Read an Excerpt
Someone was looking for me.
The buzzing started up in my head over breakfast. At first, I convinced myself it was stress. No one in San Francisco knew what I was, and a string of sleepless nights and back-to-back deadlines were enough to make anyone feel fuzzy. I just needed to rest.
Or, I was finally going insane.
It didn't go away. By noon I had the beginnings of a headache. By three o'clock it was bad enough that when my colleague Jackson Herring asked if I wanted to leave early and grab a drink, I said yes. My pills weren't workingmaybe a couple of beers would. And anyway, I hadn't made a dent in the warehouse plans I was supposed to be drafting.
I followed him out to his Audi and got in the passenger seat, relieved when the buzzing faded as he drove down Market. We agreed on Featherweight's, but as soon as I walked through the door I regretted it.
"What is it?" Jackson asked. I'd paused in the en-tryway.
"Nothing," I lied.
The bar was packed. I remembered too late that the Folsom Street Fair was going on, which explained the guys in assless chaps sipping martinis and the man in a studded collar chatting up the bartender. But it wasn't the bondage wear that bothered me. For a telepath, crowds were trouble no matter what they were wearing.
"It's not usually this busy," Jackson said, almost like he'd read my mind.
"No big deal." I faked a smile and followed in his wake, doing my best not to brush any arms or legs. Contact made it hard for me to shield myself from the thoughts swirling around me. Bonuses and unpaid bills, itchy socks and uncomfortable heels, the sexual proclivities of last night's date By the time we made it to the bar, my vague, dull headache had become a sharp, piercing one.
Miraculously, two unoccupied barstools appeared in front of us, and I snagged one before a woman wearing fairy wings and black tape X's over her nipples could horn her way in. She was wondering if it was legal to park in a green zone after six. I rubbed my temples.
"You sure you're all right?" Jackson sat next to me and signaled the bartender.
"Fine. Just a headache." Alcohol was going to make it better. I hoped.
Jackson looked down and fiddled with his drink coaster. He was still wearing his tie, and he looked charmingly out of place amidst the fair-goers, like an ad for dress shirts in an adult video store. He'd just made partner at Reardon Engineeringsomething that was at least ten years off for meand he couldn't have been more than five years older. Golden boy. My cubicle mate would've given her Nob Hill condo to be in my place right now, a fact she thought about every time he came by my desk.
I wasn't interested. Jackson was nice enough, but I didn't do relationships. Overnight guests and tele-kinetic nightmares don't mix.
"I" he began, but the bartender arrived and cut him off. We both ordered pints of the happy hour special, and I stared at the television above the bar while he pulled them. It was showing the national news, a human interest story about a rebuilding effort in New Orleans.
"Isn't that where you're from?"
"Yeah." I wondered when I'd mentioned it. I never talked about my past. They started showing old footage of the Ninth Ward levee breach, and I looked away.
"When was the last time you went back?"
"A while ago." Never.
Our beers arrived and saved me from elaborating. I downed half of mine in one long drag. The buzzing only got worse. I thought about the bottle of sedatives in my purse, and whether I could pass them off as aspirin and take a couple right there at the bar. They'd worn off early last night, and tonight wasn't looking good, either.
"Actually," Jackson began, and I realized I'd been staring at my glass for longer than was polite. I looked up. His usually perfectly parted dark hair was mussed, and he was rubbing his neck. "There's a reason I brought you" he said, and just as I was thinking, Crap, this is where he tells me he wants to date me, pain sliced through the base of my skull, and I doubled over and hit my head on the bar.
I knew what was coming. The roaring in my brain blocked out the world for an instant, and then every consciousness in the room came rushing in. Images laid over each other, faces on top of menus on top of clothing store sales racks and MUNI maps. A deafening static of voices, bitten-back insults, declarations of love, twenty different songs stuck in twenty different heads. I pressed my hands to my ears as if it would help, moaning.
"Cass? Cass!" Jackson. Shaking me. His hands on my shoulders made it worse. Christ, what's happening to her? Gotta get her out of the crowdshitshould've just told her
For an instant I wondered what he meant, but then the pain in my head doubled, and the only thing I cared about was getting out of that room. I twisted away from him and off the barstool, knocking into two women standing behind me.
"Hey!" said one of them, holding up a spilled cosmo.bitch needs to watch where she's goingeighty-dollar shirtmotherfucker
If I didn't get out of the room fast, I was going to throw up all over the polished wooden floor. I made myself speak. "Sorry, sorry just a headache. I just need painkillers "
"Cass, maybe you should come in the back."
The bartender. How did he know my name?
My pills. I needed my pills.
"It's this way" Jackson. His hand on my arm. gotta get her out of the crowd"Hey, look at me." not an ordinary headache
I jerked away. "No! I just needbathroom." I grabbed my purse and staggered through the crowd before he could stop me.
There was a line at the bathroom, of course. I eyed the employees-only utility closet nearby, but even as I thought it, the door opened and a young couple came out. They definitely didn't seem like employees. The guy gave me an odd look and held the door for me. I didn't want to know what he was offering. I turned and slipped out the side door into the alley.
The alley was full of garbage bins and dirty blankets left over from street people who'd spent the night there, but it was perfectly, wonderfully empty. The cool, still quiet drowned out the murmur of the crowded bar and the ghosts of Jackson's thoughts. I leaned against the door for a moment and let the silence wash over me, willing the pain to recede.
It'll pass. Let it pass.
This had happened before. I could usually keep my powers in check, but every now and then, they broke free all at once. Overload. I just needed to concentrate on my breathing and get to my sedatives.
No one was around, but I ducked behind a Dump-ster just to be safe and fished the orange plastic bottle out of my purse. Two pills, swallowed dry. It helped if I focused on something physical, so I pressed back against the stucco wall, feeling the hard ridges of plaster dig into my skin. The pressure in my head eased; the hum of unspoken words from the bar grew more muffled.
In, hold, out. The rhythm of my breath calmed me. In, hold, out. I'd give myself five more minutes to pull it together, then I'd go back inside, make my excuses and leave. In, hold
Someone was in the alley.
Someone was looking for me after all.
If I hadn't just damped my powers down with pills, I could've broadened my awareness and seen his intent. As it was, I'd only barely picked up his presence. Panic hit mewhat if it was a mugger? What if someone had seen me slip into the alley, a five-foot-four woman in dress slacks and heels, alone? I kicked through the trash collected at the base of the wall, looking for something I could use as a weapon, a bottle, a branch, anything. I came up with an empty beer bottle just as the man stepped around the side of the Dumpster.
The bottle fell from my hand and smashed.
I should have known. I should have figured it out as soon as my head started buzzing over breakfast. "How the hell did you know I was here?"
"How do you think?"
"Dammit, Shane, haven't you heard of phones? I thought my head was going to split open in there." I slammed my hands into his broad chest, shoving him back, shoving him away, but he caught them and held them.
"You didn't leave a number." His voice had gone dangerously low. I stepped back, coming up hard against the side of the Dumpster, and he pursued me, hands still covering mine. "No address, nothing. What the fuck was I supposed to do?"
Our gazes locked, and I went still. We both knew my number wasn't listed. We both knew I hadn't wanted to be found.
My breath went shallow. It had been five years since I'd seen him, but ten times that wouldn't have been enough for me to forget. I still remembered what it had been like to share thoughts with him as easily as breathing. I still knew his mind the way I knew the planes of his cheekbones and the café au lait color of his skin. The last night I'd spent with him went tunneling through my head before I could stop itone hand clasping my waist, rough fingers tracing circles on my shoulder as I lay on top of him. Shane's teeth light on my bottom lip. His eyes dilated, and I knew he could see it.
For a moment, I thought he was about to lean in. He was that close. It would've been that easy. My heart pounded, but I closed my eyes and turned my head, and he dropped my hands. "Jesus, Cass." He stepped back and ran his hands over his close-cropped black hair and down his face.
"What are you doing here?" It was easier to look at the garbage on the ground than at him.
"I know you don't want to see me." He paused long enough that I had to look up. "It's important."
It finally registered that there was more in his voice than five years of anger. It took me a moment to place his emotional state amidst my own panic, but once I did, it was unmistakable. Grief. I couldn't voice a question. I was too afraid I should be asking who was dead.
"It's Mina," he said, and my heart stopped. "She's missing."
His sister. It took all I had not to reach for him. Shane noticed, or maybe he read my thoughts. His lips went thin.
"How long?" I asked.
"Almost thirty-six hours. She went out fishing and didn't come back."
Thirty-six hours with no contact. Already I suspected the worst.
"Look," Shane said, "you've got more range than the rest of us. And you were like a sister to her. Maybe you'll pick up something I missed."
I sensed the hint of desperation beneath his words. For Shane to leave the search to come and find me, they must be running out of hope.
My throat tightened with held-back tears. Mina, who'd taught me how to mindmove, how to light candles and matches from yards away. Who'd helped me sneak out of my foster parents' house to go listen to bands in the Quarter, who'd known about my feelings for her brother almost before I had, and who'd helped me pick out a shirt for our first real date.
Mina, whom I'd never told goodbye.
"Okay," I said. "Okay. I've just got to make an excuse to get out of here."
"Who's the guy in the bar? Jackson."
I didn't ask how he knew. His voice didn't betray any emotion, but I could tell it was there. Not jealousymore like resignation.
"Just a friend. Coworker. It won't be a problem."
Shane nodded, still expressionless, and I went back through the alley door.
When I got to my spot at the bar, Jackson was gone, and the bartender was guarding our seats from an angry-looking crowd holding their drinks. At least the woman I'd knocked into was gone.
"Jack'll be right back," the bartender said. "He just got a phone call."
"Oh." Perfect. "Well, could you tell him I caught a cab home?" I started backing away. "I'll see him at work."
"Hey, wait, he'll be back in a second."
"I really have to go," I said, and darted for the back door. As I turned away, the goth fairy I'd beat out earlier claimed my seat.
Shane was waiting for me, leaning against the cin-derblock wall of the defunct car dealership next to the bar, thumbs hooked in the belt loops of his jeans. Now that I was over the shock of seeing him, I noticed that he hadn't shaved, and his dark eyes were bloodshot. Not that it made much difference. He'd always been hard to mess up.
"We can catch a cab on Market." I led the way down Mission. He hadn't dressed for the damp, chilly weather, and there was gooseflesh on the brown skin of his arms. He'd put on weight since I'd seen him last, mostly muscle. It showed through the tight T-shirt he wore, in the way he walked. He caught my eye and I flushed, hoping he hadn't noticed me noticing. I hailed a cab at the corner.
"Our flight leaves at ten o'clock," he said as we got in. "Red-eye."
"You already booked tickets?"
"Call me an optimist."
I didn't reply. When we got to my building, I asked the driver to wait. I unlocked the security gate and led Shane up the two flights to my place, wishing I'd cleaned it up that morning. As the door swung open, he stepped back.
"Holy shit, Cass. What happened in here?"
"I had a nightmare." I walked in without looking at him and threw my keys on the table in the hall. He followed slowly, no doubt taking in the empty walls. Picture frames were a liability. I went straight to my tiny closet and started yanking T-shirts and sweaters out of the overstuffed drawers. It was fall, and I knew the weather in Louisiana could go either way.
"A nightmare?" Shane was standing in my bedroom doorway, looking at the mess. The books that used to be on my ceiling-height bookshelf were jumbled on the floor, some of them open, pages torn out. My robe was hanging from the light fixture above the bed, and broken glass from a smashed mirror was all over the floor rug. I knew from experience that some of the glass had been pulverized and shoved deep into the fibers. There was no getting it out. I was going to have to throw it away.
"It's happening again?" His voice was soft, and I didn't dare look at him.
"No." I shoved underwear and two pairs ofjeans into my carry-on. "Not that often." There'd been a time when I lost control in my sleep nearly every night. I was past that now. Mostly. The dream came back to me, the panic still fresh. I'd been drowning, fighting a current in muddy water, a voice I couldn't quite recognize screaming at me in pursuit.
The shields around my mind faltered, and I felt Shane's concern, tinged with that same protective edge he'd had when he was training me. I knew he was about to ask more, but I pushed past him to the cramped bathroom in the hall. I shut the door and stuffed toiletries into my bag, taking a moment to brush my stick-straight hair into a ponytail. It was too short for it, and blond wisps snuck out of the band. I leaned my head against the mirror and closed my eyes.
It'll just be a few days, I told myself, knowing it probably wasn't true.
It had been five years since I'd been in New Orleans, five years since I'd used my powersconsciously, anyway. It had taken me three of those years to start living anything close to a normal life, and I still trashed my bedroom in my sleep every time I had a bad dream. Going back, letting my abilities loose againwas I going to have to start all over? Don't think about it. Just don't think about it.
I stayed in the bathroom until the panic ebbed away. I don't know how long I was in there, but when I came out, Shane was still waiting in the hallway, leaning against the wall. He must have heard everything I'd been thinking, but he didn't comment.
"I'm ready," I said.
"Then let's go."