Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Hailey Edwards
eBook release date: September 18, 2016
Now available on Amazon!
A Gemini Novella
Harlow Bevans was a changeling mermaid working as a diving consultant for the Earthen Conclave. Then he came along. Charybdis. A serial killer who possessed her body and wrecked her mind. Now she’s an inmate—patient—at Edelweiss Mental Institution.
When a haunting song lures her to the scene of a brutal murder, the calm of the past few months is shattered. A fellow patient is dead, and Harlow is caught standing over his body by a mysterious guard who hides his own secrets behind a pair of aviator sunglasses her fingers itch to remove.
Unwilling to be a pawn in another psychopath’s game, Harlow sets out to discover the real killer. What she uncovers makes her a prime target, and the next song she hears could be her last. Curiosity may not have killed the cat, but it just might fillet the mermaid.
Fish Out of Water Excerpt
Heart a staccato beat against my ribs, I bolted upright on a gasp, fisting the starched sheets under my slick palms. Adrenaline pounded out a bass drum solo in my temples as I swung my legs over the edge of the narrow cot in my cell. Room. Not cell. The chilly industrial tile under my feet anchored me in the present. I inhaled, ribs creaking, then exhaled the recycled air until I wheezed from the effort of exorcising my ghosts.
Just a dream. Just a dream. He was only a dream.
Cold sweat drenched the soft pink pajamas issued to all female inmates—patients—at Edelweiss Mental Institution. The AC chose that moment to hum into wakefulness and vented an arctic breeze down a spine gone bony since my incarceration. I mean, involuntary commitment. I sat there shivering until my teeth chattered before surrendering to the inevitable. I lay back down, curled on my side facing the wall, and pulled the damp covers up to my shoulder.
The second my eyelashes meshed, I heard it.
A keening lament resonated down the corridor, a dirge wailed past inhuman vocal cords, fueled by so much anguish the fine hairs lifted down my arms.
Checking the digital projection on my nightstand, I noted the hour and flopped onto my back. Relief spread in butterfly kisses across my clammy skin, my muscles relaxing one by one as it sank in all was well.
These days I found comfort in routine, and the woman next door shattered with the precision of an atomic clock at two a.m. Tonight’s melodic rendition was different than her usual gut-wrenching sobs, but the unending anguish in her cries struck the same chord as always, and I didn’t mind. I counted on her misery to help me escape my own night terrors unscathed.
Word around the ward was Bianca Parsons had snapped one night and killed her mate. The pregnancy hormones must have cranked the guilt up through the roof if that was true. I might have asked one of the orderlies, but I hadn’t spoken out loud in months, not since the day I woke to these white walls enclosing me, and I wasn’t curious enough about the warg’s circumstances to break that silence.
We all harbored our own personal demons. I wasn’t about to poke someone else’s with a stick. That’s what the shrinks got paid to do.
The yellow beam of a flashlight swept down the line of my body as the guard spotlighted me, watching for the even rise and fall of my chest. This was another ritual, one that used to bring me peace. When the patients got riled up, the guards performed bed checks. I liked knowing help was on the other side of that locked door for the asking. That wasn’t the issue. No, the problem was the temptation to ask one particular guard for the kind of help that would get us both in Mariana Trench-deep trouble.
Pretending sleep, I waited until the light extinguished to let my tense limbs go slack. Except I couldn’t relax for the prickling certainty I was being watched. I rolled over and studied the narrow window cut into the door facing the hallway.
Officer Lam stood there as if waiting for my acknowledgment.
The unforgiving line of his jaw was gentled by the amused smile hooking his full lips up at one corner. Busted. He had caught my gaze skating over his high cheekbones, tracing the curves of the reflective aviator sunglasses he wore no matter the hour. Fingertips dancing over my thigh, I imagined the feel of that same jaw beneath them. A flush rode my skin as I nestled deeper under the covers.
The soft crackle of the intercom whispered through the room. “You’re up late, Pinks.”
A burst of irritation flared at his nickname for me, and I ended up biting my cheek to hold on to my silence. The vibrant pink dye had faded from my hair, and the natural blonde roots showed against my scalp. I was a washed-out echo of the spirited changeling mermaid I once was. So why must he insist on reminding me of how much I had lost?
The silent treatment worked on the doctors and orderlies, the other patients, but apparently not on guards who were too pretty for their own good. Rather than give Lam the pleasure of being the first to goad me into speaking, I answered his taunt inside the safety of my own head. “The name is Harlow.”
“You’re always so feisty around two a.m.,” he teased, his butterscotch voice thick with a Southern drawl. “Wonder why that is? Low tide make you cranky?”
I narrowed my eyes to threatening slits. “Bite me.”
Silver light spilled onto his cheeks, under his shades, as if his eyes were lit from within. “Don’t issue invitations you don’t want answered, Pinks.”
Beads of cold sweat popped down my spine as I grasped that he had answered my unspoken taunt.
“Get out of my head.” Stomach roiling, I shoved upright in bed and clasped a hand over my mouth to keep from retching. “Get out. Get out. Get out.”
That’s what he had done. Charybdis. The psychotic fae serial killer had shattered my mental shields with laughable ease then stepped inside me, made himself at home in my mind and used my body as his own personal marionette.
“I overstepped my bounds,” came his staticky response. “I apologize. Still friends?”
Befriend the guy picking through my head like my thoughts were a buffet served up for his browsing pleasure? “Not hardly.”
“What was that?” He leaned forward and cupped his ear. “We are still friends? Good.” He grinned at my clenched jaw, and it did strange things to my lower stomach. Nausea probably. Too bad I didn’t have any crackers. He rapped the glass with his knuckles, the gesture reminding me of a kid tapping the side of an aquarium to capture a fish’s attention. “Get some rest.”
Yeah. Wouldn’t want to miss another fun-filled night of gazing at the speckled ceiling until patterns emerged. Homesick for the life I had before him, I imagined those dots as endless stars glittering in the night-sky fabric unspooling into infinity above the Atlantic Ocean.
A soft click, not unlike the intercom activating, caught my attention.
The eerie sensation from earlier redoubled, and I shifted onto my side.
A thready breath panted through the speaker, and I broke my vow of silence on a terrified whimper.
Not real. Not real. Not real.
He was dead. Dead.
I must be dreaming. This had to be another nightmare.
Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.
“Hello?” The weak rasp that was my voice cracked on the second syllable. I swallowed to wet my parched throat and tried again. “Is anyone there?”
The knob turned in slow increments, and I watched, hands fisted in my sheets, until it clicked open.
I swiped my tongue across chapped lips. “Officer Lam?”
Curled into a tight ball, I tucked my knees under my chin and angled my toes downward, away from the edge of the bed and any monsters that might lurk beneath. Minutes ticked past until my muscles quivered from the fear stringing them taut, until my elbows ached from being locked in place, until panic loosened its grip on my throat because I had forgotten how to breathe anyway, and still no boogeyman strolled through the doorway wearing a flesh-eating grin.
Unfurling my limbs, I scraped together the courage to stand and cross the room. The door swung open under my hand, and I popped my head out into the hall, half-expecting Officer Lam to be yanking my chain or to hear the clip-clop that announced the night orderly’s arrival on the scene.
Not so much as a shadow flickered in the dim corridor.
A peculiar tugging sensation low in my gut drew my toes flush with the threshold. Compelled forward, feet moving without my permission, I took one step and then another until I stood outside my room. The urge to turn back twitched in my calves, but that same undefinable need kept me placing one foot in front of the other.
Murmured conversation drifted to my ears, both orderlies’ voices familiar. I fumbled for an excuse but got a mouthful of nothing. Lucky for me, their footsteps receded, leaving me torn between following the pull in my middle or heeding my common sense.
Turns out I don’t have much common sense.
Stomach in knots, I turned left and explored a hallway delineated by faded blue lines painted onto the floor. Each door I passed revealed a patient ID plaque in a matching hue. For all the times I had noted the names on similar ones in the women’s dorm, it had never occurred to me that those were a whisper-soft pink. The washed-out color matched the rest of the institution’s monochromatic scheme so well, I hadn’t given it a second thought until now.
A smarter woman, one with fewer pills floating in her stomach, might have noticed patients were being subtly color-coded by sex, from our pajamas to daywear to nametags, but a smarter woman also wouldn’t have ventured this far from her room in the dead of night.
Low lights and blacked-out windows told me this must be the diurnal men’s ward. A jolt of unease had me backing up a step. I did not want to run into one of these guys if my lock hadn’t been the only malfunctioning one, but that same gut-deep summons I was helpless to resist had me padding forward when I noticed a beam of light slicing the hallway in two.
I jumped a mile high and scrambled across the hall when a hulking monster with silver-black wings flung himself at the window of the door beside me, pounding his fists on the glass and screaming muffled obscenities.
I clutched at my chest, like that might keep my heart from ricocheting around in my rib cage. I rocked back on my heels, tempted to bolt, but then flattened the balls of my feet on the tile and forced my gaze past the crazed beast to the room down from his. That door should not be open at this hour. Then again, neither should mine. What did it mean?
I drifted forward, skirting the winged creature, carried as if through a dream, and pressed my palm against the chill metal door to ease it wider.
The sharp bite of copper stung my nostrils, and my stomach revolted. I retched where I stood, but all I managed was a few dry heaves. As much as I wanted to run, I might as well have strapped concrete blocks to my feet. Through the crack, I spied a dark-skinned hand, the fingers uncurled and unmoving, and the urge returned full force, nudging me past my comfort zone.
Crimson handprints smeared across the tile floors and walls. Brownish-red flecks speckled the ceiling in a wide arc. The man sprawled facedown in a pool of his own blood, his head wrenched to one side, a hole the size of my fist punched through his ribs near his spine.
Bile soured the back of my throat, and the primal core of my brain pleaded with me to run, run, run. Certain that help had arrived too late for this man, I still couldn’t leave without knowing for sure he was past saving. I had been used and discarded by evil once, too, and I would never leave another to suffer as I had, alone and broken.
“Help,” I cried in a voice rusty with disuse. “Someone help me.”
The winged man in the room next door mocked me, his antics waking the others who picked up the cry, spreading it throughout the ward. Good. That much racket ought to bring help running.
Swallowing convulsively, I entered the abattoir on silent feet, picking my way to his side. Blood, so much blood. Memories of him, of what he had done, of what I helped him do, pinged around my skull. Dizzy under the weight of that nightmare collage, I wobbled, and my foot shot out from under me. I fell and cracked my tailbone hard enough to rattle my teeth, and the cooling liquid seeped into my clothes. I could have reached out my toe and poked the corpse if I wanted, and he was dead. One look at the film developing over his eyes confirmed his soul had departed this world.
Kicking out my legs to gain traction, I smeared crimson skid marks as I backpedaled toward the door. I cried out for help again, but my voice came out hoarse. No one would hear me over the patients’ steady chanting anyway.
Like sharks smelling blood spilled in the water, the men were a chaotic frenzy of aggression.
Once I got my slick feet under me, I backed out of the room, unable to tear my eyes away from the gruesome tableau. Instead of the cool metal door I expected to bump into, I collided with a warm wall of flesh and gulped down a scream. Strong arms enfolded me, his cherry-vanilla scent pulsing hot in the air.
Though he had never laid a finger on me until this moment, I knew with bone-deep certainty who held me. The heat from his front radiated through my thin top to thaw my chilled back, and I didn’t put up a fight. I sank against him, grateful to lean on someone else’s strength.
“Calm down, Pinks.” He linked his elegant fingers around my slender wrists and locked them at my navel in a hold that protected us both. “It’s all right.”
“Th-th-that man,” I stuttered. “He’s dead.”
“That tends to happen when your heart gets ripped out through your spine,” he murmured, voice grim. From his vantage point, he saw it all. The blood. The body. Me. “What are you doing all the way down here?”
Turning my head brushed our cheeks together. His was as smooth as silk, and the scent of his skin intoxicated this close. Officer Lam was most definitely fae, and the ones who came equipped with lures like his enticing aroma tended to be the dangerous, lead-you-to-your-doom-with-a-smile-on-your-face kind.
“Someone opened my door.” I strung the words together. “I started walking and found…him.”
“Hmm.” The sound rumbled through his chest into mine. “We’ll check security footage and see what’s what.” Unwilling to relinquish his hold on me, he turned his face toward the radio clipped onto his shoulder and used his chin to press the button. “We have a situation in east wing M dorm, room forty-two. Request backup and medical assistance.”
The slow cadence of his voice soothed me enough that when he finished with dispatch, I managed to ask, “Who did this?”
“I don’t mean to alarm you, Pinks.” His thumbs stroked the tender insides of my wrists as he murmured a restraining Word to bind them together. “But from here…it looks like you did.”
Copyright © 2016 Hailey Edwards
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