Seeing ghosts should make solving homicides easy, right? Not even close.
When detectives Maggie York and Josh Brandt catch a new murder investigation involving occult rituals, ghosts, and venomous snakes, it seems like a case that could only happen in New Orleans. Not only does the victim's ghost demand Maggie's attention, but three apparitions begin appearing to her…sending the detectives on a search for more bodies. They soon discover the ghostly trio has links to the Witching Hour Society, an organization of self-declared witches with far more going on behind the scenes. Meanwhile, a neighbor believes the victim killed his family with a curse, and the media eagerly sensationalizes the entire story.
Making things worse, Maggie and Josh have hit a rough spot in their personal relationship. The tension between them is already high when Josh's ex-fiancée arrives in town…and wants him back.
Soon the violence is escalating, the ghosts grow more aggressive, and the deeper Maggie and Josh dig, the stranger things get. Welcome to murder New Orleans’ style.
Stopping abruptly on the front door threshold, Maggie swept her gaze across the living room of the Garden District Victorian home, taking in the body of the matronly female victim and the carcass of the presumed killer sprawled on the polished floor. She drew in a shallow breath and placed one hand on the door frame, letting the eerie feel of the scene roll over her. It happened every time. She used to wonder why—before she knew her family origins. Now she just accepted it.
Her partner, New Orleans homicide detective Joshua Brandt and currently estranged lover, moved past her, no doubt welcoming the coolness of the air-conditioning. Unhampered by the strange sensations she experienced, he squatted next to the body.
Maggie closed the door, leaving the humid August heat outside, and circled to the far side of the victim. She noted, discarded, or filed away each detail, searching for the ones that would eventually lead them to a human predator.
Interesting scene, to say the least. Two sets of reddened punctures, one on the victim’s neck, the other on the left cheek. But no blood, only a faint odor of death thanks to the hard-working AC. Pleasant features—or would have been if the eyes weren’t wide open and fixed in a vacant stare—a few extra pounds but not excessive, hints of gray at the temples and roots of her short brunette hair. She’d been due for a touchup. A modern grandmother in faded jeans and a white shirt hanging open over a pale blue tank top.
“Valerie Preston, age sixty-one,” said the older of the two patrol cops who’d found the body. He checked his palm-sized notebook. “Lived alone. Widow of real estate businessman, Clive Preston, who’s been dead five years or more. Neighbor last saw her yesterday afternoon about five bringing home groceries.” He put his notes in his shirt pocket. “Looks like the snake killed her.”
“Maybe.” Josh learned forward to inspect the bite marks, and a shock of dark hair fell over his forehead. Maggie’s attention drifted to his strong profile, the sculpted cheekbones, the full black lashes. He hadn’t shaved this morning, and she imagined the dark bristles scraping softly across her skin. Whoa, girl. Another example of why they needed to step back from their relationship. They’d grown too close, too intense, placing their on-the-job partnership at risk.
A week ago, Josh had played the alpha male, stepping into a situation she could have handled, and it had nearly gotten him killed. They’d argued for days, and yesterday—after living with him the past four months—she’d moved back to her own apartment. Ostensibly to think it over, reassess. But Maggie wasn’t sure what would happen to them next. In spite of their casual, matter-of-fact conversation since he’d picked her up at her apartment a half hour ago, raw tension simmered under the surface.
The tightening of Josh’s jaw muscle, as it did when he held back strong emotion, sharpened her focus back to the scene…where it belonged. He looked up at the two patrolmen. “Hard way to die. Who shot the snake?”
Ally Shields grew up in the Midwest along the Mississippi River, still considers herself "a river rat," and currently resides near Des Moines. After a career in law and juvenile justice, she turned to full-time fiction writing in 2009. Her first urban fantasy, Awakening the Fire (Guardian Witch #1) was published in 2012, and she currently has twelve published novels. She loves to travel in the US and abroad and incorporates many of those settings into her books. Ms. Shields welcomes reader contact through her website and can frequently be found on Twitter.