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Extract: Tracer

Book 2: Tracer
Book 2: Tracer

 

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I awoke sometime later, bundled into my own bed, but still in my funeral clothes. I blinked several times, trying to clear the gray auras in my vision. Something was very wrong.

I pushed the covers away and stood up, but nothing about my eyesight changed. I couldn’t make out any colors; my whole world was sunken in the black and gray scheme of old noir films. I rubbed at my eyes as panic welled in my stomach.

The rubbing didn’t help. I yanked open my bedroom door and started down the stairs, towards the voices of Ben and Harding, coming from the kitchen.

As soon as I crossed the threshold to the kitchen, purple burst into my vision again. Harding was seated at the table, bathed in the only color I could see.

“Allie?” Ben’s voice found me through the purple haze.

I sobbed, and wiped at my eyes, desperate to figure out what was happening. “Something’s wrong,” I managed through my tears. “I can’t see anything.”

Harding and Ben were both out of their seats in a flash. I closed my eyes, willing that violent aura to disappear.

“What do you mean, you can’t see?” Harding asked.

I opened my eyes, blinking against the strange light. “I only see everything in black and white. Except for you. You’re… glowing. You’re purple.”

Ben reached out to take my hands. “When did this start?”

“At the funeral,” I whispered. That aura around Harding had been the last thing I’d seen. I squeezed Ben’s hands. “What’s happening to me?”

“I’m going to call Sorrell,” Harding replied. “Or Daniel. They might know what’s going on.”

A fresh wave of panic washed over me. “You can’t do that. They can’t know that something is going on with me.” My mind flashed to that record book lurking in Sorrell’s library. The vampire prince kept meticulous records on every paranormal human he could find, and my own name was one of the last entries in the book. They had given me some kind of drug when I had been at that mansion, something Harding said could improve any natural tendencies towards paranormal abilities, but nothing had changed.

Until now.

“We have to, Allie. If that drug did this, they can help you.”

I shook my head. “It was months ago. I don’t think that caused… this. Whatever it is.” I was getting dizzy from Harding’s aura. I slipped past both of them and dropped into one of the chairs around the kitchen table. They sat on either side of me, but it was Harding’s turn to grab my hands.

As soon as our fingers touched, a deep flow of emotion overcame me. Without really being able to explain why, I suddenly knew exactly what Harding had meant so many months ago when he told me that he knew how everyone around him felt. Our hands still linked, I could feel the concern flowing off him, and even the little bits of panic bubbling from Ben. I snatched my hands away and took a deep breath.

“Oh. Harding.” I shuddered, and the tears halted. “Is that what it feels like? That constant pressure of emotions around you?”

His eyes widened.

Ben stood from the table and moved behind me. He placed his hands on my shoulders. “I think Allie is right, Harding. We can figure this out ourselves, without letting anyone tied to Sorrell know what’s happened.”

Harding shook his head. “I think she needs more help than we can give her. I don’t even know what this is.”

The back door creaked and I turned my head away from my friend as Laura hustled over the threshold. “Allie! You’re awake! Are you okay?”

Fear raced up my spine. Laura wasn’t sporting the same degree of aura that Harding was, but she bore the only other color I could see. Pale red outlined every feature, with a strange concentration around her eyes. She crossed the room in a few strides and wrapped me in a big hug.

I could almost taste her hunger.

***

I held back the nausea that rolled over me. I couldn’t imagine what the last few months had been like for Laura, living with that feeling day in and day out. I pushed away from her and stood up from the table.

“Listen. I’m not…” I pressed the palms of my hands into my eyes, trying to find the words that would magically whisk me away. “I can’t explain what’s going on, but I think I need to get out of here.”

Ben stood up. “I can take you wherever you need to go.”

I shook my head. Ben had been right about one thing: no one with ties to Sorrell needed to know what was going on with me. At least not yet. I needed to find my own answers. “I’m going alone.”

I left the kitchen and made my way upstairs. No one followed me, and I sent a silent thank you to the friends gathered in the kitchen who knew well enough to leave me alone. My vision hadn’t changed at all, but at least being away from Laura and Harding allowed me to gain some control over my racing pulse. Whatever was happening wasn’t going away any time soon, apparently.

I grabbed a few shirts and jeans from my dresser and shoved everything into a backpack. After jamming in some underwear and socks, I slid out of the dress I’d worn to my grandfather’s funeral and pulled on some fresh clothes. I took the necklace from Ben off and laid it back in the case. Wherever I was going, whatever I had to do next… the necklace didn’t deserve to be tarnished by this strange world I found myself in.

On my way down the stairs, I called to Ben. He came through the kitchen door in just a few moments and met me at the front door. “I’m sorry that I have to do this.”

He shook his head and pulled me to him. “You need to do whatever feels right, Allie.”

“I just have to figure out what’s going on and I’ll come home.”

“Where are you going?”

I shrugged. “I’m not sure, but I can’t be here. I’ll call you when I’ve settled somewhere.”

“I don’t like this, Allie. Can’t I take you somewhere? I get better than anyone why you can’t be here, but I’d feel better if I knew you were safe.”

I gave him a weak smile and wished I could better see his eyes. The black and white movie thing was starting to bother me more than the auras had. “I’ll talk to you soon.”

He leaned down and gave me a kiss without any more argument.

***

I took a short walk to a B&B a mile or so away, hoping they’d have something open. I didn’t trust myself to drive, and I couldn’t risk getting on a train or calling a cab knowing I might see the blinding auras again. The walk soothed me. In the darkness, it was harder to tell that my vision was affected, and the quiet of the country road allowed time for my more analytical brain to kick in. Whatever had happened was obviously brought on by my grief over my grandfather. Once I’d had a good night’s sleep and some time to work my way through the grief, this… affliction would clear and life would get back to normal. I’d had auras for a long time with my migraines. This was just amplification. Harding’s worries about Sorrell’s drug fell away. Whatever Sorrell had given me hadn’t made a difference. I wasn’t my father’s daughter in all ways.

It was well after nine o’clock when I made it to the rambling Victorian situated near the only private golf course in town. The porch light was still glowing and a friendly welcome sign hung next to the door.   I knocked gently and after a few moments, I heard footsteps in the hall beyond the door. A small, middle-aged woman opened the door and gave me a gentle smile.

“Hello,” she said, opening the screen door and waving me in. “How can I help you?”

“Hi.” I stepped over the threshold and looked around. Gleaming, warm oak floors stretched away from the door, into an open great room that ran the full length of the house. I could see a peek of kitchen through a door beyond the grand staircase. Two dim lights were lit in the hall, but the staircase was already dark.

“I’m sorry to come so late, but I was hoping you’d have a room open for a few nights.”

“We do have a room available, but I’m afraid it’s the master suite.” She gave me another smile, her eyes flitting to the backpack slung over my shoulders.

“That’s fine. I’m not picky.”

“Lovely. If you’ll follow me to the kitchen, I’ll get you signed in and show you your room.”

The kitchen was almost as big as the living room, filled with bright cabinets and sparkling quartz countertops. At the back of the room, overlooking the golf course, a large round table filled a breakfast nook. She waved me into a seat and took down an iPad from a high shelf. “My husband convinced me to toss out the old paper guest book. This is more efficient, but it’s not quite as romantic. Now, what did you say your name is?”

“Allie Stuart.”

“Oh!” She set down the iPad. “I was so sorry to hear about your grandfather.”

I swallowed. “You knew him?”

She nodded. “I did. He and your grandmother taught us a few recipes when we first bought this place in the 80s. We were young then, and probably too stupid to be opening a place like this. She taught me to make these cinnamon rolls, and he gave me a recipe for this blueberry brioche that we sometimes make for breakfast—”

I couldn’t help the tears that came to my eyes. I knew exactly what she was talking about, could practically taste the blueberry and cinnamon.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t think about what I was saying. You must be… heartbroken.” Tears filled her eyes as she slid the iPad away. “I hope you know how much people loved your grandparents around here, Allie. I don’t know why you’re here, but if there’s anything I can do to help…”

I swiped at my eyes and shook my head. “It’s okay. Really. I just need a place to stay that isn’t… that house.”

She nodded and stood up. “I’ll take you upstairs. We’ll worry about the rest tomorrow.”

She didn’t say anything else, this unknown woman who could bake my grandparents’ cinnamon rolls and brioche. She took me up the stairs, past four or five closed bedroom doors, and up another half-flight to a lone, white door. The key was long and brass, with an ornate floral bow. No wonder this place was so popular.

She turned the lock and gently pushed the door open. She waved me in and I stepped across the threshold just as the scent of lavender and chamomile filled the air around me.

“I trust you can figure out your way around a bed and bath. If you need anything, my husband and I are just downstairs.” She handed me the key and turned to go.

“I’m sorry,” I said, barely managing to force the words out. “I’m a terrible guest. I didn’t even ask your name.”

She laid a hand on my arm. “I’m Lucy. Just call if you need anything.”

She shut the door as she left and I turned to survey the large master bedroom. The same oak floors filled the space with warmth, and a huge, four-post bed stood in the middle of the room. There was a gas fireplace on one wall, and an open door led to an en-suite bathroom. I tossed my bag onto a dark wingback chair and tucked my shoes underneath it. The bed, with its thick feather comforter and stack of pillows, sang out to me, and I gave in without argument.

***

I awoke the next morning to footsteps down the hall and sunlight streaming through the windows. There was a light tap at my door as I tossed the covers away. My vision hadn’t returned to normal, but I was already feeling calmer than I had the night before. I shuffled to the door and opened it, expecting to find Lucy or her husband there. Instead, there was a simple tray bearing a covered plate, a mug of coffee, and a single white chrysanthemum in a thin vase. I picked up the tray and carried it to a small table next to the chair. Already, the smells from the plate were wafting around the room.

I lifted the lid, revealing a two thick slices of buttered blueberry brioche, scrambled eggs and a tangle of bacon. I fell into the chair, torn between the hunger in my stomach and the pain in my heart. My grandfather was gone, but his funeral had shown me that he would live on in the memories of those he had touched over the years. His favorite recipes would too.

I noticed a piece of paper tucked under the plate and reached for it. The thick stationary was folded in half and contained a brief note from Lucy.

Enjoy. When you’re ready, I have a few messages for you, but people can wait. Breakfast cannot.

I smiled. My grandfather definitely would have approved.

***

The bathtub was the best part of the house. About an hour into my bubble bath, I heard a knock at the door.

“Just a minute,” I called out, reaching for the robe on the back of the door. I slipped into it and went to the door, hoping there wouldn’t be another tray of food. I was still stuffed from breakfast.

“I’m sorry to bother you.” Lucy stood in the hall, wringing her hands. “There’s a man downstairs asking to speak with you. He’s called several times and finally showed up here looking for you.”

“Did he tell you his name?”

“Patrick Elridge.” She frowned. “Are you in some kind of trouble? When you came here last night—”

I shook my head. “No trouble. He’s my boyfriend’s brother.”

Her worried look eased a bit. “I can tell him you’re unavailable, if you like, but I really can’t have him hanging around in the living room.”

“He can come up here, if that’s better for you. I’m sorry to put you through all this trouble, after everything you’ve done for me.”

She waved me off and went to collect Patrick. I sighed, knowing that my brief reprieve was over. Ben or Harding had spilled the beans about what had happened to me, and Patrick had likely come for answers.

I took my chance to slip into some of the clothes I’d brought and settled to wait on the chair. It was the only seat in the room. Patrick could stand.

He entered my room without a knock, looking severe and displeased. I’d met him only a handful of times before, and was always amazed at how different he and Ben were. Ben was tall and thin, and Patrick looked like solid muscle. I knew he’d been a three-sport athlete in prep school, and he didn’t look as if he’d stopped going to the gym since then.

“How did you find me?” I asked, before the door had fully closed.

“You should shut off the GPS on your phone if you don’t want anyone to find you.” He stood a few feet away from me, his arms crossed over his chest.   “Ben told me what happened.”

“Did he? And you thought it best to—what, exactly?”

“I’ve come to take you to Sorrell’s. We can help you.”

Anger flared and I seized it. Any chance to feel something other than paralyzing grief was most welcome. “Oh, like you helped me before? I know what you’re thinking, that you had something to do with this. But I know better than to trust you, or Sorrell. Whatever’s going on with me has nothing to do with you. What was that drug Beata dosed me with anyway? Some kind of magic potion?”

“I think you’ll find that to be an exaggeration. Its purpose is to merely amplify any natural abilities you may possess. There’s no timeline for its effects, no expiration. I believe you’re transitioning, and so does Harding, for that matter.”

“Transitioning?”

“Yes. From a Typical to a Peculiar.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Patrick shrugged. “It’s what the paranormals we work with call themselves, Peculiars. I think your natural abilities have finally surfaced, and I think you need help.”

“I don’t need help, Patrick. I need left alone.”

“You’re wrong. If what Harding and Ben told me is true, you’re not going to be able to work this out on your own. You’ll live forever, colorblind except for the auras you’re seeing. I think we can help.”

I flinched. Until that moment, I wasn’t sure what all they’d told him, but his words were crystal clear. Whether I liked it or not, Sorrell and his cronies knew what had happened to me. “Do you know what’s happening?”

Patrick grinned. “Actually, no, we don’t. We’ve never seen anything like this.”

I let out a groan. “Then how can you possibly help me?”

“Just because we don’t know exactly what it is, doesn’t mean we can’t help. Sorrell has practically made a career out of helping people like you use these abilities. Come with me, and we’ll get you sorted out.”

I weighed my options. I couldn’t go back home, and I couldn’t stay at this little B&B forever. I needed information, and a safe place to sort out this mess. “Alright. Fine. But, this feels like X-Men, Patrick. Is there a school for people like me? Am I going to get a uniform?”

Patrick shook his head. “Listen, lady. I’m just a suit. My job is to make sure you’re safe and bring you back to Sorrell. Someone else issues the leather pants.”

 

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