Supernatural Criminal Investigations Book 1: The Kindling Burns
A woman with a secret grieving her daughter’s loss. This was meant to be where Katherine and her daughter were supposed to hide and be safe. Instead, her daughter mysteriously dies, with no answers in sight.
Katherine Troy stood still and silent beside her daughter’s open grave. Around her, the quiet sobs of friends, neighbors, classmates, and teachers carried on the summer wind.
She envied how freely they gave themselves over to grief. Katherine knew if she let her suffering out, even for a moment, it would be an all-consuming howl that would chill everyone to the bone.
Rather than give in to the tsunami of emotion swirling inside her, she pushed it all into a room in the back of her mind and padlocked the door. She forced herself to focus on her daughter’s best friend as the girl finished the last eulogy.
“It’s so unfair. We shouldn’t have to say goodbye to Jess. Not yet,” Hannah Campbell said. Her thin arms wrapped around her midsection like she was holding herself together. Tears had left discernible tracks through the makeup applied with a heavier hand than a thirteen-year-old should have.
Katherine never allowed Jess to wear so much face paint—their fights over the matter were epic. Neighbors even called the police during a legendary row.
She let her mind linger on the memory of her daughter’s face the last time she saw her alive. It was midnight the night before she died. Jess sang along at the top of her lungs to an Ariana Grande tune as she rummaged in the fridge for a late-night snack—growth spurt hormones, Kat had guessed.
She looked every bit the classic kid caught between girlhood and young womanhood. She had started to fill out physically but still wore the blue tie-dye pajama set with the butterflies all over it that she loved so much.
Kat had wished she could freeze time and keep her a little girl for a while longer. She had wanted perfect happiness for her child, and if eating the egg rolls Kat had bought for herself made her happy, so be it.
Katherine’s chest constricted with grief, and she almost let it out. It didn’t help that every scent in the air for miles dominated her senses. The perfumes and aftershaves of the people around the grave were a riot of overpowering flowers, citruses, and spices. The crushing weight of pollen hung heavy, and on top of that was…what was that? It was stale and reminiscent of ammonia. Old cigars, maybe?
It was almost painful, and for some strange reason, she was nauseous and hungry at the same time. She needed to eat. Soon. She felt like screaming.
Stop it, Katherine silently chided herself. You can’t lose control. Not here. It was a fight to quell nausea caused by the odors bombarding her. She forced her attention back to Hannah. The girl spoke so fast that Katherine wondered how the kid could get all the words out and still breathe.
“We had plans, y’know? Like, we were supposed to go to high school and the same college and share a room so we could stay up all night talking and doing homework.” She paused and quirked a little smile at Katherine. “Well, mostly talking, I guess. Jess loved to talk. Like, a lot.”
The mourners chuckled, a little levity on the heaviest of days. Katherine couldn’t join in. She didn’t want to smile or laugh or let go. She wanted to jump into the hole in the ground, rip the lid off the coffin with her bare hands, scoop her baby up, and fly away.
Ruby’s steady hand rested on her arm. “Hold on to me, Kat. Hold on tight,” she whispered.
Katherine didn’t need to be told twice. She clung to her friend’s hand like Ruby was the last lifeline in the world.
“We were supposed to travel.” Hannah’s breath caught in her throat as she spoke. Her brow creased as she struggled to get the words out. “We were supposed to date hot guys, write books, and wear gorgeous clothes.
“She was so funny and smart and kind. She hated it when anyone was hurting. When anyone in our group was sad, she would cheer us up with silly magic tricks—like trying to make a feather float by itself or making our pens disappear while doing chemistry homework.”
“Shit,” Katherine whispered as she glanced sideways at Ruby.
“The girl was never big on following rules,” Ruby whispered back. “Too much like her mama.”
“Humph,” Kat grunted. She couldn’t deny the truth, though. Jess was her mini-me in every way possible—good and not-so-good.
“We never could figure out how she pulled off those tricks,” Hannah continued with a small smile. “She always said something lame like ‘magicians never reveal their secrets.’ We figured fishing line and mirrors were involved.”
The girl’s gaze lingered on the grave. Her smile disappeared, and a pensive look replaced it as she bit her lower lip to keep from crying again. “I want to talk to her one more time. That’s all. Just one more talk.” She paused to sniffle. Someone offered a handkerchief, but she waved it away. Instead, she unfolded a sheet of paper she’d been holding.
“In English Lit this term, we learned about Victorian poetry. Jess really got into it. For one assignment, we had to choose a poet and write something that sounded like them. Jess loved Christina Rossetti, who wrote about death a lot. This is what she wrote for her poem, and it blew everyone away.” Hannah cleared her throat and began reading.
“Say goodbye and say it soon.
In case our moment wanes like notes of a fading tune.
Say you love me always, and say it now,
In case the new day comes, and we’ve no time for vows.
Don't let time pass us by.”
Katherine didn’t think she could hurt any more than she was. Then razor-sharp bits of memories stabbed her of five-year-old Jess writing a funny poem about Ruby. No more poems. There will be no more poems.
Hannah continued reading.
“I'll be gone tomorrow, or maybe today,
please say what's real while I'm here and don't shy away.
Say what's true, my fam… Shout it with love,
I need a miracle beyond the physical before I take wing like a dove.
Don't question the magic; just let it fly.
Remember me tomorrow and next year and forever,
Use our mem’ries to heal, not reel ‘cos we’re severed.
Pass on your love and hope, your brilliant steadfast strength, too.
Cast spells so love dwells in other hearts; this is your cue.
Don’t hoard love or let it die.”
As she finished the last line, Hannah choked out a sob and melted into the arms of a tall, gangly boy who hadn’t fully grown into his limbs.
The lad didn’t look entirely comfortable with the public display of grief, and—except for a few awkward attempts at comfort pats on her back—he stood motionless as his girlfriend cried.
“Thank you, Hannah.” The funeral celebrant spoke with heavy solemnity. “Thanks to all of you who shared your remembrances today.
“It is said that death leaves a heartache no one can heal, and love leaves a memory no one can steal. Today, you have celebrated the life of an amazing young woman. So, we say our final goodbyes to Jessenia Rose Troy with heavy hearts. To her mother Katherine, we all want to say, while your grief may feel like an endless road, you don’t have to travel it alone. Lean on those who can help bear your burden.”
As the mourners began to disperse, Kat stared into the earth where Jessenia’s flower-covered coffin lay. The blur of the last week since her death felt endless. She knew this ordeal wouldn’t be over until someone could tell her what happened to her girl.
There had been no warning. The kid was okay when she went to bed one night, in a coma by sunrise, and dead by nightfall. It all happened too frighteningly fast, and she had no answers.
As a small cluster of people parted, Kat spotted her boss, Elias Winters, the Humanities department chair at Millford University. He was also a friend. He offered a tentative wave as he approached. “I'm so very sorry, Kat.” He reached out to hug her. His already deep voice was raspy with emotion. Katherine noticed he swallowed hard and cleared his throat several times before he spoke again—it looked like he was losing the battle to keep his emotions in check. “Take as much time as you need before coming back to work,” he said.
“I’ll be in class on Monday,” Kat replied.
“You mean this Monday? As in two days from now?” His voice had a crystal clear “are you sure” tone. “You can take more time. It’s not a problem.”
“Thank you, Elias. I’m fine,” Katherine lied.
She was the furthest from fine she had been in eons, but she wanted to work. She needed to work to keep her mind occupied and away from the realities of a nest emptied way too soon. “If I need anything, I’ll let you know.”
“No, she won’t be back on Monday.” Ruby stepped between them as bold as the wide-brimmed fuchsia hat on her head. She stuck her hand out to Elias. “I’m Ruby, Kat’s best friend. I’m in charge of ensuring this girl gets some rest and doesn’t push herself too hard for a little while. She’ll be happy to take a few weeks off work.”
Elias accepted her offered hand with a sigh of relief. “Good.” He leveled a fatherly gaze at Kat. “Listen to your friend, my dear. It’s good to have someone like her with you right now.
“I’ve already arranged as much of a sabbatical as you need with the dean. He sends his condolences, by the way. I asked Professor Tyler to cover your folklore and mythology classes for as long as you need. I’m still working on getting someone to take the Ancient Greek and Early European History courses.”
“Tyler. The prof from Cambridge who rides a motorbike?” Kat invoked the image of Sally Tyler, an outgoing and energetic British professor completing a year-long fellowship at Millford University. They had become friendly over the last term, and Kat knew she would do a great job with her students. “I like her. She’s a wonderful teacher. Ok, I’ll be back in a few weeks then. Thank you.”
Elias paused a moment with a bemused twinkle in his eye as he smiled at Ruby, then at Katherine. “Ruby. Isn’t that your cat’s name?”
“Why, yes, it is the cat’s name,” Ruby replied. “It also happens to be my name.”
“Who came along first, you or the cat?”
“That’s what we call a chicken and the egg question.” Ruby grinned with a sparkle in her eyes. Kat jabbed an elbow into Ruby’s ribs, and Ruby—eyes still on Professor Winters—returned it.
“Well, it’s lovely to meet you.” The professor’s bemusement turned to wonder as he gazed at Ruby. “I’m sorry.” He blushed. “I’m not normally this forward with women. I hope you don’t mind my saying that your eyes are…striking.”
Ruby glanced down and looked up at him through her thick lashes. “That’s very sweet of you to say.”
“They’re as gold as amber. No, wait, they’re deeper than that.” He paused, studying Ruby’s eyes. “They’re like a topaz. I’ve never met anyone with topaz eyes before.”
Ruby leaned in and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “Can I let you in on a little secret?”
The professor nodded and leaned closer, his mouth open like a schoolboy anticipating his first kiss. Kat rolled her eyes.
“They’re contact lenses.” Ruby winked. “I’m blind as a mole diggin’ a tunnel without them. But I have to wear them, so I might as well have fun with them.”
“Oh.” Elias deflated. “Of course, call on me if either of you needs anything. I live only a few blocks away from our dear professor here, so it’s no trouble to bring food over or cut the grass.”
“There you go being sweet again, but—” Kat exaggerated her wave. Ruby got the sarcastic jab at her expense. She also sensed an imminent refusal and quickly cut Katherine off. Again.
“It is lovely of you,” Ruby said. “Such a kind offer, Professor. We’d love to take you up on it. We could use some help with the yard work. Does tomorrow work for you?”
He nodded eagerly. “It does. How does eight o’clock sound?”
“Better make it nine. Yardwork too early on a Sunday morning makes the neighbors cranky. Thank you, Professor Winters. It is such a comfort to have friends and neighbors help out during this difficult time.”
“It is my pleasure, dear lady.” He took Ruby’s hand in both of his. “Please, call me Elias.”
Kat spotted Mrs. Hartnell saying goodbye to the students still gathered near Jess’ grave. It seemed nobody wanted to leave. She caught the teacher’s eye and lifted her hand in a slight wave. Mrs. Hartnell responded with a small wave before laying her hand on her heart.
“Excuse me a moment,” Kat said. “I want to catch up with Jess’ English teacher before she leaves.”
As she walked toward Mrs. Hartnell, Katherine caught a distinct yet familiar scent in the wind. She turned in a circle, scanning the trees and up the crest of the hill leading to the parking lot.
On her left, in a copse of elms a hundred or so yards in the distance, she glimpsed a regal-looking man sporting short-cropped hair and wearing an immaculately tailored suit.
For the first time in what seemed like forever, Katherine felt some tension leave her shoulders.
The man raised a hand in brief acknowledgment, and she returned the greeting. Kat allowed herself a quick smile. When she blinked, he was gone.
Kat glanced back at Ruby. Her friend returned the smile with a sarcastic smirk.
Ruby had seen him too and wasn’t happy about his unannounced arrival. He wasn’t supposed to know where they were hiding.
There was also the fact that she loathed Ozul Reyes.
Ruby returned to her conversation with Elias, waiting until they got in the car to broach the subject of Ozul, so Kat chatted with Mrs. Hartnell. As the remaining mourners departed—mostly Jess’ friends and their parents—they stopped to hug Kat and promised to deliver casseroles, cakes, and homemade pies to the house over the next few days.
There were pros and cons to taking refuge in a small Midwestern town. One benefit was the food people brought when neighbors pulled together in a crisis. The flip side was that everyone knew everybody else’s business, and nobody kept their mouths shut. Kat couldn’t allow the townspeople to learn anything more about her, Jess, and Ruby than the carefully crafted script they had fed the locals over the last thirteen years. The more they knew, the more questions they'd ask.
It can't be that a perfectly healthy young girl simply died in the night. There has to be something more to this story. Find out on August 3rd, when The Kindling Burns: Supernatural Criminal Investigations Book 1 is released. Until then head over to Amazon and pre-order today.