Join Agents Emma Monroe and Zack Armstrong.
She’s sacrificed. He’s suffered. They’ve both been betrayed.
Now it’s time for a reckoning.
Special Agent Emma Monroe has a secret. She’s a Fallen Siren, cursed by the gods and banished to Earth for her failure to prevent the kidnapping of Persephone. As an FBI agent she saves the lives of others believing redemption could be one rescue away.
Her partner Zack is a werewolf and former Black Ops sniper who once carried out a string of questionable assignments. Now he’s determined to atone for his past. Ironically, there’s a portion of his past Zack doesn’t remember—an affair with Emma. Giving into their attraction for one another almost led to their undoing. Now it’s back to business as usual.
While trying to unravel the mystery behind a series of kidnappings in Southern California, Emma and Zack become entangled with political tensions in the vampire and Were worlds. Not to mention the struggles they face in their relationship with one another. With so much uncertainty, they come to realize the only thing they can really count on is one another…or can they?
About the Author
S. J. Harper is the pseudonym for authors Jeanne C. Stein and Samantha Sommersby. Cursed is the first Fallen Siren Novel.
Read an Excerpt
PRAISE FOR BOOK ONE IN THE
FALLEN SIREN SERIES
Also by S. J. Harper
What we’re doing is wrong on so many levels. That’s what I tell myself as I wake, my body aching in all the right places. In just a few short months, we’ve fallen into the kind of pattern I’d normally think of as dangerous. But somehow, when I’m with him, I feel safe.
My mind drifts as I watch the flutter of curtains. The morning sunshine pours into the bedroom from the balcony. Have I ever had a steady lover so possessive, so creative, so . . . demanding? His hand on my hip comes to life, fingertips skimming downward across the curve of my buttocks. He inches closer to me, spooning his body against mine. Nothing separates us under the sheets—it’s skin on skin. Fingers slide between my thighs. I’m wet. It seems lately, in his presence, I’m perpetually this way. I just can’t help myself. A Siren is a Siren. A sexual creature, born of Gaia. I’m one of three, cursed by Demeter thousands of years ago for failing to protect Persephone. It’s for this I atone, for this I pay. It’s the reason I search for the missing and avoid love at all costs. The first brings me closer to the promise of redemption. Forgetting the latter? Finding real love? That promises nothing but ruin and death.
“Good morning,” I whisper.
He lifts one of my legs. His long, thick shaft slides between them. I feel the warmth of his smile as he replies, “It’s about to get even better.”
The rumble of his rich baritone, still rough from sleep, along with the promise of what’s to come, makes me smile. But the sense of contentment is fleeting. The first few bars of “Bad Moon Rising” blare from my phone. Liz, my best friend, and quite possibly the most powerful witch this side of the Mississippi, added the ringtone to my cell five months ago and I haven’t been able to change it. She assigned it to Zack, my partner, a dark, rugged werewolf who was formerly, and quite secretly, a badass black ops assassin. Now, like me, he spends his days working for the FBI and searching for the missing.
I feel Kallistos’ irritation at the interruption. I pat his hand. “Hold that thought,” I say, then reach for my phone.
“Zack. It’s early. What’s up?”
“Jimmy. He wants to see us right away and apparently you haven’t been answering your texts.”
I glance at the clock on the nightstand. It’s just past seven on a Monday and I’ve managed to piss off the boss. “Why didn’t he just call me?”
“He did. Twice.”
“Damn it! I must have slept through it.”
Or Kallistos had taken it upon himself to set my cell to silent. Again. Thanks to Liz’s spell, and much to Kallistos’ chagrin, Zack’s calls ring through regardless. Liz knows how close Zack and I came to disaster. This is her special way of reminding me of the ever-present danger. She’s also the main reason I’m sharing the vampire King’s bed now. She encouraged him and pushed me like a veritable yenta. After countless protests they wore me down. I decided to give the no-strings-attached-relationship proposal a trial run.
Kallistos has retreated to the other side of the bed. I’d like to think out of guilt, but I know better.
I momentarily mute the call. “Stop silencing my phone,” I scold.
His clear blue eyes give nothing away. “You don’t get enough rest.” His tone is matter-of-fact. No argument. No apology. Not ever. Admittedly, it’s one of the downsides of dating a vampire King with more than a millennium under his belt—one that I’ll eventually have to address if our arrangement continues. Eventually. But not today.
“You don’t get to make decisions for me,” I counter.
He answers my rising ire with a disarming smile. “You need coffee, Emma. I’ll call down.”
I unmute the phone, turning my attention back to Zack. “How much time do I have?”
“The briefing was scheduled for seven thirty. Reminding Jimmy it was Labor Day got us a reprieve until eight.”
I brace myself, knowing I shouldn’t ask, but do anyway. “Did you and Sarah have plans?”
My question about Sarah, the she-wolf who shares Zack’s beach house, is met with the expected pause. Zack doesn’t say much about his private life. His reluctance doesn’t have anything to do with our history. As far as he’s concerned, we have no history; there’s never been anything personal between us at all. Thanks to Liz’s super-duper spell casting, Zack’s memories of those times have been erased. Not all of them, of course; only the ones indicating there had ever been any physical intimacy between us. Our casework history, secrets shared about our natures and pasts—that’s all remained intact. But remembrances of our one, glorious night in Charleston and the fact we became lovers after his move here to San Diego a year later? Gone.
Kallistos climbs out of bed and heads for the balcony. “Maybe the four of us can do something together later,” he murmurs on the way.
I throw a pillow at him, but miss by a mile. By the time it hits the floor he’s outside and, thanks to a little pink pill called Protectus, appreciating the early-morning sun like only someone who’s spent more than a thousand years in darkness could—face tilted up, eyes closed. Kallistos is responsible for the creation of Protectus, part medical miracle and part magic. It’s been around for a couple decades now, along with the Blood Emporiums he created.
Most Emporiums are located in the backs of businesses catering to those who pursue alternative lifestyles—tattoo shops and heavy-metal clubs. For vampires they offer fresh blood from paid donors who, for the most part, have no idea where the blood ends up or who is paying for it. Would-be vampires and goths simply believe they are indulging in a fantasy. They never see the real vampires who come to buy their blood bags and the drugs that allow them to function during the day.
I watch my lover breathe deeply of the ocean air. Appreciate the way shadow and light play across his body, which is hard, lean, and eternally young.
“I was going to make my famous London broil,” Zack finally volunteers. “But, duty calls. Right, partner?”
Zack has a way of saying the word partner like it really means something. And it does. A lump forms in my throat. Our reasons may be different, but the mission is the same. Zack understands me better than any partner I’ve had.
I nod. “Yes. Duty calls.”
“I’ll let Jimmy know we’re on our way in.”
“I’ll meet you at the office in forty-five minutes.” As I hang up, I silently recite the same words I do every time I go out on a new case. Redemption could be one rescue away.
Kallistos is beside me with a robe. “No time for breakfast, I suppose.”
I wave him off and begin to hunt for my clothes. “I have to go. As it is, I barely have enough time to get home, shower, and change. Can you help me find my other shoe?”
I crouch down to check under the bed.
“If you kept some things here—”
“I’m not moving in,” I tell him for the hundredth time as I climb to my feet. My eyes fall to the large saltwater aquarium across from the bed. My black patent pump is dangling off of an outcropping of orange coral.
Kallistos follows my line of sight. “Oops.”
In response he opens the closet, pulls out a hanging bag, then tosses it onto the bed. Two shopping bags follow.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“Emergency clothes. By the time you get out of the shower, breakfast will be here. You now have time.”
I quickly rummage through the bags. He’s thought of everything—shoes, stockings, undergarments, classic black pantsuit, and a dove gray poplin shirt with French cuffs. “You’re dressing me now?”
“Sorry, no. You’re going to have to put those on yourself.” Kallistos picks up the phone and asks for room service.
I make a beeline for the bathroom, new black lace bra and matching panties in hand. I don’t get very far. His arm snakes around my waist as I pass, pulling me close. “I’ll happily take them off tonight, though,” he murmurs into my ear.
* * *
Twenty minutes later I emerge from the Hotel Palomar—to-go coffee cup in one hand, fresh croissant in the other. My car—a standard-issue black Suburban—is waiting in front. I tip the valet and get in. A quick check in the rearview mirror assures me that the glamour I pay Liz for, the one that furnishes me with the wholesome, plain-Jane facade I’ve become so accustomed to seeing, is firmly in place. My skin is fair and unblemished. I don’t wear makeup. No mascara. No lip gloss. Nothing. This morning, my long dark hair is pulled back and twisted into a sensible chignon. I drop the coffee into the cup holder, toss the croissant onto the dash where I’ll be able to easily reach it, then throw the car into gear and pull into traffic.
I have fifteen minutes. Within five I’m pulling onto the 163 heading north. I switch over to the 8 West, then go north on the 15. It’s a little warmer than usual in San Diego, eighty-five degrees. Not a cloud in the sky, and due to the holiday, the traffic is light. I work on my croissant and coffee while listening to the morning news. The Padres are, miraculously, still in good standing. Due to a last-minute donation from the Gates Foundation, several local after-school programs that were believed to have been doomed will be reopening tomorrow. And the wildfire that began Sunday morning in the Cuyamaca Mountains is now under control.
Just another perfect day in paradise.
As I approach the exit to Aero Drive, I see Sarah’s silver BMW just up ahead. The top is down and Zack is behind the wheel. His dark brown hair, which he manages to keep slightly longer than regulation, is blowing straight back. Sarah, forever perfectly coiffed, is wearing a red silk scarf around her head. Its ends trail behind her, reminding me of the days when barnstorming and open-cockpit flying were all the rage.
When we stop at the light, Zack catches a glimpse of me in the rearview mirror. He doesn’t turn around, just lifts his hand into the air. I do the same. Sarah pivots in her seat. She slides her dark designer glasses halfway down the bridge of her nose so that she can give me a proper glare. One of the first things Sarah Marie Louis did after following Zack out here from South Carolina was to pull me aside and stake her claim. Zack had described what they had back in South Carolina as casual. For Sarah, it had been anything but. She was in love with him. She is still in love with him.
I understand that. So am I.
The light turns green and I follow Zack into the parking lot of the FBI field office. He pulls into the drive by the front door. I park at the end of a row of other black Suburbans. By the time I reach the entrance, Sarah is in the driver’s seat.
“What? No kiss good-bye?” I ask Zack as she drives off. “Did someone wake up on the wrong side of the bed?”
Zack shoves his hands in his pockets. “The moon was full last night,” he reminds me. “This someone spent the night locked in his cage. Alone.”
Although I’m dying to know where Sarah spent the night, how she rode out the inevitable changeling time, I resist the urge to question Zack further. My patience pays off.
“She’s thinking about joining a pack. She ran with them last night.” He gives me a sideways glance. “I don’t have to ask who you spent the night with. You reek of vampire and sex.”
I dramatically roll my eyes before heading for the entrance. “I just showered.”
He beats me to the door and opens it for me. “You need to use stronger soap. And spend less time with His Royal Undead. I don’t know what you see in him.”
I push the call button for the elevator. When I’m with him, it’s easier to avoid thinking about you. The thought, like so many others, goes unsaid. I plaster a practiced smile on my face, the one meant to convey that Kallistos is my world. “You haven’t seen him naked.”
“A fact that saddens me deeply. It’s number three on my bucket list, you know.”
The elevator doors open and we step inside. Just as they are about to close, another agent joins us. The familiar banter, laced with the kind of innuendo that I’ll later play over and over again in my head, comes to a full stop. Zack and I move to opposite ends of the elevator. We face forward. Zack makes small talk with the other agent. I’ve worked in the same office with the guy for more than a year, and right now I can’t remember his name.
But I remember every moment spent with Zack.
That’s all part of my punishment, part of my penance. A cold chill creeps up my spine. I can almost feel Demeter watching.
A shiver passes through me.
Agent What’s-His-Name crosses his arms protectively in front of himself. “Whoa, think they overdid it a bit with the AC this morning.”
I know the drop in temperature has nothing to do with the building’s air-conditioning. It has everything to do with Demeter. Ever present. Ever watching. Ever ensuring that I am suffering.
I steal a glance at Zack, but quickly force myself to look away. I’ll always remember but he’ll never know what we had. What we lost. And I know that this morning, Demeter is smiling down upon us, pleased with herself, full of smug indignation and self-righteous conceit.
Day One: Monday, September 2
The office is quiet as we make our way from the elevator through the maze of cubicles that makes up the FBI San Diego field office. Thoughts of Demeter fade as Zack and I exchange nervous looks. In spite of the holiday, half a dozen agents are already at work, either with a phone receiver to an ear or at a computer, fingers flying over the keyboards. What’s missing is the banter that usually accompanies agents at work like this. The muted atmosphere is unsettling.
Zack tilts his head toward the far wall. “Something is very wrong.”
Deputy Director Johnson’s office, which is walled with floor-to-ceiling windows, is the middle of three that look onto the general work area. The door is closed, but the blinds that are usually drawn are open, giving Johnson a clear view of the agents in the bullpen and us a clear view of him. Our normally unflappable bulldog of a boss is pacing, cell phone to his ear. The second he sees us, he disconnects and stiffly motions us inside.
“And it’s personal,” Zack mutters under his breath.
“Personal?” My question goes unanswered.
Zack holds the door open, allowing me to pass through first.
Normally I would attribute the gallant door-opening gesture to his old-world Southern charm. But when I see the look on Johnson’s face, I realize it might be more self-preservation than good manners that prompted Zack’s gentlemanly behavior. Johnson’s steely eyed glare skewers me.
“Monroe, is your cell phone broken?” He moves to his desk and drops heavily into his chair before looking up at me expectantly, his face a rigid mask of irritation. “Well?”
“Did you lose it, maybe, or leave it at a friend’s?”
“Then why the fuck haven’t you checked your messages?”
I do a mental shuffle, trying to come up with an excuse when I know I have none. “Sorry, sir,” I say at last. “The truth is, the ringer was muted and I didn’t realize it.”
Zack steps to my side. “It is a holiday, sir.”
“When I want your opinion, Armstrong, I’ll damn well ask for it!”
Johnson’s outburst silences anything else Zack might have contemplated saying in my defense. I throw him a sideways glance. He’s staring straight ahead, the picture of composure, the ultimate professional, like a good soldier patiently awaiting his next order. Only the telltale tic in his jaw provides an indication of his level of annoyance.
Jimmy called us in to tell us something. Either he doesn’t know how to start, or he just plain doesn’t want to. Zack suspects it’s personal. So, maybe it’s a bit of both.
The testosterone standoff is getting us nowhere. I decide to change tactics. “For the record, I’m sorry I didn’t answer when you called.” Risking another angry outburst, I approach, asking softly, “What’s going on, Jimmy?”
For a moment he says nothing. Then his shoulders suddenly slump. He passes a hand over his face, releases a breath, and slouches back in his chair. “Sorry, Monroe, Armstrong. I had a rough night and my morning hasn’t been much better.” He motions to the chairs in front of his desk. “Have a seat.”
Zack takes the one to the right, I the one to the left. Johnson begins by sorting through some papers on the desk. After a moment he pulls two from the pile and hands them to me first.
“The girl on the left is Hannah Clemons. The girl on the right, Sylvia Roberts. Both sixteen.”
I glance at the pictures. They look like school photos, the kind of head shot you’d find in a typical yearbook. Both girls are blond and blue-eyed. They are wearing identical white blouses, Peter Pan collars lying neatly on top of navy blue cardigans. Their smiles radiate the confidence that comes with being young and pretty. I hand the pictures to Zack as Johnson hands another to me.
“This is Julie Simmons. Eighteen.”
Another blonde. Same uniform. She’s as pretty as the other two, but with a shadow of something—distrust, disillusionment—that makes her smile less open, more cautious, guarded.
Zack takes the third picture from my outstretched hand. Johnson allows him a moment to scan it before speaking.
“All three are missing. No one seems to have seen Hannah Clemons since school got out on Friday. The Roberts girl has been missing since Saturday. Julie Simmons has been missing a little over twelve hours.”
“Three girls missing in three days from the same school. Which one?” I ask.
“Point Loma Academy. It’s a private school. The locals are handing the case to us because with three girls now gone, they are thinking serial kidnapper, maybe serial killer, and they have no leads. They’ve kept the cases quiet, hoping to avoid hysteria. Being a long weekend, it’s been fairly easy to do. The first two girls were friends, so they weren’t entirely sure of foul play. But now that a third girl is missing, they are looking at the case differently. The pressure is on to go public. Someone may be targeting the school, and some high-profile parents have kids who go the Academy.”
“Any ransom demands made?” Zack asks.
Johnson shakes his head. “No. None of the kids are from families who could afford to pay much even if a ransom demand was made.”
“But they could afford private school?” I ask. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the Academy was pretty pricey.”
“You’re not wrong,” says Johnson. “All three of these girls were scholarship recipients.”
Zack pulls his notepad from the inside pocket of his jacket. “Well, we’ve got another connection, then. Could this be a prank of some kind? A bunch of rich kids ganging up on those who are less privileged?”
Johnson passes Zack another sheet of paper. “According to Principal Robinson’s statement, the identities of the scholarship recipients are kept in strict confidence. We’ve been asked to keep it that way.”
“I’m surprised.” Zack’s tone is sharply critical. “I’d think letting the parents who put money in his pocket know it’s been only scholarship students targeted would soothe some minds.”
I shake my head at Zack’s sarcasm. “Are there any other scholarship recipients?” I ask.
Johnson glances down at his phone. “One other. My niece, Rain. Julie Simmons is a friend of hers. A very good friend. She called me when she heard that Julie was missing.”
Zack and I exchange glances. I didn’t know whether to attribute it to his keen sense of hearing or instinct, but he was right. It is personal for Johnson.
“So you made a call to the local police to offer assistance,” Zack interjects.
Johnson nods. “We would have ended up with the case anyway.”
“Undoubtedly,” I agree. “Your niece?”
“Is safe at home waiting by the phone for news from me. Rain doesn’t know about the other two girls, or about the scholarship connection.”
“Which could be more coincidence than connection,” I add.
“Until we’re sure, I’ve got a friend watching my niece’s home. I want you two to start working the case immediately. Before any other girls go missing.” He sweeps a hand in the direction of the outer office. “I secured the necessary warrants. Agents Billings, Garcia, and Garner are gathering the background information you’ll need on the girls and their families. The others are consolidating information we have from the local police. They’ll have reports for you tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I suggest you make first contact with Julie’s parents.”
He slides a piece of paper across the desk. “The address. They’re expecting you.”
Zack holds up his hands. “Shouldn’t we wait until we have the police reports, at least? We’re going in cold.”
Johnson looks up as if surprised both by Zack’s question and the fact that we’re still in his office. “Exactly right. I want you to look at this case from a fresh perspective. As if you are the first on the scene.” A pause. He looks down at his desk and then up again. He picks up the paper he’d placed on the corner of the desk and shakes it. “Did I not make myself clear?”
“Crystal.” I grab it from his hand, snatch up the three photographs, then give Zack a nudge. We’ve been given our marching orders. We’ll have time to study the evidence and ask questions later. Right now Johnson needs some space.
Zack waits until we’ve exited the elevator and are heading across the parking lot before speaking. “What do you think?”
“I think Johnson’s afraid for his niece.”
“Ever met her?”
“No,” I reply absently, looking for the Simmonses’ address as we go.
Since I still have my car keys, I steer Zack toward the end of the first row. I’ve found the address. I recognize the street. “Point Loma Academy isn’t far from the Simmonses’. If I’m not mistaken, the school’s only a five-minute walk or so from this address.”
“Maybe we can swing by on the way, check it out. What else do you know about the Academy?”
“Not much, really. I attended a fund-raiser there a year or two ago.” What I don’t add is that my date was an agent from a different division whose kid attended the school. Unfortunately, his ex-wife decided to check herself out of rehab and show up for the fund-raiser, too. Unexpectedly, and very drunk. Not a pleasant experience. For me, or the agent who not too long after accepted a transfer and moved to the East Coast with his daughter.
I’ve already made my way to the driver’s side, leaving Zack no choice but to ride shotgun. I can hear him complaining under his breath. “Sure. Why don’t you drive?”
I smile and give him just enough time to get settled in the passenger seat before shifting into gear and pulling out of the lot.
The FBI building is located right on the I-15S interstate, which is what I head for. It’s not even midmorning yet and it’s hot enough in the SUV to crank up the air-conditioning. Zack hasn’t said another word. His jaw is tight, his shoulders bunched. I have to wonder whether it’s the job that’s got him in this mood or something else. Disappointment that he’s not spending the day with Sarah? Being the professional that I am, I push that notion aside and ask, “How do you want to handle the interview?”
He stares straight ahead. “You heard Johnson. We’ll handle it like we’re the first on the scene. We should be prepared to take some flak for making them repeat what they’ve already told the first officers, but if they’re concerned about their daughter, they’ll cooperate.”
“If they’re concerned? Since when did you become Glass-Half-Empty Guy?”
I momentarily cast aside concern about his uncharacteristic moodiness and concentrate on the drive.
My memory was correct. We take the Nimitz Boulevard exit to get to Ocean Beach. On the way to the Simmonses’ apartment, we go right past the school on West Point Loma that all three missing girls attend. I pull over and we take a look.
Point Loma Academy is a sprawling two-story stucco building set back from the road, surrounded by a well-manicured lawn and ensconced behind a high stone wall. A wrought-iron gate opens to a circular drive that leads from the street to the building entrance. A digital sign at the foot of the drive flashes upcoming events and boasts of recent sports victories. No students are around because of the Labor Day holiday. No cars in the adjacent parking lot. The entire campus looks deserted. High-end surveillance cameras are evident not only at the gate and main entrance, but in other key areas as far as my eyes can see, a sad testament to the fact that security is not only necessary but mandatory on school campuses nowadays.
Zack comments first. “You sure this is a high school? Looks more like Fort Knox.”
“High-profile students, remember?” I point toward one of the cameras. “Anyone targeting students here probably spent time on or around campus, don’t you think?”
“I’ll call Garner. We need to get someone assigned to reviewing recent footage.”
Zack makes the call.
I pull out and after five minutes and a couple more right turns, we’ve arrived at the address printed in Johnson’s neat flowing script.
Zack glances from the paper to the building and shoots me an inquisitive look. “This is it?”
I understand his confusion. The building we’re looking at is an apartment, two stories of chipping plaster fronted by a lawn in a losing battle against a vicious army of weeds. The parking lot is marked by deeply pitted asphalt and broken berms. A battered car by the entrance is balanced on four concrete blocks, its wheels gone.
“One look at this place and anyone would be able to figure out the Simmons girl is on a scholarship,” Zack says. I nod my agreement.
We trudge across the lawn to a gate set into a chain-link fence. The hinges squeal as we push it open and make our way to a row of mailboxes against a far wall. The Simmonses’ mailbox is marked 2B in red Magic Marker.
The stairway to the second floor is a series of concrete steps, the banister an afterthought of rough, unpainted wood probably attached to avoid a code violation.
As soon as I place my hand on it, I wish I hadn’t.
A sizable splinter is lodged in my index finger.
Zack reaches out. “Let me see.”
I place my hand, palm up, in his. He’s unimpressed. With barely a glance, he plucks out the sliver and lets it fall to the ground. “Good as new. Let’s go.”
“It’s bleeding. Not everyone has super-duper speedy-quick healing powers, you know,” I remind him. Demeter didn’t want to make it easy for me. I’ll heal from anything, but I do it the old-fashioned way, like a human, with time and pain.
“I could lick it,” he offers.
His tone doesn’t possess even the slightest hint of innuendo. A Were’s saliva contains properties that ward off infection and hasten healing. Nonetheless, suddenly I’m not thinking about my hand. I’m thinking of a night last spring. Of a warm fire and cool sheets. Of a soft touch and a hard body. Of the feel of Zack’s tongue and mouth.
I snatch my hand back and start once again up the stairs. “You’re right, I’m fine.”
I don’t make it far. “Emma?”
I square my shoulders and turn around. My mind races as I struggle to maintain a neutral expression and at the same time formulate a plausible explanation for the arousal that Zack’s heightened senses no doubt detected before I did.
“I’m sorry if that sounded out of line. It wasn’t . . .”
“Of course not!”
“Totally!” I nod as if nothing happened. As if I don’t know that he knows. Then we head up to 2B.
Zack raps on the front door with his knuckles. We stand back a few feet so anyone looking out the peephole can see us clearly. I’m prepared to hold up my credentials and explain who we are, but before I have my badge out, the door swings wide-open to reveal a girl of about five. She smiles up at us with a gap-toothed grin.
“Goldie said not to bug her. Not for nothing,” she announces. “So you better go away.” Her small frame is swallowed up by a pink chenille robe at least five times too big for her.
“Who’s Goldie?” Zack asks.
“Not supposed to talk to strangers,” she replies, taking a step back.
Zack produces his badge. “We’re . . . like policemen.”
“Like policemen? Where’s your uniform?”
In an effort to save Zack from being bested by the five-year-old, I bend down low so my face is almost even with hers and ask the question he should have asked. “Are your parents here?”
“Nope,” she replies. “Goldie’s watching me.”
“Only not,” Zack mutters.
“We’d really like to talk to them about your sister. How much longer do you think Goldie’s going to be?” I ask.
Her face scrunches up in concentration. “She went in to take her medicine one Dora and three SpongeBobs ago.” One glance back at the television and we’ve lost her. “I like this one,” she says, as she climbs back onto the sofa. “Have you seen it?”
“Sounds like an invitation to me. After you, Agent Monroe.”
Just as Zack steps over the threshold, a door off the living room opens. “Gracie?” a female voice rasps. “Who are you talking to?”
The woman, presumably Goldie, is tall, drug-addict scrawny with a sallow, shrunken face and hair the color and texture of straw. She’s barefoot, dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt. Despite the heat, a worn cardigan is pulled tightly across her chest. She glares at the child. “What have I told you about answering the door?”
Gracie shrinks back.
Zack and I produce our badges and quickly dispense with introductions. Instantaneously, Goldie’s manner shifts. Her tone softens. “Yes. What can I do for you?”
Zack steps forward. I can almost see his nose twitch as his werewolf senses go on alert. If she’s holding drugs in the apartment, he’ll know. He narrows his eyes at the woman. “You are . . . ?”
“The babysitter,” she replies, omitting her name. We let it go, for now.
Gracie has moved so that she is standing by my side. “Where are Mr. and Mrs. Simmons?” I ask, placing a gentle hand on top of the little girl’s head.
“When will they be back?”
The woman looks away, watching Zack as he surveys the apartment. His eyes land on the room she just left. When he starts toward it, Goldie yelps, “You can’t go in there. Actually, you shouldn’t even be in here. This is private property. And . . . and you have to have a warrant. And you don’t.”
“Exigent circumstances,” Zack snaps back. “You have pinpoint pupils and a very bad habit. We have a child here who could be in danger.”
“Please!” she pleads. “Gracie’s fine. Aren’t you, Gracie?” The woman worries at the hem of her secondhand-store sweater, twisting the fabric until it shreds and comes apart in her hands. She barely notices. Her attention is on Zack. She lowers her voice. “Look, I’m trying to stay clean. Honest. I can’t afford to get busted.”
Voices drift into the apartment from the parking lot below.
Goldie begins to babble, edging around Zack and moving toward the door at the back of the room. “Hey, listen—they’re back! How about I just get my purse and get out of here?”
But Zack steps in front of her. “If you go into that bedroom, I’ll want to look in that purse, and if I find something illegal, we’re going to have to arrest you. How about you just get out of here.”
She hesitates only a moment. She may be high, but not so high that she doesn’t recognize she’s being given a choice. She turns, glances at Gracie, then up to me. Without another word to either of us, she’s out the front door.
I take Gracie’s hand and lead her to the couch. “Is she a neighbor?” I ask her.
Gracie nods. “She lives downstairs.”
I hear the fall of Goldie’s footsteps on the stairs as she makes her descent.
“Does she stay with you often?”
“Not so much. She has a boyfriend now.”
An apartment door below us slams shut.
Zack, who had disappeared into the bedroom, returns, holding a purse. He places it on an end table near the couch. “You can give Goldie back her purse the next time you see her,” he says. He moves around the couch so he’s standing next to me and surreptitiously slides something out of his pocket just far enough for me to see what it is. Goldie’s drug kit.
Gracie toys with the robe’s belt.
“That’s a very pretty robe.”
She lifts her shoulders in an elaborate shrug. “This is Julie’s robe. She misappeared. My parents went to find her and bring her home.”
I put my hand over hers. “Gracie, did your parents hear from Julie? Is that why they left?”
Before Gracie can reply, the front door swings open. Gracie jumps up from the couch and runs to greet the man and woman who stop abruptly on the doorstep when they see Zack and me.
“Who are you?” the man asks, more fear than challenge in his tone.
I show him my badge. “Mr. and Mrs. Simmons? I’m Special Agent Monroe of the FBI. This is Agent Armstrong. We’re here about your daughter.”
The woman bends down and gathers Gracie into her arms. “FBI?” She hugs the little girl to her chest and turns wide eyes to us. “You found Julie? Where is she? Is she all right?”
Mr. Simmons places a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “Let the agents speak, Angie.” He takes Gracie from his wife’s arms and brings her to the couch. “Want to watch more cartoons?”
Gracie nods enthusiastically. Her father hands her the remote, then motions for us to follow him. Once in the kitchen, we all take seats around a small, round table. Mr. Simmons reaches for his wife’s hand. Her eyes are brimming with tears. They sit quietly without fidgeting, both sad-faced and stoic, the American Gothic in cotton shirts and jeans.
I break the silence. “Mr. and Mrs. Simmons, the FBI has been asked to take over your daughter’s case. I know we’ll be asking questions you’ve already covered with the local police, but it’s important we go over the information again.”
“Sometimes,” Zack interjects, “with time, something comes to light that may have been forgotten during the first interview.”
They exhibit no suspect reactions. No nervous side glances, no indication that they are upset by the idea of another interview. Their attention is riveted, their expressions hopeful.
Zack continues. “But before we start, there’s something you should know about Goldie. She wasn’t watching your daughter. Gracie answered the door and let us in. Goldie had told her not to bother her. There’s no easy way to say this. She’s a heroin addict and she was using. It’s fortunate you returned when you did. I know the last thing you need right now is another child in jeopardy.”
Shock and anger play across the Simmonses’ faces. It’s clear these folks are at the end of their tether. After recommending they do nothing about Goldie save ensure she’s never relied upon again for babysitting and promising we’ll be making referrals to law enforcement, we start in, alternating questions. When was the last time they saw Julie? How did she seem? Was she upset about anything? How was she doing in school? Did she have a boyfriend?
The answers are clear and straightforward. They saw Julie last when she left to go to the local library. She had some research to do for a school project and some books to return. She seemed fine, although she was running a little late and worried about making it before closing. She didn’t want to incur a fine. She was doing well in school, hoped to win a scholarship to Stanford to study marine biology. No, she didn’t have a boyfriend.
Zack has been jotting answers on a small notepad. He looks up. “Had anything happened at home that might have upset her?”
That question brings the first physical reaction from the pair. They exchange looks. Mrs. Simmons clears her throat. “One thing.” She looks at her husband and he nods. She clears her throat again. “A few days ago, we found out Julie had gotten a tattoo. What do they call it? A tramp stamp.”
“My Julie’s no tramp. She’s a good girl!” Mr. Simmons assures us. “I don’t know what she was thinking.”
“And you confronted Julie about the tattoo?” I ask.
Mrs. Simmons nods. “She reminded us that she was eighteen and could legally make her own decisions. She was right about that, of course, but it didn’t keep her father and me from being upset. Julie has always been such a levelheaded girl.”
Mr. Simmons chimes back in. “We had words, but by dinnertime we had all calmed down. She even hugged her mother and I before bedtime. All was forgiven.”
Mrs. Simmons nods. “Never go to bed angry—that’s what my mother always said. What’s done is done.”
“Wish my parents were that understanding about my teenage screwups,” Zack interjects.
Mr. Simmons says, “Well, we knew who was really to blame for the tattoo.”
I lean toward him. “Who?”
“Rain Johnson.” He spits the name. “She’s trouble, that one. I told the police they should question her. Have you seen that girl? One look at her and you can tell she’s trouble.”
I see Zack’s eyes widen at the mention of Deputy Director Johnson’s niece, but neither he nor I make any comment. Instead, I ask, “Why do you say that, Mr. Simmons?”
“We never had any problem with Julie until the two of them became friends. Then Julie became very secretive about the things they did together.”
I nod in understanding. “Teenage girls do like to have their privacy.”
“It was more than that. Shortly after they started hanging out, Julie came home past curfew with liquor on her breath. We thought she was studying at the library. Turns out Rain brought her to a party. We grounded her, of course. And we told her she couldn’t see Rain outside of school. If we could have, we’d have barred her from having anything to do with the girl even at school, but that would have been impossible.” He shakes his head. “We should have watched her more closely.” His breath catches. “And we never should have let her walk to the library alone.”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Book One in the Fallen Siren Series, Cursed
"One entertaining and fast-paced read. Best of all? Zack, the wildly sexy werewolf FBI agent! What better crime-fighting partner could a girl have?"—Jennifer Ashley, New York Times bestselling author of Tiger Magic
"Cursed is the perfect blend of magic, mystery, and romance. Emma and Zack are strong, noble characters who are trying to overcome their dark pasts, and their quests for redemption will make your heart hurt. This is a series you need to read now."—Sandy Williams, author of the Shadow Reader series
“A promising new writing collaboration…After delivering a hefty helping of danger and drama, Harper then sets the groundwork for more fast-paced adventures.”—RT Book Reviews (4 stars)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reckoning by S.J. Harper is the second book in her Fallen Siren series. I really enjoyed the first book, with a fun, sexy and entertaining story. I was anxiously awaiting this book to see if this great team of Emma and Zack would continue. I am happy to say this was just as good as the first. In case you have not read the first book, here is a brief description of the series: Emma Monroe is our heroine. Emma is Siren back in the days of the goddess Demeter, when she and other sirens were punished for the kidnapping of Persephone. Emma spends her life on earth; she is an FBI special agent, with her duty to help save the lives of humans, as she waits for redemption. Of course, thousands of years have passed, and the goddess doesn’t look like she plans on forgiving Emma. Zack is her partner, a werewolf, and in the first book they both fell hard for each other. At the end of the first book, Emma erased his memory, to save his life, as Demeter will do anything to make Emma miserable Months later, Emma and Zach are assigned to a high profile case of the kidnappings of teenage girls, all young, blond and virgins. Zack and Emma investigate, and slowly some of the pieces will fall into place. This will cause Emma to enlist the help of her vampire lover, Kallistos, since clues are pointing at vampires somehow involved with blood donations. What follows is a very well written story, excellent pace, as we discover the truth. Zack, Emma, Kallistos and the rest of their friends/teams find themselves up against a dangerous enemy. While this is going on, Zach, and Kallistos have their own battle to fight for Emma’s affections. Zach finds himself puzzled and angry that Emma is with the vampire, and pushes his attempts away. He knows she has feelings for him, but refuses to act on them. This does cause friction between Zach and Kallistos, which is fun at times to see them try to best each other. This threesome was a lot of fun, in between the danger surrounding them. I do not want to give any spoilers, but this was an excellent mystery, with magic and some mythology, not to mention the romance. Poor Emma though, must face Demeter again, and we feel her pain. You need to read this series, to get in on this fun series.
good reading waiting for next in series
The team of Samantha Sommersby and Jeanne C. Stein aka S.J. Harper have done it again. They’ve mixed magic, mystery and a bit of sexual tension and turned out another terrific tale. This is one of those books that will have you rooting for the werewolf or the vamp but Emma is no emo shrinking violet and her mantra “Redemption could be one rescue away” is what gets her through the day. This is a fast paced read that will keep you turning pages and wanting more.
loved both books can not wait for the third one to come out really love all of it I know they will make up but can`t wait
How many centuries of suffering is enough for one mistake? Apparently, the gods can hold a vicious grudge and Demeter is not through with Emma, the Earthbound Siren, as the amazing writing team that calls themselves S. J. Harper brilliantly and painfully point out in Reckoning. Emma and her partner, Zach, a werewolf, are FBI agents; the case involves the mysterious disappearance of three teens. Is it a slave ring? Prostitution? Or is it something even more sinister? When all clues lead to a connection with Emma’s current lover, vampire royalty, Kallistos, the hunt takes a dark and vile turn. Meanwhile, Emma fights the pain of having to work with a man who no longer remembers the love they shared and the guilt of knowing she was the one to wipe his memory. Even knowing it was to save his life doesn’t ease the pain. She and Kallistos get along fine as lovers, but he is not Zach, and she cannot return his feelings completely. Not your typical love triangle, and doomed to hurt all involved. Will Emma ever receive her pardon from the gods? Will her heart ever be able to express its feelings with causing pain, or death? There are three girls to find and the clock is ticking, once again, Emma must lock her heart away, but will it be in time or will the events that play out shatter it even further? Can anyone walk away unscathed? From page one, I was there as the characters jumped off the pages and the action and intrigue had me in a choke hold. The writing team of Samantha Sommersby and Jeanne C. Stein prove that sometimes two heads are better than one as they pour page after page of “moments to remember” into their tale. Get ready to run the gauntlet of emotions to reach the end of this trip through their fertile minds, and never expect anything but the unexpected! Well written, well- paced , filled with mystery and romance, the paranormal was like icing on the cake!
This book starts off with a bang! It’s well paced and well balanced, starting quickly and keeping you glued to the page for both the relationship and the mystery. It’s exciting, realistic (in terms of the investigation in particular), and very sexy. There are so many things that have stayed on my mind since finishing the book that I’m having trouble figuring out sorting it all out! First, this is not a standalone. You need to read the books in order to grasp the gravity, context, and nuances of everything going on. Several references are made to events from book one. Second, Kallistos is a very complex character. He’s one I’d like to see more of – like maybe in a book of his own. However, for that to happen, his involvement in Zach and Emma’s life needs to change. Emma and Zach belong together, and it’s just SO SAD to watch them together. They’re partners and work well together, but personally they kind of walk on eggshells and it’s a little awkward. Plus, you can cut the sexual tension with a knife. This was a tough read, only because it was a tough case involving tough politics in the Were and vampire worlds, and it was tough love all around. The ending was so utterly heartbreaking because Zach is stubborn – so much it was almost out of character. What an impactful book! I can’t imagine what awaits in the next one… Reckoning is an enthralling read! Once you start, you won’t be able to put it down. So if you’re looking for a story that has it all, even an evil vindictive goddess, pick up this awesome book!