the water was obviously a reference to her suicide three months before. But the poisonous female crab? And Ben stopping me from saving someone's life? I knew he didn't like it when I put myself in danger, but he'd never just let someone drown.
Then again, maybe there's nothing to decipher, I told myself. Sometimes a dream is just a dream. I tried to content myself with that thought as I showered, dressed, and packed in a hurry. I was anxious to get to the office and find out where we were going — and what crisis had made Ben leave that morning without so much as giving me a kiss good-bye.
* * *
ParaTrain Internship, Day One
It was a beautiful October morning, crisp and clear with the trees still wearing their brilliant fall colors. As I drove my beat-up red hatchback through the streets of Baltimore, vibrant neighborhoods slowly gave way to block after block of empty, boarded-up row houses. Once I reached the church, I punched my code into the security gate panel and entered the parking lot. Ben and his mother, psychiatrist Angeline MacGregor, had renovated the majestic old building after it fell into disuse, transforming it into an alternative healing clinic. The church was also home to ParaTrain, their paranormal skills training program. Having just completed my first week of training and graduated to intern status, I was both excited and nervous to start working directly with clients.
But something unusual was going on. The parking lot was buzzing with activity. The back of the company Land Rover stood open, half-filled with suitcases and boxes. Next to it sat Pete's white pickup truck with the pair of steer horns on top of the cab. The back of the truck was also nearly full. Ben's 1936 Jaguar was gone — parked at home for safekeeping, I assumed.
I spotted Vani arranging various items in the back of the Land Rover. Even dressed for physical labor, our aura reader could pass for a Bollywood starlet. She was dazzling in dark green leggings, a black velvet tunic, and a perfectly coiffed ponytail.
"Oh, hi, Cate," she said in her clipped English accent. "Perfect timing. Could you hand me that box?"
I passed her a small box that was sitting on the ground. "What's going on?" I asked, craning my neck to examine the other boxes she was shifting around. I caught glimpses of crystals, candles, and incense holders.
"Packing for a trip, somewhere near Rockville. We're going to see that sick colleague Ben and Eve visited the other day. Apparently he's worse, not better."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that." I wondered how Ben was handling the bad news. But before I could ask for more details, I spotted the youngest members of our group, Eve and Asa, struggling to carry a metal footlocker. Eve was a few inches shorter than me, and Asa was tall and lanky. The difference in their heights had them lurching across the parking lot.
"Thanks," Eve said breathlessly as I rushed over and grabbed one of the footlocker's handles. She wore her hair in its usual black-and-purple spikes, and her multiple facial piercings flashed as she smiled.
Asa's shaved head was damp with perspiration, even though he was only wearing a T-shirt over his khakis. "Yeah, thanks, Cate. You're stronger than you look!"
But once we reached the vehicle, we couldn't quite raise the footlocker high enough to slide it inside. Out of nowhere, a long arm appeared, pushing our burden up from the bottom and giving us the extra lift we needed.
I recognized the plaid sleeve. "Thanks, Pete." I turned around to find myself face to face with the man who was quickly becoming my favorite cowboy. He had left his family's Wyoming cattle ranch to serve in the Marines, where he'd met Ben. Now he helped run the MacGregors' clinic.
From his great height, Pete tipped the edge of his ever-present ten-gallon hat at me. "No problem. Kai would kick my ass if I let our newest member strain a muscle. Besides," he added, "it's time to take a break. Ben wants us in the lounge so he can give us the lowdown."
"Finally!" Eve exclaimed. There was a collective sigh of relief as everyone dropped what they were doing and headed towards the church's side door.
* * *
Ben was already in the lounge, staring out the window. The white sunlight illuminated his face — all squared-off edges with straight, dark brows and light brown eyes. I was startled by how my heart leapt at the sight of him.
Fatigue and worry lined his face like country roads on a map. Still, he stood with his back and shoulders straight, projecting his usual air of confidence. It was obvious that he'd left my house in a rush that morning. He was wearing his usual office attire — dark blue suit, white shirt — but his clothes were rumpled. His jaw was dark with stubble, and his hair looked as though he'd combed it with his fingers.
It took everything in me not to run up, grab him, and kiss him until he forgot about everything but us. Instead, as the others settled onto couches and armchairs, I walked up beside him. "Good morning."
He looked down at me and moistened his lips with his tongue. I could tell that he was thinking about kissing me, too. "Morning. I'm sorry I had to take off so early."
I inhaled the scents of old leather, cotton, and wool that clung to his skin. I longed to step in close and lay my hand on his chest. Although I was growing more comfortable with the idea of telling everyone about us, it clearly wasn't the moment for romantic revelations. "I'll work on forgiving you."
Flecks of gold flashed in his eyes. "I've done some hard things in my life, but leaving your house without you this morning ..."
I bit back a smile, still not quite believing how much he cared about me. "You know, you could have woken me up earlier. I would have liked to come in and help —"
"I know you would have," he said, the lines around his eyes softening. "But we had enough people here. It was more important that you got some rest."
I couldn't argue with him there; I had been exhausted the night before. "I was a little worried when I got your note. What's going on?"
He gave me one last look of frustrated desire and took a step back. "That's what I'm about to explain to everyone. I'm going to ask for volunteers to go on a trip." He looked down, brow furrowed.
"I heard — your sick colleague." More silence. "And?"
"My guess is that the others are going to say yes, but I want to make sure you don't feel any pressure. Whatever you decide, it'll be fine. Okay?"
"Hmm." My eyebrows slowly rose. "If that's true, then why did you leave a note for me to pack a bag this morning?"
"We're leaving straight from here. I wanted to make sure you had what you needed — just in case."
"That makes sense," I said. "Okay, I won't let myself feel pressured, I promise." It was obvious that he wanted me to go, but I appreciated being offered a preliminary opt-out.
"Good." Ben cleared his throat and squared his shoulders, indicating that he was shifting into manager mode. "Tea? Coffee?"
Following his lead, I gave him a businesslike nod. "Thanks. I'll help myself." As I walked over to the teacart, I heard the familiar clip-clip of high heels in the hallway.
"Kai!" We all greeted him nearly in unison as Kai rounded the corner into the lounge. His strong Greek features were flawlessly made up as usual, and he wore a fitted pantsuit in designer camo with high-heeled combat boots.
Kai was a man of many talents — ancient rituals expert, psychic medium, and jewelry craftsman. He'd made the protective pendant that I wore around my neck 24/7, a beautiful silver disk covered with concentric circles that was designed to protect me from absorbing other people's energy. Kai was also our meditation instructor; in fact, he'd planned to teach me a special technique that morning. But now that we were going on a trip, I imagined that mindfulness lessons would be put on hold.
Kai gave the room a graceful finger wave and winked at Pete. Then he joined me at the teacart and shot me a knowing look. "Morning," he murmured, gesturing towards Ben. "Looks like Rumpled Stiltskin over there didn't sleep at home last night."
I felt the heat rising in my cheeks, and decided it would be best to change the subject. "You look fantastic as usual," I said, giving his outfit a good once- over. "What's with the military theme?"
Kai's eyes widened as he leaned down close and whispered, "Pete says we're going on a top secret mission."
"Oh, really?" Pete must have been pulling one of his pranks. I pointed at Kai's stiletto boots. "You're definitely ready then."
"Smart ass." He mock-smacked me on the back of the head. "At least I don't look like I just rolled out of bed and into a haystack. You know, you could really turn some heads if you put any effort in at all. Do you even own anything other than jeans and yoga pants? Vani and I are going to have to take you shopping."
I couldn't help but smile at Kai's ribbing. When I'd started the ParaTrain program the previous week, he had been the first member of the group to really make me feel welcome, and his friendship hadn't wavered since. But before I could reply, Ben clapped his hands.
"Okay, everybody take a seat. I hate to rush you, but we are under some time pressure."
Kai and I took our mugs of tea and joined Pete on one of the couches. Pete slung his arm around Kai's shoulders and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Once we had all settled in, Ben moved to the front of the room and addressed the group.
"You all know that Eve and I went to visit a sick colleague last week." Ben rubbed the lines on his forehead. "Well, he's worse. In fact, they're giving him about a fifty percent chance of making it."
"Oh no," Eve moaned. "I thought — "
"I know," Ben said, "we all thought. But as it turns out, it's more than a bad case of food poisoning. Someone tried to kill him."
There were several gasps. My hand flew up to cover my mouth.
"And the murder attempt may still succeed," he continued. "The doctors are doing everything they can for him, but they're hoping that with our combination of skills, we can help maximize his chances."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "All The Wounds In Shadow"
Copyright © 2016 Anise Eden.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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