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Priceless(Rylee Adamson #1)(1) by Shannon Mayer

1

The couple in front of me looked like any other parents who’d lost a child—their hands gripping one another, dark circles under their eyes, skin sallow from not enough food, water or sleep—except for the faintest glimmer of a possibility, a scrap of hope that someone had thrown them, by sending them my way. That was the only difference. A difference they were banking on. Every parent’s worst nightmare is the reason I have become the best at what I do. Or maybe more accurately, the only reason I do what I do.

“Please, the police, they say there is nothing; that they can’t help us. They say she’s gone, and there are no clues, and they just can’t find her. Please, we were told you could help.” Maria, the mother, pleaded with me, her whole body begging for me to do what no one else would even dare offer her hope for. Her voice was cultured, upper crust and very East coast snob. But right now she didn’t look it. Clothes rumpled, designer but not pressed or even that clean, hair in disarray, and bags under her eyes. A very childish part of me took pleasure in seeing the mighty brought low. I only wished it wasn’t because her kid had been snatched.

I didn’t answer her right away, though I had already decided to help them. Her fear and hope filled the room with a tangible weight that choked me, kept me from saying a single word. I wouldn’t leave a child out there if I could find her, not even if the kid’s parents were wankers. Which, looking at the child’s father as he puffed up and prepared to verbally assault me, was obviously the case. I guessed he was a lawyer, or maybe a judge.

“Damn you!” He shot to his feet. His clothes hung off his frame like he was wearing his older brother’s hand-me-downs; his fists vibrated at his sides. “Why did you make us come all the way here if you’re not even going to try and help? To the middle of North Dakota of all places, to what, tell us ‘Oops, sorry, not going to happen?’ What kind of sadistic bitch are you?”

I let him—Don, I think his name was—continue his tirade stalking around the cheap hotel room, but didn’t interrupt him. No point. He would talk until finally the silence would catch him and smother his words. Maria sat in an overstuffed chair, body all aquiver; her husband’s anger a physical energy that obviously upset her. It rolled off me, which only energized him further, gave him more fuel for his wild temper tantrum. The only parent’s anger that ever bothered me was my own, and they were both gone from my life. Of course, it had been their decision, forcing me out of their lives when I was sixteen. But what can you expect when I, their adopted child, was accused of killing their biological daughter?

I waited, and another minute passed before he ran out of steam and stood blowing like a spent beast pushed too hard, too fast.

“Are you quite finished, Don?” My voice was low, calm.

He nodded once, a sharp movement that in another circumstance would have me reaching for one of my blades, if I’d had them on me.

I motioned to the couch. “Sit next to your wife. Speak when spoken to, answer my questions, and other than that, shut the hell up.” He sat and I gave myself a mental pat on the back. Good job, Rylee, for a moment there you almost sounded like a grown up in control of a situation. My vision of him as a lawyer dried up when he didn’t even bother to argue. Old money then, working for Daddy’s company all his life was my next best guess.

I looked down at the pictures on the cheap hotel coffee table. A little girl smiled up at me; seven years old or there about, with deep auburn hair, not so unlike my own, and hazel eyes—quite different from my own tri-colored ones. Each picture held a different pose, a different place. The park, Christmas sittings, dinner parties. And each picture held a small, seemingly insignificant blush of light, close to the girl.

“What’s her name?” My first question of the entire meeting was met with silence. I glanced up only to see Maria close her eyes and tears trickle down her cheeks. Don met my gaze; his hazel eyes the perfect mirror image of his daughter’s.

“India.” His voice choked over the syllables. They knew, like all my potential clients knew, that if I asked for the child’s name, I was in; there was no turning back.

I held another picture up. The same hair and eyes as the first, the face was a little thinner. A year or two older than the previous picture. And the same strange light, this time a little brighter.

“How long has she been missing now?”

Don answered. “Six months tomorrow. Whoever took her did it right under our noses. We were at Deerborn Park, just as the sun was setting.”

His words struck me through the heart. The same park my little sister had been stolen from. “Six months, that would make it April?” I clamped down on my emotions. It wouldn’t be the same day, no, it wouldn’t be . . .

“Yes, the first.”

My world spun out from under my feet and it took everything I had to hold it together. I’d run as far away as I could to escape that place and those memories. Yet here I was, facing a child stolen on the same day, from the same park. In my world, there was no such thing as a coincidence. Not of this magnitude.

Don leaned toward me, eyes wide to hold back his tears. I’d seen the move more than once; fathers were always reluctant to let me see them cry. “What are the chances she’s already—” He choked up.

I stared at the two pictures for a long second before answering, feeling for India with a talent only I had, an ability that set me apart. No matter where a child was taken, no matter how far or how hidden, I could find them. The brush of her emotions against the inside of my skull were all it took to know she was alive.

“She’s still alive. I can tell you that much. But finding her will depend on a lot of factors.” What I didn’t tell them was how close their daughter was to breaking; her inner shields, which kept her from being controlled, were thin and weakening fast. Not a good sign. I also withheld that I couldn’t pinpoint her, which meant she was on the other side of the Veil, another very bad thing. There were hundreds of entrances and not necessarily all connected. I was going to need some help on this one. I stamped down my own memories and emotions, did my best to ignore the similarities between India’s case and my sister’s.

Maria frowned, a perfect line creasing her brow. “We went to a psychic, but she said India was beyond our reach . . . we assumed that meant—”

I cut her off with the wave of a hand. “Most psychics are frauds. The real deals don’t advertise their services.”

It was Don’s turn to frown. “Is that what you are? A psychic?”

“No.” I shook my head and didn’t give him anything else. I wasn’t sure how much truth these two could handle in such a short period of time.

I scooped up the two pictures, placed them into an envelope, and tucked that into my jacket pocket.

“I don’t know how long it will take. There are to be no phone calls, private investigators or drive-bys. Don’t involve the police anymore; if you do, I don’t know that I’ll be able to get her back for you. Do you understand?” I looked from one to the other. They both nodded.

Maria’s eyes were still closed tight, her hands clasped in front of her, her lips moved soundlessly. Praying, most likely. Most parents, even the non-believers, prayed for their missing children to be returned. I could still see my parents praying for Berget, though they’d never stepped foot in a church. The couch creaked as I stood. “Anything else I should know about India before I go? Even the insignificant could be important.”

I wanted them to tell me what I’d already guessed. Wanted for them to come clean. But already they were withdrawing, the guilt of hiding what might help showing, they were too afraid to say out loud what was written all over their drawn and haggard faces. I pressed my lips together and started out of the room toward the front entrance, my boots clacking on the cheap linoleum.

“Wait.” Maria’s voice and the shuffling of papers called me back. I paused and glanced over my shoulder. Maria stood, her clothes hanging off her petite frame, her hands clenching a stack of paper.

“Don’t! She doesn’t need to see those.” Don appeared in the doorway and reached for the rumpled stack.

“And if we don’t, and she can’t find India, what then? Do you really think she’ll come back a second time when we’ve withheld information?” Her voice was sharp, and Don shrank back from her sudden outburst. Perhaps she wasn’t the vapid twink I’d originally pegged her for.

Maria held the papers out to me again. I reached for them, felt the static charge race up my arm at the first touch of skin to paper. These were more than simple paper; they held the weight of a child’s burgeoning abilities.

The drawing on top was simple and reflected the pictures of India in my pocket: A stick girl with dark red hair and a circle drawn beside her head, a child’s rendition of the orb in the pictures. The girl in the drawing was smiling. That was a good sign. As I flipped through the remainder of the stack, I quickly realized India wasn’t only in trouble because she was missing; her powers were coming into their own earlier than they should have been, and they were beginning to drown her out. Each subsequent picture had an additional circle, and by the last picture, the little stick girl was covered by them, her face no longer smiling.

“She started drawing these the moment she could hold a crayon. Circles, always circles.” Maria wrung her hands, and then fluttered them toward me. “We didn’t know what to do. Do you really think you can find her?”

I held her gaze, knowing if she saw me look away at that moment, she would never completely believe me, she wouldn’t trust me to find India. Without that trust, I would have the cops on my ass the whole way through this case and that was the last thing I needed. They’d just get in the way. Again.

“Yes, I can find her. There hasn’t been a case yet where I haven’t.” Liar liar pants on fire, Rylee, my inner voice mocked me, hard.

Handing the drawings back to Maria, I asked, “Is there anything else I need to know?”