The Sacrifice – Chapter 1

Book 5 of The Soul Summoner Series is being called “The most explosive book of The Soul Summoner series yet!” The book will be here in 16 days, and I can’t wait to share it with you! So how about a sneak peek? The entire first chapter is below!

Have you pre-ordered it yet? I really can’t stress this enough: If you prefer reading eBooks on a platform other than Amazon (Apple, Nook, etc.), please pre-order this book. I can’t guarantee it will stay on all platforms for long after its release.



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WARNING: This post contains spoilers if you have not read The Taken, book 4 of The Soul Summoner Series!



“Hello, Praea.”

Jolted by what felt like a thousand volts of electricity, my fingers released their grasp on the satellite phone. It clattered against the edge of the tabletop then bounced to the floor. Only one person on the planet called me by my angel name, Praea—my demon mother, Kasyade. Why was she answering my best friend's phone?

Where is Adrianne?

My stomach clenched like it was being squeezed by invisible hands. Oh shit. What if it was? I cried out in pain before panic flooded my bloodstream and constricted my airway like a spiked iron vise.

Warren Parish, my fiancé, put his hand on the back of my neck. "Babe, are you OK?" Waves of his energy pulsed through me, easing the pain and tension in my twisted uterus.

The g-force from the takeoff of Claymore Worldwide Securities' jet pushed my head back against the headrest. "Stop the plane." My voice squeaked out, barely a whisper.

"What?" Nathan McNamara shouted over the roar of the engines.

I splayed my palms on top of the plane's conference table and took a deep breath. "Stop the plane!" That time, I shouted.

Enzo, Special Operations Director of Claymore's most elite combat unit known as SF-12, swiveled toward me in his chair. "Stop the plane?"

My fingers found the seat belt wedged underneath my pregnant belly, and my trembling hand fumbled the buckle. "How many times do I have to say it?" I screamed.

Warren grasped my hand to stop me from unbuckling in the middle of takeoff. "Sloan, what's going on?"

My face whipped toward him. "She has her!"

"Who has who?" Enzo asked.

"Kasyade has Adrianne!"

Everyone looked at me. Nathan reached to the floor and picked up the satellite phone.

Warren's arm curled around the back of my chair. "How do you know?"

I took a deep breath in through my nose and blew it out through my mouth. "I called Adrianne, and Kasyade—or someone who sounds a lot like her—answered. She called me Praea."

Taiya pointed at me across the table with her good hand, the one that hadn't been blown apart earlier that day in our battle with the Morning Star. "Alis Praea." Taiya was speaking in Katavukai, the language of angels. Thanks to my unborn daughter, I could now understand her. She was smiling like she expected me to reward her with a cookie.

"Yes, Taiya, I know I'm Praea." I pointed at the phone Nathan was holding. "I swear I felt Kasyade's power come through that thing. I think it shorted out in my hand."

Nathan pressed a button and put the phone to his ear. "It's ringing." After a second, he shook his head. "Voicemail."

I looked at Warren. "We have to warp back. Immediately."

"No!" Enzo's hand shot forward. "You can't breach the spirit line from a plane while we're airborne. You'll kill us all."

Nathan was hitting redial on the keypad, but he was looking at Enzo. "Then go talk to the pilot and tell him to turn around."

Enzo hesitated.

"Now!" Warren yelled, causing even me to jump in my seat.

Enzo struggled against the force of the plane as it rose in altitude, but he got up and staggered forward out of the conference room.

We'd been on the plane less than twenty minutes after boarding on the tarmac of an airfield just outside Chicago. The battle inside Chicago's oldest cemetery was so fresh I still felt jittery from the adrenaline pulsing through my veins.

But it was over. We'd won. We were supposed to be on our way home to rest in our victory until the search for Kasyade resumed. She was the only major threat to my daughter left on the planet, and without the power of the Morning Star behind her, she should have been more of a nuisance than a real villain.

How very wrong I'd been.

I closed my eyes and clapped my hands over my ears. In the darkness, I sent out my gift to find Adrianne in the universe. She was there, but I had no idea where. "I can't locate her, but she is alive." My rising panic triggered another slight cramp in my midsection as I continued to search.

"I redialed a couple of times. No answer." Nathan handed the phone across me to Warren.

Reuel, my flesh and blood guardian angel, sat up in his chair. "Nai ent, Azrael."

I nodded. "We do need Azrael." I looked at Warren and pointed to the phone in his hand. "Call him."

Warren's father, the Archangel of Death, had stayed behind in Chicago to deal with burying the body of Warren's mother, who had been possessed by the Morning Star. But the dead—no matter who it was—could wait; Adrianne could not if Kasyade had her.

Warren nodded and dialed with his thumb.

Nathan nudged my arm. "What exactly was said?" It was obvious he was slipping back into detective mode as he reached for a pad of paper and a pen from the center of the table.

"She just said, 'Hello, Praea.' That's all. Then there was the jolt. It felt like a shock."

"You weren't calling from your cell phone. How did she know it was you?" he asked.

I thought about it. "Maybe she recognized my voice. I did a lot of yelling for Adrianne before Kasyade answered me."

Nathan tapped his pen against the pad of paper. "What if she used her power to make you call her?"

"En kapa il tun," Reuel said.

"What?" Nathan asked.

"He says it might be a trap," I translated.

Nathan nodded. "It wouldn't be the first time."

Enzo came back into the conference room. "They're turning the plane around, but it's going to take a few minutes."

I forced a smile. "Thank you."

The plane shifted to the left, and I gripped the armrest to stay upright. Beside me, Warren was on the phone with Azrael.

"Could it have been anyone else who answered? Could Adrianne have been playing a joke on you?" Nathan asked.

"Joking about that?" I shook my head. "Not a chance."

Warren ended the call. "Azrael's warping back now. We'll meet him there once we get on the ground." He put his hand on mine. "Breathe. He'll be there in minutes."

"Vinat," Reuel corrected.

Seconds. That made me feel a little better.

I sucked in a deep breath, held it for a few beats, then blew it out slowly.

Nathan reached across me for the phone again. "Tell me her phone number. If it is a trap, maybe somehow Kasyade crossed the lines or made you misdial."

I told him Adrianne's phone number, and he wrote it down on his pad. She'd had the same number since we went together to get our first cell phones in high school. My breath hung in my chest as he dialed.

A second later, he pulled the phone away from his ear and shook his head. "Nothing. Voicemail. We need to get back there."

Tears sprang to my eyes, and I covered my face with my hands. Warren put his arms around me and pulled me against his chest. Over my head, he spoke across the table. "Enzo, when we land, Sloan, Reuel, and I will warp back to Asheville. Can you have the pilot change the flight plan to go there instead of returning to Claymore?"

"Of course," Enzo said.

"What's going on?" a woman asked.

I looked up, wiping my wet cheeks. Fury, Warren's obnoxiously flawless, Tactical Barbie ex-girlfriend was standing in the doorway to the conference room.

"Why is the plane turning around?" she asked.

"Plans have changed," Warren said. "We're all going to Asheville now instead of New Hope, and we need to land so Sloan and I can warp there immediately. Sloan's best friend, Adrianne Marx, has possibly been kidnapped by Sloan's mother, a demon named Kasyade."

"Don't call her that. Kasyade is not my mother." I wiped a trail of snot along the cuff of my sleeve—because that was my M.O. around this Athenian woman: to be as snot-nosed, tearful, splotchy, and swollen as humanly (or celestially) possible whenever in her presence.

Fury groaned. "I'm so over all this supernatural bullshit. I say let the demon have her so we can all go home."

My hand flew to my seat belt buckle, and this time there was no fumbling. I ripped off my lap restraint and bolted from my seat toward her. Nathan jumped between us just in time, grabbing me in his arms before my fingernails started clawing at her stupidly perfect face. He was saving me, really, because unless I used my gift, Warren's ex-girlfriend could kill me with a napkin, and everyone knew it.

She cackled as Nathan held me back.

"Calm down," he said directly in my ear, his breath hot against my skin. "You know this is exactly what she wants. You can't let her get to you." He pushed me back a few steps until Warren grabbed me and pulled me back into my seat.

Enzo squeezed past us and toward her. He gripped her arm and hauled her back into the main cabin. She was still laughing.

Warren pulled the seat belt around my swollen belly again and buckled it. "Sit still. We're descending to land."

The plane rattled all around us as we passed through a layer of clouds. I realized Nathan's arm was braced against my chair, probably in case I tried to get up again. With his free hand, he was dialing another number on the satellite phone.

I caught his eye and raised my brow in question.

"I'm calling the sheriff's office back home. It's time to call in some favors." He ducked his head and plugged his free ear with his finger. "Osborne, hey. It's Nathan McNamara. Listen, I need a favor."

Warren squeezed my shoulder. I looked over at him and took a deep breath.

His black eyes were soft and gentle—full of ethereal light and nothing else. They say the eyes are the window to the soul, and it was a chilling reminder that this man I loved no longer had one. "We're going to find her, Sloan."

I wanted to agree but couldn't speak. Beneath us, the airplane's wheels scraped across the runway. I gripped the armrests and closed my eyes. An eternity later, when the plane finally rolled to a stop on the tarmac, I was the first in the room out of my seat and heading toward the door. Nathan followed me, Warren, and Reuel off the plane, back into the icy Chicago wind.

"My buddy at the sheriff's office is already starting the process to track Adrianne's phone. Call me with any information as soon as you find out what's going on at her house. The sooner we can grease the gears of the local police, the better." Nathan put his hands on my shoulders, the gray skies above reflecting in his irises. "Don't do anything stupid. You hear me?"

I nodded and my bottom lip quivered. "Take care of Taiya. Don't let her out of your sight."

"I promise. We'll be there as quickly as this plane will fly," he said.

Warren shook his hand. "We'll see you soon."

"Be safe," Nathan said, slapping his shoulder before cautiously backing away.

Then, without even looking around to see who was watching, Warren took my hand, and together, the three of us crossed the spirit line with a thunderous crack.

* * *

Crossing the spirit line was much like walking through a wormhole. Inside the breach, the chasm buffering the world I knew from the world I'd yet to see was an ethereal corridor filled with sheer silvery waves. There were no road signs, maps, or directions. Our intention was enough to guide us through space some five hundred miles back to Asheville. The journey happened in a heartbeat.

When we passed back into the front parking strip of Adrianne's complex, I was doubled over in pain, and I released Warren's hand to grip my belly. Wincing, I sucked in a sharp breath through my teeth.

Warren stepped over in front of me, and Reuel moved out of the way. "What's wrong?" Warren asked.

The tension in my stomach fizzled as I took another deep breath. "Ooo, that was painful."

"Was it the baby?" he asked, his eyes wide with alarm.

"No. It's going away, but it may have been a contraction."

"A contraction!" Warren clamped his hand over his mouth when his words belted out much louder than he'd obviously intended. “It’s too early.”

He was right. Twenty-five weeks was way too early for labor pains.

I looked around to see if anyone heard him or noticed that we'd appeared out of nowhere. We were alone. "I'm fine. It's gone now." I tugged on his sleeve. "Come on."

The three of us crossed the parking lot, and I scanned the cars for Adrianne's sporty red coupe. It wasn't there. Dread was growing in my chest like a cancer. Inside the building, the front door stood ajar to her two-story loft. Warren walked through it first, and I cautiously followed with Reuel close at my heels.

"Azrael's here," Warren said quietly.

The living-room television was blaring E! News. A pot of marinara sauce had boiled over on the kitchen stove. All the lights were on.

Something crashed in the back of the house. It sounded like someone had thrown a glass.

"Azrael!" I called out.

"In the office," he replied, his deep voice echoing off the walls.

I turned toward the hallway. "This way," I told Warren and Reuel.

Adrianne's favorite apple-crisp-scented candle was still burning in the half bath.

When we reached the office, Azrael was bent over Adrianne's roll-top desk. Red wine was splattered across the wall and drizzling to the plush beige carpet that was sprinkled with broken glass. "She's gone." His voice cracked. "I'm too late."

I cautiously approached his side and touched his shoulder. He flinched. "How did you get here, Sloan?"

"I warped here with them."

He turned. "Excuse me?"

With all the chaos that had transpired in Chicago, there hadn't been time to catch Azrael up on all that had developed since my powers had awakened.

"In your letter, you said we'd know when the baby could survive outside the woman." I put my hands on my belly. "We know now."

"You can cross the spirit line?"

I nodded.

Lost in thought, or maybe wonder, he stared back out the window.

On the desk was a white floral-printed day planner. I'd given it to Adrianne for Christmas to track her appointments at the hair salon. It was open to a section of white lined note pages in the back inscribed with bright purple ink.

In the margin was a doodle of a pregnant stick figure pulling out her hair, and in Adrianne's bubbly cursive were the words,  Sloan's To-Do List Before the Wedding.

The list read as follows:

1. Order booze for the reception. (Just because you can't drink doesn't mean I can't.)

2. Send the final guest count to the caterer. (Guess if you have to.)

3. Register for wedding gifts. (Towels and dishes and shit.)

4. Register for baby gifts. (Baby Adrianne is coming, ready or not!)

5. Don't forget to…

And that's where the list ended. Midsentence with a scrawled line like she'd been dragged away from the task. If Kasyade was involved, she probably had been. My stomach lurched at the thought, luckily dispelling its contents in the direction of Adrianne's aluminum trash can.

Warren grabbed my arms from behind to steady me while I hurled.

Azrael walked away as I straightened. I'd assumed he was going to the bathroom to fetch a towel or some tissues. I was wrong. He walked to the window and stared outside.

Warren pulled back the office chair. "Sit," he said, easing me down into it. "I'll be back."

I covered my rancid mouth with my hand, then reached for the half-empty bottle of water on the desk by Adrianne's planner. I swished out my mouth and spat it in the defiled trash can. As I downed the rest of the water, I heard the faucet running in the bathroom.

"Sloan, can you find her?" Azrael asked, still not looking at me.

"No," I creaked out. My throat burned with acid.

Azrael said something muffled to Reuel in Katavukai, but I could understand him. "You're right. This is very bad," I said.

Azrael's face whipped toward me. "You've learned our language too?"

"Verta," I said.

"The child will have greater abilities than I thought." Azrael looked over as his son reentered the room. "Even Warren can't speak it."

"Warren can't do what?" Warren asked, kneeling beside me.

"Speak Katavukai," Azrael said.

"Oh yeah, but I'm sure Ms. Rosetta Stone right here will teach me." Warren placed a warm, wet washcloth into my hand. "Here. Are you OK?"

"Yes. Thank you." I wiped my chapped lips. "Azrael, Adrianne's alive, but I don't know where she is."

"This is Kasyade's doing," he said.

I already knew Kasyade was behind it, and I also knew why. My demon mother wanted my baby. No ransom note required.

"Where would she have gone?" Warren asked.

"If I knew that, I wouldn't be here." Azrael turned toward us, folding his thick arms over his chest. "Sloan, when's the last time you spoke with Adrianne?"

"Last night. She came over to our new house to help us unpack. I told her about the fight you and I had and that you'd left town. She drank too much, passed out, and Warren drove her home."

Azrael swore.

I looked at Warren. "Maybe her car is still at our house."

"Reuel, can you go check?" Azrael asked.

Reuel nodded and walked out of the room.

Azrael stared at the carpet. "And that was the last time you talked to her?"

"Yes. When Warren came back last night is when everything changed." I pointed at my stomach. "It's like the baby came alive, and suddenly I was able to see angels and cross the spirit line—"

"The Vitamorte's power awakened," he said.

"Yes." I put my hands on my stomach. "That's when we returned to Claymore, so we could take Lamal back to Chicago."

Lamal was the Angel of Prophecy who'd possessed a homeless man in order to hide from the Morning Star, Kasyade, and Abaddon, the Destroyer. In hindsight, how convenient it had been that we took him back to Chicago to free him from his human host—back to the exact place the Morning Star was waiting to ambush us…

"Do you think Lamal set us up?" I asked everyone in the room.

Azrael put his hands on his hips as he considered it. "I've never trusted that weasel, but I don't think so. It's more likely that the Morning Star or Kasyade manipulated you into taking him back there."

My eyes fell to the floor. "I feel like a chess piece."

"In some ways, you are." Azrael did nothing for my confidence.

"Adrianne called you at the cemetery," Warren said to his father. "Did she leave a message?"

She had called him, probably saving our lives by doing so. Azrael's ringing phone had distracted the Morning Star just enough for us to overtake him.

Azrael pulled out his cell phone and tapped the screen a few times.

Suddenly, Adrianne's voice filled the apartment.

Tears sprang to my eyes.

"Hey, Az. It's me. Again. I don't understand what's going on. I'm taking the day off, so I'll be by my phone all day. Just call me, OK? Bye."

I had to force myself to breathe.

"What time was that message?" Warren asked.

Azrael looked at the phone. "12:46 p.m."

"And Sloan called Adrianne when we took off from the Chicago airport around three," Warren said.

White hot rage bubbled up my spine. I closed my eyes and clenched my fists. "So sometime in between is when Kasyade took her."

Took her.

The words echoed in my skull.

Warren's hand squeezed the back of my neck. "We're going to find Kasyade, and we're going to get Adrianne back."

"No." I opened my eyes and held up my hand. The light of death sizzled in my palm. "We're going to find Kasyade, and I'm going to kill her."

* * *

By the time Reuel returned from my house to report Adrianne's car was not there, Warren, Azrael, and I had overturned the apartment searching for clues. Her purse was missing, along with her keys and her cell phone. But other than her absence, and the mess Azrael had made of her wine glass, there was nothing out of place in the house. No overturned furniture. No blood spatter. Even the burned food on the stove wouldn't have struck me as odd without the bone-chilling phone call on the plane.

Adrianne was a lot of things, but Betty Crocker wasn't one of them.

Under any other circumstances, I would have assumed she'd gone out to run errands. Maybe to buy more wine or to visit her mom. Her mom. Oh my god. What was I going to tell Adrianne's parents? Tears tickled the corners of my eyes again.

But there was simply no time for a meltdown.

"Who might Kasyade have gone to for help? Abaddon?" Warren asked.

Azrael looked doubtful. "She couldn't have taken Adrianne there if he's gone back to Nulterra."

"Nulterra?" I asked.

"Abaddon's lair," Azrael clarified. "Nulterra means the Neverworld."

I shuddered. "I don't like the sound of that."

"The good news is it's impossible for a living human to enter there."

"And we know Adrianne is still living," Warren said.

"Exactly." Azrael looked at his watch. "I need to return to Claymore and assemble some forces to help find her. What is the ETA for the plane from Chicago?"

"We're waiting to hear from Nathan and Enzo," Warren said, standing up. "What do you want me to do?"

Azrael nodded to me. "Stay with Sloan. I'll send word when I can."

"Nathan has already contacted the sheriff's office to start tracking her phone. Maybe I should call Agent Silvers and see if she can help us." I pulled my cell phone from my pocket.

"You can't place your faith in humans, Sloan. Not this time." Azrael crossed the room and stopped in front of Reuel. "Keep them safe."

Reuel nodded, and the two hulking angels shook hands.

"How long will you be gone?" Warren asked.

Azrael walked toward his son. "A day at most. See what leads you can come up with, and I'll send teams to investigate. If shit goes south here, for whatever reason, take Sloan and go to Claymore. She'll be safest at Echo-10."

Echo-10 was a completely secured building on Claymore's New Hope compound with no windows and only one door in and out. The walls were insulated with a composite metal foam called high-Z that had the power to block supernatural activity.

Warren nodded.

"Azrael?" I grabbed his arm.

He stopped and faced me.

"You're going to find her, aren't you?"

He put both hands on my shoulders. "If I do nothing else in all eternity."

I wrapped my arms around his middle and hugged him.

He stroked my short hair, and in a completely un-Azrael fashion, he kissed the top of my head. Then he walked outside and a moment later, the building shook with the force of him crossing the spirit line.

I turned at Warren and Reuel. "Should we report her missing to the police?"

"And tell them what?" Warren looked around the living room. "That she left the lights on and isn't home? There's not much to go on here."

"We need to call Nathan," I said.

Warren nodded and pulled his phone from his pocket. "Shit. I don't have the satellite number. Do you?"

"No." I looked at Reuel.

He shook his head.

Closing my eyes, I reached out into the world with my gift. I found Nathan McNamara somewhere over Indiana, and I pulled him to me with so much force I felt the strain of it in my lower back. Before I reopened my eyes, my cell phone buzzed in my pocket.

Warren was smiling when I retrieved it. "You're such a badass."

I smirked. "Not sure about all that." I clicked the answer button and pressed the phone to my face. "Hey."

"Hey, are you at Adrianne's?" Nathan's voice crackled over the satellite connection.

"I am. She's not here."

He swore on the other end of the line. "What about her phone? Is it there?"

"No. I tried calling it again a few times too. It rings and rings, but then goes to voicemail."

"Is her car there?"

"No. Her purse is gone too."

"Any sign of a struggle?"

"Not even a small one," I answered.

Nathan was quiet for a moment. "While it's definitely mysterious, no struggle is a good thing."

"Should I call 911?" I asked.

For another beat, he was silent. "No, drive to the sheriff's office to report her missing. Ask to speak directly to Sheriff Davis. He should still be there for another hour or so. He likes you, and he already knows you're a little odd."

In the past year, Sheriff Davis had witnessed my involvement in finding a missing child, stopping a serial killer, and shutting down a multimillion-dollar sex-trafficking ring. I'd also survived a deadly car crash into a frozen river, had my townhouse basically blown up by a demon, and I'd escaped from the sheriff's own jail after being wrongly accused of a crime. To say he probably found me "odd" was a comical understatement.

"We'll head that way now," I said with a gulp. The simple thought of the inside of the jail triggered my panic disorder like a nuclear detonator.

"Warren's with you, right?" Nathan asked, perhaps detecting the shakiness of my voice.

"Yeah, he's right here. So is Reuel."

"Where's Az?"

"Gone to get help from Claymore," I said.

"That's good. Something tells me we're going to need all the reinforcements we can get."

"What do I tell the sheriff?"

"Lie. Tell him a woman answered Adrianne's phone and said she took her. Keep it short and simple so you can repeat it back easily. Keep as many of the details as close to reality as possible without making yourself sound nuts. That's the key to sounding believable."

"You scare me sometimes," I said.

"That's my job. Tell him I'll be in touch as well."

"When will you be back?"

"Enzo says we're scheduled to land in Asheville around seven fifteen. I'll call you as soon as we're on the ground to find out where you are."

"Be safe, Nathan."

"Right back at'cha."

I disconnected the call. "Nathan says to go to Sheriff Davis and report Adrianne missing. I'm supposed to tell him a woman told me on the phone they'd taken her."

"What are you going to say?" Warren asked.

"I'm not sure." I hugged my arms. "He said to keep the story as close to the truth as possible."

I closed my eyes and replayed the horrific events of the day. The demons attacking us in Chicago. The Morning Star in the possessed body of Warren's mother, Nadine. My power blasting through Nadine, killing her instantly…

The Morning Star escaping into the atmosphere.

Before he'd gone, he'd descended into my body and spoken directly within my mind. "This is only the beginning," he'd said.

I shuddered.

"I'll think of something in the car. Let's go." I took a step toward the front door, then stopped. "But first, the bathroom."

According to the book my obstetrician had given me when she first confirmed my pregnancy, I currently had a baby the size of an eggplant tap dancing on my bladder. When I had to go—I had to go.

I held up a finger to the boys. "Be right back." I power-walked to the half bath in the hall and closed the door behind me. As I shimmied out of my belly-pouch maternity jeans, I turned to sit on the toilet, then froze mid-squat. Something caught my eye across the small room near the floor.

Jammed deep into the seam where the wall met the baseboard was Adrianne's flowery purple ink pen.

* * *

I was on the phone with my father when Nathan arrived from the airport. The deputies were still canvassing the apartment, and Warren and I were staying out of their way. Nathan found us sitting on Adrianne's sofa, a pull-out couch I'd slept on more times than I could count.

"Dad. I'm going to have to call you later. Nathan's here."

"OK, sweetheart. Let me know when you have an update. I love you."

"I love you too." I ended the call.

Nathan's eyes were wide and already combing the room for clues. "What have they found?"

Warren shook his head. "Not much. How did you get here?"

"Enzo rented a van at the airport. They dropped me off on the way back to the house. I told him it would probably be better for the crew to stay out of the department's way." Nathan dropped his heavy backpack on the floor before sitting on the coffee table in front of us.

"What did you do with Taiya?" I asked.

A slight smile spread across his lips. "Enzo ordered Fury to babysit. She's supposed to watch her at the house."

Warren stifled a laugh behind his hand. "I bet she was pissed."

Nathan nodded. "Let's just say I understand how she got her name." He looked around the living room. "Tell me what you found here."

We told him about the list in Adrianne's office and the pen protruding from the wall. He adjusted the ball cap on his head; the patch on the front was a grayscale American flag because he was working. "A pen? That's weird." He stood. "I want to see it."

"McNamara?" a plainclothes detective asked. He had introduced himself to us as Detective Eddie Osborne.

Nathan turned as he approached. "Good to see you, Eddie."

"Glad you're here. We've got a lot more questions than we have answers. Want to take a look?" Osborne asked.


Warren and I followed them down the hall. Nathan glanced back over his shoulder. "Where's Reuel?"

"I sent him to the store to get us dinner. Sloan needs to eat," Warren said.

Warren stayed in the hall while I followed Nathan and Detective Osborne into the bathroom. I stepped to the right, back beside the toilet to give them room. Eddie pushed the door closed and pointed to the pen stuck in the baseboard behind it. "This appears to be the pen she used to write the note in her office."

Nathan knelt down. "It's really jammed deep in there."

Eddie nodded. "And we're not sure why." The radio on his shoulder beeped, and the dispatcher's voice came through. "Excuse me, guys."

Nathan stood and moved back to let Eddie out of the bathroom.

Warren came in to take his place in the small space.

Nathan looked at us. "Either of you got a pen?"

Warren patted his pockets. "I don't. Sorry."

I shook my head. "Me either."

"I'll grab one from the office," Warren said, turning sideways to squeeze past Nathan to the door.

"Warren, grab my backpack from the living room instead!"

A moment later, Warren returned with Nathan's pack and placed it on the floor. I put the toilet lid down and sat on top of it, and Warren stepped back beside me.

Nathan unzipped the front pocket and pulled out a pen before crouching down behind the door again. "The door had to be closed for the pen to wind up in the wall here. She was hiding."

Tears burned my eyes.

"That was some serious force used to put the pen in that deep through the drywall, and in order for it to have gone in at that direction, she would have to have been holding it like this." He closed his fist around the pen with the pointy end facing away from him. "She was holding it like a weapon."

Adrianne must have been terrified, cowering in that bathroom.

"She turned her back to the wall to defend herself, and something caused her hand to slam down and back right here."

"But if the door was open." Warren opened the door and trapped Nathan behind it. "Wouldn't it be in her face? She wouldn't have room to move her arms."

"Yeah," Nathan said when Warren closed it again.

"The door wasn't open." I was staring at the wall above Nathan's head, thinking out loud more to myself than actually talking to them. "If this was Kasyade, she wouldn't need to open the door to come through it." As the words left my mouth, my knees wobbled.

Nathan stood from his crouched position and turned to inspect the wall. "Did they use a black light in here?"

"Not that I saw, why?" Warren asked.

Nathan reached into his backpack again. "Because that's the closest thing us real cops have to a ghost detector." He pulled out a small black light.

I put my hands on my hips. "You just happen to carry one of those around in your bag?"

Nathan looked at me like I was stupid. "Yeah." He hit the light switch on the wall and flipped on the black light.

A faint fluorescent stain started on the wall about three feet off the ground and was smeared almost to the ceiling.

"Bingo," Nathan said.

Using his pen, he marked the wall where the spot started. He had to jump to mark the top.

"What it is?" Warren asked.

"Chemicals of some sort," Nathan said.

A light bulb flickered on in my brain. "It's hair product. If she was crouching, her head would be about that high." A knot tightened in my throat. "She was dragged up the wall."

We all stood there in psychedelic silence for what felt like forever.

Warren finally flipped on the light. "Maybe she was making the list in the office when she heard a sound. Something frightened her while she was investigating, and she hid in here."

Nathan knocked his knuckles against the wall. "Whatever it was came through this to get to her."

"We know what—or who—it was, Nathan," I said.

He nodded with his eyes cast on the floor.

"But Azrael would have noticed it if the bathroom door was locked when he got here," Warren said.

A sigh puffed out Nathan's cheeks. "We need the prints off the doorknob." He split a glance between me and Warren. "My guess is we'll only find Adrianne's."

I knew where he was going with his theory.

"Do either of you know how demon possession works?"

Continue Reading Chapter 2 in HYDERNATION
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