মুখ্য The First Prophet

The First Prophet

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“Seethes and sizzles. A fast-paced, atmospheric tale that vibrates with tension, passion, and mystery. Readers will devour it.”

—Jayne Ann Krentz

“Kay Hooper…provide[s] a welcome chill on a hot summer’s day.”

—Orlando Sentinel

“A stirring and evocative thriller.”

—Palo Alto Daily News

“Filled with page-turning suspense.”

—The Sunday Oklahoman

“A well-told, scary story.”

—Toronto Sun

“It passed the ‘stay up late to finish it in one night’ test.”

—The Denver Post

“Harrowing good fun…[Readers] will shiver and shudder.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Fans will be captivated—at every turn…[Hooper’s]

creative blend of the paranormal and suspense are truly


—Suspense Magazine

“You won’t want to turn the lights out after reading this book!”

—RT Book Reviews

“Hooper’s unerring story sense and ability to keep the pages flying can’t be denied.”

—Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

“Enjoyable…thought-provoking entertainment.”

—Calgary Herald

“A full-force, page-turning, suspense-driven read…It had this reader anxiously gripping the pages.”

—The Mystery Reader



The First Prophet







Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada

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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s

imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business

establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have control over

and does not have any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.


A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author


Jove premium edition / December 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Kay Hooper.

Cover photograph copyright © Andy and Michelle Kerry / Trevillion Images.

Cover design by Rita Frangie.

Text design by Laura K. Corless.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or

electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of

copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-101-61336-8


Jove Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

JOVE® is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

The “J” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is

stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the

author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”





The Bishop Files


September 22

To Whom It May Concern:

I address this report as I have done because you and I agreed it would be best that your name not appear in any written form, for obvious reasons. Future reports will be submitted in the same format and manner, as requested.

As a brief preface, I will say that in my routine monitoring of various psychics in this country and elsewhere, active and latent, whom I considered candidates for either the Special Crimes Unit or Haven, I found myself becoming suspicious of certain events. I cannot say it was a situation I immediately understood; my understanding, as these reports will make clear, is ongoing as I—and others—slowly piece together the disparate bits of information and actions that are clearly a part of what is going on.

I will also repeat, as I told you when we met, that I intend to take no one else into my confidence unless and until it becomes necessary. Until then, only you and Miranda will be privy to the information I am able to collect.

I cannot say just why I believe something sinister is going on within and around the largely underground psychic community; it is not a certainty I can attribute to either my or my wife’s precognitive abilities. Psychically, we are both…blocked…whenever we turn our attention toward certain events and actions—and people. That alone would have drawn my attention, but there was more. Much more.

I therefore submit the following narrative, assembled from among those involved in the situation that transpired, and from my own firsthand observations and senses as events unfolded. I have no doubt we are a long way from learning the complete story, but herein, I believe, is a good place to begin these reports, detailing a situation that occurred several months ago, and which I believe may prove to be the catalyst that will begin to unlock at least some of the secrecy surrounding these events.

Respectfully submitted,

Noah Bishop, Unit Chief

Special Crimes Unit, FBI


They moved with the kind of stealth that came of long experience and grim purpose, and they didn’t waste a motion or make a sound. They numbered no more than half a dozen, not counting the man who stood back from the isolated cabin they had encircled and watched them. He had extremely well-developed night vision.

Through his unobtrusive, almost invisible headset, a whisper reached him.

“She’s not alone. Brodie’s with her.”

He barely hesitated before speaking softly into the microphone. “How long have they been here?”

“The vehicle is cold.”

“Then he’s had time to call in reinforcements.”

“Maybe. But we have lookouts posted, and no one’s reported any movement toward this position. We may have hours yet.”

“And we may not.” Duran glanced back over his shoulder at what daylight would have shown was a cliff edge no more than a few feet behind him, and a sheer drop to a boulder-littered canyon below. “Brodie chose well; this is an easily defensible position. For him. I don’t propose to be trapped here, and dawn is minutes away. I assume Brodie is armed.”

An unamused chuckle came from the headset. “He usually is. To the teeth. And he’ll go down fighting to protect this one.”

“I know.” Duran wondered absently whether his lieutenant had reached this conclusion because he knew the fragile young psychic inside the cabin very much resembled another young woman Brodie had nearly died trying to protect years before, but the next words he heard through his headset answered that question for him.

“She’d be as valuable to him as to us. If we’re right about her potential, she’s worth ten times her weight in gold.”

“Yes. I need to know what’s going on inside that cabin. Move closer. Carefully.”

Not being psychic himself had its drawbacks, Brodie knew. Like now. How the hell could he tell her she was wrong when he wasn’t sure?

“I have to try,” she insisted, her face too gaunt for a young woman and her eyes far too strained.

“You can’t.” He kept his voice matter-of-fact, having learned at least that psychics as a rule loved a challenge—and young women could rarely resist one. “You’re exhausted. You haven’t slept for two days or eaten since yesterday. Besides that, it’s new to you, not yet under control—”

Her soft laugh was hardly a sound. “If I don’t at least try, it’ll be under their control. They’re here, Brodie. They’re all around us. I can feel them.”

Brodie didn’t let her see the chill he felt crawling up and down his spine. “I can hold them off until our people get here. The sun’ll be up in less than an hour, and the bastards aren’t invisible. Until then, even if they could they wouldn’t bust in with guns blazing, not with you here.”

She was shaking her head, and her voice shook as well. “No, they want me badly. He wants me badly. They might take the risk of wounding me. I think they might. And they’d kill you for sure, you know that.”

“Listen to me.” He held his voice steady, held both her hands tightly, and tried his best to hold her gaze despite the way it darted around in building panic. “The windows are shuttered and, like the door, are made of steel-sheathed solid oak with iron hinges and locks. The walls are two feet thick. There’s no chimney. This cabin is a fortress. They’d have to take it apart to get to us. That’s one of the reasons I picked it.”

She wasn’t listening, wasn’t hearing. “I have to…try. I have to stop them. What they’ll do…You don’t understand, Brodie, what they’ll do to me. You can’t understand.”

“Jill, don’t. Don’t let them panic you into doing something that could destroy you.”

She snatched her hands from his grasp and backed away from him. “I’m afraid of them, don’t you know that? Terrified. I know what they’ll do if they get me. I know. My dreams have shown me. Over and over again. They’ll hurt me. They’ll hurt me in ways you couldn’t imagine in your worst nightmares.”

“I won’t let them hurt you—”

“You can’t stop them. But I can. I know I can.”

Brodie saw her eyes begin to darken and lose focus, saw her entire body tense as she called on all the energies she had left in a desperate attempt to form some kind of weapon that her panic demanded she try to use to save herself.

And even with only five senses to call his own, Brodie had a terrible premonition. “No! Jill, don’t—”

Duran’s headset crackled softly in his ear, and he pulled it off and stared at it. He was granted only that warning, and only scant seconds to understand what it portended. For him, it was enough.

Without putting the headset back on, he snapped into the microphone, “Remove the headsets. Now.” And dropped his to the ground.

Before it had quite touched the pine needles underfoot, the elegant little electronic device emitted an earsplitting shriek and burst into flames.

Duran looked toward the cabin and his men and saw immediately that two of them had not been quick enough in obeying orders. One lay about thirty feet from the cabin, stretched out on his back as though napping. But from the neck up was little more than a lump of blackened, smoldering flesh.

The other who had hesitated just that instant too long was Duran’s lieutenant. He had, clearly, managed to get the headset off quickly enough to prevent the worst from happening, since it burned a foot or so away from him, but not soon enough to save himself completely. He didn’t make a sound but held his head with both hands and rolled around on the ground in a way that told Duran that at the very least his eardrums had certainly been destroyed.

The others were rushing to their fallen comrades. Duran didn’t move. Instead, he stared at the cabin that was now more visible in the breaking dawn, and very quietly, he murmured, “You shouldn’t have done that, Jill.”

Her body was limp when Brodie picked her up and placed her gently on the couch. She was breathing. Her eyes were open. When he checked, her pulse was steady.

But Jill Harrison was gone.

And she was never coming back.

Brodie had been warned this could happen, but he’d never seen it. And hadn’t believed it possible. Until he knelt there beside the couch in that quiet, quiet cabin and looked into eyes so empty it was like looking into the glassy black eyes of a doll.

Still kneeling at her side, he took out his handkerchief and carefully wiped away the trickles of blood from her nose and ears. He folded her hands in a peaceful pose over her stomach. Absently, he brushed a strand of her hair back from the wide, unlined brow. He closed her eyes.

Jill Harrison. Not dead, but gone.

She had been twenty-two.

After a long, long time, Brodie got to his feet. He felt stiff, and so tired it was beyond exhaustion. He felt old.

“God damn them,” he said quietly.

Duran was the last to leave, remaining there until his dead and wounded men had been taken away by the others. He was about to get into his car when he heard the cabin door open.

Brodie stood in the doorway.

Across the sixty or so feet separating them, through the morning chill, they stared at each other in silence.

Though he knew the other man couldn’t hear him, Duran said softly, “This time, we both lost.”

Then he got into his car and drove away, leaving behind him a young woman damaged beyond repair and a man who was his mortal enemy.

Table of Contents




















It had once been an excellent example of an updated Victorian, but now it was only a smoking ruin swarming with fire department personnel. As Tucker Mackenzie got out of his car, he heard the hissing and crackling of embers as they were soaked by the fire hoses, and the pounding of axes as smoldering wood was broken up, and he heard the brisk voices of the men working to make certain the fire would not flare up again. He also heard the whispers of the neighbors who were standing around in clumps, watching her while pretending their attention was focused on what was left of the house.

She stood alone. She looked alone. Her pretty dress was a bit too thin for the hint of cold that was creeping into late September, and she stood almost hugging herself, arms crossed beneath her breasts, hands rubbing up and down above her elbows as though to warm chilled flesh. Her dark, reddish hair was blowing in the fitful breeze that also snatched at the long skirt of her dress, and she appeared to notice that no more than she noticed she was standing in a muddy puddle left by the fire hoses.

Tucker hesitated, then walked over to her side. Before he could speak, she did.

“Are you the one who’s been watching me?” she asked in a curiously remote voice.

“What?” He had no idea what she meant.

“Never mind,” she said, as if it didn’t really matter. She turned her head to look at him, scanning him upward from his black western boots to his windblown blond hair. Her pale brown eyes rested on his face, wide and startled. More than startled. She looked briefly shocked, even afraid, Tucker thought. But it was a fleeting expression, vanishing completely and leaving behind nothing except her earlier numb detachment. She returned her gaze to what had been her home.

“Someone’s been watching you?” When she didn’t reply or react in any way, he said, “I’m sorry about your home, Miss Gallagher. What started the fire?”

She glanced at the fire marshal, who was standing some distance away scowling at the ruin. “He thinks it’s arson,” she said.

“Is that what he told you?”

“No. He didn’t have to tell me.” She sent Tucker another brief look, this one mildly curious. “Haven’t you heard about the local witch? That’s me.”

“I had heard that you were reputed to have psychic abilities,” he confessed. “I wanted to talk to you—”

“Let me guess.” Her voice went flat, something ground beneath a ruthless heel. “Someone you love has died, recently or a long time ago, and you want to communicate with them. Or you’ve lost something you need to find. You’re suffering unrequited love and want a magic potion to solve that problem. You or someone you know has a horrible disease and you’re searching for a cure. Your life has gone off track, and you don’t know how to right it. Or you want to make a million bucks and need me to pick your lottery numbers…”

When her voice trailed into silence, Tucker said evenly, “No, it’s nothing like that.”

“You’re searching for something. They’re always searching for something.”


Her shoulders lifted and fell in a tired shrug. “The ones who come and knock on my door. The ones who call and write and stop me on the streets.” Again, she turned her head to look at him, but this time it was a direct stare. “There are only two kinds of people, you know. Those who run toward a psychic, hands outstretched and pleading—and those who run away as fast as they can, frightened.”

“I’m neither,” he told her. “I’m just a man who wants to talk to you.”

The breeze picked up, blowing a curtain of reddish hair across her cheek and veiling her mouth briefly. “Who are you?” she asked, again mildly curious.

“My name’s Tucker Mackenzie. I’m a writer.”

Her gaze was unblinking. “I’ve heard of you. What are you doing here?”

“As I said, I wanted to talk to you. I’ve been trying to call you for more than a week but couldn’t get an answer. So I decided to take a chance and just come over here. Obviously, I—didn’t know about the fire.”

“You’re a novelist. Is it research you’re after?”


“Then what? Specifically.”

Tucker hadn’t come prepared to deal with this. He had discovered very early in his career that people liked to talk about themselves, particularly to a novelist. Under the nebulous heading of “research” he had asked and listened to the eager answers to an astonishing variety of questions both professional and personal. It was obvious, however, that this taut woman would not accept vague explanations for his curiosity and his questions.

Problem was, he had no specifics to offer her. None he was willing to voice, at any rate. I’m after answers. I need to know if you really can predict the future. I need to know if I can believe in you.

Before Tucker could figure out something close enough to specifics to satisfy her, a plainclothes detective who had been talking to the fire marshal picked his way through the puddles to stand before Sarah Gallagher. He was tall and thin and looked to have dressed by guess in the dark, since his purplish tie definitely clashed with a shirt the color of putty, and the khaki pants hardly matched a jacket with the suggestion of a pinstripe. But for all his sartorial chaos, there was something in his dark eyes that warned the contents made a lot more sense than the package.

“I’m sorry, Miss Gallagher.” His voice was deep and abrupt. “The house is a total loss. And since your car was in the garage, it’s gone too.”

“I can pretty much see that for myself, Sergeant Lewis.” Her smile was hardly worth the effort.

He nodded. “There’ll have to be an investigation, you realize that. Before you can put in an insurance claim. The fire marshal thinks—that is, evidence suggests this might not have been an accident.”

It was her turn to nod. “I gathered that.”

The detective seemed uncomfortable beneath her direct stare and shifted just a bit as though to escape it. “Yes. Well, I just wanted you to know that we’ll be keeping an eye on the place. And since there’s nothing you can do here, maybe it’d be best if you went to a hotel for the night. You’ve been standing out here for hours, and anybody can see the weather’s taking a turn for the worse. I’m sure you could use a hot meal and—privacy. Time to collect your thoughts and make a few decisions. I’d be glad to drive you, explain things to the manager so there’s no trouble while you wait until the banks open tomorrow and you can make arrangements…”

“I won’t need to stay at a hotel. There’s a small apartment above the shop. I can stay there for a few days at least.”

He produced a notebook and consulted notes made earlier. “That’d be the antiques shop? Two-oh-four Emerson?”


“You said your partner—Margo James—is out of town?”

“On a buying trip, yes.”

He frowned slightly as he returned the notebook to his pocket. “Miss Gallagher, can you think of anyone who might…wish you harm?”


Lewis seemed dissatisfied with the terse response, and Tucker was surprised; why didn’t she say something to the cop about being watched? If that was true, if someone was watching her, then surely she must have realized that whoever it was might wish her harm. But she didn’t mention that, just continued to look at Lewis without much expression.

The cop said, “Several of your neighbors saw a strange man hanging around here not more than a few minutes before the flames were spotted. Does that surprise you?”

“That my neighbors watch my house? No.”

This time, Lewis scowled. “The man, Miss Gallagher. Did you see anyone hanging around here today?”

“No. As I told you before, I was reading in the front room and didn’t see or hear anything until I smelled smoke. None of the smoke alarms had gone off, so I had no warning. By the time I smelled smoke, the fire was so bad I barely had time to call 911 and get out. I couldn’t even get to my car keys so I could move the car out of the garage.” She drew a little breath to steady a voice that had begun to wobble just a bit, and finished evenly, “I wasn’t cooking anything. I didn’t have any candles burning. No fire in the fireplace. And all the wiring was inspected just ten months ago when I completed the renovation. It was no accident that my house burned. But I don’t know of anyone who would want to hurt me by starting that fire.”

“All right.” Lewis lifted a hand as if he would have touched her, then let it awkwardly fall. It was obvious that he was wary of touching her, and equally obvious that Sarah Gallagher knew it.

How much of that sort of thing had she been forced to put up with? How many times had she seen people draw back in fear, or look at her as though they believed she wasn’t normal? Mysterious watching strangers notwithstanding, Tucker couldn’t help wondering whether one of her wary neighbors had decided to burn out the local witch.

Avoiding her steady gaze, the cop turned his own to Tucker and scowled. “Who’re you?”

Rather surprised he hadn’t been asked before now, Tucker gave his name and no further information, surprised again when Sarah Gallagher added a cool explanation.

“He’s a friend, Sergeant. If you’ve finished with me, he’s going to drive me to the shop.”

“I’m finished—for now. But I might have more questions for you tomorrow, Miss Gallagher.” Lewis sent Tucker another glowering look, then turned away.

“Do you mind?” Sarah was watching Lewis stalk toward the fire marshal; her voice was distant.

“Of course not. I’ll be glad to drive you to your shop.” Deliberately, Tucker reached out and took her arm in a light grip. “Why don’t we go now, before it gets any colder. You must be frozen.”

She looked down at his hand on her arm, then raised her gaze to his face. For a moment, her expression was…peculiar. To Tucker, she seemed both disturbed and resigned, as though she had no choice but to accept something she knew would bring only trouble. Bad trouble. He didn’t like it.

“You can trust me,” he said.

Matter-of-factly, she said, “It has nothing to do with trust.”

He didn’t know how to respond, either to that or to her oddly fatalistic smile. Opting to let it go for now, Tucker led her to his car and saw her in the passenger side, then went around and got in himself. As soon as he started the engine, he turned the heater on high, not because she was shivering but because she should have been.

“The shop’s on Emerson?”

She nodded. “It’s called Old Things.”

“I think I know where it is.” Tucker put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb, and as he did so he caught a glimpse of a tall man in a black leather jacket slipping around behind a wooden fence two houses down from the smoking remains of Sarah’s house. His foot touched the brake, and Tucker tensed. He didn’t know why, but every sense was instantly alert; he could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stirring. When he looked quickly at Sarah, he found her looking after the man, her face still.

“Did you see him?”

She nodded. “Probably just a curious neighbor embarrassed at being caught gawking.”

The car was barely moving now, and Tucker hesitated either to stop completely or go on. “You don’t really believe that.”

“It’s what the police would say.” She shrugged.

She was probably right, he thought, especially since the man had seemingly vanished; when the car drew abreast of the wooden fence, there was no sign of him. Tucker took his foot off the brake and continued down the quiet residential street. But the hairs on his nape were still quivering a warning. “You asked me earlier if I was the one who’d been watching you. What makes you think somebody has been?”

“I know somebody has. For a week, maybe a little longer. I’ve caught a glimpse of him several times.”

“That man back there? The one in the black jacket?”

“Maybe. I’ve never been close enough to get a good look at him. There could be more than one, for all I know. But always at least one.”

“Why didn’t you mention that to Lewis when he asked if you knew of anyone who might want to hurt you?”

Sarah shrugged again. “He never made a threatening move. Never came close. He just watched me.”

“Stalkers just watch, Sarah, at least in the beginning.”

“He isn’t a stalker.” She didn’t react at all to Tucker’s use of her first name. “He isn’t obsessed. There’s something very…businesslike about him. Something coldly methodical.”

“As if watching you is his job? A private investigator, maybe?”

“Maybe. But I don’t know who would have hired him, or why.”

“You said you’d been getting a lot of unwanted attention lately. People who came to you for help.”

“Yes. So?”

“So maybe you gave somebody the wrong advice and somehow made an enemy. An investigator could have been hired to look for something that could be used against you in court.”

“Like what? That I use imported tea leaves instead of domestic?” Without waiting for a response to that dry question, she went on in the same tone. “I don’t offer advice. I don’t give readings. I don’t take money from anybody unless they’re buying a Regency table or a Colonial chair. I’ve never owned a crystal ball or a deck of tarot cards. I don’t claim to be able to solve problems, or I would have started with my own. So I don’t see how anyone could claim I’d wronged them.”

“All right. But if you’re being watched, and if he’s a pro, then somebody had to hire him. There must be a reason.”

“I suppose.”

As he stopped the car to wait at a traffic light, Tucker turned his head and looked at her. “Any trouble with an ex-husband or lover?”

She seemed almost to flinch, but her answer was steady enough. “No.”

“You’re sure?” he probed.

Sarah looked at him. “I’ve never been married. As for lovers, since you ask, I’ve had only two in my life. One was back in college; we broke up amicably and still send each other Christmas and birthday cards. The other decided back in April, a few weeks after I got out of the hospital, that he didn’t want to live with a woman who freaked out every time he got near a railroad crossing. So he requested a transfer to the West Coast.”

“And?” Tucker kept his gaze on her face, his attention caught by the thread of pain in her otherwise expressionless voice.

“And he was killed two weeks later. At a railroad crossing.” She turned her head to look forward, adding, “The light’s green.”

Tucker tried to pay attention to his driving, but it wasn’t easy. He got the car rolling forward and fixed his gaze on the car ahead of him. “Let me make sure I understand this. You told your lover that railroad crossings were dangerous to him, that he’d be killed at one? Because you’d seen it in his future?”

Softly, she said, “I hadn’t yet learned that warnings were useless, that what I saw would happen no matter what. I thought I could save him. But I couldn’t, of course. I couldn’t change his destiny.”

“Don’t you believe in free will?”

“Not anymore.”

Tucker digested that for several blocks in silence. “According to what I’ve read, even the best psychics don’t claim to get a hundred percent right; haven’t you ever been wrong?”


He sent her a quick look. “So what makes you so special?”

“I don’t know.” She took the question seriously, obviously thinking about it. “Maybe it’s because I never go looking for the future. What I see comes to me without any desire on my part.”

“You can’t control it?”


“Can’t block it out?”


“And you truly believe that what you see is the absolute truth, actual events that haven’t yet taken place. You truly believe that you can see the future before it happens.”

She was silent for a moment, then replied simply, “I truly believe that.”

Tucker made two turns without comment, but then curiosity made him say, “But that isn’t all, is it? I mean, you knew the fire marshal suspected arson. Did his face give away his thoughts, or can you also—pick up information from the people around you?”

He didn’t think she was going to answer at first, but finally she did.

“Sometimes I know things. I look at a person’s face…and I know things.”

“Oh? Do you know anything about me?” He didn’t mean to sound so challenging, but knew he did even as the words emerged. He started to take back the question, knowing from experience that nobody liked being backed into a corner and ordered to perform, particularly a self-proclaimed psychic. But she surprised him.

She really surprised him.

Without looking at him, and in a tone that was almost idle, she said quietly, “I know why you came to see me today, if that’s what you mean. It was for the same reason you’ve spent your adult life chasing after anyone who claimed to have psychic abilities. Shall I tell you why, Tucker?”

“No.” The refusal emerged harshly before he thought about it, but given a couple of minutes of silence to consider it, he wasn’t tempted to change his response. If she did know the truth, there was time enough to find out later; if she was only guessing, there was time enough to find that out as well. Either way, he wasn’t quite ready to put it—or her—to the test just yet.

Still, he couldn’t quite let it go. “You asked me back there why I came to see you. If you already knew the answer—”

“I just wondered if you’d tell me the truth. Most don’t. As if it’s some kind of test. That was your reason. You’ve been waiting for a…real psychic. Someone who’ll know without any hint from you. Someone you can really believe in.”

Tucker was more shaken than he cared to admit, even to himself.

“Turn left here,” she said in the same detached tone. “The shop’s up ahead a couple of blocks.”

He obeyed, telling himself silently that she was only making shrewd guesses and nothing more. She had not, after all, told him anything remarkable. She’d said herself that people came to her because they were looking for something they hoped she could help them find. And he didn’t doubt that many of those seekers came to her with a chip on their shoulders, waiting for her to “see” them clearly and know without being told what they wanted.

Sarah didn’t seem disturbed by his silence. “You can let me off at the front,” she said.

Instead of doing that, Tucker pulled his car into one of the parking places at one side of the neat, two-story building that had once been a residential home but now joined others on the street as a small business. “If you don’t mind,” he said pleasantly, “I’d like to go in with you. I could use a cup of coffee, for one thing.”

She turned her head and looked at him as he shut off the engine. “I don’t need you to look in the closets for monsters. I don’t mind being alone.”

For the first time, Tucker felt he was getting a sense of her, and he thought she was lying. She did mind being alone. She minded it very much. Ignoring her protest, he said, “If there’s no way to make coffee here, I can get some at that restaurant down the street and bring it back for us.”

After a moment, Sarah nodded and reached for the door handle. “I can make coffee here.”

He couldn’t tell whether she wanted his company or was merely resigned to it, and didn’t ask. He was very good at getting his foot in the door, and for now that was all he wanted.

Sarah led the way around to the rear of the building, where a flight of stairs provided access to the second-floor apartment. They were greeted at the top by a large cat who was sitting on the railing. A large black cat.

Of course, it would have to be a black cat. Tucker reached out and scratched the cat under his lifted chin while Sarah got the door key from under a flowerpot also on the railing. “Yours?” he asked, reading the cat’s name tag in surprise and with a vague sense of familiarity.

“He seems to think so. He showed up a few days ago, and so far no owner’s come forward to claim him, so I’ve been feeding him.” She unlocked and opened the door, stepping just over the threshold to reach inside and deactivate a security system using a keypad by the door. Then she looked back at the cat. “You want in, Pendragon?”

Pendragon did. He jumped down from the railing and preceded them into the apartment.

The place had the slightly stale smell of infrequent use, but it was cheerfully decorated and bright enough. The main room was a combination kitchen/dining area/living room, with low bookshelves separating the dining and sitting areas and a breakfast bar partitioning the kitchen from the rest. There were area rugs in muted colors on the polished hardwood floor, light and airy curtains hanging at the few windows, and overstuffed furniture chosen for comfort in light neutral shades, with plenty of colorful pillows scattered about. There was even a gas-log fireplace and compact entertainment center.

A doorway led to a short hallway, off which Tucker assumed was a bathroom and one or two bedrooms.

Sarah went first to the thermostat on the wall near the hallway and adjusted the temperature so that warm air began to chase away the slight chill of the room. Then she went into the kitchen and got coffee out of one cabinet and a small coffeemaker out of an appliance garage to one side of the refrigerator.

“I stocked the place with groceries just the other day,” she said conversationally as she measured coffee. “And I have spare clothes here. When either Margo or me is out of town, the other one usually spends at least a few nights here. It gives us a chance to catch up on paperwork while we’re keeping an eye on the place.”

Tucker wondered whether she was talking just to fill the silence, or whether it was her way of keeping reality at bay. The numbness couldn’t last forever; sooner or later, she would have to face the loss of her home and belongings, with all the shock and grief that would entail. But if her choice was later, it was, after all, her choice.

He sat down on one of the tall bar stools at the breakfast bar, watching her. “Have you had break-ins here?”

“No. Most burglars are looking for valuables they can put in a sack, or at least carry by themselves; our stock is made up mostly of furniture, with very few easily portable valuables. But Margo is paranoid about theft, which is why we have an excellent security system. And I don’t mind spending time here when she’s out of town.”

“How long will she be gone this time?”

“Another week, maybe two.” Sarah got a pet bowl out of the dish drainer beside the sink and filled it with kibble, then set it on the breakfast bar in front of the stool beside Tucker’s. He watched in silence as Pendragon leaped up on the stool, sat down, and began eating delicately from his bowl, then looked at Sarah.

She met his quizzical gaze and smiled for the first time in genuine amusement. “I found out quickly that Pendragon likes to sit up and eat like people. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No. It’s more his house than mine.”

She nodded, the smile fading, then said, “I think I’ll go change. If the coffee’s ready before I come back, help yourself. Cups are in that cabinet, and the sugar and cream are already out on the counter.”

“Thanks. Take your time. I’ll be fine.” He watched her leave the room, then absently reached over and scratched Pendragon behind one ear. The cat made a faintly disgusted sound, which Tucker took to mean he disliked being touched while eating. “Excuse me,” he told the cat politely, drawing back his hand.

Pendragon murmured something in the back of his throat, the sound this time so obviously mollified that Tucker blinked in surprise.

Peculiar cat.

The coffee was still dripping down into the pot, beginning to smell good but not quite ready to drink. Restless, Tucker left the bar stool to prowl around the room, studying the decorations and furniture without really seeing them. After only a slight hesitation, he turned on the gas-log fire, which immediately made the room seem more cheerful but didn’t do much for the little ripple of coldness chasing up and down Tucker’s spine.

That unnerving sensation drove him to one of the two narrow dormers that provided a view out the front side of the building, and he found himself cautiously drawing aside filmy curtains so he could see the street below without calling attention to himself.

But the caution was wasted, because the tall man in the black leather jacket seemed to have a sixth sense of his own, vanishing into the shadows of an alleyway across the street before Tucker could catch more than a glimpse of him.

“Shit.” Brodie straightened from the crouch holding a piece of charred wood in his hand, his lean face as grim as the curse. He turned the wood in his hands—it had, once, been a piece of decorative porch railing—then dropped it and rubbed his hands together angrily.

“We don’t know they did it,” Cait Desmond reminded him.

“We don’t know they didn’t,” he retorted. “I prefer to err on the side of past experience.”

His partner looked at him for a moment, then looked back at the ruins of what had been Sarah Gallagher’s home. It was nearly dark now, but the devastation was still obvious. A cold wind whined miserably past the chimney that still reared up in a stark silhouette above the dead house, and Cait shivered as she turned up her collar and thrust her hands into the pockets of her jacket.

“Did you find out anything?” Brodie asked her, the anger muted now in his brisk tone.

Cait moved closer to him and kept her voice low even though there seemed to be no one else about and certainly no one within earshot. “Yeah. I talked to one of the neighbors while she was out walking her dog a little while ago. Arson is definitely suspected; a couple of people reported a stranger hanging around today.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me.” It wasn’t a question. Brodie sighed, his breath misting in the cold air. “Well, they didn’t get her, or you would have said so by now. So where is she?”

“According to the neighbor, Sarah Gallagher left here with a tall blond man who ‘looked vaguely familiar.’ Not another neighbor, and not a cop. He was driving a late-model Mercedes.”

Brodie whistled in surprise. “That doesn’t sound like our guys. Their wheels tend to be very unobtrusive.”

Cait nodded. “That’s what I thought. Unfortunately, the neighbor didn’t get a license plate, so that’s no good. She did, however, say that she thought the cop in charge talked to both Sarah and the blond stranger before they left, so there’s a solid chance the locals know where Sarah’s supposed to be. Especially since she probably hasn’t been ruled out as a suspect herself.”

“Yeah, they will check the obvious first.” Brodie nodded slowly.

“So we need eyes and ears inside the local police department,” Cait said. “They probably wouldn’t know me, so—”

Brodie was shaking his head. “I don’t think so, Cait. We need to move too fast; planting someone on the inside takes time. But…I might know someone who already has eyes on the inside.”

“Someone you can trust?”

He smiled faintly, as though he found the question amusing. “I don’t deal with people I can’t trust. Come on—we need to get out of here before that squad car makes its next scheduled pass by here. And let’s find a landline; I don’t want to use the cell for this call.”

When Sarah came out of her bedroom wearing a bulky sweater and jeans, Tucker didn’t mention the watcher outside. It was not out of some outdated—and no doubt unwanted—sense of chivalry that he kept silent, but simply because he was convinced Sarah would not be surprised by the knowledge. She knew she was being watched; he thought she knew why, or had some suspicion why—and it had nothing to do with frightened neighbors.

It was an answer he wanted.

Sarah glanced toward the fire without comment as she passed through the living room, then turned on a couple of lamps and went into the kitchen area.

“I didn’t know how you took yours,” Tucker said, lifting his coffee cup in a slight gesture.

She poured a cup of coffee for herself, taking it black. “No problem. Look, it’s after six; I have some ready-made stew and bread in the freezer, if you’re planning to stay for supper.”

Tucker had to smile at the wording. “I’d hate to impose.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” she said, either another shrewd guess or certain knowledge. Whichever, it was accompanied by a slight smile as Sarah began getting out a pot and the frozen stew, and turning on the oven for the bread.

Tucker reclaimed his stool at the breakfast bar, sitting beside a cat who was neatly washing his paws and face after his own meal. “Okay, so I wouldn’t hate it. I’ve got the nerve of a burglar, according to most of my friends. But I was trained right; if you’re going to do the cooking, I’ll do the dishes.”

“Suits me.” She put the bagged stew into the microwave to thaw, then leaned back against the counter and sipped her coffee, looking at Tucker across the space separating them. “Are you planning to spend the night?”

That question would have bothered Tucker, except for the fact that she sounded totally uninterested in the subject. “That depends on you.”

“I told you I didn’t mind being alone. There are no monsters in the closet or under my bed; I just checked.” She wasn’t smiling.

Neither was Tucker when he said, “There’s one outside. Watching. Wearing a black leather jacket.”

Her eyes seemed to flicker slightly. “You saw him?”

“Yes. A few minutes ago, before it started getting dark. Who is he, Sarah?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why is he watching you?”

“I don’t know.”

Tucker shook his head. “And yet you aren’t worried about it? I don’t buy that.”

“Why worry about something you can’t change?” She shrugged.

“Then you do know why he’s watching.”

Sarah hesitated, then shook her head. “No. I—I don’t know the why of any of it. Just the fact of it.”

Baffled, Tucker frowned and watched her turn to get the stew out of the microwave and put it in a pot on the stove. “So what is the fact of it?” he asked her.

“He’s watching me. He’s waiting. And sooner or later, he’ll do what he came here to do.”

“Which is?”

“I don’t know.”

After a moment, Tucker drew a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m spending the night,” he said flatly.

She looked back over her shoulder at him, her eyes flickering again. “To guard the door? To keep the monster out? Don’t bother. You can’t save me from him.”

Her fatalistic attitude irritated Tucker. “At least I’m willing to try, which is more than I can say for you. Where’s the phone? This is something Sergeant Lewis should know about.”

“He can’t save me either,” she said softly, returning her attention to the stew.

“Why the hell not? He’s a cop, isn’t he? It’s his job.”

Sarah shook her head. “To protect and serve? No. There’s nothing he can do—even if he believed me. Even if he believed you. And he wouldn’t.”

“You can’t know that.”

She turned toward him again, leaning back against the counter and picking up her coffee cup. She was smiling. “Can’t I? Then you’ve wasted a trip, haven’t you, Tucker?”

It silenced him, but only for a moment. “You’re not going to do anything about that guy out there? Not even report to the police?”

“Not even report to the police. I’ve learned to accept what I can’t change.”

“You accepted me awfully easily,” he said curiously. “Why? Was our meeting—meant to be?” The question wasn’t nearly as mocking as he had intended it to sound.

“I recognized you,” she replied with yet another shrug.

“Recognized me? From where?”

“I had seen you.” There was an evasive note in her voice, something Tucker was quick to pick up on.

“Where had you seen me, Sarah?”

There was a moment of silence. She looked steadily down at her cup, a slight frown between her brows. Then, finally, softly, she said, “I had seen you in my dreams. My…waking nightmares.”

“You mean you had a vision and I was in it?”

Sarah almost flinched. “I hate that word. Vision. It makes me sound like some cheap carnival sideshow mystic. Pay your money and come into the tent, and Madam Sarah will look into her crystal ball and tell you your future. All filled with hope and dreams. Except that isn’t what I do. I don’t have a crystal ball. And I can’t get answers on demand.”

Patient, Tucker brought her back to the point. “All right, then. You had seen me in your—waking nightmares. You had seen me in your future. So you knew you could trust me?”

Her slight frown returned. “It has nothing to do with trust. I saw you. I knew you’d be there. When it happens. I knew you weren’t involved in it. At least—I don’t believe you are. But you’re there. When it happens.”

The writer in Tucker was going crazy with her tenses, but he thought he understood her. At least up to a point. “When what happens, Sarah?”

She looked at him, finally. Her gaze was steady and her voice matter-of-fact when she replied, “When they kill me.”


“You bungled it,” Duran said.

Varden stiffened, but there was no sign of anger in his voice when he said, “At the time, it seemed the best idea.”

“A house fire? Guaranteed to draw law enforcement as well as numerous spectators? How did you expect to remove her from that situation without attracting further attention?”

“Obviously, I intended to remove her before the fire was noticed.”

“Then why didn’t you?”

“The fire spread faster than I bargained for.”

Duran turned his head and looked at the other man. Gently, he said, “It was an old house. They tend to burn quickly.”

Accepting that rebuke with what grace he could muster, Varden merely nodded without further attempts to defend himself.

Duran gazed at him a moment longer, then moved away from the window of the cramped hotel room and settled into a chair across from a long couch. “Sit down.” It wasn’t an invitation.

Taking a place on the couch, Varden said in a carefully explanatory tone, “I was under the impression that the judgment of the Council demanded quick action. Tyrell said—”

“Tyrell reports to me,” Duran said with an edge to his quiet voice. “The decision is mine.”

“You thought she could be salvaged?”

“What I thought is not your concern. You follow orders.”

“Yes, sir.”

Duran waited a moment, his gaze boring into Varden. Then, almost casually, he said, “I want Sarah Gallagher.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you’re going to get her for me, Varden. Aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good,” Duran said. “That is good.”

Tucker drew a long, slow breath, trying with calm and logic to keep the chill inside him from spreading. “When who kills you, Sarah?”

“I don’t know who they are. Whenever I try to concentrate on them, to see them, all I see are shadows. Misshapen, sliding away whenever I try to focus on them, impossible to identify as anything except…shadows.” She shook her head a little, helpless. “This is all new to me, in case you didn’t know that. I was mugged last March, and a head injury put me in a coma. When I came out of it, I started having the waking nightmares.”

He nodded, familiar with the facts because a newspaper story had reported them—and had brought him here. “I understand that. What I don’t understand is what, exactly, makes you believe that someone is going to kill you. What did you see?”

The bell on the microwave dinged, and Sarah turned to set her coffee aside and get the stew out. “Haven’t you ever had nightmares, Tucker? The surreal kind, full of frightening images?”

“Of course I have. They made zero sense. And they sure as hell didn’t predict the future.”

“My waking nightmares do.” She was clearly unoffended by his skepticism.

“Okay, then, tell me what you saw. Why are you so convinced you’re going to be killed?”

Sarah didn’t respond for several minutes as she transferred the thawed stew to the pot on the stove and began stirring it as it heated. All her attention seemed to be fixed on the task. And when she did begin speaking, Tucker thought that her voice was very steady the way someone’s was when they were telling you something that scared the living shit out of them.

“Because I saw my grave. Waiting for me.”

“Sarah, that doesn’t have to mean—”

She nodded jerkily. “There are other things I don’t remember, images that terrified me. But the grave…that was all too clear. It has a tombstone, and the tombstone is already inscribed. It has my name on it. In the…waking nightmare…I’m falling toward it, into it, so fast I don’t see the date of—of my death. But the month is October, and the year is this year. And just as the darkness of the grave closes over me, I hear them applauding. And I know they’ve won. I know they’ve killed me.”


“The shadows.”

“Sarah, shadows can’t hurt you.”

She looked at him with old eyes. “These can. And will.”

Tucker watched her as she turned to check on the steaming stew and put the thawing bread in the oven. There was a lot for him to think about. On the face of it, his first inclination was to ascribe her “waking nightmare” to something she’d eaten or a vivid imagination; as badly as he wanted to believe in precognitive abilities, he had yet to find a genuine psychic, and years of frustration had inured him to disillusionment.

He certainly had no proof that Sarah Gallagher was indeed psychic. The information he had gathered seemed to indicate that she was, and those witnesses who claimed to have heard her predictions prior to later events seemed both reliable and reputable. But there was no way to be sure that her “predictions” had not come from some as-yet-undiscovered means of foreknowledge that had nothing to do with so-called extrasensory perception.

Each of the “predictions” he knew of could, after all, be rationally explained, given a few reasonable possibilities. Months before, she had been mugged on her way home one night, and the resulting head injury had put her into a coma for sixteen days. She could have overheard information while in that coma, for instance, and—consciously, perhaps—forgotten where it had come from. That could explain her apparent foreknowledge of the early birth of a nurse’s baby, which had been her first recorded prediction. Some doctor with a suspicion of what could happen might have mentioned it within Sarah’s hearing. And though her prediction of a Chicago hotel fire that had killed forty people certainly seemed remarkable, Tucker had discovered that one of the men later arrested for arson had been treated for a minor traffic injury in the same Richmond hospital where Sarah had lain in a coma. It was a coincidence that bothered him.

Other minor predictions she had made could—with some ingenuity—also be linked to her stay in the hospital. Tucker had utilized quite a bit of ingenuity, so he knew it could be done. He hadn’t yet been able to explain away her apparent foreknowledge of several murders apparently committed by a serial killer in California, but he was half-convinced he could, given enough time.

All of which, of course, raised the question of why he had bothered to seek out Sarah Gallagher at all.

“You want so badly to believe.” Her voice was quiet, her gaze direct as she turned to look at him.

“Do I?” He wasn’t quite as unsettled, this time, by her perception—extrasensory or otherwise.

Instead of directly answering that question, Sarah said, “I can’t perform for you, Tucker. I can’t go down that list of questions you have in your mind and answer them one by one as if it’s some final exam. I can’t convince you of something you need irrefutable proof to believe. That’s not the way this works.”

“You mean it’s like believing in God?” His voice was carefully neutral. “It requires faith?”

“What it requires is admitting the possible. Believing the evidence of your eyes and ears without trying to explain it all away. Accepting that you’ll never be able to cross every t and dot every i. And most of all, it requires a willingness to believe that science isn’t the ultimate authority. Just because something can’t be rationally explained on the basis of today’s science doesn’t mean it isn’t real.”

“That sounds like the party line,” Tucker said dryly, having heard the same sort of “answers” for years.

She shook her head. “Look, I never believed in the paranormal, in psychics, myself. When I thought about it, which wasn’t often, I just assumed it was either a con of some kind or else coincidence—anything that could somehow be explained away. Not only was I a skeptic, I simply didn’t care; I had no interest in anything paranormal. It didn’t matter to me.”

“Until you found yourself looking into the future.”

Sarah tilted her head a bit to one side as she considered him and his flat statement. Then, with a touch of wry humor, she said, “Well, when you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s a bit difficult to pretend you aren’t involved in the situation.”

Tucker appreciated the humor, but what interested him most was a glint of something he thought he saw in her eyes. Slowly, he said, “So, are you involved in this? Or just along for the ride?”

“I don’t know what you mean.” She turned abruptly back to the stove to check the stew and bread, then busied herself getting plates and bowls out of the cabinets above the counter and silverware from a drawer.

“You know exactly what I mean, Sarah. Are you resigned to dying next month because you believe that’s your fate? Because you believe your destiny is—literally—written in stone? Or do you have the guts to use what you’ve seen to change your fate, to take control of your destiny?”

She didn’t answer right away, and when she did, her voice was almost inaudible. “Strange questions from a man who doesn’t believe I could have seen my future—or anybody else’s.”

Tucker didn’t hesitate. “I’m willing to suspend my disbelief—if you’re willing to accept the possibility that what you saw—or at least the outcome—can be changed.”

Again, Sarah took her time responding. She sliced bread and ladled out stew, setting his meal before him and then placing her own so that she was sitting at a right angle to him. She tasted her stew almost idly, then said, “I saw a hotel fire that killed people, and I couldn’t stop it. I saw the man I loved killed by a train, and I couldn’t stop it. I saw a serial killer commit horrible acts, and I couldn’t stop him. A week ago, I saw my house burn to the ground, and today it burned.”

Tucker began eating to give himself time to marshal his arguments, and in the meantime asked a question he was curious about. “Why didn’t you call the police when you saw your house burn?”

“Oh, right. Officer, somebody’s going to burn down my house. How do I know? Well, I saw it in a nightmare. A nightmare I had while I was wide awake, not under the influence of drugs, and cold sober.” She gave Tucker a twisted smile. “Been there, done that. And I’d really rather not become the poster child for the Psychic Early Warning Society.”

Tucker shook his head. “Okay, so maybe nobody takes you seriously—at first. But sooner or later, that’s bound to change.”

“Is it?” She shrugged. “Maybe. But in my case, that’s hardly relevant, is it? I have this…rendezvous with destiny next month.”

Like most writers, Tucker had a head stuffed full of words, and a very apt quote sprang readily to mind. “‘I have a rendezvous with Death at some disputed barricade,’” he murmured.

“Who said that?” she wondered.

“Alan Seeger. It’s always stayed with me.”

Sarah nodded. “Appropriate.”

“I think so. Think of the phrase he chose, Sarah…some disputed barricade. Maybe there’s always room for argument about where and when we die, even if there is such a thing as fate. Maybe we change our fate, minute by minute, with every decision we make. Maybe destiny becomes the sum of our choices.”

She frowned. “Maybe.”

“But you aren’t convinced?”

“That I can choose to avoid the fate I know is in store for me?” She shook her head. “No.”

“Sarah, you didn’t see your death. You saw an image, a symbol of death. And symbols can’t be interpreted literally.”

“A grave is pretty hard to interpret any other way.”

He shook his head. “In tarot, the death card can mean many things. A transition of some kind. The death of an idea or a way of life, for instance. A turning point. The grave you saw could mean something like that. A change in your life that you’re thrown bodily into, maybe against your will—which would explain your fear. You never saw yourself dead, did you? You never saw your death occur literally, an accomplished fact.”

“I never saw David’s death as an accomplished fact either.” Her voice was quiet. “But I knew he was going to die at that railroad crossing. And he did.”

That stopped Tucker for only a moment. “But you saw the means of his death clearly. In your—nightmare—about your own fate, there’s no weapon, no method by which you could be killed. So it could have been a symbolic grave, a symbolic death. At least it’s possible.”

Sarah pushed her plate away and leaned an elbow on the bar, looking at him for the first time with her certainty wavering. “I suppose so. Possible, at least that I saw something other than a literal death for myself.”

Tucker didn’t make the mistake of hammering his point home. Instead, he said musingly, “I’ve always thought that if it was possible to see into the future, it would have to be with the understanding that what a psychic is actually seeing is only a possible future. Moment by moment, we make decisions and choices that change our path through infinite possibilities. And once a psychic ‘sees’ an event, that psychic becomes in some way involved in the event and so affects the outcome—which causes the ‘future’ event that he or she saw to change in unexpected and unpredicted ways.”

She was frowning slightly, her gaze fixed on his face with what seemed an unconscious intensity. “Or—to actually happen. How do I know that if I hadn’t warned David, if I hadn’t been so insistent that he avoid railroad crossings, he might not have been killed since he wouldn’t have gone to California to get away from me? How do I know that my—my prediction didn’t cause that nurse to go into premature labor out of stress and worry? How do I know that any of it would have happened if I hadn’t…interfered?”

Coolly, Tucker said, “You don’t. If, as you believe, our fates are set, our destinies planned for us at birth, then every step you’ve taken, every action you thought was yours by choice was all just part of the pattern you had to follow.”

“I…don’t much like the sound of that.”

“Then consider another possibility,” he advised. “Maybe you aren’t going to die next month after all. Maybe you can master your own fate. If you want to, that is.”

Since they were both finished eating, he got up and began clearing up in the kitchen. It wasn’t until then that he realized the big black cat had remained on the stool beside his during the meal and conversation without once calling attention to himself. It struck Tucker as odd and curiously uncatlike, though he couldn’t have said why; he didn’t know a great deal about cats.

Even as that thought occurred to him, Pendragon quite suddenly lifted a hind leg high in the air and began washing himself in a definitely catlike manner, and Tucker almost laughed aloud. His imagination was working overtime, as usual. Not that it was surprising; whether Sarah Gallagher was a genuine psychic or not, she was obviously in trouble, threatened by person or persons unknown, and his awareness of that had heightened all of Tucker’s senses. Which explained why he got that creepy-crawly sensation near his spine each time he’d caught a glimpse of the watcher in the black leather jacket.

And why he was very conscious of Sarah sitting at the breakfast bar in silence, her gaze occasionally following him but more often turned inward.

He wished his awareness weren’t quite so heightened where she was concerned. He was too aware of her physically, too conscious of her quiet breathing, her faint movements—even the oddly compelling scent that was her perfume overlaid by the acrid odor of smoke that clung to her hair.

Keep your mind on the subject at hand, Mackenzie.

“I wouldn’t know where to start,” she said finally as Tucker turned on the dishwasher and poured fresh coffee for them both.

Tucker felt a surge of triumph, but it was short-lived. He didn’t know where to start either. But he was unwilling to allow her to slip back into her earlier numb resignation. “We can find a place to start.”

“We?” She looked at him steadily.

“I never could resist a mystery.” He kept his tone light. “Or a challenge. And, as you said—I want to believe. Maybe the mistake I made in the past was in not getting to know the…psychics…I met. Maybe it’s not so much a question of faith as it is a question of trust. I have to trust you before I can believe in you, and trust demands knowledge.”

“Quid pro quo? You’ll help me try to change my fate in exchange for the opportunity to convince yourself I’m a genuine psychic?”

“It sounds workable to me.”

“Tucker, that man watching outside is dangerous. I don’t know if he burned down my house. I don’t know if he came here to kill me. But I know that he’s very, very dangerous.”

“I can take care of myself. And I can help you, Sarah.”

She shook her head, her eyes going momentarily un-focused in that inward-turned gaze. “No. You don’t understand. Sometimes, when I know he’s out there, I can sense things about him. There’s something…wrong with him. Something that isn’t normal.”

“In what way?”

“I don’t know.” Her eyes cleared. “It’s like when I try to see who wants to kill me. All I see are shadows. Shadows all around me.”

He couldn’t deny the reality of that man who was probably still outside somewhere, probably still watching, but Tucker wasn’t about to lose the ground he felt he had gained in the last couple of hours. “He’s just another piece of the puzzle, Sarah, that’s all. We can solve it.”


At the moment, it was an unanswerable question, so Tucker merely shrugged and said, “By putting the pieces together. But not tonight. You’ve had a long and tough day, and I’m a little tired myself. I know it’s early, but why don’t we turn in?”

Her expression was unreadable. “There’s only one bedroom.”

“That couch looks comfortable. I’ll be fine out here, Sarah.”

Without further comment, she left the breakfast bar and went to get a blanket and pillow from the storage closet across from the bedroom. She piled them on one end of the couch. “There are clean towels in the bathroom, and some men’s toiletries in the linen cabinet; Margo has an occasional male guest stay up here, and she believes in being prepared. Help yourself to whatever you need.”


She didn’t seem eager to leave. “Pendragon should be put out before you settle down to sleep; otherwise he’ll wake you up at dawn.”

“I’ll take care of it.” He didn’t move away from his position near the bar. “Good night, Sarah.”

“Good night.” She turned abruptly toward the bedroom, pausing only when she reached the hallway. She stood there for a moment, as if in indecision, then looked back over her shoulder at him. Quietly, her expression quizzical, she said, “I’m sorry. She never wanted to be found, you know. That’s why you couldn’t.” Then she went on into her bedroom and closed the door softly behind her.

Tucker wasn’t sure he was breathing. He forced himself to draw air into his lungs, and it made him briefly dizzy. Or something did. He stood there staring after her, conscious of his heart thudding heavily inside his chest and cold sweat popping out of every pore.

“Jesus Christ,” he muttered.

The witching hour, Brodie thought, studying the deserted street in front of his parked car. At three A.M. on this Thursday morning, the day after Sarah Gallagher’s house had burned to the ground, the only lights were streetlights; in this part of Richmond, at least, all was quiet.

He caught the flicker of light in the rearview mirror and tensed just a bit, his hand sliding inside his jacket and closing over the reassuringly solid grip of the .45 ready in its holster. Even when the light flickered half a dozen more times in a definite signal, he didn’t entirely relax, though his foot tapped the brake lightly in the expected response.

It wasn’t until the passenger door of his car opened and a man slid in that Brodie relaxed and left his gun holstered. The dome light had not come on (since he had earlier removed the bulbs), but a faint whiff of a very expensive and even more exclusive men’s cologne confirmed the identity of his companion for Brodie.

“You didn’t have to come yourself,” he said, surprised.

“I was in the neighborhood.”

Brodie made a rude but soft sound of disbelief. “Yesterday, you were in Canada, at a board meeting still going on today. You’re elusive as hell, Josh, but I’m very good at what I do.”

“You don’t have to tell me that.” Josh Long, world-renowned financier, philanthropist, and a dozen other things that made him very famous indeed, reached into his casual jacket and pulled out a large manila envelope. “This is a verbatim copy of the police report concerning Sarah Gallagher’s house fire, including all notes made at the scene by the investigating officer. Also a copy of the fire marshal’s report.”

“What, you didn’t get a fingerprint and ID of the culprit as well?” Brodie asked dryly.

“You’ll have to forgive me—there was so little time.”

Brodie let out a brief laugh, honestly amused, as he accepted the envelope. “Yeah, sorry about that. But we’re in a hurry, as usual. As I told you, we’ve lost track of Gallagher. She left the ruins of her house after the fire yesterday with a man—”

“Tucker Mackenzie.”

After a moment of silence, Brodie said thoughtfully, “The novelist?”

“According to my source inside the police department, yes. The investigating officer had no idea who he was at the time; he’s apparently no reader and Miss Gallagher introduced Mackenzie only as a friend.”

“And is he one?”

Josh shrugged. “Hers? No evidence they’d met before Wednesday. Ours? Your guess is as good as mine. We managed to scare up a bit of data on Mackenzie; it’s in the envelope with the rest. Based on that, I’d have to say he looks like a possible ally, but there’s no way to know that for sure. In going to her he obviously has some agenda of his own, though what that might be I couldn’t find out. In any case, he appears to have elected himself her watchdog, at least for the moment.”

“He’s still with her?”

“He was as of midnight tonight. In the apartment above the antiques shop owned by Gallagher and her partner.”

Brodie didn’t ask the address, knowing that it would be included in the envelope of information. He wasn’t someone who trusted easily, but he had learned to trust in the man beside him—and in his information-gathering capabilities. He had also learned to respect the strength and fighting instincts apparent in the visitor’s next restless words.

“I can take a more public role, you know. Make some noise. Get more people on our side. Be more of a help to you. Just providing information and equipment when you need it is nothing at all.”

“You do more than enough.”

“It doesn’t feel that way.”

Brodie tucked the envelope away inside his jacket and half turned to look at the other man, who was, in the darkness, virtually invisible to anyone who didn’t have eyes like a cat. Brodie did.

“Josh, we don’t have many advantages in this thing. They’re bigger than we are, faster to react to a situation. They’re better organized and they may even be smarter than we are. They’re sure as hell more ruthless. So we need every edge we can get. Being able to call on you for assistance and information has been invaluable, so never think you aren’t helping.”

After a moment, Josh sighed and settled his shoulders in the gesture of a man resigned. “I don’t much care for fighting in the dark, John.”

“We need you in the dark. We need someone with your resources, your power, and your abilities—and we need you hidden in the dark, where they can’t see you.”

“I know the value of an ace in the hole. But I don’t have to like it.”

“We’re grateful, Josh. We’re all grateful.”

Josh turned away the gratitude with a slight gesture, then fished inside his jacket for a cigarette and lighter. “Don’t worry about anybody seeing this,” he said absently as the lighter’s flame illuminated his lean, aristocratic features and lent his rather hard eyes a fierce glitter. “Zach is watching.”

“I thought he might be,” Brodie said gently.

A faint grin was sent his way before Josh snapped the lighter shut and plunged them back into darkness. “My watchdog. Are you working with Cait again?”

“Yeah. She’s at the hotel. And when I get back there, she’ll pretend she isn’t the least bit curious about who my mysterious source is—and it’s killing her. Don’t worry, though. She knows the score. She knows only what she needs to know, just like the rest of us.”

“So if one falls, only a few more can be taken down at the same time,” Josh murmured. “Like the Resistance cells in World War Two, protecting those at the core, the few who know the identity of all the fighters in every cell. The safest way, I know. But it makes it all the more difficult for you to work effectively as a team.”

“What choice do we have?” It was a rhetorical question, and Brodie didn’t wait for any attempt to answer it. “Thanks for the data, Josh.”

“Let me know, any hour of the day or night, if you need anything else. And I mean anything, John.”

“I will.”

They didn’t shake hands or say good-bye, though both knew it might easily be months before they saw each other again.

If they saw each other again.

Josh slid from the car with hardly a sound, and a few moments later Brodie saw headlights come on farther back along the street. An exceptionally quiet motor purred as the dark sedan passed his own car, turned a corner, and vanished into the night.

After a few minutes, Brodie started his own car and pulled away from the curb, his eyes automatically seeking any sign that the meeting had been noticed as he left the quiet neighborhood and headed back to the hotel and his impatiently waiting partner.

Tucker came abruptly out of a deep sleep, his first disoriented thought that Pendragon wanted out. The cat had mysteriously vanished by the time he had been ready to bunk down on the couch, and Tucker had been reluctant to knock on Sarah’s closed door to find out whether he had somehow slipped in there with her.

So the faint scratching sound brought him upright on the couch, filled with the sense of something left unfinished. The cat wants out. Damned cat. He blinked at the morning brightness, automatically checking his watch to find that it was seven thirty, then pushed the blanket away and swung his feet to the floor.

It wasn’t until then that he looked toward the door and saw the knob turning.

Even as he heard the security system beep a mild warning as the door was opened, Tucker was on his feet and moving swiftly in that direction. It occurred to him belatedly that he didn’t have a damned thing handy with which to defend himself, but that didn’t stop him.

He almost decked her.

Wide blue eyes took him in—fist raised, bare-chested, beard-stubbled, and wearing only a pair of boxers decorated with cartoon characters—and she let out a rich chuckle.

“Well, I would say Sarah finally struck gold after way too much brass, but if you’re sleeping on the couch, handsome, she’s obviously still missing the train!”


Margo James was a redhead like Sarah, but all resemblance stopped there. She was tall and voluptuous, her gestures and movements were quick and almost birdlike, and she talked with blunt, brisk cheerfulness, contentedly misusing words and mixing metaphors right and left.

Tucker had plenty of time to observe all these traits when he had returned from his quick retreat to shower, shave, and dress, because Margo insisted on fixing breakfast, telling him that Sarah always slept till nine at least.

“I’m the early bird, and she’s the bat.”

Tucker stopped himself from wincing. “You mean the night owl?”

Margo waved a spatula. “Yeah, right. It’s amazing that we get along so well. We’re really as different as afternoon and morning. Take our antiques, for instance. Sarah has a real feeling for what’s genuine but doesn’t have a clue how things should be priced, whereas I know the value of a thing down to the penny—but can be fooled by a fake really easily.”

“Sounds like you two are perfect partners,” Tucker commented, cautiously sipping coffee that was very, very strong and had a shot at holding a spoon upright in the cup.

“Yeah, it’s been great. Hey, I fed that cat she’s adopted and let him out. He seemed to want out.”

“I was supposed to let him out last night,” Tucker admitted, “but he disappeared on me.”

Margo shrugged. “Maybe he slept in Sarah’s room. She told me he does that sometimes.”

Tucker wondered when, in that case, Sarah had let the cat out of her room, but it didn’t seem important enough to worry about.

In a lightning change of mood, Margo said with sudden gravity, “Jeez, I was sorry to hear about Sarah’s house. She loved that place, poured her heart into restoring it.”

“How did you hear about it?” he asked casually.

“On TV—the news last night. That’s why I came back ahead of schedule, of course, even though she didn’t call me. Maybe especially because she didn’t call me. I know Sarah. She’s as strong as bronze—”

“Steel,” Tucker murmured, unable to stop himself.

“Yeah, steel. Strong as steel, thinks she can handle anything and everything on her own—but she’s had a fairly bad year, and I just don’t know how much more she can take. First that damned mugging, and then David—” Her gaze cut swiftly to Tucker. “You know about David?”

He nodded without comment.

Margo was obviously still trying to size up the relationship since Tucker had introduced himself only by name, and was clearly disappointed that he didn’t react in some dramatic way to mention of the last man in Sarah’s life.

“Yeah, well. First we find out the bastard was not one of your basic in-sickness-and-in-health guys when she got hurt; he could barely bring himself to visit her every couple of days, for Christ’s sake, and made it screamingly obvious he wanted to be someplace else when he did show up. Then, when she finally comes out of the coma…”

“Able to see the future?” Tucker supplied when her voice trailed off.

She grimaced. “Yeah. I didn’t know if you knew.”

Again, he nodded without comment.

Margo flipped a fried egg—the fifth so far, with two more still in the pan—onto a plate on the counter beside the stove, and Tucker was mildly tempted to ask how many people she planned to feed. But he didn’t want her to be distracted from the subject at hand.

“She really can do it,” Margo said, defending her friend staunchly. “It scared the hell out of her at first—still does, I guess. Well, wouldn’t it you?”


Margo nodded. “Yeah, me too. In fact—Well, never mind that. The point is that Sarah’s life has been hell this year. And now the house…jeez. The news said the cops suspected arson?”

“So I understand.” He didn’t mention the stranger who might still be outside watching; he hadn’t been able to casually look out a window without drawing her attention, and he wasn’t sure how much—if anything—Margo knew.

“That means the insurance won’t pay off for ages,” she said in a practical spirit. “Damn. She can stay here as long as necessary, of course—this place is half hers—but it would be a lot better if she could concentrate on rebuilding right away. With everything at fives and sixes like this, she’ll have way too much time to think about…stuff.”

Tucker didn’t bother to correct her. “About what happened to David…?” he probed, wondering whether she knew that Sarah’s latest prediction supposedly concerned her own death.

Margo’s exotic face darkened. “That son of a bitch. I know you aren’t supposed to speak ill of the dead, but if you ask me, he got what he deserved. If he’d treated Sarah with a modem of respect, things might have been different.”

Tucker cast about in his mind and settled on modicum. Yeah—a modicum of respect.

“But he didn’t,” Margo continued, oblivious of having misspoken. “Oh, he was charming enough—Sarah’s a sucker for charm—but he sure as hell backed off fast enough when she got hurt. He made a pass at me while she was in the hospital. Can you believe that?” She shot Tucker a fierce look. “Poor Sarah, lying there with a head injury and the doctors shaking their heads because they don’t know if she’ll ever come out of it, and that bastard’s leering and pinching me on the ass!”

Tucker just stopped himself from commenting that he could understand that other man’s urge, base though it had certainly been; as complimentary as he meant the words to be, he was both old enough and wise enough to know she wouldn’t appreciate them. “But things really changed when Sarah got out of the hospital?” he asked instead.

“With David, you mean?” Margo nodded. “Oh, yeah. Well, before that, really. When she predicted the nurse would have her baby. And the hotel fire, she predicted that in front of a bunch of us, David included. He thought she was crazy when she said it’d happen. Then, when it did—he really thought she was crazy.”

“And it scared him?”

“I’ll say. But before he could come up with a halfway decent excuse to break it off with her, she saw his future. He lasted about a week with Sarah worrying about railroad crossings, then bolted for California so fast you’d have thought his ass was on fire.”

“And died out there—at a railroad crossing.”

“I didn’t grieve for him. But Sarah nearly fell apart. For weeks, she wouldn’t even leave her house, wouldn’t talk to anybody except me—and hardly to me.” Margo frowned a little as she finished the eighth and final egg and turned the burner off, then plugged in the toaster and reached for the loaf of bread on the counter. “I don’t know if she would have come out of it, except that the visions—I mean the waking nightmares—stopped for a while. It gave her a chance to get her bearings, I guess.”

“And when the—waking nightmares came back?”

Margo shook her head. “Well, either they didn’t come very often, or she didn’t tell me about all of them, because I only know about a few. Mostly minor things—except for that serial killer out in San Francisco. That one really freaked her out.” She paused for a moment or so, then added soberly, “But she’s been awfully quiet these last months. Awfully quiet.”

Tucker drew a breath and said, “You’re afraid of her too. Aren’t you?”

She looked at him, those brilliant eyes darkened, and said shakily, “Oh, I’m afraid. But not of her. I’m afraid of what she can see. Because she saw my future. And she won’t tell me what it is.”

The morning sun was halfway to its noon position, and long shadows stretched from the west side of the building in downtown Richmond. A tall woman with short and rather spiky blond hair stood motionless on the balcony, virtually invisible in the shadows and among tall potted plants. She cursed absently as a palm frond stirred by the breeze waved in front of her binoculars, shifted her weight just a bit, then went still again as her field of vision cleared. Her attention was fixed on the rather shabby hotel across the street, and a particular room a floor below her own fifth-floor vantage point.

The drapes at that window had not been drawn, and a generous percentage of the room was visible to her.

Careless. Duran must be losing his touch.

Two men were in the room. She would have given a lot to know what they discussed as they sat so casually across from each other. But there had been no time to plant listening devices, and from her angle, it was impossible even to make an attempt at lip-reading—a skill she had worked very hard to acquire.

She lowered the binoculars, lips pressed so tightly together there was no hint of softness there, and vivid green eyes furious. “Damn,” she whispered. “Damn, damn, damn.”

She eased back through the balcony doors into the apartment she had—so to speak—sublet and bent over a lovely Regency desk. The former occupant’s work had been unceremoniously shoved aside, and an open laptop sat in the center of the pretty floral blotter.

“Jeez, enough with the plant motif,” she muttered, momentarily distracted as she glanced around at the very pretty, very feminine, and very floral bedroom in which she stood. Frilly was hardly Murphy’s style. Barely suppressing a shudder, she fixed her attention on the screen of the laptop.

A section of a city map, brilliantly colored, met her intent gaze. She studied it for a long moment, frowning, then tapped a few keys to produce a close-up of the section. Her index finger traced the distance from a square representing the hotel across the street to a quieter street where former residences had been turned into small businesses.

“Too close. Dammit, they have to know where she is.” Murphy wasn’t even conscious of speaking aloud, so accustomed to working alone that talking to herself had become a habit.

The words had barely left her mouth when the very faint sound of a key in the lock of the apartment’s front door brought her head up alertly, and this time the curse that left her lips was a mere whisper.

Just my luck that Ms. Bank Vice President went off this morning and left her damned lunch on the kitchen counter!

Swiftly, unwilling to wait and find out whether the apartment’s legal occupant would choose to come into the bedroom for some reason, she closed the laptop and dropped it into the pouch hanging against her hip. Without a wasted motion, she backed out onto the balcony and slid the door closed.

There was a fire escape, which was good, but leaving the shelter of the greenery meant she was too visible, even in the shadows, for her peace of mind. Still, being seen by the wrong person was infinitely preferable to being arrested for breaking and entering, which was what likely would happen if she remained on the balcony.

She moved quickly and quietly down to street level and, once there, paused only long enough to stow the binoculars in their pocket of the pouch containing the computer.

The pouch was not conspicuous, resembling nothing so much as a large, if bulky, shoulder bag, but someone might well have taken notice of the binoculars.

A quick glance around told her that none of the few people about seemed interested in her. She was just about to relax when a carefully casual glance up at the window across the street brought her to a dead stop just two steps away from the fire escape.

Duran was at the window, and he saw her.

He was too far away for her to recognize his face, but she knew it was him. She knew he was looking at her. And she knew he recognized her. She could feel it. Like some night animal caught unexpectedly in the light, she stood frozen, not breathing, a panicky sensation stirring deep inside her. It was not a feeling she was willing to define to herself, though if asked she would have said angrily that it was hatred. Pure hatred.

If asked, Duran would have said the same thing.

The moment seemed to last forever, and if a car horn had not rudely shattered the quiet of the morning, there was no telling how long she would have stood there staring up at the man in the window. But the horn brought her to her senses, and with a soft little sound more violent than a curse, she hurried to the corner and around it, taking herself out of his field of vision.

He turned away from the window and looked across the room at the other man.

“What is it?” Varden asked, instantly alert.

“We’ve run out of time,” Duran said.


She was struggling up out of the depths of an exhausted sleep, frantic to wake up and get control, to be able to shut out the whisper in her mind.

Sarah, you must—

Her eyes snapped open, and Sarah was awake. Her heart was pounding, and she could hear her own shuddery breathing. As always, once she was awake and aware, the voice fell silent.

That voice. God, that voice.

It had begun only a few days before, creeping into her awareness during both waking and sleeping dreams, during vulnerable or unguarded moments. A whisper without identity, eerily insistent. She didn’t even know whether it came from inside her…or somewhere else. It felt alien to her, yet she couldn’t be sure it was—because all of this felt alien. The dreams. These frightening new abilities. The feelings she couldn’t explain even to herself.

All she really knew was that all of it terrified her.

She pulled herself out of bed and went to take a shower, heavy-eyed after lying awake for most of the night. It wasn’t until she came back into her bedroom and began dressing that she heard a loud laugh and the cheerful notes of Margo’s voice.

Margo. Dear God.

Sarah knew she should have called her, of course. Last night. She should have called her and reassured her that it was okay, that she didn’t have to come charging back home to support her partner and friend. Anything to keep Margo safely away from here. But Sarah’s thoughts last night had been fixed on her own troubles—and on Tucker Mackenzie.

Real. He was real. Not a figment of her imagination. Not a face in a half-remembered nightmare, probably formed out of random features drifting like flotsam in her subconscious. Real. One more indication to her that the prediction of her own future was going to come true. One more sign that it was useless to fight what had to be.

That was what she would have said—had, in fact, said—yesterday. But Tucker hadn’t merely presented himself as a sign or a symbol or an indication. He was a real man, and being a real man, he had his own thoughts and opinions and his own agenda. He wanted to believe.

He wanted to believe in her.

Sarah had seen something similar more times than she could count these last months. People with anxious voices and eager eyes and desperate smiles. Asking her, begging her, for answers. The difference was, those people hadn’t wanted the truth. No, they wanted answers, but only those answers that would make them feel good, or at least better, about their problems, their lives. They wanted reassurance, comfort, hope. They hadn’t been able to find it within their own belief system, whether that be religion or something else. So they had come to her.

Tell me my husband forgave me before he died.

Tell me my runaway daughter isn’t walking the streets somewhere, or lying dead in a gutter.

Tell me I’m right to choose my lover.

Tell me my mother didn’t suffer.

Tell me there’s no hell.

Tell me there is a heaven.

Tell me I have a future.

Tell me life doesn’t just end.

Tell me…please tell me…

Sarah had discovered for herself that hope was a fragile thing, difficult to hold on to in the harsh face of day-to-day living. She blamed no one for trying to hold on to it, or reach for it again after it had been lost or driven away. But she was helpless to offer hope to others when all she saw was bleak and dark and violent—and without promise.

She had expected Tucker to ask her for hope. But that wasn’t what he wanted from her. He wanted the truth. He didn’t care whether it proved to be a dark and bleak truth. He didn’t care whether it caused him pain. He just had to know the truth.

She could have given him most of what he wanted of her within the first hour of knowing him. That she had not was due to several reasons. Though he would doubtless disagree with her assessment, she knew he was not yet ready to hear the truth he needed to hear. Not yet ready to listen and understand. Proof of that had been his shocked reaction to the tiny glimpse of the truth she had shown him just after they said good night.

And then there was his part in the sequence of events that all these new instincts of hers told her had already begun. His arrival told her that the countdown had started. With his truth revealed to him, he would no doubt turn away from her, and she knew it wasn’t yet time for him to do that. There was another reason for him to be here with her. They had…some place to go together. Some place where it was cold and…bleak.

Her rendezvous with death.

And that was the final reason why she had not offered him his truth. Because he had intrigued her with his challenge. With the possibilities of what he saw. He was so sure. So sure that fate could be changed. That destiny was merely the sum of one’s choices.

Sarah needed his certainty. She didn’t want to die. There were things she hadn’t done yet, places she hadn’t seen, experiences that eluded her. She was not ready to leave life, at least not willingly. But she had no hope of her own left, no certainty that her path could be chosen by her.

All she saw was darkness.

If he was right—if there was even a small chance he was right—then Sarah needed his help to attempt to change her destiny. She needed his certainty to keep her going, his hope to replace the hope she had lost.

It was thoughts such as these that kept Sarah awake long into the night, but when she heard Margo’s buoyant voice in the other room, thoughts of her own dim future were cast aside.

Margo was home. In Richmond.

The last place on earth she needed to be today.

When Sarah came out of the bedroom to greet the other two, her first glance and tentative smile at Tucker met a somewhat guarded response. She knew why, of course. Even a brief glimpse into someone else’s soul left that soul feeling disturbingly naked.

Psychic eyes aren’t so fascinating when they’re aimed at your soul, are they, Tucker?

It hurt, though.

“Good morning,” she said, impartially to both but shifting her gaze immediately to Margo. “You didn’t have to come running back here, Margo. You shouldn’t have.”

“I was worried about you, kid. I didn’t want you to be alone.” Margo grinned suddenly, a pleased look that belied the anxiety in her expressive eyes. “Didn’t know about Tucker, obviously, or I wouldn’t have barreled back here to be a sixth wheel.”

“Third,” Sarah corrected automatically. She looked at Tucker, caught the flicker of a laugh in his green eyes, and they shared a brief moment of silent amusement.

“Oh, right, third.” As always, Margo accepted the correction amiably. “Breakfast, Sarah?”

“Just coffee.” The pot was almost empty, and Sarah used that as an excuse to make fresh. Margo made the worst coffee in creation, and repeated instructions had done nothing to change that.

“You should eat,” Margo protested. “Look, at least some toast, and maybe the bacon Tucker didn’t finish—”

“All right, toast.” Her head was pounding, and Sarah really didn’t feel like arguing. Conscious of Tucker’s silent scrutiny as she moved past him on the other side of the breakfast bar, she tried not to think about him, something that required a disturbing amount of effort. Instead, she tried to think of a way to get Margo to leave as soon as possible. She didn’t want to frighten her friend, but even less did she want to lose her. For good.

Unbidden, the image that had haunted her for weeks rose starkly in her mind, all too clear and without ambiguity. Tomorrow’s newspaper, with a headline that turned Sarah’s blood to ice…

“Are you all right?” Tucker asked quietly.

Sarah looked blankly at him for a moment before she realized she had been standing immobile with one hand on the breadbox for just that instant too long. “I’m fine.” She wondered idly what her expression looked like to make him look so doubtful. “Really.”

She busied herself making toast, while Margo leaned back against the counter sipping her coffee and Tucker sat at the bar drinking his, and both watched her. She had no idea what they had discussed before she had gotten up, no idea whether either had confided in the other.

Some psychic I am! I can’t even get this cursed thing to work for me when I need it to!

Before she could think of something casual to say, the silence was broken by the distant sound of a bell ringing below in the shop.

“I forgot to turn the bell on up here,” Sarah said. “It’s past opening time. I’ll—”

“No, I’ll go down and see who it is.” Margo set her cup on the counter and headed for the door. “Whether we stay open today—well, we’ll see. In the meantime, you relax and eat your breakfast. Talk to Tucker. See you two later.”

Sarah actually opened her mouth to warn her friend, then closed it even as the door closed behind Margo. What should I do? She had tried to warn David and had only gotten him killed. None of her other warnings had made the slightest difference. But this, this was so damned specific, maybe it was different…


She looked at him.

“What did you see in Margo’s future?”

She didn’t mean to tell him but heard her own frightened voice respond without hesitation. “Death.”

Tucker didn’t look surprised, and his voice remained quiet. “Are you sure?”

Sarah drew a breath. “I saw a Richmond newspaper with tomorrow’s date. The front page. Below the headline, there was a picture of Margo. The headline read, Local Antiques Dealer Killed. The first line began, Local businesswoman Margo James was killed yesterday afternoon in a bizarre accident that took place in her antiques shop.”

Drawing another breath to steady a voice that shook uncontrollably, Sarah added bitterly, “Now you tell me if there’s any way to misinterpret that.”

He was silent for a moment. “Which is why she’s supposed to be out of town now?”

Sarah nodded. “I shouldn’t even have let her go down to the shop just now, but…I don’t know what to do. If I try to keep her out of the shop, if I warn her, I’m afraid I’ll bring about the accident I want to prevent. Like I did with David.”

“You don’t know that you brought that about. He might have been killed at a railroad crossing if he had stayed here.”

“Yes—or he might not have. And Margo…I made sure she’d be away, didn’t call her about the house burning hoping to keep her away, but now she’s come back. As if she’s fated to be here, today. It was very clear, what I saw. An accident, this afternoon, in the shop. But I don’t know exactly when it’s supposed to happen, or what happens.”

“A bizarre accident,” Tucker mused.

“I couldn’t see what that meant, what actually happened.” Sarah went to pour herself a cup of the fresh coffee, absently noting that the toast had popped up without her awareness and was now undoubtedly cold. Leaving it, she fixed her coffee and then turned back to face Tucker. “It isn’t afternoon yet, and newspapers try to be precise…but it could happen at any time.”

Tucker frowned. “Wait a minute. Margo is supposed to be out of town, which means you’re supposed to be the one in the shop. Right?”

She nodded. “It’s just her and me, no other full-time staff. A couple of guys from the health club nearby help us out moving large pieces of furniture when we need to, but we do all the rest. Why?”

“Maybe it’s my writer’s imagination at work, but think about this, Sarah. Somebody’s been watching you recently. You, not Margo. Yesterday your house burns down, probably due to arson. Today, you’re here—which is where you’d logically be after losing your house. It’s even logical that you’d probably be downstairs working, to occupy your mind if nothing else. I mean, if Margo hadn’t showed up, wouldn’t you be down there now, in answer to that bell?”

“Of course.”

He waited, watching her.

Sarah was a bit slow getting it, maybe because of her pounding head or because her mind was filled with fears for Margo. But, slowly, the possibility he offered came into focus. “You mean, me? Somebody could be trying to kill me, and got—gets—Margo by mistake?”

“She’s a redhead too. Hard to mistake one of you for the other close up, but at a distance it wouldn’t be so unlikely. Especially if you’re likely to be down in the shop and Margo is supposed to be out of town. Maybe that bizarre accident you saw was a deliberate act intended to look accidental.”

Sarah didn’t bother to ask him whether he actually believed she had seen the future; he was, as he’d said, suspending his disbelief, but only time and proof would convince Tucker that she could predict events that had not yet occurred. In any case, she was thinking more painful thoughts.

“I told you—there’s no reason anybody would want to hurt me.”

“And yet you predict your own death—at the hands of some mysterious them you can’t identify.” His voice was not in the least sarcastic.

It had not occurred to Sarah either to connect Margo’s death with her own future or to consider her shadowy enemies apart from the ending she felt sure they planned for her. But now, thinking about it, she had to admit that Tucker had made a number of points. Looked at objectively, as he clearly could, it was obvious that Sarah was the target of whatever was happening.

“But why?” Like any human being, she found it extremely difficult to even imagine that someone else might want to put a period to her existence, despite her own predictions. “I don’t understand why anyone would want me dead.”

“The reasons people kill are usually simple,” Tucker offered. “Desperation. Greed. Jealousy. Rage. Fear.”

Sarah shook her head, unable to connect any of those powerful emotions to her life. “I’m not…I’m not even close enough to anyone to inspire anything like that. My friends are casual—except for Margo; I have no family to speak of, just cousins who aren’t even a part of my life. How could I have roused those kinds of emotions in someone without knowing it?”

“Even fear?” He looked at her steadily. “Sarah, your life changed dramatically six months ago. You became psychic. And as you said yourself, there are people out there who are terrified of the very idea of precognition. People very afraid of psychics—maybe even to the point of trying to start a witch hunt.”

They burned my house. Witches were burned.

“It wouldn’t be the first time someone perceived as different became a target of intimidation tactics,” he reminded her, and echoed her own thoughts when he added, “Suspected witches were burned; nearly the first thing you said to me was that you were the neighborhood witch.”

“But there would have been warnings, wouldn’t there? Nasty phone calls, notes—or something worse—left in my mailbox. Isn’t that how it works? They wouldn’t have started by setting my house on fire. Would they?”

Tucker shrugged. “I wouldn’t have said so. But in these days of stalkers and serial killers, the extreme gets more common every day.”

Sarah accepted that reluctantly. “So it’s possible somebody wants me dead because I’m psychic.” She shied away from anyone hating and fearing that much to focus on her friend’s safety. “Then…then if I’m the target, Margo should be out of danger if I send her away. Right? If she’s nowhere near me, she won’t be an accidental target.”

“That seems reasonable to suppose,” Tucker agreed.

Sarah looked at her watch. “It’s after ten. I should go downstairs and try to talk her into leaving Richmond before lunch. Will…will you help me convince her?”

“I’ll try.” He hesitated, then added, “If you’ll take my advice, I think you should tell her the truth. She knows you’ve seen something, Sarah. It’s worrying her.”

“Yes, I know.” Sarah turned the coffeepot off, then looked around in sudden awareness. “Where’s Pendragon?”

“Margo fed him his breakfast and let him out, she said.” He hesitated, then said, “I never did let him out last night; he disappeared on me. Was he with you?”

“No, not unless he decided to sleep under the bed.” She shrugged. “Which he might have done. This is the first time I’ve spent the night here over the shop since he showed up, so I’m not sure about his nighttime habits.”

“He’s been altered, right? So not as likely to want to wander at night like intact toms do.”

Absently, Sarah said, “I thought you didn’t know much about cats.”

There was a brief silence, and then Tucker said, “I guess most people know that much.”

“I guess. Yeah, I made sure he’d been neutered, otherwise I would have taken him to a vet. Too many stray cats around for my peace of mind. They live dangerous lives, poor things.” With a shrug, she added, “He probably belongs to someone in the area, given his condition and that collar. He’s been somebody’s cat, obviously cared for.”

“Then maybe he went home after his breakfast.”

“Maybe so.”

“Ready to go down to the shop?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

They left the apartment and went downstairs to the shop, finding Margo occupied with a customer.

“I had something a little more…economical in mind,” the attractive young woman was saying somewhat wryly as she studied the price tag of a beautiful early Victorian writing desk.

Margo chuckled. “Antiques are always economical, especially if you’re looking at long-term investment, Miss Desmond. Just think of having something this beautiful to pass down to your children.”

“You mean instead of the cash?” Miss Desmond grinned.

Sarah recognized from Margo’s happy expression that she expected to make a sale, so she didn’t try to interrupt. Instead, she led Tucker through the maze of gleaming furniture to a back corner, where a stunning ormolu-mounted boulle bureau plat of Regency design acted