The Hollows series
The bloody handprint was gone, wiped from Kisten’s window but not from my memory, and it ticked me off that someone had cleaned it, as if they were trying to steal what little recollection I retained about the night he’d died. The anger was misplaced fear if I was honest with myself. But I wasn’t. Most days it was better that way.
Stifling a shiver from the December chill that had taken the abandoned cruiser, now in dry dock rather than floating on the river, I stood in the tiny kitchen and stared at the milky plastic as if willing the smeared mark back into existence. In the near distance came the overindulgent, powerful huff of a diesel train crossing the Ohio River. The scrape of Ford’s shoes on the metallic boarding ladder was harsh, and worry pinched my brow.
The Federal Inderland Bureau had officially closed the investigation into Kisten’s murder—Inderland Security hadn’t even opened one—but the FIB wouldn’t let me into their impound yard without an official presence. That meant intelligent, awkward Ford, since Edden thought I needed more psychiatric evaluation and I wouldn’t come in anymore. Not since I fell asleep on the couch and everyone in the FIB’s Cincinnati office had heard me snoring. I didn’t need evaluation. What I needed was something—anything—to rebuild my memory. If it was a bloody handprint, then so be it.
“Rachel? Wait for me,” the FIB’s psychiatrist called, shifting my worry to annoyance. Like I can’t handle this? I’m a big girl. Besides, there wasn’t anything left to see; the FIB had cleaned everything up. Ford had obviously been out here earlier—given the ladder and the unlocked door—making sure everything was sufficiently tidy before our appointment.
The clatter of dress shoes on teak pushed me forward, and I untangled my arms from themselves and reached for the tiny galley table for balance as I headed to the living room. The floor was still, which felt weird. Beyond the short curtains framing the now-clean window were the dirty gray and brilliant blue tarps of boats at dry dock, the ground a good six feet below us.
“Will you hold up?” Ford asked again, the light eclipsing as he entered. “I can’t help if you’re a room away.”
“I’m waiting,” I grumbled, coming to a halt and tugging my shoulder bag up. Though he’d tried to hide it, Ford had some difficulty getting his butt up the ladder. I thought the idea of a psychiatrist afraid of heights was hilarious, until the amulet he wore around his neck turned a bright pink when I mentioned it and Ford went red with embarrassment. He was a good man with his own demons to circle. He didn’t deserve my razzing.
Ford’s breathing slowed in the chill silence. Wan but determined, he gripped the table, his face whiter than usual, which made his short black hair stand out and his brown eyes soulful. Listening in on my feelings was draining, and I appreciated his wading through my emotional crap to help me piece together what had happened.
I gave him a thin smile, and Ford undid the top few buttons of his coat to reveal a professional cotton shirt and the amulet he wore while working. The metallic ley line charm was a visual display of the emotions he was picking up. He felt the emotions whether he was wearing the charm or not, but those around him had at least the illusion of privacy when he took it off. Ivy, my roommate and business partner, thought it stupid to try to break witch magic with human psychology in order to recover my memory, but I was desperate. Her efforts to find out who had killed Kisten were getting nowhere.
Ford’s relief at being surrounded by walls was almost palpable, and seeing him release his death grip on the table, I headed for the narrow door to the living room and the rest of the boat. The faint scent of vampire and pasta brushed against me—imagination stoked by a memory. It had been five months.
My jaw clenched, and I kept my eyes on the floor, not wanting to see the broken door frame. There were smudges of dirt on the low-mat carpet that hadn’t been there before, marks left by careless people who didn’t know Kisten, had never known his smile, the way he laughed, or the way his eyes crinkled up when he surprised me. Technically an Inderland death without human involvement was out of the FIB’s jurisdiction, but since the I.S. didn’t care that my boyfriend had been turned into a blood gift, the FIB had made an effort just for me.
Murder was never taken off the books, but the investigation had been officially shelved. This was the first chance I’d had to come out here to try to rekindle my memory. Someone had nicked the inside of my lip trying to bind me to them. Someone had murdered my boyfriend twice. Someone was going to be in a world of hurt when I found out who they were.
Stomach fluttering, I looked past Ford to the window where the bloody handprint had been, left like a signpost to mock my pain without giving any prints to follow. Coward.
The amulet around Ford’s neck flashed to an angry black. His eyes met mine as his eyebrows rose, and I forced my emotions to slow. I couldn’t remember crap. Jenks, my backup and other business partner, had dosed me into forgetting so I wouldn’t go after Kisten’s murderer. I couldn’t blame him. The pixy was only four inches tall, and it had been his only option to keep me from killing myself on a suicide run. I was a witch with an unclaimed vampire bite, and that couldn’t stand up to an undead vampire no matter how you sliced it.
“You sure you’re up to this?” Ford asked, and I forced my hand down from my upper arm. Again. It throbbed with a pain long since gone as a memory tried to surface. Fear stirred in me. The recollection of being on the other side of the door and trying to break it down was an old one. It was nearly the only memory I had of that night.
“I want to know,” I said, but my voice sounded wobbly even to me. I had kicked the freaking door open. I had used my foot because my arm had hurt too much to move. I’d been crying at the time, and my hair had been in my eyes and mouth. I had kicked the door down.
A memory sifted from what I knew, and my pulse hammered as something was added, the recollection of me falling backward, hitting a wall. My head hit a wall. Breath held, I looked across the living room, staring at the featureless paneling. Right there. I remember.
Ford came unusually close. “You don’t have to do it this way.”
Pity was in his eyes. I didn’t like it there, directed at me, and his amulet turned silver as I gathered my will and passed through the door frame. “I do,” I said boldly. “Even if I don’t remember anything, the FIB guys might have missed something.”