Nightwalker is the beginning of the SINS Novel Series and my writing career. I am currently writing the 6th book in the series. I hope you’ll enjoy the entire series and to get you started, I’ve posted the first chapter of Nightwalker: A Leah Wolfe SINS Novel here. Happy Reading!
Leah Wolfe has retired from serious police work in favor of seeking a normal life. Her unique, yet not fully discovered supernatural abilities allow her to speak to the souls of the dead, providing vital information in the search for their killers. Her abilities have also cost her almost everyone she has ever loved including her mother, who abandoned her to fend for herself on the streets, and, most recently, her ex-fiancé Joaquín Wildhorse, Chief Detective of the Native American Reservation Police Department. But when Joaquín’s new lover is found brutally murdered on the reservation, he turns to Leah for help. The hunt for a vicious killer leads Leah to sexy Ian Nightwalker and Leah is unable to walk away from the case that may cost her her most guarded possession of all. Her heart.
The body was lying near the side of a little-used path just over the rise of a small hill at the base of the Western Mountains. The sun flashed long rays of silver from behind the white puffy clouds left over from the late October rains earlier this afternoon. The ground underneath my three-inch black satin stiletto heels turned into a pasty muck. I’d chosen the shoes to match the short black dress, form-fitted at the top with a flared skirt for my first and probably last date with the nice straight-laced attorney my best friend, Jessica Lawson, also an attorney, had set me up with. Definitely not the right shoes for trudging through the muddy desert floor near the crime scene.
That’s the problem with murderers, they are never considerate of your own plans.
I kept a spare pair of hiking boots, along with jeans, T-shirt and ponytail in my truck. It seemed old habits die hard.
I’d been out of this line of work for several months now, retired from the horrors of supernatural crime and worse, the brutality humans inflict upon one another.
Why was I here?
Good question. Like I said, old habits die hard and when a man who has saved your ass more than once asks for a favor, you do it.
I usually kept my long, light-brown hair pulled back in an elastic band. My pale blue eyes tend to darken when I’m angry. I’m sure they were dark now.
I had let Jess talk me into a day at the local salon and dropped fifty bucks to have my hair teased until it was wavy and hanging long down the nape of my neck for my date tonight. Money well spent. Riight!
Unfortunately, I’d let my date pick me up. My car, along with all of my equipment tucked nicely in the duffel bag on my back seat, was parked miles away in my driveway.
The date in question, Stan Winfield, currently leaned against his bright red Porsche, eyes looking a little too wide. His dark brown hair was cut close, his suit was probably more expensive than a month of my pay. Not that I was complaining, the suit was nicely tailored over a lean body that I was sure he earned from regular workouts at the local country club. A little to thin and tall for my tastes though, which brings me back to the three-inch heels. When you’re five feet two inches and your date is nearing six feet, it’s a little hard to hold a conversation without getting a serious pain in your neck. So I went for the higher-heeled shoes. Shit.
Stan had been an interesting date. He’d spent the past couple of hours over dinner telling me all about his life, job and, oh yeah, his car. Don’t forget the beloved Porsche. I’d learned more about the accessories and details of his car than I’d ever wanted to. I thought he’d ask me to take my shoes off before I got in!
At least the restaurant had been nice and the steak was fantastic. I’d have to remember to thank Wilson later for the interruption. It kept me from making an excuse for an early exit from my riveting conversation with Stan.
I’m Leah Wolfe, a supernatural consultant and private detective formerly on retainer for Supernatural Investigations of Non-Human Species (SINS for short, a non-existent government agency) and the State of Arizona Public Safety Division. I’d been called in because of my abilities. My abilities go beyond psychic but I’ve learned over a lifetime that people just don’t accept things they cannot understand. Hell, I can barely understand this shit myself, how can I explain it to someone else? Not that I haven’t tried, on occasion, to share what I am with people I’ve loved and trusted, it’s just that I’ve been punished each time and have grown to feel my abilities are more of a curse than a blessing.
Captain Charles Wilson had been one of the exceptions. He understood who and what I am, with the exception of my involvement with SINS or even its existence.
He and his wife Allison took me in as a teenager. My “real” mother couldn’t accept what I was. I scared the shit out of her.
At Wilson and Alli’s insistence, I had gone to college and graduated with a degree in paranormal psychology and investigations. I’d made my way to detective with the police department; then left to pursue private practice. I had gotten tired of working within the realms of a system that protected the rights of the criminals without regard for the rights of their victims. Because of my background and abilities, I was placed on retainer with the state and had been called in on cases from various departments. That is, until I had relinquished my retainer several months ago.
“I can catch a ride home in a cruiser, Stan, it’s really not necessary for you to wait for me.”
He jumped at the sound of my voice. “No, it’s fine. I don’t mind waiting. Jessica has told me very little about your work, I’d like to tag along, if you don’t mind?”
I shrugged and started walking toward the officers surrounding the crime scene. “If you change your mind, let me know. I don’t know how long this will take.” I flashed my ID to the cops, held up the police tape, and motioned Stan through.
Jess hadn’t told him much about my work because what I do is strictly on a need-to-know basis. I certainly don’t want any of my nearest and dearest living with the nightmares that haunt me. No one should see what I see, hell, I shouldn’t see what I see but, c’est la vie, such is life.
“Hey Wolfe, nice outfit for work. I appreciate the effort but you don’t have to dress up for me.”
“In your dreams, Ramírez.”
Detective Allan Ramírez was in his mid thirties, average would be the word used to describe him. Brown hair, brown eyes, somewhere around five foot eight with a stomach a little pudgy from too much fast food and deskwork. He preferred to wear a suit and today he wore a dark grey one with black pinstripes threaded through it. His pale blue dress shirt fit snugly as if he had bought it a size too small. His shoulder holster was visible under the fabric of his jacket.
“You two here to fuck around or might you be doing some actual police work today?” Captain Wilson said by way of greeting.
“I was just commenting on her dress, or lack thereof, Captain.” Ramírez lost some of the arrogance in his voice.
Wilson looked up from his notebook for the first time and asked, “You got a gun in there somewhere?”
“Yeah.” Actually, I’d have to flash everyone to get the Baretta out of the holster at the small of my back, but I’d been on a date. I hadn’t really thought I’d have to pull a gun on him. It was the smallest handgun I owned with a 2.4-inch barrel and weighed a little under a pound. It only held eight rounds but hey, if I needed more ammo than that on a date, it was time to call it a night and go home.
Wilson gave me a single nod then walked up the small hill. I followed in my heels, keeping my weight on the balls of my feet and walking in a half-crouched position to keep from falling back down the slippery slope. The sun was fading fast behind the mountains, casting shadows at odd angles along the peaks. In cities built on flatlands or near water you can watch the sun until it fades to nothing. When you’re surrounded by mountains, darkness sort of swallows the landscape and the sun disappears behind towering peaks of land.
Wilson offered his hand when he reached the top. Normally, I wouldn’t have taken it; but then again, normally he wouldn’t have offered it. None of us wanted me to slide back down the mud. Well, maybe Ramírez, but he was an asshole.
Wilson pulled me to the top, released my hand, and stepped to the side so that I could get my first look at the victim.
That was Wilson, not much bullshit, straight to the point. He was one of the few people I would trust and have trusted with my life. He wore navy blue suit pants and a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows exposing his muscular forearms. His tie was solid blue, a couple shades lighter than the pants. Wilson was tall, six foot three and fit for a man in his mid fifties, not from hard workouts, just good genetics. He wore glasses that framed his intent and watchful eyes nicely. “The victim is just over the ridge. Tell me what you think.”
A woman lay on the ground in a small pool of crimson blood. Her arms were bound behind her back in an unnatural position while her darkened eyes stared at the evening sky seeing nothing. She looked to be in her early twenties, dark, long hair splayed around her head like a cape. Her cheekbones were high, her face carved in angles set in the permanently tanned skin of her Native American heritage. She wasn’t just pretty, she was beautiful, and even death couldn’t steal her beauty away, not instantly anyway. She was slim and dressed in a short white dress, silver and turquoise necklace with matching earrings. She wore heels, not quite as high as mine, adorned with tiny silver sequins.
There was a hole in the center of her chest big enough for both of my fists to fit into. It was hollow where her heart had once been.
I knelt beside her as Ramírez handed me a pair of blue latex gloves. I took them absently and put them on. I placed both hands, palms down, above the hole in her chest. I paused and looked up at Wilson. “Has the scene been secured? I don’t want to screw up your evidence.”
He towered over me, arms crossed over his chest. “We were waiting on you to move the body, do what you need to do.”
I traced the hole in her chest with my finger. The edges were jagged, whatever had taken her heart had done so slowly that the blade had made several straight cuts, like carving the top off a pumpkin. “This wasn’t an animal attack.”
“That’s why I called you,” Wilson said.
“Were there any other injuries?”
“No,” Ramírez added.
I placed my hand in the hole of her chest and ran my finger along the inside edge. A muffled choke behind me brought my attention back to the living. I turned in time to see Stan running for a nearby bush, heaving his dinner on the ground. I’d forgotten he was there.
I stood and walked a circle around the body. Wilson cleared his throat. “Don’t you think you should help him?” he suggested.
I let out a long sigh and glanced over at Stan, leaning heavily with his hands on his knees. What the hell could you say to someone who just saw you stick your hands in the chest of a dead woman? “Don’t mind me, all in a day’s work” just didn’t seem to cover it. I walked toward him. He stood abruptly and took a step back. I held my hands out, palms forward in a push away gesture. He fell back to his knees and heaved. I looked at my hands and realized I still hadn’t taken the now bloody gloves off. I pulled them off and let them drop to the ground. “Sorry, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I don’t usually bring anyone to a crime scene.”
He looked at me like I had horns sprouting from the top of my head. “I think I’ll let you catch a ride home with a … a co-worker after all. I’ll, call you, maybe tomorrow.” He turned and stumbled toward his car.
Sure he’d call me. When hell froze over. “Sorry.” I called out. Hell, if he couldn’t take the beginnings of an examination of a body he’d never survive a week in my life. I turned back toward Ramírez and Wilson.
“You make a hell of an impression on your dates, Wolfe.” Ramírez laughed.
“Fuck you, Ramírez.”
“Ramírez,” Wilson warned.
“She’s not a cop anymore. I don’t have to put up with her shit.”
I stood toe to toe with Ramírez. “I’m not a lot of things anymore, Ramírez, but I’m still more now than you’ll ever be.”
Wilson stepped between us. “Go do your job, Wolfe.”
I turned toward him. “Yes, sir!” I gave him a mock salute letting the full extent of my sarcasm show; then turned my attention to the job at hand. I walked a fresh circle around the corpse and waited for the victim to appear.
Did I mention that I communicate with the recently dead? I keep this little secret to myself. I’m considered a psychic; it’s the easiest explanation. The difference is that I can communicate with the souls of the recently departed. The soul tends to hang around for a while after the body dies, particularly if it was a violent death. I found her spirit huddled a few feet from her body, whimpering.
I’d be whimpering, too.
I knelt beside her, normally I’d just sit on the ground but in this dress I’d flash everyone here, things like that you just don’t live down in the department.
“I’m going to need a few minutes alone, Wilson. Then I’ll have some questions for you.”
He didn’t argue or even comment. Wilson was one of the few people in my life that knew about my little curse. The belief is that I need privacy to call my powers, which isn’t entirely a lie. I don’t actually call my powers, they are part of who I am, always there, like white noise. I can choose to acknowledge or ignore them. What I can’t do is go around telling people that I can see and talk to the souls of the dead. That is, not if I want to stay out of a straight jacket anyway.
Wilson motioned Ramírez to step back down the ridge of the hill. They could still see me, but were far enough out of earshot for me to speak with the victim, huddled on the ground near me.
“Can you hear me?” I used my softest voice so not to frighten her further. First she didn’t seem to notice me. She looked up at me, confusion marring her lovely face. Her spirit was fading fast; I didn’t have much time before she faded to nothing.
“I’m Leah Wolfe, can you hear me?”
“I can hear you.” She choked out the words, barely audible.
“Can you tell me what happened? I need to know what happened so I can help you.”
“You. Can’t. Help. Me. Now! I’m dead!” She screamed the words at me; then faded completely like the morning sun burning off the last little bits of fog. The spirit of a violent death usually hangs around for a few days. They simply don’t know that they’re gone, it’s as if the soul has yet to catch up with the body. She knew she was dead.
I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to convince a spirit that their human life was over. Some are in denial so long that the spirit won’t move on. Some are confused. I guess looking down at your own dead body could have that effect on you. Still others are just pissed off.
Either she’d been dead for a while, which I doubted because all manners of ugly things would have already started happening to her corpse, or she knew she was going to die before she did. That opened the possibility that she knew her attacker.
“You all right, Wolfe?” Wilson called up the hill, interrupting my train of thought and startling me. I fell back on my ass.
“Shit, I’m fine, shit.”
Wilson jogged back up the ridge with Ramírez on his heels. Wilson held his hand out to help me up. He was smart enough to keep the laughter off his face as I stood and wiped the mud off the back of my dress.
“Hey Wolfe, if you wanted to mud wrestle, all you had to do was ask. I’d be happy to…”
In one fluid movement I dropped to a stooping position and swept my leg out. Ramírez landed fully on his back in the mud. Wilson covered his laugh with a cough as Ramírez struggled to stand.
“You’re a letch, Ramírez.” I gave him a satisfied grin as he picked himself up off the muddy ground.
“And you’re a bitch, Wolfe.” He took a step toward me, his hands clenched into fists.
“Yeah, but I’m the bitch who took you down.” I kicked off my shoes and squared my shoulders. I didn’t really think he’d take the punch, but I was damn sure going to be ready if he did.
Wilson stepped between us. “If you two can spare a minute, maybe we can get back to the dead woman.”
I glared at Ramírez and let out my breath in a long sigh. Ramírez unclenched his fists and took a step back. “This ain’t over Wolfe. That was a cheap shot.”
“It just so happens that I have an appointment open at 4:30 tomorrow, shall we continue this then?” I asked in my most innocent voice.
“I’m off duty at 3:00. Meet me at Luigi’s, loser buys the pizza.”
Taking bets at a murder scene may seem coldhearted to a civilian. For a cop, distracting yourself from the daily onslaught of horror and gore is a sanity-saving defense mechanism.
“What do we know about the victim?” I yanked at the bottom of my dress.
Wilson flipped open a small notebook that he always kept with him. “Tamara Mahu, twenty-three years old, Native American. She was last heard from at eight this morning, that puts her missing for approximately,” he glanced down at his watch, “eight or nine hours. A friend reported her missing after she didn’t show up for a lunch date and he couldn’t find her at her home.”
“Do you think this was an animal attack?” Ramírez got his head back in the game.
“You know this wasn’t animal. The cuts are too clean, jagged but not torn. Has the heart been found yet?” I stood and rubbed my hands up and down my arms. Talking to the dead always left me feeling chilled.
“We’ve searched the area, hell, even had the dogs out. The only sign of blood is in the perimeter of the body.” Wilson looked out over the vast desert as if he could somehow will the heart to appear.
“So whoever did this took the heart. It could be symbolic of love or revenge. You know, ‘you ripped my heart out so I’ll rip yours out’. Check with past and current boyfriends or lovers.”
“Were already on that, Leah.” He turned to Ramírez. “Check the progress on that, Ramírez.” Ramírez didn’t argue, he simply turned and left.
“Did you get anything on this, you know, was her, soul, spirit, whatever, there?” Wilson knew that my abilities were not psychic, that just made the whole “talking to the dead thing” easier to explain, but that didn’t make him comfortable with it.
“She was there for a couple of minutes but too hysterical to help. She should have stayed around longer.”
“What do you mean, ‘should’ have stayed around longer?”
“The soul doesn’t usually know the body is dead this quickly, especially within a couple of hours. She knew she was dead, she must have known before that she was going to die. She didn’t die here, either. Someone killed her and dumped the body here.”
Wilson continued to write in his little notebook. “Why do you think she was killed elsewhere?”
He stopped writing and looked up at me, a furrow between his eyebrows accenting his blue eyes. “Shoes?”
“Yeah, shoes. They’re sequined heels, no mud and the sequins are still in place. The rain could have washed away enough blood to make it look like she was killed here, but the shoes wouldn’t have survived the rain in that good a condition.”
“I can’t believe I missed that.”
“Wilson?” I placed my hand on his arm to bring his full attention back to me. “Why call me in on this one? I haven’t worked a case in five months.”
I watched expressions race across Wilson’s face. He was either looking for a lie or didn’t want to tell me something he knew would piss me off. Since Wilson didn’t lie, that left only one option.
“What aren’t you telling me?” I asked warily.
He braced his shoulders and let out a long sigh. “She’s from Joaquín’s reservation.”
“Son of a bitch!” I could feel the anger crawl up my skin. “You brought me in here to play peacemaker with Joaquín. What the hell makes you think he’ll talk to me, he thinks I’m an ‘unholy witch’. I believe those were his parting words.”
Joaquín Wildhorse was Chief Detective of the Reservation Police Department. He was also my former fiancé. The first time we “worked” together I spoke to a spirit of a murdered elder, who, by the way, outed half the tribal council as plotting his death to achieve higher ranks. Joaquín looked at me like I was an alien, told me I was an unholy witch and he could take me to a tribal healer to cast my demons aside. I introduced my knee to his testicles and threw his ring at him as he lay on the ground.
I closed my eyes and concentrated on taking steady, even breaths. I had not seen or heard from him in several months and I would not shed another tear for Joaquín Wildhorse. He wasn’t the first person I’d lost to my “curse”, oh, pardon me, “gifts”. He was the end of a long line of betrayals and a large part of the reason that I’d relinquished my retainer with the department. I’d spent the last few months making an attempt at a “normal” life, whatever the hell that was.
I opened my eyes and held my face very neutral as I asked Wilson, “What makes you think he’d listen to anything I have to say?”
“He asked for you.”
My eyes flew wide, my calm, neutral expression ripped away by surprise.
Wilson put his hand on my shoulder. “This was done in broad daylight. He knows this woman. He wants you to help find her killer.”
I shook my head slowly back and forth. “Why me?”
“He told me that you’re the only one with abilities he can trust.”