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Priceless(Rylee Adamson #1)(3) by Shannon Mayer

Fuck! His pulse hammered. He’d been after her since she was sixteen; what had happened this time that was so different? He’d frisked her before. Running his hands through his hair, he tried to think about how she’d killed her little sister, but all he could see was the pain in her stunning eyes when he’d accused her of the crime. How soft and vulnerable she’d looked in that moment.

Adamson’s little sister’s body had never been recovered, but Adamson had run from the scene, gone into hiding for two weeks before they found her. Of course, they couldn’t make any of the charges stick, but he’d been trained to see guilt. And that was the whole crux of it. Adamson was guilty. He knew it, she knew it; the only problem was he just couldn’t prove it.

Making a decision, he stood up. “Martins, let’s go. She’s not going to slip past us this time.”

No matter how good of a kisser she was.

3

Before I went any further with the search, I did what had become more than a habit for me—something closer to a ritual. I had two stops to make. The first one was the local toy store, “Hannigans Shenanigans,” where I purchased a large stuffed elephant. It was my required gift for the second location I was headed to.

The house I parked in front of could barely be called a house. A shanty or a shack was a better description; it had just enough insulation to make it through the coldest part of our winters here in the badlands. The whole thing was on a slant, tilted crazily to the left, seemingly propped up by the pile of junk reaching the eaves on that side of the house. The floorboards groaned under my weight and the smell of rotting wood filled my nose.

“That you, baby girl? I thought I told you not to come around till your momma cleaned you up some. Crazy blue socks everywhere.” Her soprano voice echoed through the thin wood and I shook my head. Obviously not one of her more lucid days.

As far as adults went, Giselle was one of the few who had my sympathies. She was born with the ability to see a person’s past, present, and probable future. But just like a carpenter that only has so many hammer swings in him before his elbow blows, she only had so many viewings in her before her mind broke.

There isn’t a lot for me to say about Giselle. She’s a broken woman, still in her prime, but aged prematurely by her calling in life. Since her mind wandered, there were very few people she would see, but she had an affinity for stuffed animals. And I didn’t get all freaked out by the voices that showed up on occasion around her. Not ghosts, but some sort of leftover from the guides she’d acquired in life. Above all that, she was my mentor and the closest thing I had to a mother now.

“It’s just me, Giselle. Rylee. I brought you a new stuffed toy. An elephant, I know you don’t have one of those.”

I pulled the large grey velvet-covered elephant from behind my back. She came to the screen door, and I got a good look at her. I hadn’t seen her for some time; I’d been so busy with tracking that at least a month had gone by since our last visit, and the time hadn’t been kind to her. She’d lost weight and there were patches of skin showing through her clothes, skin that was no longer a healthy pink, but mottled and age-spotted. Dirty blonde hair pulled back into a severe bun, stretching her features even more, leaving her sunken cheeks and vacant brown eyes the only thing noticeable. My heart sank at the sight of her. I didn’t want to believe I was losing her to the madness, even though she’d warned me about it when she’d first taken me under her wing.

“Rylee? Ah, I remember now. Rylee. Yes, come inside dear; show me what you’ve brought for Giselle.”

She shuffled away and I followed her in, breathing shallowly; trying not to think of all the possibilities for the smells. This was not good. Milly and I were going to have to do something about this, no matter how hard it might be. Giselle had raised the two of us; now we’d have to take care of her. Scattered junk littered the floor, old newspaper, bags of groceries un-emptied and stacks of books to the ceiling—and those were just the things I could identify. It was worse every time I came.

The back kitchen was as full as the rest of the house, only I suspected this was where the majority of the bad smells came from.

Giselle dusted off a rickety gold chair, circa 1960, and I sat down. She pulled a green vinyl chair with rips in it close and grabbed my hand before I could even ask her, her eyes suddenly focusing, as an intelligence that hadn’t been there a moment before filled them.

Because I’m an Immune, even psychics can’t read me; it’s like I don’t exist. But I have lines in my hand and reading those lines isn’t really magic. It’s more like knowing how to read a map and understand all the symbols and variances.

“Ah, little Rylee, you have big trouble coming your way. Always the same with you though.” She turned my hand first one way, then the other, her grip intense.

“You will find someone, a man from your past, who will become a part of your future.”

“You mean like a lover?” I hated the almost hopeful tone in my voice, the way it sounded, but I needed to be as clear as possible. A little romance never hurt anyone, but if it got in the way of finding India, or any other child for that matter, it wouldn’t matter how I felt about him. In the back of my mind, I wondered if it was O’Shea and quickly pushed the thought away. One kiss did not a lover make him.

“Obsession.” She whispered the word and a cool wind wrapped around my ankles. “Death. Power. They are all tangled here.” She pointed to the middle of my hand where indeed, there seemed to be several lines tangled about one another. “But you will also find your own past in this circle of three.”

The house groaned as a gust of wind pummeled the barely standing structure. I shivered and Giselle did too.

“You must go now. I have said enough for today. Where are your blue socks, child?” Her eyes slid into vacancy once more, and I grabbed her hands, snagging her attention.

I asked her what I always asked. “The child I seek, will I find her in time?”

Giselle’s eyes flickered and the intelligence returned, though I could see it waver. “This child you seek, she is strong; you have time, I do not know if it will be enough, but you have time.”

I stood to leave, pressing the stuffed elephant into her now empty hands. For all that she loved her stuffed animals, I never once saw one after I had left it with her, and I still had no idea what she did with them. I brought them now because it was one of the few times I got to see her smile.

“Wait.”

I froze in the hallway, Giselle’s voice drawing me back in.

“There is another child, a child of golden sunshine and blue skies that seeks for you.”

Every muscle in me tensed, my body paralyzed by the seer’s words. It couldn’t be what I thought, but I whispered her name without meaning to.

“Berget.”

The cold wind whipped through the house again, papers scattering about, a stack of books toppling over, and chaos ensued.

Giselle scrambled to her feet and rushed past me, caterwauling like a banshee about blue socks, her hair coming loose from her bun and the strands of it whipping about her face, obscuring her features. She attempted to right the things the wind demolished. It only made matters worse; for every pile she straightened, another fell, taking two more with it.

I shook myself free of the paralysis and reached out for Giselle, grabbing her by her bony shoulders, shocked at how thin she’d become.

“Let me go, devil spawn! Blood seeker! Killer! Whore! Let me go!” I didn’t take the names personally. Though some were accurate. You can’t get too pissy when people are telling you the truth.

I hung onto her shoulders, steered her back into the kitchen and plunked her into the green chair. She went limp and a voice came softly to my ear. “Sing for her, child.” I didn’t look around; I knew it was one of her guides. They loved Giselle, and so I did what they said. I sang.

“Trip upon trenchers, and dance upon dishes, my mother sent me for some barm, some barm; she bid me go lightly, and come again quickly, for fear the young men should do me some harm. Yet didn’t you see, yet didn’t you see, what naughty tricks they played on me? They broke my pitcher, spilt the water, cursed my mother, chided her daughter and kissed my sister instead of me.”

I trailed off, the old song from my childhood catching in my throat. They didn’t call it a melancholy tune for nothing.

“So nice, dear. Perhaps you’ll sing to me again sometime?” Giselle’s coherent question surprised me, but I took it in stride.

“Of course, Giselle. Will you be all right now?”

She cocked her head and squinted her eyes at me. “Child, go home and get your blue socks; you’ll need them before the week is out.”

I left her there in her kitchen muttering about blue socks, the elephant gripped in her frail hands and a cool wind blowing through her house.

4

The older style cell phone shook a little in my hand. I’d found if I held it just right it didn’t crap out on me too often. Pinching the phone between thumb and forefinger, I squeezed until the power bar came on. Milly’s number was normally embedded in my brain, but this time I had to look it up.

Millicent, Milly to her friends, was my closest friend and the other girl Giselle raised. The term raised gives the impression that we were little when she took us on. I was sixteen and Milly was a year younger. Both orphaned in our own ways, me twice, if you want to get picky, both of us needing a mentor for the innate abilities that were becoming apparent.

“Hello?” Her soft voice was raspy and it was obvious I’d pulled her from sleep.

“Hey, witch. Get out of bed. We’ve got a bit of a problem.” I switched ears with the phone and turned the heat up with my now free hand. I could still feel the wind from Giselle’s house in my bones.

She groaned. “Listen, I’ve barely been in bed for two hours. You know I don’t run on the same schedule as most people.”

I nodded and said, “I know, I wouldn’t call if it wasn’t important. It’s Giselle. We need to get her out of that house. I have some money from this next case, but it won’t be enough for a care home.”