eBook release: May 31, 2018
Print release: May 31, 2018
The Foundling, Book Two
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The Foundling, Book 2
The bayou is burning, the battle is just beginning – and Luce Boudreau is smack in the middle of no-man’s land . . .
Life as a cop in Canton Town, Mississippi, is never dull – particularly when hiding deep within you is a demon bent on the apocalypse. Luce is doing her best to pretend her two worlds aren’t crashing into each other, but what should be a routine arson investigation takes a shocking turn when Luce discovers a link between the suspects and her own dark secrets. There’s no turning back, even though her search for the truth threatens to burn her old life down around her.
Lines are being drawn in a war Luce barely understands, and she just might be on the wrong side of them. Now she must embrace her powerful destiny, or the ones she loves most will pay the ultimate price.
Book Two in the powerfully addictive fantasy series The Foundling, perfect for fans of Ilona Andrews, Jenn Stark and Helen Harper.
Bone Driven Excerpt
The first notes in my favorite country song plucked the air as sweat rolled from my hairline into my eyes. I wiped my damp face on the long sleeve of my shirt then squinted at the sixteen-penny nail I had pinched between two fingers. Picturing Geoffrey Timmons’s smug face as I swung the hammer in a punishing downstroke was cathartic after spending half the week down at the station playing star witness in the internal affairs investigation guaranteed to dethrone the current chief of police. But he was one small nail in a box of hundreds, and I had more dire concerns on my mind. Fresh worries pressed into my thoughts with every strike until the wood splintered beneath each brutal impact.
Demons were real. Bang. I was one of them. Bang. I was among the worst of them. Bang.
And those very real demons had trashed the farmhouse I shared with my dad, who was in no shape to be out in this heat working on repairs while we waited for approval on our insurance claim. That left me, my phone, and a Bluetooth speaker to get the job done.
A bleating car horn alerted me to the fact I had company coming, and I cursed under my breath.
Vultures were circling again thanks to the recording of Timmons’s threats leaking to the press. Jane Doe checking herself out of Madison Memorial against medical advice in order to avoid more abuse from the media, at least according to the statement Kapoor made on the hospital steps, didn’t help matters. Add to that my refusal to make a statement on either incident, and I was once again a hot topic around town. Frustration guided my aim through four more swings before car doors slammed and crunching footsteps approached.
“What did that sheet of plywood ever do to you, Bou-Bou?”
A grin split my cheeks as I turned and spotted Rixton heading my way with a squirming pink bundle in his arms. “How’s my favorite person on the planet?”
Annette Marjoram Rixton was the cutest baby I had ever seen, and that wasn’t just because she was scheduled to officially become my goddaughter in three more weeks, on her one-month birthday.
“I’m good.” He winked at me. “Thanks for asking.”
I gave him a flat stare, my best cop face, but since he had taught me the look, he only laughed. “Does your wife know you’ve absconded with her child?”
“Nettie is our child,” he corrected me. “I can’t abscond my own child.”
“We both know that’s not true.” Sadly, abductions happened all the time, and a parent or another relative was most often the perpetrator. “How long do you have before Sherry calls this in and an Amber Alert gets issued?”
“Sherry trusts me, unlike some people I won’t name.” He coughed into his fist. “Luce Boudreau.”
“Tell your godmother to set phasers on stun.” Rixton booped his daughter’s nose. “We aren’t out being nefarious. We went on a diaper run so Mommy could nap, didn’t we?”
I had to admit. “That was very sweet of you.”
“I learned from the best. Look what Sherry got me.” Whipping out his phone, he angled it toward me. The screen showed her curled on the couch under a short, thin blanket she probably borrowed from her daughter. “She bought a video camera that clips on the crib so I can check in on Nettie while I’m at work. Turns out it’s also handy as a mommy cam. I’ll get an alert when she starts moving around, and that’s my cue to skedaddle.”
Surveillance truly was the gift that kept on giving. Poor Sherry. She really ought to know better by now.
“Come on in.” I set down my tools and waved him toward the front door. “Get that baby doll out of this heat.”
“Baby doll, huh?” He chuckled. “Nettie must be the drink and wet variety.”
Nettie was little bitty and oh-so-breakable, exactly like the porcelain dolls Granny Boudreau had collected over her life. We had boxes full of them in the attic my goddaughter was welcome to when she got older.
I held the newly installed screen door open for Rixton with the toe of my ratty sneaker.
“Auntie Bou-Bou has the best manners,” he crooned to Nettie. “See how she held the door for a gentleman?”
Since Rixton was holding the baby I was about to vow to protect as my own, I cut him some slack instead of smashing his face in for calling me Bou-Bou. The more I reacted, the deeper the nickname would root into his personal lexicon, and soon there wouldn’t be enough upper body strength in the world to yank it from his vocabulary. Starting today my new policy would be ignoring him. He hated that. Rixton would rather be shot in the foot than have his antics dismissed. Personally? I could use the target practice.
Plastic sheeting taped over all the doorways and windows gave the kitchen the appearance of a crime scene still under investigation, but it was the only cool room in the house. I held back the thick curtain while Rixton stepped inside my chilly sanctuary.
“Can I get you something to drink?” I palmed a bottle of icy water from the cooler acting as my temporary fridge and gulped half of it down before coming up for air. “I’ve got water, water, and water.”
Everything else had spoiled thanks to the aforementioned demons who had turned the farmhouse into a block of Swiss cheese. The second floor was fully restored, but downstairs was so holey, it wasn’t worth turning the central air on yet. Only the kitchen and guest bathroom gave me respite from the blistering heat thanks to the portable window unit whirring on cement blocks stacked in the gap where the backdoor used to be.
“Hmm.” He appeared to give the nonexistent selection genuine consideration. “How about…water?”
Huffing out a laugh, I passed him a cold bottle, careful to avoid a single drop of condensation splashing Nettie’s perfect face.
“She’s not actually made of porcelain, Luce. You won’t break her.” He gentled his tone as he set his drink on the counter. “Don’t you think it’s time you held your goddaughter?”
“No.” I jumped back on reflex, waving my arms to ward him off, and tripped over the cooler. I landed in a seated position on the lid with my back pressed against the wall. “I’m good with looking. Really. I don’t have to hold her.”
Holding Nettie meant enduring more prolonged contact with another person than I had allowed in…ever.
“You haven’t changed your mind about participating in the christening, have you?” His brows knitted together. “There’s no one Sherry and I trust more than you, but you’ll still be Nettie’s auntie with or without the ceremony.”
I clamped my fingers on the lid and held on for dear life. “I haven’t changed my mind but—”
Understanding dawned in his expression, and he glanced at my shirt sleeves as though he could see the rose gold metal of the rukav banding my arms under the fabric. I watched him realize that while I might love his daughter, I would never be the auntie who let her curl in my lap while I read her bedtime stories on nights she slept over or cuddled her after a bad dream. I was touch-averse. Always had been. Physical manifestations of emotion required effort on my part. They weren’t natural, fluid responses to stimuli for me. They were calculated reactions for all that they were genuine expressions of what I felt for those I loved.
For one fraction of a second, I read his doubt that I was up to the task, and a pang arrowed through my chest straight for my pounding heart.
“I didn’t think about…” Rixton cleared his throat. “Are you sure you can handle…?”
“I’m sure. I can do this. Let me hold her.” Oxygen deprivation blurred my vision as he knelt in front of me and murmured instructions on how to support her head and neck, and then she was a squirming weight against me. “She’s so wiggly. Is that normal? Does she not like me? Is she trying to get away? What if I drop—?”
“Look at me.” His calm order sliced through my panic. “She’s a baby, not a ticking time bomb. Unless you count the explosive diarrhea.” He patted my knee to avoid an accidental brush with the metal beneath my skin. “You got this.”
Nettie blinked up at me through clear, blue eyes the color of faded denim. She blew slobber bubbles that popped on her chin with each breath while clenching one tiny hand in the air like she was grasping for golden dust motes. The smell of her skin, fresh powder and innocence, twisted something in my chest until I had to glance away to dry the promise of tears from my eyes.
“Remember to breathe.” Rixton grinned as he snapped a quick picture on his cell. “You’re doing great.”
A breathless quality entered my voice. “I’m holding a baby.”
“Like a pro.”
A dull headache blossomed in my temples, the persistent throbbing a reminder of the car accident that had rattled my brain like rocks in a soda can, but I ignored the discomfort. “Look at her fingernails, the wrinkles on her palms.” I marveled at each flexing toe and every curl of black hair, each detail I took for granted in adults rendered in flawless miniature. “How is this even possible?”
“Well, it’s like this.” Rixton sat back on his heels. “Mommies have lady gardens and daddies have—”
A groan slipped past my lips. “Please stop.”
“—magic seeds. When the soil in the lady garden is at its most fertile, the daddy plants his—”
“Rixton.” I twisted to one side, shielding Nettie with my body. “Your daughter can hear you.”
“She won’t remember a thing,” he promised. “Besides, I have to practice that speech for when she’s old enough for me to explain how I will double tap any gardener I catch aiming his tool at her…” he whirled a hand in the air, “…flowerbed.”
A knock on the door did what my threat had failed to do and shut him up.
“Come in,” I called out. No way was I tempting fate and actually walking with a baby in my arms. “We’re in the kitchen.”
Rixton took over host duty and pulled aside the plastic curtain to admit a tall man with angular features arranged in a polite expression that sat wrong on his face, like polite wasn’t his default, and he wasn’t sure how it ought to look on him. His build reminded me of an Olympic swimmer, all lean muscle and long legs. I could probably play his eight-pack abs like the world’s shortest xylophone.
He wore gray slacks, shoes that cost more than the new hardwood floor he walked on, and a white button-down shirt rolled up over his forearms. His thick, black hair had been trimmed in an undercut and slicked back, and his soulful brown eyes drank in every detail of the room before settling on me with a tangible weight that made my bones creak. He smiled first at me and then at the baby in my arms. I couldn’t pinpoint why, but the flash of his straight, white teeth in her direction set my heart pumping and propelled me to my feet.
“Luce Boudreau?” His silky voice caressed each syllable of my name with the hint of a foreign accent I couldn’t place. “I’m Adam Wu. I work for All South Insurance. I’m here to discuss the claim you filed.”
Hairs lifted down my arms in a prickling wave. “Rixton? Would you mind taking Nettie?”
“No problem.” He read the tension bowing my shoulders in a protective curve around his daughter and positioned himself between Wu and me. “Is this guy legit? Or is he a well-fed vulture in a nice suit?” Keeping his back to my guest, he lowered his voice to keep our conversation private. “Say the word, and I’ll toss him out on his can.”
Wu shook his head once in silent warning behind Rixton.
“I got this,” I assured him and then cut my eyes to Wu. “I’ll be right back. I’m going to walk my partner to his car.” I shepherded Rixton and Nettie through the sheeting, paranoid he might trip and drop her, then out onto the front porch in record time. “Tell Sherry I’ll stop by tomorrow for a visit.”
“Okay. I’ll keep my phone on me.” His gaze slid past my shoulder into the house. “Call if you need me.”
“I will.” I waited while he strapped Nettie into her car seat then waved him off, watching for the moment he turned onto the main road before returning to my guest in the kitchen. “All South Insurance went out of business about five years ago. We’re with Mississippi Fidelity now.” I leaned a hip against the counter, toying with the water bottle Rixton had left untouched. “Who are you really?” I decided against playing hostess for Wu and tossed the drink back in the cooler. “Is your name really Adam Wu?”
“Adam Wu is one of my aliases.” His wry smile drew my attention to the unusual curve of his mouth and his slightly larger upper lip, like the bee who stung the top couldn’t be bothered to give him a matching set. “Special Agent Kapoor prefers it to my others these days.”
“Ah.” Curiosity trumped my annoyance for a heartbeat. “This is one of those visits.”
“Where is your coterie?” The man studied me as though I were an exotic animal he hadn’t expected to encounter in rural Mississippi. “Why aren’t they here? Protecting you? Helping you?”
Wu hadn’t earned the answers to those questions even if I’d had them. “Why are you here?”
“You have three weeks left with the Canton Police Department.” Wu inclined his head, a birdlike gesture of curiosity. “Are you ready to put in your notice next Monday?”
“Counting down the days, huh?” I cocked an eyebrow at him. “Are you here to help me draft my resignation?”
“If that’s what it takes.” He cast his gaze around the room once more. “Not all charun embrace our philosophies. Some require…” our gazes locked, “…encouragement.”
“I accepted the deal.” I prowled closer, until the toes of our shoes touched. “I stand by my word.”
Kapoor didn’t have to send thugs like Wu to twist my arm when I had already shaken his hand on the bargain to join a demon taskforce spearheaded by the National Security Branch of the FBI and made my peace with its cost. Namely, my career.
“Forgive me for not trusting your nature.” Wu searched my face, and a frown knitted his brow. “Your kind are not known for their honesty. Otillians are a vicious breed, their females in particular. That you are one of the four in Czar Astrakhan’s cadre does you no favors in my estimation.”
I smiled at him, flashing my own teeth. “Good thing I don’t care what you think about me.”
“You will.” Wu leaned down until our faces were on the same level, until he could look me in the eye, and the scent of his sun-warmed skin hit the back of my throat. “I’m your new partner.”
Wu pivoted on his heel and left me swaying toward him. New partner? Wu thought he could replace Rixton? Ha. No chance. I marched after him, slapped the plastic sheeting aside, and stepped out onto the front porch. I was about to light into him when I noticed his attention was focused off in the distance where a plume of dust whirled down the main road. I squinted past the mailbox, and my heart gave a hard thud as a familiar black SUV rumbled up the driveway.
Three men exited the vehicle, and none of them were smiling.
“Cole Heaton, Miller Henshaw, and Thomas Ford.” Wu rattled off their names without a hitch. “To what does Ms. Boudreau owe the pleasure of this visit? The house carries no scent of her coterie. How long have you left your mistress unguarded?”
Cole ignored Wu and his accusations, his meltwater gaze fixated on me. “Are you all right?”
The black stubble covering his scalp had been trimmed recently, and his face was freshly shaven. As usual, his square jaw bulged as he ground his teeth against words he would never speak but that seemed forever on the tip of his tongue. The zigzag pattern of his nose, each kink a reminder of the violent life he led, no longer startled me. Neither did the missing tip of his left ear. They were simply sums that made up the whole of Cole Heaton.
I had to moisten my tongue before I could speak. “Fine.”
“Who’s your friend?” Thom tracked Wu with sharp interest, his narrowed eyes glinting bright emerald, the turn of his head causing a hank of dark blond hair to tickle the golden skin on his wide forehead. All ropey muscle and lightning reflexes, the man looked more like a cheetah than the boxy tomcat lurking under his skin. “He smells…delicious.”
Leave it to Thom to make things weird. Well, okay, weirder.
“Everyone, this is Adam Wu.” I gestured around the gathering. “Adam Wu, this is everyone.”
A frown gathered in the tight folds between Miller’s eyebrows, and he rested his hand on Thom’s shoulder to halt his silent prowl forward. Thom hissed at the restraint but quit his stalking behavior.
“We need to talk,” Cole rumbled to me. “In private.”
“Sure.” He had avoided me like a Biblical plague since the night I cost him one of his people, and one of mine too. “We can go around back to the picnic bench.” I wasn’t sure I could handle being in an enclosed space with him, not after the way we’d left things. “It’s in the shade, so it won’t be as hot.”
“Stay put,” he ordered Miller and Thom. “Keep an eye on Wu.”
“They aren’t yours to command,” Wu reminded him. “Neither am I.”
Leaving them to finish their pissing match, I circled the house and headed toward the lone oak overhanging a picnic bench in desperate need of sanding and refinishing. I was too fidgety to sit, so I leaned against the tree trunk and waited on Cole to join me.
“The house looks good,” he said into the tense silence. “You didn’t have to do this alone. You could have asked for our help.”
“Miller and Thom are the only ones who have reached out since that night.” I shrugged like the snub didn’t hurt, like going back to playing human hadn’t made me feel like my skin was stretched too tight over my bones now that I knew the truth. “I figured that must mean the rest of you wanted things to go back to how they were before.”
“There is no going back.” His long gait swallowed the distance between us, and he braced one wide palm on the bark over my head. The snap closure on the thick leather band concealing the metal under his skin glinted in the sunlight. “You don’t get to pretend you don’t know what you are anymore.” He leaned in close. “War is here. Famine will be soon. You can’t hide from your birthright.”
“I’m not.” I had been…adjusting. Absorbing. Making peace with the fact my entire identity was a lie. Seven days to stitch the rips in my psyche back together sounded more than fair to me. “I’ve been here, at home, this whole time. You could have visited. If you didn’t want to see me, you could have called. If you didn’t want to hear me, you could have texted.” I met his gaze and held it even when his cold fury gave me chills. “Who’s really hiding here, Cole?”
A growl pumped through his chest, and he didn’t bother smoothing its ragged edges. We were past all that. “We are your coterie, your strength. You don’t get to abandon us again.”
“So that’s what this is about.” The rough bark tugged on my hair as I angled my face toward him. “You’re not just mad at me for not coming to you, you thought I would ditch you again.” Cole had explained how the coterie waited years for me to find them, but I hadn’t known to look. “I wanted time alone to get my head on straight, okay, I’ll cop to that, but when you didn’t call, I assumed you were angry over…”
The deal I’d made with Kapoor. Over Portia. Over Maggie. Everything.
“I’m not mad.” The lie flattened his lips into a harsh line. “I don’t have the luxury of anger.”
“Keep telling yourself that, big guy.” I blasted out a frustrated sigh. “Why are you really here?”
“Thom and I are working a case up in Ludlow.” He straightened from his lean and lowered his arm. “We found something you ought to see.”
“I have to work in a few hours, and I can’t go tomorrow. That’s when the crew arrives to install the new bay window.” I tucked a sticky curl behind my ear. “How about the next day?”
“How about now?” He glanced over his shoulder toward the driveway. “I brought it with me.”
I followed his gaze. “Is this something Wu should see?”
“Who is he to you?” Cole sharpened each word until the next question cut deep. “Why is he here?”
“Kapoor sent him to check up on me.” I wet my lips. “He’s my new partner.”
Cole folded his fingers into his palms, clenching his hands into meaty fists at his sides. “I see.”
Out of my depth, I sidestepped his quiet anger and returned to the driveway to find the Mexican standoff still in progress. I winked at Miller then grinned at Thom on my way to the rear of the SUV emblazoned with the familiar White Horse logo of a muscular white warhorse stamping its left front hoof. Wu, whose presence I had chosen to ignore, sidled up to me at the exact same moment Cole arrived, and they locked glares over my head.
“Cole,” I prompted him. “You said you have something to show me?”
“Brace yourself.” He opened the hatch and reached for a lumpy towel. “This is the third one of these we’ve found.” He peeled back the fabric to reveal the mummified remains of a cat. I might have believed the corpse was decades old except for its modern collar with the owner’s Twitter handle engraved on its tag. “Natural mummification takes forty plus days depending on environmental conditions. This is the work of forty-eight to seventy-two hours. Two of the animals were chipped, so the identifications are positive, and the timelines are solid.”
I got a bad feeling about where this was headed. “Any ideas what caused this?”
“An ubaste is my guess,” Wu cut in.
I swung my head toward him. “A who-what-now?”
Cole answered for him. “An ubaste is a low-level charun that feeds on the life force of small animals.”
“That’s good, right?” Stark relief swirled through me. “That means it’s no danger to humans.”
Wu pinched a fold of the cat’s brittle skin between his fingers, and the desiccated flesh crumbled. “Humans are animals.”
“Not you too.” I popped his hand before he ruined more evidence. “You’re with the NSB. Doesn’t that mean you value human life?”
“No.” He dusted his hands. “All it means is I value my life.”
A twinge of conscience almost had me apologizing to him, for what I wasn’t sure, but it wasn’t my fault he was here. He had made his choice to cozy up to the NSB the same as me, and now both of us had to live with our decisions.
“You’re saying this thing is a danger to small people.” I checked with Cole. “As in, children.”
Grim certainty darkened his mood. “Yes.”
“What can we do about it?” We couldn’t let it run free.
“We hunt it.” Cole bared his teeth in a feral smile he aimed at Wu. “That’s what the NSB expects, right?”
“Charun who can’t be rehabilitated must be killed.” Wu didn’t sugarcoat his truth. “That includes you, him, and the rest of your coterie.”
Brittle ice swept through my chest as the cold place surfaced in response to his threat. Demanding that my coterie participate in a spay and neuter program for demons, like they were little more than animals, was bad enough. Hinting any insubordination would result in their deaths was a step too far. “Raise a hand against him or any member of my coterie, and I will be forced to put a bullet through your brain.”
The smug grin Wu gifted me was somehow worse than his calculated jabs, as though he were rewarding me for giving him the reaction he had hoped to provoke all along. “Ah. There you are, Conquest.” His warm fingertips brushed my cheek in a glancing caress. “I thought I saw you in there.”
“My name is Luce.” I recoiled from his touch and bumped into Cole, who wrapped his heavy forearm across my collarbone and hauled me tight against the protection of his solid body. “I am not Conquest.”
“I can smell your Otillian blood.” Wu flared his nostrils. “Blood never lies.” His eyes dilated. “Ask me how I know.”
“I am more than a birthright I had no claim to until a week ago.”
“I hope you’re right.” The corners of his eyes tightened. Disappointed, maybe, that I didn’t take the bait. I didn’t ask. “For all our sakes.”
Wu dipped his head in a shallow bow and left me alone with my coterie and the uneasy certainty he had been right all along. I did care what he thought. Maybe my competitive nature was to blame, or maybe it was sheer desperation. Wu might be right about my blood, but I was determined to prove he was wrong about me.
Copyright © 2018 Hailey Edwards
All rights reserved — a Piatkus publication