Happy Friday, lovelies! I hope you enjoy this week’s installment of Wraith and Ruin!
If you missed the previous chapters, you can find them here:
She didn’t accept phone calls. When I called the number Jay Donnelly had given me, it was to hear a recording of a waspish voice tell me to fucking email like a normal person. That was followed by an email address, and the message had come to an abrupt stop. It was like being hung up on. By voicemail. Which was really a whole new level of shade and I was starting to get why he’d called her a hardass.
So I’d emailed. Told her I had a client who needed to get out of her deal.
Waited a day and didn’t get a response.
And then she’d emailed me back.
Unless you have $100,000 for me to even look at your case, and another $400,000 if I get her off, you’re wasting your time. And from what I’ve seen about you, you don’t have that kind of cash, hunter.
And that felt like being hung up on too, and I wondered how the hell she managed that with email.
The days were slipping by, each one bringing us closer to the end of Marissa Laurence’s time on Earth, the end of her time free from the clutches of a particularly nasty-ass demon who was going to make her his personal pet.
And the lawyer, Serena Hawkins… she was right. I didn’t have that kind of cash. Marissa’s friends didn’t either, even if I did feel okay telling them that demons are real and the reason their friend had been numbing herself with drugs and alcohol for the past few years was that one owned her soul, and her time was almost up. How do you tell people something like that? I mean, if they’re calling me, they at least are open to the idea that bad shit exists, beyond the realms of possibility. But being open to that and hearing that one of your friends are in danger from it… no. They thought Marissa had been freaked out by the hauntings at the market and had taken off because of that. For the time being, I was fine letting them think that.
I sat on my bed in my crappy little hotel room in Detroit. I’d emailed Serena again, with no response. So I sent another one an hour ago, and as cleaned my guns, I heard my email alert ping. I set the gun down on the nightstand and picked up my laptop.
Message from Serena. I took a deep breath and opened it.
Are you stupid or just masochistic? You can’t pay. We both know it. Stop wasting my time.
I chuckled and emailed back.
Stupid, no. Masochistic, sometimes. Depends on the girl, though.
Anyway. Look. I know I don’t have the money. I won’t even lie and try to tell you I can get it. I can’t. And I know you don’t give a rat’s ass about helping. But I think we can form a beneficial partnership. You know what I do for a living. I come across all sorts of weird shit. Know a few demons personally, and there are lots of people out there who don’t know about you, wouldn’t know to look for you. You have a very niche practice. I can steer business your way. Hell, I can even help researching your cases if you want me to. Plus I’m a damn delight to work with. Ask anyone.
A few minutes later, my email pinged again.
I don’t need your help.
I rolled my eyes and started typing.
You know, we could at least text like people from this century if we’re gonna do this. Who the hell emails anymore? I know you don’t need my help. But you’re a businesswoman, and a smart one from what I hear. We both have the kind of jobs no one else understands. I’m just saying. Could benefit both of us.
Seconds later, another ping.
Nice try, trying to weasel my personal number out of me. Email is just fine.
Meet me at Jumbo’s in the Corridor. We’ll talk. One hour.
I nodded, grinning as I typed my response.
I’ll be there.
I got up, took a quick shower, and threw on a clean pair of jeans and a black t-shirt, my black Carhartt jacket over it. When I got into my truck, I let the Detroit classic rock station blare, cranked the windows down so I could feel the cool fall air as I drove through the city.
She’d done her research, I thought. She knew exactly who I was, what I did. Which wasn’t hard to find, but she’d done some digging. Enough to know that I wasn’t rolling in the dough. Enough to not even question why I was trying to save someone I didn’t even know. I guess it was to be expected. From the research I’d done on her, she was meticulous, cool, calculating, and confident. She wasn’t going into this, even a discussion with me, unless she was pretty sure she had a possibility of getting the better end of our deal.
She could have it. I didn’t give a shit. Helping her meant I’d be helping others, so I was fine with it. And in the end, the joke was on her because I didn’t have much time left anyway. But she didn’t need to know that. No one’s business but my own.
I pulled into the parking lot of the old dive bar and parked, then blew out a breath.
“You know what to do, Carl,” I told my truck ghost.
“Anytime, man,” the ghost replied in his slow Mississippi drawl. He was my truck’s former owner. Loved the sturdy black 87 Silverado more than he’d loved anything else in life. When I’d bought it, I’d ended up with a haunted truck, and I had no problem with that. I mean. I could have banished him. But Carl is pretty chill and he’s the best damn truck theft deterrent in the world. I can park anywhere and no one messes with my shit. He’s pretty quiet, content to just be in the truck and ride along with me. It works.
I got out and walked toward the entrance, pulling the steel door open and immediately was enveloped by the darkness, the scent of stale beer and whiskey. Ray Charles was playing on the jukebox, and the sound of people playing pool and chatting, laughing surrounded me. I looked around, my eyes immediately drawn to a redhead at the bar. Her long hair was a mass of wild curls down her back, reaching nearly to her shapely ass as she sat on the bar stool. She wore jeans that clung to every curve and a gray v-neck top that somehow managed to cover everything while also revealing a whole hell of a lot.
She turned and looked me over, her eyes narrowing. I kept walking, sliding into the barstool next to hers.
“Whatever’s on tap, thanks,” I said to the bartender, looking back at the redhead as she studied me. “Serena. Nice to meet you.”
She just kept looking at me, hazel eyes narrowing more.
“What?” The bartender set my beer down and I handed him some bills. He walked away after checking to see if Serena needed anything. She waved him off and he left.
“Why are you worrying about some random woman’s soul when your own is equally claimed?” she asked. I was just raising my beer glass to my lips and froze, just for a second. I gave a small shake of my head and then took a gulp of beer.
“We’re not here to talk about me.”
She rested her elbows on the bar and kept studying me. “But we are. This changes things.”
“Yeah and you weren’t supposed to know that. So how did you know?” My words came out shorter than I intended, but it wasn’t something anyone else knew about, other than Namaloth and me. And I liked it that way.
“I can see it,” she said, still studying me. “There’s a sense of emptiness about you, one that every one of my clients has. I understand now that it means someone has claimed your soul… it isn’t really yours anymore.”
“Not something you’d know much about, huh?”
She raised a perfectly arched eyebrow. “Nope. Lucky me.”
I nodded. I could feel it from her too, even if Donnelly hadn’t told me. Supernatural beings have an aura. All of them. And I can see them. An ordinary woman shouldn’t have had one, but she did. And it was gray and bleak, like staring into nothing. Just like the other Wraith I’d known once.
“Look. Like I said, this isn’t about me. I made a deal, and I knew better than anyone what kind of shit I was getting into. I’m fine with it.”
“Are you?” she asked in a low smooth voice, watching me. It was like being watched by a tigress who was waiting to pounce.
I blew out a breath. “Doesn’t matter,” I said, as close as I could get to admitting that I definitely wasn’t fine with it. “We’re not talking about me.”
She stirred her drink. Rum and coke, it looked like. The ice clinked against the sides of her glass as she lazily swirled it with the thin straw. “The only reason I’m here is because you claim you can be of help to me. I’m starting to doubt that.”
I took a long swallow of my beer and watched her. She didn’t look away, and I knew I’d lose any foothold I’d gained with her if I looked away now. “You do your research. I know you checked me out. Which was why you decided this might be worth your time. Cut the shit, lady. My personal shit hasn’t impacted any of my work, and it won’t now.”
Ooh. A strong one.
I was woman enough to admit it: at least part of why I’d agreed to meet with him was because I was intrigued by the hunter. And from the few pics I’ve seen, mostly on his Facebook page, he was worth a closer look.
And oh, he was.
Broad shoulders. Dark stubble. Short, dark hair, and deep brown eyes. He had the kind of confident swagger that only a man who has faced the most dangerous creatures in existence, and won, could ever achieve.
And he didn’t give an inch. Not in emails, not when I stared him down. I was good at making men cower. Not this one. I had no intention of working with him. His proposal was a joke and one born of desperation, from a man who wasn’t used to losing. I could appreciate that even if I thought it was ridiculous.
“You really believe that,” I said, my lips curving a little in amusement. “You’ve tried to make a ridiculous, nonsensical deal with me to save a woman you don’t even know from a fate you share. And you don’t think your ‘personal shit’ has any hold on what you’re doing?”
“Does yours impact what you do?” he shot back.
“Of course. I know I’m in no danger when I do what I do. I summon them, hold them captive until the deal is done. The only time I’m in danger is if I happen to visit Hell.”
He watched me closely. “Which you never do… right?”
“On occasion,” I said with a shrug. His gaze sharpened a bit as he looked at me, then he gave a small shake of his head.
“Do you have a death wish?” he asked.
I smiled. “I’m young, hot, and rich as sin. I’m fine sticking around for a while.”
“If you say so,” he said in response, taking another gulp of his beer. “You know there’s nothing to keep them from killing you when you enter their domain.”
My mind flashed back to the other night. I’d gone farther, given myself over to their dominance more than I ever have before, and it was so unlike me. And I was pushing it more and more lately, preferring the thrill of fear to the boredom and nothingness that filled most of my emotional life.
“Not your concern,” I said, keeping my eyes on his.
I wanted him. I’d have to be both blind and dead not to. I smiled. “I’d like to alter our deal a little.”
He shrugged. “Since we haven’t made a deal yet, let’s hear what you’ve got.”
“One night in my bed. Plus the other stuff you offered.”
He’d been raising his glass to his lips and paused.
And then the bastard laughed.
“Something’s funny?” I asked, hearing the iciness in my own voice. Which only made him laugh harder, then he gulped down the rest of his beer and signaled the bartender for another.
“I’m a half-million dollar screw. I’m so putting that on my resume,” he said.
“It’s not— I…” I spluttered, and he chuckled more. “It’s the other things you offered too. I admit that you have contacts I don’t,” I said smoothly, knowing it was a lie. I didn’t give a shit about his contacts. “And while I’m not really looking for more clients it wouldn’t be a bad thing to hear when something interesting comes up.” I sipped my drink. “That just sweetens the deal.”
He sighed, giving the bartender a few more bills when he brought his beer.
“You know you want to,” I said, regaining some of my composure.
“Crazily enough, not every man you meet is going to want to sleep with you,” he said, meeting my gaze before taking another gulp of beer.
“That’s a lie. The straight ones always want me. And you do too,” I said.
He set his glass down and looked me dead in the eyes. “Do I? Do I really? Look real close, Serena.”
And I did. He was calm. Cool. Not even a little bit flustered or unsure around me. No sign that he was trying not to stare. He hadn’t even tried to touch me.
What the fuck.
I looked at him in stony silence, and he kept his eyes on mine, taking another drink of his beer.
“So?” he asked.
I didn’t answer.
“So it’s clear: I don’t want you. I tend to like my women to have a soul. I want to get this woman out of her deal so she can have her life back. In return, I’ll steer good clients your way and help you research their cases whenever you ask. I know you only want the ones who can pay. Those types never hire me, because they think I’m a joke. But I hear things. And I’m good at my job.”
“So I have heard,” I finally said, knocking back the rest of my drink. The truth was, I didn’t give a fuck about his client or his supposed help in any future jobs I took.
I just knew that he made me feel something. Irritation, mostly. Curiosity. I knew I was grasping at straws, desperate for something new in my life.
“Fine. Bring her to my office on Monday,” I said, giving him another look. I took one of my cards out of my purse and wrote my personal number on the back, the one no one other than my mother and a couple of my cousins had. I tossed the card in front of him and slipped off the barstool, then walked out of the bar.
The bastard didn’t even watch me go. I got a little giddy at how irritated I felt knowing that. For now, it was enough. It was something in the vast nothingness, and that was more than I’d had an hour ago.
Copyright Colleen Vanderlinden. All rights reserved.