"I could take a pay cut."Brenna lay on her stomach in her bikini as she sketched, her bikini top untied. To her right, Missy, also in a bathing suit, sat in one of Brenna's camping chairs. The leggy blonde glanced down at her friend. "Bren, really, just go topless."
"I did enjoy your mochas."
"Come closer, so you may partake in your reward."
"I expected a double cross from you."
"I don't need a tan on my breasts. Just my back." Brenna set her pencil down. "I bought a dress that's backless but covers my front."
"Are you sure you didn't put the dress on backwards?"
"Positive. Like I'd make that sort of mistake."
"When did you get it?"
"Same day I got attacked."
Missy removed her sunglasses to get a better look at her friend. "Did you buy it for your dinner with Matt?"
Brenna flushed and returned to her sketching. "How's Jared working out?"
"Don't change the subject on me. What did Matt think of it?"
"I haven't worn it yet for him. Stuff keeps coming up."
"Pity. I'm sure he'd appreciate it."
"You know, I'd like to see it when you finally get a boyfriend."
Missy grinned. "Maybe I already have one."
"Please. I have taste. I also prefer experience."
Brenna looked over to her friend. "What, you date your old professors?"
Missy shrugged. "I don't kiss and tell."
"Tell me about it." Brenna returned to her work. "Too bad Krista couldn't make it."
"Her editor wanted her to put pressure on officials here to get something more than 'We're working on it.'"
"The police are at the same point I am; stuck. I don't think they have anything more they can say."
"They could mention that the killer is a woman."
Brenna set her sketchpad aside. "They're looking for a tall or maybe an average height woman with dark hair wearing a business suit. That covers a third to a half of every woman in an office. Not exactly the most useful description."
"I don't like the idea of the cops keeping the killings a secret."
"I know, Missy. Information is free and all that."
"Well, yeah," Missy grumbled. "Shouldn't you flip over soon before your back goes from tan to burnt?"
"Soon. I want to finish the sketch first." Brenna's cell phone trilled. She sat up, keeping and arm over her bikini top to keep it in place. With her free arm, the young brunette fumbled for the phone. "Hello?"
"Hi," a girl's voice said uncertainly. "I'm looking for Brenna?"
"Speaking." Brenna looked over to Missy and shrugged the best she could without exposing herself.
"It's Carly. You helped me yesterday with the alley and calling a friend."
"Carly, hi! Is everything all right? Do you need a ride?"
"No, nothing like that. But you asked me to call you if I felt anything strange."
Missy noticed Brenna's expression turning concerned. "Is everything okay, Bren?"
"Am I interrupting something?" Carly asked.
"No, it's okay Carly. What did you feel?"
"Something just happened. Something opened and then there was, I don't know. You know what it's like when you're inside on a hot day and then someone opens a door and hot air comes in?"
Brenna nodded. "Yes."
"It was like that, except the hot air was something worse. I don't want to say evil, but, yeah, evil. Then the feeling stopped, like the door closed again."
"Something's off. I mean, everything is normal, but not quite."
"Like the air conditioner is working, but there's no fan?"
"Yeah, like that! What should I do, Brenna?"
"Are you safe where you are?"
"I think so. I mean, Nathan's family is being so nice to me, but if whatever caused that feeling is around . . . I don't know."
"Stay with Nathan, then, at least for now. I'll try to think of something."
"Okay. Thanks, Brenna. I better go. Bye." Carly hung up.
Brenna set down her phone. "I am not cut out for this!" She reached behind her to retie her bikini top. "I need to go."
"Wait, where are you going?"
"I need to talk to Detective McCoy. I think there's been another killing."
"Whoa, there, Bren. What makes you think that?"
Brenna adjusted her top. "That was Carly, a kid I helped out yesterday. She's a sensitive and somehow got the attention of an angry ghost. I asked her to call me if anything odd happened."
Missy leaned forward. "Odd, how? The ghost of the Seventh Cavalry riding down Broadway odd?"
"Feeling of evil odd." Brenna started to stand up.
"And what exactly are you going to tell this detective? That someone is dead because a girl felt something like an air conditioner with a broken fan?"
"No. She called it . . ." Brenna's voice became subdued, "evil."
"Oh, that's even better. And this means someone was killed?"
Brenna sat back down on her towel. "I guess it sounds insane."
"Does it ever."
"So what do I do?"
Missy crossed her legs underneath her. "First, ignore the cops. They can't do anything right now. Second, I think you're right. Someone else has been killed and the demon has been released. Summer's email pretty much said so, right?"
"Right. That's what I was thinking."
"That means whoever was doing the murders didn't know that the ninth one would set the demon loose."
"So, I should be looking for a double murder in the news?"
"Or something blamed on a wild animal attack."
Brenna sighed. "This is the worst part of having the Blade. The not knowing. I should be doing something, but I don't have anywhere to go."
"It's reactive, the Blade," Missy explained. "It's great when you run into a ghost that's hurting people then and there. It's not as good at preventing that ghost from coming into existence. However, you care enough that you've been doing it naturally. Bren, you're a good person. There just aren't enough of you to make the world far better than it is."
"I know, I know."
"Bren, that girl, Carly, she could have become another angry ghost haunting a home until you or your children or maybe even grandchildren had to go and destroy her. You helped her out. One less ghost to worry about later. And you've helped a lot of people."
"So what do I do now, Missy?"
"Relax for now." Missy laid back down, stretching her long legs out. "No sense worrying now when you don't even know what it is you're worrying about. You'll be needed again, probably far too soon, too."
Brenna fixed her towel before lying back on it. "So, you're telling me to shush?"
Missy smiled. "Yes. Shush."
Tricia turned her Lexus off the main road and on to an old fire road. The potholes and dried out puddles stressed the luxury car's suspension to the limits and forced Tricia to cut her speed. The woman brushed off the problem. She was out in the foothills of the Rockies to test her limits, not her car's. Everything she needed, including her latest minion, was in the trunk. The rest was up to her.
After half an hour on the dirt trail, Tricia brought the Lexus to a stop. She stepped out of the car and looked around. The trees blocked her sight to the freeway; Tricia couldn't even hear the traffic. "Perfect," she purred.
It will do.
Tricia opened the trunk of her Lexus. Inside, her former secretary's skeleton stirred. "Minion, set up the tent, then wait for further orders." The dark-haired woman walked away and into the forest. Behind her, the skeleton climbed out of the car's cargo space and set to work.
Skeletal minions. Sarcasm oozed through the thoughts of Tricia's extra passenger. You wasted souls on mindless help.
"I believe that is what you wanted to do to me, turn me into your thrall."
Believe what you wish.
"The math should have worked. A fraction of an infinite number is still an infinite number. You should have had everything you needed."
Fortunately for you, your math failed. I, however, am in no mood to teach philosophy. We are here to get you accustomed to the power we wield.
Tricia put a hand out on a tree to steady herself on uneven ground. "What do I need to do?"
Concentrate. Picture yourself lifting up a tree. I will direct the magic through you to fulfill the desire.
"I think I have it." Tricia held her arm out, point at a pine tree a few yards away from her. She focused only on her target, letting everything else fade away into a blur. She imagined the tree coming up out of the ground. Deep inside her, Tricia felt power building. She drew on it, letting it out through her arm. The power continued increasing, a crescendo of energy racing where she directed it. Tricia held on to it, wanting more, needing more, until she felt like she would burst. She released the magical power, letting it wrap around and infuse the tree. A moan escaped her lips.
The pine creaked in response to Tricia. Needles trembled, mirroring the tingling Tricia felt through her body. Roots snapped, unable to hold on to the plant. Wood fibre stretched then broke. The tree flew up free from its connection to the ground. Tricia laughed at her audacity, overpowering gravity. The tree wavered. Keep your concentration!
Tricia flicked her wrist, sending the pine crashing down into the forest. "Child's play," she scoffed. "What army could stop me?"
Armies tend to outnumber you. It just takes one soldier to get a lucky shot. Keep practicing.
Tricia looked at the fallen tree. She pulled power from the source within her. The tingling, the raw desire and pleasure ran through her and out her outstretched hand to the pine. The downed tree once again levitated up from the ground. Tricia closed her hand into a fist. The pine cracked along its length. Four indentations appeared along the length of the tree trunk, cutting through the bark. The pine snapped under the pressure, then exploded in a shower of shards.
The five trunk segments remained in the air. Tricia opened her hand, spreading her fingers wide. The remains of the pine tree floated away from each other, held in their invisible grip. The thickest surviving part started to bend. Pieces of bark flew off, ricocheting off other trees. Tricia pushed harder, feeling the power burn in an orgasmic rush. She spread her arms, sending the logs along the cardinal points. Tricia fell backwards, spent, gasping for breath, a smile on her face.
Brenna returned home, her skin still warm from the time spent under the sun. She parked the Savana at the curb, Grace's wishes be damned. The young brunette stepped inside. The fumes from the various cleaners assaulted her nose. "Hello?" she called. "Gracie?"
"Don't come in!" her sister shouted. "I just cleaned there!"
"All right. How's the back door?"
"I cleaned there, too!"
Brenna rolled her eyes. "Then how am I supposed to get in, through a window?"
"Hang on!" Grace ran to the front, stopping at the edge of the carpet. "You know you could just stay out for a few more hours."
"I need to grab a shower and get changed. I'm going out with Missy and Krista tonight."
"Don't move." Grace disappeared into the dining room. She returned with a beach towel. "Step on this." The blonde laid the towel on the floor. "Take off your shoes first!"
"Grace, you really need to find another way to deal with your nervous energy." Brenna slid her sandals off.
"I am not nervous." Grace glared at her sister. "I want this house to look decent for the party."
"How? By locking Dad and me in our rooms?"
"If I have to."
Brenna stepped on the towel. "Is it safe for me to go upstairs or do I have to jump to the second floor instead of using the stairs?"
Grace turned with a huff and stomped back into the dining room. "At least I'm doing something here to keep the place clean. I don't see you scrubbing."
"You also don't see me cleaning pots that were already washed. Do Piper and Yesi know about your cleaning fetish?"
"It's not a fetish!"
Brenna started up the stairs. "You've kept out of my room, right?"
"Like anyone would go in there."
Brenna ignored her sister and went to her room. To her relief, nothing was out of place. She put her beach wear into her laundry hamper, making a note that she'd have to put a load of clothes into the washer soon. A quick look into her closet resulted in her finding a knee-length cream pencil skirt and a black wrap-around blouse of Brenna's own design. To make sure that she didn't accidentally read someone else's emotional imprint on a chair, Brenna grabbed a pair of black stockings. A red ribbon for her hair from her dresser completed her ensemble.
Opting for a bath instead of a shower, Brenna stretched out in the tub, enjoying the bubbles she added. The luxury soothed her, letting her set aside the problems of the day and just pretend she had her life in control. When the water cooled too much for her comfort, Brenna pulled the plug in the tub, dried herself off, and got dressed. She left the bathroom, waiting for Grace to start chastising her for daring to get the clean room messy once again. Still, Brenna made the effort to return everything where it belonged to save Grace the extra effort of cleaning again.
"Brenna!" Grace called up. "You have company!"
Brenna tossed her old clothes into her room, closing the door behind her. She dashed downstairs, curious. She wasn't expecting anyone. When she got halfway down, she saw her visitor. "Matt!"
"Use the towel!" Grace warned.
"Yes, Mom." Brenna jumped from the second step from the bottom, landing on the towel. "Ta daa!"
"Hi, Bren." Matt smiled. "Going somewhere?"
Brenna modelled her outfit. "Do you like it?" She swayed, keeping her attention on her guest.
"It looks good on you. Going out tonight?"
"I'm just meeting with Missy and Krista later tonight. Are you available?"
Grace made a face of disgust. "Out! Both of you!"
"Grace, don't be rude," Brenna admonished.
"I have stuff to do without getting sick watching you." Grace grabbed her sister's shoulders and started pushing her towards the door.
"Grace! Can't I just get my shoes on?" Brenna looked up at Matt. "Sorry. She's been crazy for a while. We'd find a new home for her but she'd just come right back."
Grace smacked Brenna on the arm. "Go!"
Matt backed up, giving Brenna room to step into her sandals. Once they were both outside, Grace slammed the door shut. Brenna shook her head. "Sorry about her behaviour. She's just nervous about this weekend. Graduation speech. She was just as bad when she graduated high school."
"It's okay, Bren. I wasn't much better when I was at the Academy. I was forced out to the garage before major tests."
Brenna smiled at her former classmate. She clasped her hands in front of her, swinging them to and fro. "So, are you available tonight?"
"Sorry, Bren, I'm on duty. Pity. You look great in that."
Brenna blushed and ducked her head. "Thanks."
"I did want to talk with you before I went to work. I thought about what you told me and what you showed me. What going out with you means and making sure whatever happens is because you want it to happen and not because your Soul Blade is making you."
Matt smiled. "I'm willing to give things a try. I've always liked you, Bren. We can try going out and see where things lead. Even if it doesn't work out, we can still be good friends. What do you think?"
Brenna's eyes met Matt's. "I want to try."
Matt swept Brenna into his arms. "I was hoping you'd say that." He gave Brenna a tender kiss, one that lingered after they stepped apart. "I better get going."
"Wait, Matt." Brenna touched the young officer's arm. "We're having a party for Gracie this weekend. Can you make it? It's Sunday afternoon."
"Sorry, Bren. I drew the short straw and have to work this weekend. Memorial Day, so I'm out to find the drunks on the road. I'd love to be here, though. Can I get a rain check?"
"Sure. That's a party and a dinner you owe me now."
"I've never let a debt go for long, especially to someone as gorgeous as you."
Brenna felt her blush spread under her blouse. "Matt!" she gasped.
Matt kissed her again, this time on the forehead. "I'll call you, okay?"
"Okay." Brenna stepped backwards as she watched Matt return to his car. As he drove off, she twirled around and walked back to her house.
The moment Brenna opened the door, Grace called out, "On the towel!"
"Oh, yes, because trees are so inherently dangerous, standing still."
"However, magic? That is power."
"Don't want to go home. Gracie will make me walk on towels."
"I just can't take you two anywhere."