After Moonrise, a new anthology by New York Times bestselling authors P.C. Cast and Gena Showalter, is on sale now from Harlequin HQN! We’re sure excited to check out these brand-stories from such great authors — so keep reading for two sneak peek excerpts from each story in the book!
About After Moonrise:
#1 New York Times Bestselling Author P.C. Cast
Being a psychic detective who can channel only negative emotions makes Kent Raef good at catching murderers, but bad at maintaining relationships. Then Lauren Wilcox arrives with a most intriguing case: her twin sister has been murdered and is communing with Lauren’s spirit—and sharing her body. Raef’s the only one who can track the killer and free the spirit. But soon he begins to wonder just which twin he wants to save…and why.
New York Times Bestselling Author Gena Showalter
Artist Aurora Harper is convinced she’s witnessed a crime—a murder so brutal she’s repressed the memories, only to paint the scene by the light of the moon. Now she needs her new neighbor, Detective Levi Reid, to help her track down the victim—and the killer. Levi’s dealing with his own memory issues, but one thing he knows for sure: Harper is meant to be his, and nothing can take her away from him—not in this life…and not in death.
Excerpt from “Possessed” by P.C. Cast:
The bully’s dad caused Raef to discover his Gift. It happened twenty-five years ago, but to Raef the memory was as fresh as this morning’s coffee. You just don’t forget your first time. Not your first orgasm, your first drunk, your first kill and, not for damn sure, your first experience of being able to Track violent emotions.
The bully’s name was Brandon. He’d been a big kid; at thirteen he’d looked thirty-five—and a rough thirty-five at that. At least, that’s what he’d looked like through nine-year-old Raef’s eyes. Not that Brandon picked on Raef. He hadn’t—not especially. Brandon mostly liked to pick on girls. He didn’t hit ‘em. What he did was worse. He found out what scared them, and then he tortured them with fear.
Raef discovered why the day Brandon went after Christina Kambic with the dead bird. Christina wasn’t hot. Christina wasn’t ugly. She was just a girl who had seemed like every other teenage girl to young Raef: she had boobs and she talked a lot, two things that, even at nine, Raef had understood were part of the pleasure and the pain of females.
Brandon didn’t target Christina because of her boobs or her mouth.
He targeted her because somehow he had found out she was utterly, completely terrified of birds.
The part of the day that was burned into Raef’s memory began after school. Brandon had been walking home on the opposite side of the street from Raef and his best friend, Kevin. On Brandon’s side of the street was a group of girls. They were giggling and talking at about a zillion miles per hour. Brandon was ahead of them and, as usual, by himself. Brandon didn’t really have any friends. Raef had barely noticed him and only kinda remembered that he’d been kicking around something near the curb.
Raef and Kevin had been talking about baseball tryouts. He’d wanted to be shortstop. Kev had wanted to be the pitcher. Raef had been saying, “Yeah, you got a better arm than Tommy. No way would Coach pick—”
That’s when Christina’s bawling had started.
“No, please no, stop!” She was pleading while she cried. Two of her friends had screamed and run off down the street. Two more had stayed and were yelling at Brandon to stop.
Brandon ignored all of them. He’d backed Christina against the fence to Mr. Fulton’s front yard, taken the smashed body of what was obviously a road-killed crow and was holding it up, real close to Christina, and making stupid cawing noises while he laughed.
“Please!” Christina sobbed, her face in her hands, pressing herself against the wooden fence so hard that Raef had thought she might smash through it. “I can’t stand it! Please stop!”
Raef had thought about how big Brandon was, and how much older Brandon was, and he’d stood there across the street, ignoring Kevin and doing nothing. Then Brandon pushed the dead bird into Christina’s hair and the girl started screaming like she was being murdered.
“Hey, this isn’t your business,” Kevin had said when Raef sighed heavily and started crossing the street.
“Doesn’t have to be my business. It just has to be mean,” Raef had shot back over his shoulder at his friend.
“Bein’ a hero’s gonna get you in a lot of trouble someday,” Kevin had said.
Raef remembered silently agreeing with him. But still he kept crossing the street. He got to Brandon from behind. Quickly, like he was fielding a ball, he snatched the bird out of Christina’s hair, and threw it down the street. Way down the street.
“What the fuck is your problem, asshole?” Brandon shouted, looming over Raef like a crappy version of the Incredible Hulk.
“Nothin’. I just think making a girl cry is stupid.” Raef had looked around Brandon’s beefy body at Christina. Her feet musta been frozen because she was still standing there, bawling and shaking, and hugging herself like she was trying to keep from falling apart. “Go on home, Christina,” Raef urged. “He ain’t gonna bother you anymore.”
It was about two point five seconds later that Brandon’s fist slammed into Raef’s face, breaking his nose and knocking him right on his butt.
Raef remembered he was holding his bleeding nose and looking up at the big kid through tears of pain and he’d thought, Why the hell are you so mean?
That’s when it happened. The instant Raef had wondered about Brandon, a weird ropelike thing had appeared around the boy. It was smoky and dark, and Raef had thought it looked like it must stink. It was snaking from Brandon up, into the air.
It fascinated Raef.
He stared at it, forgetting about his nose. Forgetting about Christina and Kevin, and even Brandon. All he wanted was to know what the smoky rope was.
“Fucking look at me when I’m talking to you! It’s sickening how easy it is to kick your ass!” Brandon’s anger and disgust fed the rope. It pulsed and darkened, and with a whoosh! it exploded down and into Raef. Suddenly Raef could feel Brandon’s anger. He could feel his disgust.
Completely freaked out, Raef had closed his eyes and yelled, not at Brandon, at the creepy rope, “Go away!” Then the most bizarre thing happened. The rope-thing had gone away, but in Raef’s mind he went with it. It was like the thing had turned into a telescope and all of a sudden Raef saw Brandon’s home—inside it. Brandon was there. So were his dad and mom. His dad, an older, fatter version of Brandon, was towering over his mom, who was curled up on the couch, holding herself while she cried and shook like Christina had just been doing. Brandon’s dad was yelling at his mom, calling her an ugly, stupid bitch. Brandon watched. He looked disgusted, but not at his dad. His look was focused on his mom. And he was pissed. Really, really pissed.
It made Raef want to puke. The instant he felt sick, actually felt his own feelings again, it was like turning off a light switch. The rope disappeared, along with the telescope and the vision of Brandon’s house, leaving Raef back in the very painful, very embarrassing present.
Raef opened his eyes and said the first thing that popped into his head. “How can you blame your mom for your dad being so mean?”
Brandon’s body got real still. It was like he quit breathing. Then his face turned beet-red and he shouted down at Raef, spit raining from his mouth. “What did you just say about my mom?”
Raef often wondered why the hell he hadn’t just shut up. Got up. And run away. Instead, like a moron, he’d said, “Your dad picks on your mom like you pick on girls. I know ’cause I just saw it. Inside my head. Somehow. I don’t know how, though.” Raef had paused, thought for a second and then added, trying to figure it out aloud, “Your dad was calling your mom an ugly, stupid bitch last night. You watched him.”
Then the weird got, like, weird squared because Brandon reacted as if Raef had all of a sudden grown two feet, gained a hundred pounds and punched him in the gut. The big kid looked sick, scared even, and started backing away, but before he turned and sprinted down the street, he yelled the words that would cling to Raef for the rest of his life. “I know what you are! You’re worse than a nigger, worse than a creeper. You’re a Psy—a fucking freak. Stay the hell away from me!”
Oh, shit. It was true. No way…no way…
Raef had sat there, bloody, confused and—embarrassingly enough—bawling, while his best friend called his name over and over, trying to get him to snap out of it. “Raef! Raef! Raef…”
“Mr. Raef? Raef? Are you there, sir?”
Coming back to the present, Raef shook himself, mentally and physically, and picked up the phone, punching the intercom button off. “Yeah, Preston, what is it?”
“Mr. Raef, your zero-nine-hundred appointment is here, thirty minutes early.”
Raef cleared his throat and said, “You know, Preston, it’s a damn shame my Gift doesn’t include predicting the future, or I’d have known that and been ready for her.”
“Yes, sir, but then I would probably be out of a job,” Preston retorted with his usual dry humor.
Raef chuckled. “Nah, there’d still be all that filing to do.”
“It’s what I live for, sir.”
“Glad to hear it. Okay, give me five and send her in.”
“Of course, Mr. Raef. Then I’ll get back to my filing.”
Raef blew out a breath, grabbed his half-empty coffee mug and stalked over to the long credenza that sat against the far wall of his spacious office. He topped off the coffee and then stood there, unmoving, staring out the window. Not that he was actually seeing the excellent view of Tulsa’s skyline on this crisp fall day. Kent Raef was trying to scratch the weird itch that had been tickling his mind all morning.
What the hell was wrong with him? Why the walk down memory lane this morning? God, he hated the thought of that day—hated remembering that scared, crying kid he’d been. He’d just wanted to be shortstop for his team, and try to fit in with everyone else. Instead, he’d been a psychic. The only one in his class. Norms didn’t react so well to a Psy—especially not a nine-year-old Psy that could Track violent emotions, no matter how supportive his parents had been—no matter how cool it had been when the USAF Special Forces had recruited him. Raef hated remembering those years and the pain in the ass it had been learning to deal with his Gift and the way asshole Norms reacted to it.
It made him feel like shit to go back there—to revisit those memories. Today it also made him feel kinda shaky, kinda strange. If he didn’t know better he’d think he was picking up emotions from someone—soft emotions, like yearning and desire, overshadowed by a deep melancholy.
“Shit, Raef, get it together,” he grunted to himself. He did know better. Soft emotions? He snorted. His psychic powers didn’t work that way—didn’t ever work that way. A pissed-off jerk who took out his problems by kicking his dog was the softest Psy Tracking he’d ever picked up. “I need to get a life,” he muttered as he returned to his desk and sat down, just in time for the single knock on the door. “Yeah, come in,” he snapped.
The door opened, and his secretary, Preston, announced, “Mrs. Wilcox to see you, Mr. Raef.”
Raef automatically stood as the tall blonde entered his office. He held out his hand to her, and ignored the fact that she hesitated well into the realm of rudeness before she shook it. A lot of Norms didn’t like to be touched by his kind, but she had come to him, not the other way around, and so she was going to have to play by his rules. On his team, a handshake was nonnegotiable.
Of course, her hesitation might be due to the fact that his skin was too brown for her liking—she did have the look of one of those fiftysomething, old-oil-money cougars who were convinced that their shit didn’t stink, and that the only reason God made anyone with skin a darker shade than lily-white was because of the unfortunate but unavoidable need for menial laborers.
“Constance Wilcox,” she said, finally taking his hand in a grip that was surprisingly firm. He recognized the name as belonging to one of Tulsa society’s elite, though he definitely didn’t move in those circles.
“Kent Raef. Coffee, Mrs. Wilcox?”
She shook her head with a curt motion. “No, thank you, Mr. Raef.”
“All right. Please have a seat.” Raef waited for her to settle into one of the straight-backed leather chairs in front of his wide desk before he sat. He didn’t particularly like the fact that he’d had old-world gentleman programmed into his genes, but some habits were just not worth the effort it took to break them.
“What can I do for you, Mrs. Wilcox?”
“Don’t you already know that?”
He tried not to let his annoyance show. “Mrs. Wilcox, I’m sure my secretary explained that I wouldn’t be Reading you. That’s now how my Gift works. So, relax. There’s no reason for you to be nervous around me.”
“If you can’t read my mind, how do you know that I need to relax and that I’m nervous?”
“Mrs. Wilcox, you’re sitting ramrod straight and you’ve got your hands so tightly laced together that your fingers are white. It doesn’t take a psychic to tell that you’re tense and that your nerves are on edge. Anyone with half a brain and moderate powers of observation could deduce that. Besides that, my Gift deals with the darker side of the paranormal. People don’t come to me to find lost puppies or communicate with the ghost of Elvis. People come to me because bad things have happened to them or around them, and bad things happening in a person’s life tend to make him or her—” he tipped his head to her in a slight nod “—nervous and tense.”
She glanced down at her clasped hands and made a visible effort to relax them. Then she looked back at him. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m not comfortable with this.”
“This?” No, hell, no. He wasn’t going to make it any easier for her. Not this morning. Not when it felt like something was trying to crawl under his skin. He was fucking sick and tired of dealing with people who hired psychics from After Moonrise, but acted as if they’d find it more desirable to work side by side with someone who was unclogging their backed-up septic tank—by hand.
“Death.” She said the word so softly Raef almost didn’t hear her.
He blinked in surprise. So, it wasn’t the psychic part that had her acting like an ice queen—it was the dead part. That was easier for him to understand. Death, specifically murder, was his job. But that didn’t mean he liked it, either.
“Death is rarely a comfortable subject.” He paused and, realizing there was a distinct possibility he had come off like a prick, attempted to look understanding. “All right, Mrs. Wilcox, how about we start over. You do your best to relax, and I’ll do my best to help you.”
Her smile was tight-lipped, but at least it was a smile. “That sounds reasonable, Mr. Raef.”
“So, you’re here because of a death.”
“Yes. I am also here because I don’t have anywhere else left to go,” she said.
He’d definitely heard that before, and it didn’t make him feel all warm and cuddly and saviorlike, as it would have made some of After Moonrise’s other psychics like Claire or Ami or even Stephen feel. Which made sense. They could sometimes save people. Raef only dealt with the aftermath of violence and murder. There was no damn salvation there.
“Then let’s get to it, Mrs. Wilcox.” He knew he sounded gruff, intimidating even. He meant to. It usually made things move faster.
“My daughter Lauren needs your help. She’s why I’m here.”
“Lauren was murdered?” Raef dropped the gruffness from his voice. Now he simply sounded clinical and detached, as if he was a lab technician discussing ways to deal with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. He picked up his pen, wrote and underlined Lauren at the top of a fresh legal pad, and then glanced back at Mrs. Wilcox, waiting semipatiently for the rest of the story.
She pressed her lips together into a tight line, clearly trying to hold in words too painful to speak. Then she drew a deep breath. “No, Lauren was not murdered. She is alive, but she’s not whole anymore. She’s only partially here. I need your help to restore her spirit.”
“Mrs. Wilcox, I think there has been a mistake made in scheduling. It sounds to me like you need to meet with another member of the After Moonrise team—one of our shamans who specialize in shattered souls. My powers only manifest if there is a murder involved.” He started to lift the phone to buzz Preston, but her next words made him hesitate.
“My daughter was murdered.”
“Mrs. Wilcox, you just said that Lauren is alive.”
“Lauren is alive. It’s her twin, Aubrey, who was murdered.”
Excerpt from “Haunted” by Gena Showalter:
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma SIG-Sauer: eight hundred dollars.
Case of bullets: thirty dollars.
Shooting your neighbor in the face for going through your trash after you’d already warned him there would be consequences if he ever dared to do it again: priceless.
And I’ll do it, too, Detective Levi Reid vowed as he polished the gun in question. My stuff is my stuff. Even my trash! He’d moved into the King’s Landing apartment complex three weeks ago, but he still wasn’t sure why. Or how. Fine, he knew how. He didn’t like it, and would never admit the truth to anyone but himself, but every day he experienced some sort of blackout. He would snap out of it missing anywhere from five minutes to five hours. Or, in the case of this apartment, seven days.
Honestly, here’s what he knew about the events leading up to such a major loss: he’d followed a suspicious-looking guy to the building’s back entrance. The end. He’d next woken up inside this very room, all of his things surrounding him. He had no idea when he’d packed his stuff, given his home of six years to a stranger or rented this spacious though rundown two-bedroom hellhole totally not suitable for a king.
His coworkers hadn’t come looking for him because he was currently on a forced leave of absence. He didn’t have a girlfriend and had already canceled all of his “mandatory” appointments with the shrink. So, he’d decided to stay put, just in case another blackout struck and he came to someplace worse.
First he’d fumed about his total lack of control—and there were holes in his walls to prove it. Then he’d sunk into a (manly) depression. Manly: no crying or whining, just staring stoically—if not sexily—into the darkness. Now he pondered. He should have manned up and moved somewhere better, but some part of him had actually grown to like it here, despite everything.
Situated at the edge of downtown Oklahoma City, his new home gave him an up close and personal view of the homeless who littered the streets, the prostitutes who constantly hunted prey and the dealers who made back-alley sales day and night. He’d come to this area countless times while on the job, and it had always given him the creeps. (Again, in a manly way.) And okay, okay. The building wasn’t as bad as he remembered. Someone had fixed it up, made it habitable.
His neighbors weren’t so bad, either, he supposed. They had their quirks, but who didn’t?
The guy in 211 skulked around every corner as if a serial killer had his number—and that number was up. Any time Levi heard a suspicious noise and decided to check the halls, the guy glued himself to Levi’s side, crying and begging Levi to help but refusing to answer any questions or share any details.
The girl in 123 liked to tiptoe up and down the halls at all hours of the day and night, stopping to attempt to X-ray vision her way past every door she encountered. Any time Levi walked past her, her attention would swing to him and she would say something spine-chilling like, “I miss my baby. Will you be my baby?” Or, his favorite, “What will you do when you’re dead? Dead, dead, dead, you’re so dead.”
The guy in 409 was Mr. Dumpster Diver.
As of last week, a redheaded stunner and her pretty blonde roommate had moved in. They might be as weird as the rest of them, but he was thinking about asking the redhead out. He wasn’t a fan of dating, but he sure did like getting laid. Right now he sat at his kitchen table, his SIG in pieces and mixed with his cleaning supplies. He greased the gun’s rails, put the slide on, removed the slide and wiped off the rails, each action automatic. He’d done this a thousand times before, and now found the act calming.
Calm, something he was supposed to maintain. Apparently, if you were on the job and attacked an alleged serial killer who liked to store body parts in his freezer, you’d be told you had “temper issues” and needed to take time to “think and rest.” What he really needed was a distraction. So, okay, fine. No more thinking about asking Red out. He’d just do it. Hopefully, she was into rough-looking homicide detectives who were possessive of their stuff but trying to learn to share. Also, Levi wasn’t interested in one-night stands and actually expected commitment. And despite popular opinion, he did know how to smile.
A hard knock at his door brought his head snapping up. Probably just another neighbor here to ask to hide from Johnny Law or to tell him the end was near. “Go away. No one’s here.”
Another knock, this one harder, more insistent. “I won’t bite,” she said. “At least, not more than a few times.”
He liked her voice. Soft and sweet, yet determined. Still, an intelligent person didn’t offer to nibble on strangers.
Motions swift, he put his gun back together and shoved it in the back of his running shorts. The weight created bigtime sag, never a good thing but especially not when he was shirtless. His uninvited guest would probably get a peek at his goods, but by the time he finished with her that wouldn’t be the worst of her worries. She needed to learn the consequences of this kind of behavior.
But…then he glanced through the peephole and spied the redhead’s roommate, the pretty blonde. Teaching her a lesson took a backseat to getting rid of her. Last time he’d seen her, she’d made him feel a tide of guilt and shame. Why, he didn’t know. Didn’t care. He just didn’t want to deal with her. The moment he opened the door, however, urgency took a backseat to concern. She was highlighted by flickering overhead light, chewing on her nails and shifting nervously from one foot to the other. Crimson specks marred her cheeks and splattered her hands. Blood?
Frowning, he opened the door wider. “Are you okay, ma’am?” Eyes of ocean-blue narrowed on him, her gaze becoming a laser that sliced through f lesh. She stopped chewing and shifting at least, and no feelings of guilt or shame rose to the surface. “Ma’am? Did you just call me ma’am?”
“Yes, ma’am. Are you okay?”
“Wow, that hurts!” she said, ignoring his question a second time. “Just how old do you think I am?”
A minefield of a query, and one he was better off disregarding. He motioned to her stained hands with a tilt of his chin, even as he reached for the handle of his gun. “Let’s try this again. Are you hurt?” He scanned the walkway. Empty. No suspicious shadows, marks or noises. “Is someone following you? Bothering you?”
“Why would you—” She glanced down, chuckled and wiggled her fingers at him. “This is paint. I’m a painter.”
Paint. No mortal danger, then. His concern faded, and the surliness resurfaced. “Then what are you doing here?” Okay, so he probably should have pretended to be nice. She’d tell her friend he was a tool, and the friend would tell him she’d rather date a dishrag when he finally asked her out.
“As I was saying,” she continued blithely. “My amazing art does not contain…” A shudder of revulsion shook her. “You know.”
What? Blood? Probably. So many people had an aversion to the stuff, but he’d never had such qualms. “‘You know’?” he parroted.
“Yeah. The elixir of life.”
You’re kidding me. “And the elixir of life is?” Levi was having what he suspected was fun for the first time since his suspension. The girl was brave enough to knock on a stranger’s door and demand he open up, but she couldn’t say a certain five-letter word? How cute was that?
She ran her tongue over her teeth and whispered, “Fine. I can do this. It’s B-L-O-O-D.” Another shudder shook her. Would it be rude to laugh at her? She’d actually spelled the word rather than said it.
His stance softened, and he allowed his arm to fall to his side. “So you’re an artist, huh?”
“An amazing artist.”
“I don’t know about amazing,” he said, “but you’re definitely modest.” And she was more than cute, he realized. She was short and curvy, her face something you might find on a little girl’s favorite doll, with big blue eyes, a button nose and heart-shaped lips. She was utterly adorable.
“By the way,” he added, “being called ‘sir’ would be a reason to have a hissy. Ma’am’s all good. I say that to everyone with—” his gaze automatically dropped to give her a onceover, but he got caught on her breasts, which were straining the fabric of her pajama top. He managed to jerk his attention back up and choke out “—estrogen.” Girl was stacked.
“Good point,” she said, tossing that tumble of pale hair over one shoulder, “but I assure you, I’m all woman.”
Noticed. Believe me. Rather than voice the sentiment aloud— and risk finding his testicles in his throat—he gave her a single nod of affirmation. “No argument here.”
A relieved breath left her. “Thank you for not telling me I need to double-check my woman card.”
“A double check isn’t necessary.” Are you…flirting?
“Well, isn’t the big, strong he-man sweet?”
“Yes, ma’am, he is.”
He wasn’t the type to flirt, but yeah. Yeah, he was flirting, and she was flirting back.
He’d planned to ask the redhead out, not really wanting anything to do with the blonde and all that guilt and shame she’d caused, but now, with the emotions out of the way, he changed his mind. He wanted this one.
In female-speak, that meant he wanted to get to know her better. In male-speak, he wanted her in his bed, like, now. She was young, probably in her mid-twenties, with that cascade of wavy blond hair, blond brows and blond lashes, those delicate doll features and the fair skin of someone who preferred to hiss at the sun rather than to bask in it. And she was—
Familiar. He knew her, he realized. Somehow, someway, he knew her. Finally, an explanation as to why he’d felt what he’d felt when she’d first moved in, and yet he had no idea when or where they would have met.
“You’re staring,” she said, chewing on her bottom lip. A nervous habit, definitely. One that made him think she was slightly…broken.
A protective instinct he usually only experienced on the job sprang to life. Annnd, yes, there was the guilt and the shame again.
Why? Why would he feel this way about her?