The first book in the Prescience Series is coming early 2017!
New Orleans, Louisiana
Blue streaks and long spikes protruded every direction out of the ponytail elastic on top of Jerilyn’s head. Black lips and nails added to the dark, don’t-you-dare-mess-with-me look. She had adopted the carefully crafted image on the day she decided to stay in New Orleans. The persona she projected wasn’t her. Not at all. It was a disguise. In high school, she was a brainiac. Sensible clothes. Responsible habits. Excellent grades. Jeri had been the consummate good little girl, but she knew herself well enough to know her true nature was somewhere between good little girl and badass bitch.
Her parents didn’t understand her choices, and she couldn’t explain. Not when the secrets they kept from her were probably a large part of her problem. So when she decided to drop out of medical school and bartend, she hadn’t told them about that choice either. As far as they knew, she was still studying anatomy and medical ethics at Tulane Medical School.
She slid a glass across the bar toward a regular customer. Among all the tourists who ordered nothing but Hurricanes and Sazeracs, the guy was a bit of a challenge. He always had a new drink for her to mix. Today’s choice was a concoction he called Royal Blood. She’d mixed his drink with a huge squeeze of what appeared to be strawberry syrup from a bottle that he’d brought with him. The mess smelled horrible and looked practically toxic.
“Here ya go.”
Without looking at her, he grunted before lifting the glass and letting it hover near his lips for a long moment before taking the first sip.
“Is that the way you like it?” She didn’t expect him to respond. The weirdo rarely spoke more than a few words.
He nodded and dropped a ten on the counter. Always a good tipper. He exited the bar, and the place was empty of customers once again. Her shift usually ended just before the sun came up, and the weirdo was always her last customer. She’d found that Bourbon Street never slept, but there were times when it took a nice little nap. As it turned out, early morning was her favorite time of day. That’s when the fast pace slowed to a languid crawl.
The weirdo’s empty glass went into the soapy water behind the counter, discoloring the bubbles with a tinge of pink. She grabbed the soaked towel from behind the bar and began wiping down the counter for the last time just as the night bouncer Herb turned over the closed sign in the window. Until recently the bar had never closed, open 24/7, but ever since the shooting, the owner had closed it from six until ten in the morning.
Her hand slid through a few droplets of the red slimy substance she’d put into the weirdo’s drink. For a split second, she thought she saw a woman lying on the floor of the empty bar. Her glassy eyes stared straight at Jerilyn. Were her hands tied behind her back? Jeri dropped the wet towel and rubbed her fists over her closed eyes. When she opened her eyes again, the vision had disappeared.
He turned toward her before he set the lock on the front door. “Huh?”
She pointed to the spot where she’d seen the woman. “Is there someone lying on the floor over there?”
It wouldn’t be the first time someone was still passed out on the floor at closing time, or the first time a dead body had been left in that spot.
Herb squinted in the direction of the darkened corner of the room. “I don’t see nobody.”
The front door popped open, pushing Herb back a few steps, and a man entered. Herb groaned. Jeri had distracted him, and he hadn’t locked the door fast enough.
She nodded toward the sign on the door. “We’re closed until ten.”
When the man’s gaze met hers, Jeri’s breath completely left her. His brilliant blue eyes held her stare. It was too bad he was so hot. He smelled like a cop.
She smiled at him anyway and dumped the day old cherries and orange slices into the trash bin beneath the bar. “What can I get for you, officer?”
Herb made a noise of disgust and locked the door with an angry twist of his wrist. Since his time in the Orleans Parish jail, Herb had not been a big fan of law enforcement. He stood near the door with his beefy arms crossed over his broad chest. Herb had pumped so much iron during his incarceration that no one dared mess with him, not even cops.
The cop blinked and then grinned as if he had been caught in a criminal act. Before he spoke, he pulled a stool back from the bar and took his sweet time depositing his butt opposite her. One flick of his wrist gave her a quick peek at his ID. He tucked the badge back into his pocket and shoved a picture across the still damp bar.
“I’m looking for a missing woman. Have you ever seen her before?”
Jeri glanced at the picture and then raised her gaze to meet the cop’s eyes. Good lies were all about projecting confidence. “Nope.”
So her parents had figured out that she had dropped out of Tulane. It had taken them long enough. She lifted the weirdo’s glass out of the soapy water and began cleaning it, trying to keep doing her job and appearing as casual a possible, but her heart pounded at a furious pace.
The cop sighed and retrieved the photo. “Her parents are worried about her. It would be nice if I could tell them she isn’t dead.”
It was a strange time of day for the cop to be following up on a missing persons case, wasn’t it? Didn’t he have more serious crimes to investigate at six in the morning?
The high-pitched wail of sirens caught her attention. She turned her head toward the street for a second and then returned her attention to the cop. “Sorry, I can’t help you with that.”
He leaned his elbows on the bar. “What do I tell them, Jerilyn?”
Jeri drew her brows together and crinkled her nose as if he had confused her. “Oh, I get it. You’re wrong. My name is Olivia.”
He nodded and pushed his stool away from the bar. When he stood, she calculated he must be at least six feet tall. She dared look straight up into his blue, blue eyes. He smiled again, and she almost smiled back.
“Well, Olivia…if you ever want to pass any news along to Jerilyn’s parents, here’s my card. Give me a call anytime.”
He was gone before she could shove the card back at him. She nudged it to the end of the bar with a long, black-painted fingernail and then watched it float into the trash bin and land on top of the fruit slices.
Give me a call anytime. She snorted with contempt. If he weren’t a cop…if he wasn’t looking for her, she might think the man had just suggested she call him for personal reasons. But he was a detective, and cops were pros at deception. He could easily fake interest to fool her into talking to him. She knew how they were because her father was a high-ranking officer with the Nashville police. No doubt, that was why the local PD was giving her particular missing persons case personalized attention.
She glanced at the name on the card as it lay face up on top of the fruit. Det. Nicholas Moreau. Just her luck the hottest guy she’d ever met was a cop. She snatched the card from the trash and slipped it into the pocket of her jeans…just in case.
Nick wasn’t surprised that Jerilyn Bowman had refused to acknowledge her identity. She’d been untraceable, obviously living off the grid. No social security record. No bank account. No driver’s license. No credit card. No doubt the bar was paying her in cash.
He’d actually recognized her earlier that week from her photograph. If he hadn’t followed a suspect into the bar, he might have never found her. He smiled. Her physical transformation from college girl to Bourbon Street bartender had been clever, but not quite clever enough. He’d followed her movements for the past few days and had determined that she was fully immersed in her new life. She was legally an adult. In cases such as hers, the missing person wasn’t truly missing.
Nick was doing a favor for a friend of his in the Nashville PD. The detective in charge of her missing person case had given up too easily. So Nick had promised his friend that he would look into it, and he had, on his own time.
He took his time walking down the street toward his parked car, in no hurry to get to the office. Any second, his phone would vibrate with a call from his new partner. Clarence Petrie was the third new partner he’d had since Charlotte Soileau had left the New Orleans Police Department a few years back. Somehow Nick always got stuck with being the training officer in the field.
Nick shook his head at what Charlotte must have gone through training him. She had made him a better detective, and he had tried to cover for her while she recuperated from a serious injury, but his efforts hadn’t been good enough. After several months of rehab, Charlotte had left the job and moved back home to Wakefield. Never being a person to stay idle too long, it had only been a few months after she quit that she ran for sheriff of St. Denis Parish and won the election.
Just as he had predicted, his phone vibrated with a call from Clarence.
“Boss wants to know where you are.”
Nick checked the time on his phone. He wasn’t late. Not yet. “I’m not far. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
His captain, Ed Moreau, was never happy when Nick was late for the morning briefing. He could only push the limits of Ed’s patience so far. The boss was his uncle.
“Forget coming in. We have a DB in the Quarter.” Petrie paused and the silence seemed significant.
The rookie detective could be so dramatic and loved to use what he thought was cop-speak when it wasn’t necessary. Why couldn’t the guy just say there was a dead body in the French Quarter?
Petrie cleared his throat and resumed his report. “The responding officer said it looks similar to the one last month.”
“It? Define it. The body looks similar. The scene looks similar. The cause of death looks similar. What are you trying to tell me, Petrie?”
For once, Petrie seemed speechless. Nick hoped Petrie wasn’t one whose feelings were easily hurt. With an overabundant caseload and an understaffed homicide squad, there was no time for sensitivity training.
Nick rubbed his forehead where a fresh headache had formed. “Never mind. I’m already on Bourbon. I’ll go see for myself. Give me the address.”
Petrie rattled off the location, and Nick had to get him to repeat it. The sight of Jerilyn Bowman leaving the bar had distracted his attention. After Petrie repeated the address, he understood the wail of sirens he’d heard in the background of his conversation with Jerilyn. The body of a young woman had been found in an abandoned hotel just around the block on Royal.
After the cop left, Jeri grabbed her backpack from behind the bar, stepped out into the dawning day, and headed toward Canal to catch the bus.
The atmosphere was heavy with moisture, and a hazy fog seemed to hover over the Quarter, making the entire scene seem unreal, like a set in a horror movie. The stench of the previous evening’s partying hung in the air and assaulted her sinuses. She wrinkled her nose at the smell of rotting food as she passed a dumpster ready for the day’s garbage collection. The heels of her boots rang on the concrete sidewalk making enough noise to raise the dead, and the desire to be invisible raced through her psyche.
That morning, more than any other morning, the guy and his blood red drink had creeped her out. She’d caught Herb the Bouncer’s eye when the dude had ordered it, and Herb had made a psycho face behind the guy’s back. The weirdo had seemed rather harmless…until he had ordered that bloody drink. The vision of a dead woman hadn’t helped a bit. Jeri was exhausted. It had been a long shift, and her imagination had obviously been working overtime. Her nerves were still on edge from the encounter with the weirdo and the freaky vision of the dead woman when the cop had come into the bar asking questions. The sound of sirens had clamored in the background of their conversation, adding another layer of tension to the interview.
The cop knew her real name. What was he going to do about it? He could do nothing. She was of legal age to go where she liked and do what she wanted. No one could drag her back home to Nashville.
The thought of how her disappearance had probably caused her mother pain stabbed her in the heart. It wasn’t easy to shake off the heavy feeling of guilt, but she’d done what she had to do to keep her sanity. If she could talk to her mother, Janie Bowman would understand. Her father never would.
Her mind jerked back from her inner thoughts. To her surprise, the man who ordered the bloody drink loitered down the street at the corner of St. Peter and Bourbon, and it seemed that Jeri and the weird guy were the only ones on Bourbon Street at six in the morning. No doubt anyone who was hanging around that time of day had rushed to find out what the commotion was all about on the next street over. The sound of sirens in the Quarter could draw people like flies to raw meat.
When it seemed she had caught the weirdo’s eye, he turned and hurried away, heading in the same direction she intended to go. She wrapped her jacket tighter around her and slowed her pace, trying hard not to look like she was following him and hoping he would turn onto a cross street before she walked the six blocks from the bar to Canal. He made a left on St. Louis when she was only about a half block behind him. She stumbled on the uneven pavement as she passed the corner and gazed down the street after him.
He had disappeared. She released the breath she’d been holding and picked up her pace.