Soul Tracker #3
The Trackers series
Skinwalker Raven, Bess Suncatcher, is troubled to discover an enemy Soul Whisperer in her forest speaking to a dead body. No Soul Whisperer has ever ventured into her domain and this sexy stranger's appearance fills her with curiosity and dread.
Cesar Garza's gift allows him to speak with those who have recently left their bodies while Bess can communicate with those who have left the living world. He needs her help to unravel a mystery and stop a supernatural killer. But as the two form an uneasy alliance, they face a forbidden desire that jeopardizes their duty to protect the living world.
Excerpt from Soul Tracker
Redwood Forrest, California
Bess Suncatcher smelled the human body from a long way off. When in her raven form her senses were acute, so she tipped her wings to investigate, veering sharply to the west. It was unusual to find a human corpse in the forest, but not unheard of. Despite the humans’ high opinion of themselves, here in the wild they were outmatched. Their arrogance and smug superiority served them poorly against ‘nature red in tooth and claw.’ Sometimes they just fell off something high. Bess thought it must be dreadful not to be able to fly.
She swept through the massive tree trunks, which stood tall and sacred as the columns of a cathedral. As Bess circled the corpse her concentration slipped and her heart lurched. The body was a female, mauled by a predator. Bess’s curiosity died in a vacuum of dread.
She landed high above the clearing on the limb of a pine and glanced down. She knew she should be detached, that her job was to see that animals had their proper share of the earth. With the balance between all creatures as her prime objective, what happened to one woman, here or there, should make no difference.
But still there was a definite knot in her throat.
She reminded herself that the concerns of men were none of hers. But her efforts to rally failed the instant she sighted the thick black hair on the woman’s head. Now she struggled to beat back the images of another woman, another time. Her eyes snapped open and she looked at the corpse.
Who was waiting for this one to come home? Whose life would be changed forever by her passing? And who would be left behind?
Don’t think about that. This isn’t her.
But she was slim and dark-headed, just like Bess’s human mother. Her mother’s injuries were not so obvious, yet they had been just as deadly.
After all these years, she still felt the ripping loss, sharp as talons, as it gripped her heart. Everyone gone before her, first her mother and then, her father, too. Bess huddled against the wellspring of sorrow that choked her.
She took solace in the fact that she would never again stand beside the grave of one she loved. That much, at least, she could control by guarding her heart.
Bess dropped to the spongy carpet of moss and pine needles, transforming to her human form, then changed her feather cloak to resemble human clothing before stepping forward into the clearing. Her skin flashed first hot and then cold as adrenalin poured into her bloodstream, telling her that she was not alone. Was the predator still here?
She glanced about, her keen eyes taking in every detail in the search for what was amiss. It took only a moment to spot him. He was closer to her than she would have liked and looked straight at her, so she could not transform without him seeing. The inside of Bess’s mouth seemed rough as an emery board and she could not swallow.
Was this the murderer?
Her gaze swept the man, tall and powerful, standing with unnatural stillness and a calm that radiated confidence.
Bess’s instinct told her to flee, but she did not follow the urging of her animal-self because, despite her fear, she knew she could escape in an instant where he could never follow. And she wanted to know who he was. His eyes narrowed as she made no effort to step back, but waited for him to close the distance between them.
Oh, but he was fine to look at. She ran her tongue along her lower lip. He hesitated, lowering his chin, confused at her mixed signals.
Taking a handsome man to her bed was an easy way to connect on some physical level, while maintaining complete autonomy over her heart. She cocked her head to study him. If he hurt this woman, she’d see him pay, even if it wasn’t her purpose. But if not…she allowed her mind to wander.
What was with the designer suit? She took in his tailored gray jacket and pristine white shirt that did little to disguise the brawn beneath. His tie was drab, but his black leather belt sported a showy silver and turquoise buckle and those cockroach killer cowboy boots with silver tips were definitely not standard garb for business types.
His posture radiated complete assurance. But then he didn’t know what he was dealing with yet, did he?
Her eyes narrowed on his face. Was he a business type out on some strange corporate survival seminar or a murder caught in the act?
He took a graceful step closer now. She allowed it for it brought him near enough for her to see that his eyes were not dark brown, as she had first thought, but a deep shimmering gray full of the heat only adrenalin could bring.
“Where’d you come from?”
His voice was low gravel; resonating through her insides and making them jump and twitch.
She pointed up into the canopy of branches far above them and he chuckled. Bess smiled in response.
He reached, as if to capture her upper arm. She nearly allowed it, but at the last instant she stepped away. His brow rose. Did her speed surprise him?
Bess let her gaze dip to glance at his strong jaw line, his high cheekbones and full sensual mouth. That coupled with the healthy coppery glow of his skin made her wonder if he might also have some Native heritage. Peak sexual prowess, she thought and then wondered where that notion came from.
“Who are you?” he asked.
What are you, would have been a more appropriate question and one that she wished to ask him as well. Something about him raised alarm bells. So she kept a safe distance.
He frowned. Had he expected her to answer simply because he asked?
With a body like that, she surmised he didn’t often face resistance of any sort from human females. What a bore that must be. Then again, that was her general experience with human males. She wondered if he was up for a little challenge.
He lifted his index finger and inched toward her hand.
He leaned closer repeating his question as she permitted his fingers to brush hers. The brief contact sent her skin to gooseflesh as the prickle of an electric charge swept up her arm and into her chest. She gasped in surprise as her heart galloped, sending blood throbbing in her ears and pulsing in her core.
She stared into his deep, dark eyes, seeing them widened in astonishment. So, he hadn’t expected that either. He broke the tingling contact between them, but not the contact of their eyes.
His pupils dilated and she felt her breathing quicken in response. His full lips curled down and he stepped farther back.
What had just happened?
Bess was used to choosing her partners and enjoyed the rush of heat and excitement of this man, but some instinct held her in check. She coupled that with the potential involvement with the dead woman and increased her vigilance.
Bess conceded that he had a killer body. Such a form as his was designed for hunting, and she had unintentionally become his prey. Not all chases wound up with killing. Some ended with coupling. So was she his next conquest or next victim?
She stepped away to better assess the pulsing salmon-colored aura of sexual energy and only then glimpsed the constant golden aura that encircled him.
Most of her kind could not read auras, which put them at a disadvantage when they met something not quite human, like this Niyanoka, standing far too close.
But she knew.
The golden aura told her he was born of the Spirit Niyan, protector of men—the other Halfling race. So, he was not responsible for the killing. More than likely he was here to investigate for it was their mission to protect man at the expense of all else. And instead of the murderer, he had found her.
Bess’s eyes narrowed as she took in the clear white vibration of spiritual energy but stilled at what she saw next. The white light spiked out past the gold and was capped with black. Her breath caught. She had never seen one like it. His body was encircled with the aura of death as the shell of an egg encircles the albumen.
This Niyanoka dealt with the dead or perhaps just with killing. She did not know what he was, but her instinct for survival now overrode her sexual interest. He was dangerous. Far more dangerous than his significant physical presence first made her believe.
She surmised he was a warrior, but what could this blending of auras mean, clear white and inky black? They were polar opposites.
Was he one of the army who brought death to the mighty Fleetfoot, the leader of the uprising against his kind? Bess recalled the face of her father’s killer. This was not that man, but he could still be one of the vigilantes.
Something inside her turned to stone and her icy calm returned.
Ah, she saw it now in his eyes, the flicker of confusion and then the narrowing as he recognized her for what she was and hated her for it. The lustful pink aura spiked red with anger and then he moved too close for her to see his aura, pinning her against the trunk of the tree. His hips pressed to her stomach and his arms bunched at each side of her head in a posture that was both possessive and hostile. She lifted her chin in defiance as he leaned in, her pride keeping her from transforming. Did he see the hot angry flush as blood coursed with greater power? Her neck and face burned and her hands grew slick with perspiration. Still she faced him, refusing to acknowledge her fear. She would not flee like some little rabbit. She was his equal, no matter what he and his kind thought.
“Skinwalker,” he hissed. “What shape do you take?”
She was tempted to show him since she no longer need hide who and what she was. She could leave if she wished, but her curiosity stayed her. Most of his kind never set foot off the sidewalks of major cities.
What was he doing here and how was he connected to this death?
©Jenna Kernan, 2017