Got lots of stuff to catch up on. Probably best if I just sleep at my place tonight. T.
I stared at the note from Thompson for a good ten minutes, trying to figure out if there was a hidden meaning to it. He’d stuck the Post-it note on the coffee maker in the early dawn and crept out without waking me when he’d left for work this morning.
I poured myself a cup of coffee and added some cream. Why hadn’t he woken me? Had he been trying to avoid some sort of confrontation? Did he think I’d throw a fit or something if he didn’t spend the night? I squinted at the note, scanning it with my mind and wishing there was something there for me to pick up. But as usual, where Thompson was concerned, I couldn’t get a reading.
We’d been pretty hot and heavy for a few months now, but nothing was written in stone. We’d both said we loved each other once, ages ago, right after we’d almost died at the hands of that pink-feather madman, Steven Pine. But since then, both of us had played it pretty close to the vest with our declarations of undying love. Had he changed his mind about me? Maybe once he’d spent some time with me doing things other than solving murders, he’d discovered I was boring. I felt boring. Maybe I wasn’t inventive enough in bed? I was sort of vanilla between the sheets. I knew that. But if he wanted something more exciting, why didn’t he just ask?
I sipped my coffee, feeling anxious. I missed the comfortable intimacy I’d shared with William. He’d been very verbal about his emotions, and touchy-feely. I’d had no doubt at all that William had adored me, and he’d known I’d felt the same toward him. But Thompson was more reserved, and he kept his feelings to himself. He’d admitted to never having a long-term relationship before, and sometimes that worried me. Had he stayed single for so long because he hadn’t met the right person? Or was he just not relationship material?
I almost spilled my coffee when my cell rang on the counter. My stomach tensed when I saw it was Thompson himself. “Hello?” I answered.
“Yep.” I wasn’t sure how to act suddenly. I didn’t like not knowing where I stood with people. Did he sound the same as always, or was I right that he sounded more uptight?
“We have a weird one. Feel like working today?”
I always preferred to work. “Sure.”
“I’ll swing by and get you in ten.” He hung up.
I sighed and hurried to go get dressed. Thompson never gave me much time once he’d actually called. I washed up, pulled on jeans and a T-shirt, and ran my fingers through my hair. I didn’t need to look amazing; I just didn’t want to look like a hobo. I went back into the kitchen and gulped down the rest of my coffee. I’d just set the cup in the sink when Thompson knocked.
I opened the door and found Thompson standing there looking tight-lipped. “Hey,” I said breathlessly, closing the door behind me. It was strange working with the person you also slept with. I was never sure if I should kiss him hello or just shake hands. Today I opted for neither, and I just followed him to the car.
I climbed in while he moved around to the driver’s side and slid in behind the wheel. I crossed my hands in my lap, tension making my muscles tight. “You said this was a weird one?” I didn’t look at him as I spoke, feeling oddly shy.
“It is. It’s a little unsettling to be honest.”
“A body was discovered at Los Angeles City College this morning.” He pulled onto the road, weaving in and out of traffic and seeming impatient with anyone who was moving slower. His jaw was rigid, and his brows pulled together. “Pretty gruesome.”
“And it’s a homicide?”
“Okay.” I stared straight ahead. “I didn’t see anything.”
“That was my next question.” He glanced over quickly. “I thought maybe you would.”
“It’s been kind of quiet to be honest.” I gave a gruff laugh. I liked it when it was quiet. I needed a break from the yammering spirits and gory murders that often paraded through my brain.
“I’m glad for your peace of mind, but sorry for us. It would be helpful if you’d seen something.” He sighed.
I hated disappointing him, even though it meant life was better for me. “I’m sure I’ll see something when we get to the scene.” My stomach tensed at the thought of what awaited me. I was happy to help the cops try and solve murders, but it wasn’t for the weak of heart.
After about ten minutes, Thompson pulled into a parking lot, and we made our way across the campus. LACC wasn’t a huge school, and we quickly crossed the space, passing a large tree in the center of a quad surrounded by buildings. Students sat texting on their phones and eating snacks, apparently oblivious to the fact that a murder had taken place.
“She’s over there in the athletic building.” Thompson spoke quietly, lengthening his stride.
I had to hurry to keep up with him, and I was out of breath by the time we entered the big gymnasium. There were sheriffs at the door, and they checked our credentials before letting us in. One of them seemed to know Thompson, and he introduced himself to me as Deputy Smith.
“We’ve never had anything like this happen. At least, not since I’ve been here.” Smith looked unnerved. “I mean, there have been a handful of sexual assaults at most.” He swallowed. “But nothing like this.” He was definitely rattled. I could sense his frustration at being stuck on door duty, when all he really wanted to do was call his teenage daughter and check on her.
Something buzzed on the edge of my brain as we neared the actual crime scene. Ducking under the yellow tape, I put my hand to my head as the pressure built. There was a lot of energy circulating around the body, and it was hard to process it all at once.
“Anything?” Thompson’s gruff voice cut through the vibrations attacking me.
“Not sure yet.” I pressed my throbbing forehead. “The information is coming in too fast.”
“You want to back off?” His dark gaze seemed concerned as he stopped to look at me.
I scowled. “How would that be helpful?”
“I just don’t want you keeling over.”
I didn’t appreciate him acting like I was a delicate flower. “Let’s get closer to the body.” Psychic impressions seemed to blow away like cigarette smoke, and I needed to try and intercept the spirit quickly.
We rounded a stack of folding chairs, and there was the victim, lying sprawled on the polished gym floor. Her eyes were wide and her mouth open. A belt was looped around her neck, pulled so tight the skin puckered around the brown leather. My stomach rolled and I felt light-headed, but I was damned if I was going to pass out after Thompson’s earlier comment. I took a deep breath and relaxed my mind, inviting the surrounding energy in. Slowly, a replay of the girl’s last moments began to flicker in front of my eyes like an old movie.
She was smiling at someone who was just out of the line of my vision. Her gaze was warm and her cheeks pink. She wasn’t scared at all of her companion; she was completely unaware of what was about to happen. I felt sick observing her innocence, knowing it was about to be destroyed. Then my vision skipped ahead, like a stone across the surface of a lake, to her screaming and trying to run. Some guy, who had his back to me, had her in a choke hold. She fought him valiantly, but he still managed to wrap the belt around her slender neck.
“I can’t see his face,” I said quickly, trying to say out loud everything that flashed in front of my eyes so Thompson could take notes. “He’s wearing gloves. She’s fighting him. God, she really tried to get away.” My stomach lurched at how hard she’d struggled.
I’m so sorry I only see things when it’s too late.
I concentrated on the vision as she clawed at her assailant. At one point she broke free and ran shrieking toward the exit. But he was faster, and he slammed her down and punched her until she was dazed and limp. Then he dragged her back to the corner where her body was now and strangled the life from her as she kicked and gasped for air.
I was so immersed in the vision, I stumbled sideways, losing my bearings. Thompson grabbed my arm. “Can you see the perp at all?”
I shook my head. “Not really. Not his face. He has red hair. From his build I’d say he’s young, her age.”
“Probably a student here.”
The visions of her murder faded, and I inched toward the body. Usually the spirit would appear briefly and approach me with something that could be useful. We didn’t have full-on conversations, but they usually dropped helpful details about their murderer. “What was her name?” I asked softly.
“Gloria.” Thompson’s voice was hushed.
“Gloria,” I whispered, moving closer to the body. Her wide eyes and gaping mouth made my skin crawl, but I stayed near her, reminding myself that that was just her shell, and that her spirit was around here somewhere. “Talk to me, Gloria.” There was nothing. “Come on, let us help you find justice.”
“Maybe it’s too late.” Thompson sounded resigned.
“Gloria, tell me who did this to you.” I pressed my fingers to my temple. “Please help us. Don’t let him get away with this.”
I winced when she appeared in front of me like a sickly hologram, her skin gray and her confusion palpable. “I don’t understand. I just wanted someone to listen.” Her voice was weak and reedy.
“Okay.” I nodded. “Well, I’m listening.”
“I didn’t mean it.” She whimpered. “I didn’t want that. Not really.”
“Didn’t want what?” I nudged.
She frowned and touched her neck. “Not fair. Not fair.”
“Can you give me details, Gloria?”
Her mouth was a grim line. “Tricked me.”
“Give me his name.” Even I could hear the urgency in my voice. She wasn’t going to stay long, and I needed a name if she had one.
“Pine. Pine. Pine. Pine.”
“Pine? Like the tree?” I struggled with understanding her fragmented sentences.
“He said he was my friend.”
“I didn’t do anything to him. Why?”
“Do you have a name for me, Gloria? Is Pine the name of a person?”
“The angel made him do it,” she said, and then she disappeared.
“Gloria?” I called her name even though I knew she was gone. Her energy had evaporated completely.
Thompson grabbed my arm. “What? What did she say? Did you get a name?”
“Maybe.” I turned my confused gaze on him. “She… she said Pine.”
“I thought that was what you said.” He grimaced, looking nonplussed. “She actually said the word ‘pine’?”
“Yes. But she was all over the place. It might have just been a tree for all I know.” My stomach clenched with an uneasy feeling.
“You’re sure she said pine?”
“I just said I was.”
“Well…” He scratched his head. “What else did she say?”
I sighed. “She felt betrayed. That was very obvious.” I squinted. “And she said something about an angel making him do it.”
“An angel?” Thompson scowled.
I couldn’t shake a feeling of apprehension shrouding me. “He… he said something about being an angel. Remember?”
“He? You mean Steven Pine?” Thompson’s face tensed. “Liam, he’s in jail.”
“Yeah. I know. But he’s also the strongest fucking psychic I’ve ever met. Maybe he can reach out somehow.” I shivered and hugged myself.
“She must have got it wrong.”
I rubbed my stomach, feeling queasy. “Why would she just pull that name out of the blue? Spirits don’t lie, and they don’t make stuff up.”
“Well, they can make mistakes, right? Perhaps she likes pine trees.”
“She didn’t say it in a happy way.”
“Okay. Maybe she read about Steven Pine. His case has been all over the news. Maybe he was on her mind when she died.”
“It felt more personal.”
“But you saw the murderer. He had red hair, and he was young. That’s what you said.”
“I know—” I frowned, trying to push away the chill that seemed embedded in my soul.
He raked a hand through his shaggy hair. “No way they let that nutcase out. You’re letting your imagination run wild.” He pulled his cell from his pocket and walked away with it pressed to his ear.
I moved away from the body. Gloria wouldn’t return, and I needed fresh air. I followed Thompson toward the exit, still feeling shaken. Maybe Thompson was right and I was letting my fear of Steven Pine get to me. He’d been a terrifying foe, and his name had been all over the newspapers recently because his lawyers were trying to hold up his trial with bogus legal technicalities. The Steven Pine case had been horrifyingly personal. He’d dragged me into his murderous rampage, and I guess it was possible I’d let the memory of that case seep into my current work.
Thompson hung up and faced me. “He’s still at Men’s Central, just like I thought.”
I squinted back toward the building we’d just left. “Okay.” I still felt uneasy. I’d never dealt with a psychic quite like Steven. I wasn’t really sure what he was capable of.
“I’m going to touch base with a few other people before we leave.” His gaze was emotionless.
“Go for it.”
While Thompson finished talking to anyone who’d been first on the scene, I stood to the side, trying to remember every detail of my interaction with Gloria and typing it into the notepad app on my phone. There had been no witnesses to the actual murder. The school janitor had found the body when he’d opened up the gym early this morning. He’d said the place was locked and that there was no one around. The cops took his prints just to rule him out as a suspect, but I knew already he wasn’t our guy.
Eventually, Thompson indicated that he was ready to head out. We walked to his car in silence and got in without a word. I didn’t bring up anything about how I felt like he was acting odd. I didn’t have the nerve to open that can of worms yet. He drove to the station, where he could write up a report and get the names and addresses of Gloria’s friends and family. The sooner we could talk to the people closest to her, the better.
I watched Thompson at his desk as he called people and set up meetings for later in the day. I didn’t like feeling uncertain about what we had. But the way he’d just left that note and not said goodbye this morning wasn’t like him. If there was one thing Thompson was, it was predictable. Whenever he deviated from his usual behavior, there was always a reason.
I had no idea what could have changed between now and last night. Everything had seemed just fine last evening. We’d talked a little bit about William because I’d come across an old photo album, and then we’d had dinner, fucked, and gone to bed. Everything had been pretty damn perfect.
He cleared his throat. “I’m going to interview Gloria’s boyfriend. Did you want to tag along?”
I frowned. “Of course.” I always came with him on those sorts of interviews. Why was he suddenly questioning that?
He stood, pulling on his blazer. “I just wasn’t sure if you’d want to.”
He shrugged and moved toward the exit. I hurried after him, feeling confused. When we got to the elevator it was crowded, so I couldn’t really ask him anything. By the time we got to his car, enough time had passed that it felt awkward to bring up how weird he was being, but I decided to do it anyway. Just like Thompson was always predictable, I was usually awkward.
As he pulled out of the parking structure, I shifted to face him. “Is something bugging you?”
He glanced at me, his expression guarded. “What do you mean?”
“You seem different.”
“I do?” He kept his eyes on the road.
“Why did you leave a note on the coffee maker?”
“Did you not want me to leave you a note?”
I sighed. “You didn’t say goodbye. You always say goodbye.”
A muscle in his jaw tensed. “I didn’t want to wake you. You were deeply asleep, and you have trouble sleeping.”
“So you were just being considerate?”
“If you want me to wake you up next time, I will.”
His tone was evasive, and I was even more convinced that something was wrong. But I didn’t know how to really dig deeper if he was going to pretend everything was perfect. I didn’t want to come off like some drama queen or anything like that.
“I don’t know. You just seem different.”
He cleared his throat. “We should probably focus on the case.”
My face warmed at his lecturing tone. “I am focused on the case.” He didn’t need to tell me how to do my part of the job. He was definitely deflecting. God, what the hell could be so awful that he didn’t even want to talk about it? I knew I wasn’t the most normal person in the world, but I didn’t think I’d done anything that would make him want to stop seeing me.
“I’m just saying we can talk about… us… later,” he said quietly.
“Fine by me.”
His hands clenched on the steering wheel as he gave a hard laugh. “I have to say it’s shocking that you’d be the one to want to talk about feelings.”
“Trust me; it’s not that I want to talk about that stuff.”
“Then let’s not.”
“Sounds good.” I clamped my jaw. Did he want to see other people and he didn’t know how to bring it up? The thought of that made my stomach ache. My feelings for Thompson hadn’t lessened. If anything they were stronger. But the way he was acting, there was no way I’d share that tidbit with him.
After a few minutes he said, “Did you know you talk in your sleep?”
I frowned. “I do?”
“Huh. Well, if I said I wanted to sleep with Ryan Reynolds or something, don’t hold that against me.”
He parked in front of an apartment building where presumably Gloria’s boyfriend lived. He shut the engine off and turned to face me. “Ryan Reynolds I could compete with.”
I smirked. “Is that right? You have a pretty high opinion of yourself.”
“I’m not worried about you fantasizing about movie stars.”
“Okay.” I laughed, feeling confused. “That’s good because I’m sure there will be more dreams about Ryan and others. I can’t control my dreams.”
“I know,” he said softly. “You have no control over how you feel or who you love. I know that.”
I love you, Thompson.
Those four words were right there on the tip of my tongue. I could have said them so easily. I did love him. But he was acting so odd—no way was I showing my soft underbelly right now. Maybe his whole “you have no control over who you love” speech was the one he gave all the people he dumped. Was that what was happening here? Was he trying to break up with me, but it was extra awkward because we worked together?
My pride warred with my desire to keep seeing him. On one level, I wanted to protect my heart, but on another, I really didn’t want to lose him. It had been a long time since I’d had to even think about things like this. I’d had such an easy, stable relationship with Will from the very beginning. I wasn’t used to playing the dating game anymore.
I met his gaze, my heart rate elevated. “We should probably go talk to this boyfriend of Gloria’s.”
His face tensed. “Yeah.” He turned away to open his door. “Let’s do that.”
I climbed out of the car, feeling like I’d dodged a bullet but not sure that had been the best thing. If Thompson was having second thoughts about us, we’d need to address that. But I shoved those thoughts away for now.
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