Craved (Gwen Sparks #1)(6) by Stephanie Nelson

“Come in,” I called. Fiona pushed the door open with her hand covering her eyes and said,

“Daddy’s gone and I have pizza out here.”

“You can uncover your eyes, Fiona, we’re just talking,” I told her. She dropped her hand and looked at us with humor.

“I thought you said you two weren’t dating?” she teased.

“We’re not, well we weren’t. It just kind of happened tonight.”

“Not for a lack of trying,” Aiden chimed in, “I must thank you and your father for interrupting what could have been the highlight of my year.”

“Sorry, he insisted on driving me home,” Fiona said.

“Um, excuse me, we were just making out. It wouldn’t have gone any further so you didn’t interrupt anything,” I told both of them. Fiona gave me a “yeah, right” look while Aiden smiled knowingly. I shook my head in aggravation; even I couldn’t convince myself.

We all sat around the table, Fiona and I stuffing our faces with pizza topped with chicken while Aiden drank bottled water. I really wanted to play twenty questions with Fiona about her father but I didn’t think she’d want Aiden to know her business, so I resolved to just ask later.

“So I take it you’re going to the Founder’s Gala together now?” Fiona asked between bites of pizza.

“Yep. Everyone will be envious of me with Gwen on my arm, no offense, Fiona,” Aiden bragged. I looked at him, remembering I had told him that I already had a date to the Gala, so I decided to have some fun with it.

“Aiden, I’m so sorry but I already have a date, remember?” I said and pretended to wince at the thought of offending him. The look of shock on his face was priceless.

“I thought you said you were going alone?” Fiona said, blowing my joke out of the water.

“I don’t remember saying that,” I said innocently.

“What his name?” Aiden said with suspicion. Crap on a cracker, I hadn’t thought that far ahead yet. I took entirely too long to answer but finally said,

“Jason.”

“You’re worse at lying than you are at resisting me,” Aiden laughed. I smiled at him, knowing the truth was now out.

“Hey, with all the crap you’ve put me through the last couple years, you deserve a little crap back,” I said.

All three of us were laughing and talking when my phone rang. I flipped it open and noticed it was Micah’s number.

“Hi, Micah, what do you need?” I said into the receiver.

“Another body has been found; meet me at Hollow Creek Park.”

6

I pulled my car into the wood-chipped parking lot and went to the passenger’s side to retrieve Aura, who wasn’t too happy that I had woken her up. There were two black SUVs with red and blue lights flashing against the darkness of the park. Micah and Wyatt stood at the edge of the woods, looking down at a body. Gruesome things were not my strong point. I got faint at the sight of blood from a paper cut, but helping out the FPD was rewarding just to know I might help catch the lunatic behind these girls’ deaths.

I walked over to where they stood, with Aura’s bag on my shoulder. Upon approaching, I noticed that the woman was older than Amy Harper. She looked to be in her later twenties or early thirties. She had short blonde hair and was just as pale as Amy had been. She was wearing jeans and a green sweater that was ripped in various places.

“Hey Gwen, thanks for coming,” Wyatt said. I gave him a sad smile, not really in the mood for pleasantries. It had only been a of couple days since Amy Harper’s body was found and now another woman lay before us, having met the same fate. I had to wonder when and if this was going to stop.

“Who found her?” I mumbled.

“Jasper Binx. He was running through the park and smelled her,” Micah said. Jasper Binx was part of the Flora werewolves and could have easily smelled the woman’s body in wolf form.

I nodded my head. “Do we know who she is?”

“Not yet,” Wyatt answered, “Would you like to try and read her memories?”

I nodded and set Aura’s carrier on the dewy grass. I kissed the top of her head and knelt in front of the mystery woman. Her body looked like it had just been tossed, leaving her legs splayed, and one of her arms lay above her head while the other arm lay limply at her side. Anger bubbled within me like a volcano ready to erupt, but I quashed it. I needed to focus to find out what happened.

I placed my palms against her temples and blanked out my mind. I concentrated on the steady hum of energy that flowed from Aura and channeled it into the woman’s mind, acting as the conduit.

Bright flashes danced within my view forcing me to squint my eyes. The darkness of the park gave way to a scene of a sunset-soaked park. Purple and orange smeared the sky and the woman pulled out a digital SLR camera to snap a picture of the beautiful landscape.

A twig snapped in the near distance and she turned her head to investigate. There was a couple walking on the blacktop trail and a man playing fetch with his dog, but no one was her. She turned her attention back to the beauty before her and snapped a few more pictures before putting the camera back into its bag. I noticed the name, Bridget Downing, was written on the inside flap of her bag.

The park disappeared and a flash of scenes rapidly played in my mind. I couldn’t get a handle on any one thing but her fear overtook my senses and made me fall back on my butt, causing the connection to wane. I was breathing hard, to the point of hyperventilating. Wyatt knelt where I sat on the wet grass and offered me a bottled water. My breathing slowly regained normalcy, but my hands were shaking slightly.

“Are you alright?” Wyatt asked with concern. I took a drink from the bottle and a couple of deep breaths before I could answer. Looking into the woman’s memories had affected me a lot more than Amy Harper’s had.

“Yeah, I’m fine. This woman hasn’t been dead long, her memories were strong,” I said with heavy breathing.

“Did you get a name or location?” Micah asked.

“I saw the name Bridget Downing on her camera bag but I’m not entirely sure if that was her name. She was in a park at first, but then it changed, and all I saw were incoherent memory flashes.”

Wyatt thought for a minute and then said, “You said she hasn’t been dead long?”

I nodded my head with complete certainty.

“I think we should change and try to catch a scent. The murderer’s scent will still be strong enough and if we’re lucky, they could still be around somewhere,” Wyatt said to Micah. Micah nodded and began to take off his clothes, with Wyatt mimicking his actions. The change from human to werewolf always played hell on their clothes so they stripped to avoid having to replace the damaged ones.

I regained my footing and picked up Aura’s pet carrier. I petted her head and told her she was a good girl. She rewarded me with a head nudge and loud purring.

Micah and Wyatt were already stripped down to their boxers and I averted my gaze from their exposed skin. I didn’t want Micah getting the wrong idea, should I enjoy the view too long. Both of their bodies were impressive. Broad shoulders that tapered to a thin muscled stomach and strong muscular legs.

“Am I done here?” I asked.

“Yeah, we’ll be awhile so you can head home. You okay to drive?” Wyatt asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, waving off his concerns.

“Okay, thank you, Gwen. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

I said my goodbyes and headed for my Jeep. Once I got in the driver’s seat, Wyatt and Micah were already transformed into wolves. Wyatt, in wolf form, was a rich brown color with red hints to his fur, while Micah’s wolf form was a caramel color with white decorating the tip of his tail. Seeing his wolf brought sad memories back to me that I quickly kicked to the curb, before starting my Jeep.

************

Once back home, I hopped in the shower to ease the tension of my vision. I had only experienced it that strongly one other time, and I wasn’t looking forward to it again.

The images of her memories occupied my mind while the hot water pounded against my back. I tried to remember more details but they happened too quickly. Whoever had killed her hadn’t wasted anytime, which wasn’t good; it meant they needed more of their supply.

Wyatt had said that brew was addictive. If that was the case, then this dealer had a strong following already. Nausea set in my stomach at the thought of their supply being the very blood that ran through my veins. I hadn’t ever been bitten by a vampire and now I was dating one. My fear made me question whether I should break all ties with Aiden, but that was my anxiety running wild with my thoughts. Supposedly brew only affected young vampires and Aiden, at 315 years old, posed no threat to my blood or me and made the thought vanish from my cluttered mind.

I sauntered out to the kitchen in my bright blue robe and almost got hit upside the head with a Pepsi can. Fiona cringed at the near miss. I blew out a breath and shook my head, opening the fridge to get my own Pepsi.

“Sorry,” she said. I waved off her apologies and sat at the table with her. She was flipping through a bride catalog and I arched my eyebrows with worry.

“Don’t tell me Liam popped the question already? Just because your father says you should be married doesn’t mean you automatically have to. At least date the guy for six months before you say yes,” I said, worried my best friend was making a monumental mistake.

“Will you relax? I’m looking for a dress for the Founder’s Gala, geez, Gwen,” she said. I silently thanked God and sent her an embarrassed smile, “Sorry. I know you’re smarter than that.”

“Damn right,” she said with a head nod, “So, you’re working with the FBD again?”

“Yeah,” I said simply.

“How are you doing with seeing Micah again?”

Fiona knew how upset I was when Micah dumped me and, like a true best friend, she helped me drown my sorrows with large amounts of alcohol. Never mind the hangover from hell the next morning, her intentions had been good.

“I’m fine. He actually apologized earlier today. I didn’t realize how much resentment I held against him, but after the apology it was like a weight had been lifted,” I said.

Fiona smiled. “So since Micah said he was sorry for breaking your heart, you opened yourself up to Aiden, literally?”

My jaw dropped and Fiona laughed harder. I had always been attracted to Aiden but stayed a safe distance from him. The closure Micah had given me had lowered my protective shields a little bit.

“The furthest I’ve gone with Aiden is what you saw tonight, thank you very much!” I said, defending myself.

“Yeah,yeah, so does he kiss as good as he looks?” she wiggled her eyebrows and I snorted at her lack of boundaries.

“Better,” I said, smiling in remembrance, “Anyway, how the heck are you going to get a dress out of a catalog by Saturday?”

Realizing that I wouldn’t elaborate any further on Aiden’s talents, she held the catalog up to show me a long pastel green gown with a deep v-neck.

“I just need a picture of the gown I want so Andy can make it. It only takes him a day and he already knows my measurements from all the clothes I buy from him. What do you think?”

Andy was a wiz when it came to creating something from nothing. Like most fairies, he had creative genius.

“It’s beautiful and you’ll look amazing in it,” I smiled at her. Aura jumped on my lap and I ran my hands through her thick, long fur. Petting her comforted me and after the day I had, I needed all the comfort I could get.

I realized Fiona was asking me something but it sounded muffled and drowned out by white noise. The scenery of the kitchen slowly began to be sucked inward with darkness following it. My heartbeat thumped against my ribcage like a captive animal fighting to escape. My fingers clenched Aura’s fur as if she were my anchor to reality but my kitchen kept disappearing until all that was left was darkness.

A gray figure sluggishly stepped forward, standing out like a spotlight against the blackness. Its head was hung and its hand outstretched, as if inviting me to touch it, but my dread had frozen me in the chair I remained seated in. Strobe-like flashes disoriented me, changing the blackened abyss into an abandoned house. Tattered curtains blew against the yellowing walls and the smell was redolent of mold. Stacks of old magazines and newspapers occupied various spots.

I caught movement out of my peripheral vision, and looked in the direction of the staircase. The gray figure was standing on the stairs, looking at me. When I didn’t move toward it, it continued up the steps, as if floating. I swallowed the lump of dread that had lodged itself in my throat and cautiously followed. The stairs groaned with each step I took, threatening to collapse under my weight. When I came to the second floor landing, the figure wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Unrelenting, I made my way down the hallway. The wallpaper was peeling in various places and a thick layer of dust blanketed everything.

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