What would you think if you woke in an unfamiliar place with no memory of how you got there?
Suppose it’s a dream and pinch yourself?
What if you can’t pinch yourself?
I have to rely on my ghostly buddies and a fake clairvoyant to help me solve a personally harrowing mystery and just when we think we’ve found the guilty party, the game changes. The real culprit’s convoluted plan is diabolical and shooting me was the first step. The next step could change the Gelpha world, and that would be just the start.
Poor Royal. He’s tolerated my interaction with dead people but never been happy with it. Now he has to take a real leap of faith. Now, if he wants to save my life and protect the future of three worlds, he has to believe.
It turned out to be one of those days.
One phone call would bring Royal here in a jiffy. No doubt he’d change my tire without getting a mark on his clothes. But I’m not a woman who summons her man for every little thing. I call it preserving my independence. He calls it stubbornness.
I am woman. Hear me roar. Though it sounds more like a whimper.
I grunted as I gave the tire iron a final push to tighten the lug nut. I would get a flat out in the hills and the Jeep had to end up in the mud when I took her off the road. Slush and mud coated my jeans from the knees down. Muck smeared my coat from maneuvering the flat off and putting the spare tire on. I didn’t have gloves with me and my hands were caked and freezing. Wrestling with the wheel, I banged my forehead on the car body and now an egg-shaped bump throbbed. The dazzling winter sun hitting my eyes didn’t help.
I climbed in the Jeep and started her. She whined before the engine kicked over. “Don’t you give me any grief,” I told her. “Not today. Not here.”
I put her in gear and off we went.
Except we didn’t. The wheels spun in the mud.
“No, no, no!” I thumped the steering wheel with my fist as mud and water fountained behind the Jeep.
Wrenching the gear into reverse, I tried to back up. The wheels got traction and moved half a foot before sticking again. I put her in drive and hit the accelerator.
The Jeep whipped on the road, hit the ice and snow and impersonated a whirling dervish.
When I got her under control, we sat in the middle of the road, happily pointing in the right direction.
“Right!” I drew in a long breath. “Off we go.”
Before we reached the next bend in the road, the engine made a god-awful grinding noise, followed by clunks, and died. The Jeep ungracefully slithered a few yards before stopping altogether.
I got out and slammed the door. Now what? I can change a tire but engines are a mystery. I’d have to call a tow service to take us to a garage.
Channeled by snowy banks either side of the road, the wind screamed through the canyon. The crisp air promised another snowfall. I fumbled my cell phone from my coat pocket with numb fingers and thumbed on the screen.
“Of course.” I looked skyward, waving my hands in the air.
I turned on the Jeep and vented my anger by kicking the tire. Then I limped down the road until my toe stopped throbbing.
Snow fell thickly to blanket the buildings and sidewalks, wind whisked the white flakes in my eyes as I parked on Twenty-Second and slogged to Royal’s apartment and our office. Thankfully the Jeep was a quick fix. The mechanic tightened a doodad and replaced a gizmo there on the roadside and I was good to go. I didn’t need a tow but that I paid plenty for parts, labor and the guy coming out did not improve my mood.
After a quick change of clothes, I arrived half an hour late for an appointment with a new client. When I called Royal he said the client didn’t mind waiting but keeping them hanging didn’t set a good precedent.
I paused at the bottom of the covered stairwell and wiped my wet face on my wet sleeve. The bump on my forehead had swollen to a hard, pounding knot. I touched my head. “It can’t be that big.” Probing the lump with my fingers made my eyes water.
Which may be why, when I heard a crack and chips of brick exploded from the wall beside me, I only looked up through watery eyes, dazed. Another crack and a blow to my head, as if a nail punched in my skull, an instant before my head shattered.