Hounded:A Steamy Shifter MysteryBy: Tasha Black
She strategically left her latte behind, so that Van would have to wait.
The door jingled as she and Seth exited. He trotted across the street to the line of trees next to the grocery store, and ducked behind one.
Dulcie gamely stepped behind the trees with him. The shade was pleasant, though she was pretty sure the grocery store crowd wouldn’t have spied on their conversation.
“Dulcie,” Seth said simply, gazing at her.
“Isn’t that the guy who… you know?” he suggested, embarrassed to state plainly that Van slept around.
“He’s a client, Seth,” Dulcie explained, though she knew she would have been within her rights to tell him it was none of his business.
“Oh,” Seth nodded, though she could still sense a trace of concern on him. She didn’t like using her gift to read people she considered friends, but it wasn’t like she could just turn it off.
“So what’s up?” she asked, allowing just a trace of impatience to color her tone.
He shook his head slightly as if to clear it.
“Dulcie, there’s a body, he began. “Technically, it’s a heart attack. But that’s not the whole story.”
“Aren’t the detectives going to investigate it?” she asked.
“They’re too busy chasing down those missing people,” Seth said with some annoyance.
There had been a rash of missing people in Woodland Creek this fall. It was disturbing, though Dulcie was sure there was some explanation. She supposed it all came of living in a town that was practically on a fault line of magic and shifters.
“If it was a heart attack, how could there be something else?” she asked gently.
“It was his face. He was terrified, Dulcie,” Seth whispered. “I think he died of… fear.”
“Heart attacks are painful, Seth. Wouldn’t you be scared?” Dulcie reasoned. “You must have seen bodies that looked that way before.”
“Actually, the endorphins released at the time of death often leave a rather peaceful look,” he explained. “But there’s something else. There were paw prints near the corpse. Big ones.”
There were two kinds of people in Woodland Creek, those who knew, and those who didn’t.
The town was located at the intersection of two ley-lines.
That meant that shifters like Van and magical beings were drawn here, without even understanding why.
They lived out their lives in Woodland Creek, trying to fit in with the human majority, but secure in one another’s company. Many of the gifted population of the town could sense the otherworldliness in their peers, but specific abilities and animals were a personal matter.
Dulcie had the dubious honor of being both an empath and a shifter. Though her shifting was… unimpressive at best. She seldom did it, though in childhood it was harder to control and she found herself shifting in dreams and waking up in her other skin, trembling and unable to shift back until her mother, a truly gifted empath, sensed her anguish and came to calm her.
Seth Cho was saddled with no such abilities. And as a result, he had no knowledge whatsoever of the teeming world of second selves and the web of magic spun around the town.
At times, Dulcie wondered how Seth could possibly live in Woodland Creek and suspect nothing. For heaven’s sake, he was the coroner. But she supposed most people wouldn’t assume their town was full of magic and shifters.
She also wondered why the town would risk having a coroner who didn’t know. But coroners weren’t paid well and had to have a med school degree - not exactly a dime a dozen find in rural Indiana. Seth seemed to be a good-hearted and guileless man. They likely had assumed he would be easily directed and that they would’t find anything untoward in his reports.
If only they had anticipated his interest in murder mystery novels. It was a good thing he hadn’t discovered paranormal romance yet.
“I don’t know, Seth, I mean aren’t there dogs and animals from the preserve around? I’ll bet they checked out the body after the fact,” Dulcie said.
“It was Rudolph Barrymore,” Seth said quietly.
The Barrymores weren’t one of the founding families, but they had arrived when the ink on the covenants was still wet.
Seeing he had piqued her interest, Seth continued.
“Henry Barrymore is in town, and would love to talk with you. He wants you to come up to the house right now,” he said.
That was practically irresistible. Who wouldn’t want to see the Barrymore Mansion and meet the elusive Henry Barrymore?
Henry Barrymore was a reclusive, semi-obscure mystery novelist who wrote and published from his cabin on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario. They had just discussed his latest book, a locked-room mystery set in a coffee shop called Grounds for Murder, at last month’s Mystery Menagerie meeting.
He was also the last of the Barrymore line, which made him a very rich mystery novelist.
Except that Dulcie had Van, waiting for her at her own coffee shop.
She suppressed a groan. This was why she stuck to reading books.
“Okay, okay, just let me say good-bye to Van,” she said. “I’ll meet you up there.”