Shadows in the Starlight

Shadows in the Starlight

by Elaine Cunningham

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A ten year veteran of the Providence Rhode Island vice squad Gwen "GiGi" Gellman began her life as a foundling and is used to being on her own. So when she finds herself unemployed and on the outs after a standard bust goes bad resulting in a bloodbath, she welcomes the occasion to break from routine. She scrapes together enough capital to start her own PI business specializing in "family problems." But, in doing so she never guessed that she would uncover her own mysterious and mystical past.

When GiGi becomes involved in the case of a missing wife and child, she initially dismisses the matter as good sense on the wife's part--she knows the husband to be less than stellar in his role. But, as her investigation progresses GiGi discovers a pattern of lies and deceptions, some of which expose hidden ties to her own mystifying existence.

Otherworldly powers try to intercede, and soon GiGi finds not only her own life threatened, but those of her friends and family as well.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429968119
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 02/06/2007
Series: Changeling , #2
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 1,119,852
File size: 396 KB

About the Author

A former music and history teacher, Elaine Cunningham has authored numerous books for TSR/WOTC including her bestselling Lirial series. She lives with her family in a coastal New England town.

Elaine Cunningham is a former music and history teacher who resides with her family in New England. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the Changeling Detective Agency series, as well as several Forgotten Realms books.

Read an Excerpt

Shadows in the Starlight
PreludeAt this hour of the night, the East Side of Providence was about as quiet as city neighborhoods get. The people who could afford sedate charm and architectural interest were dozing in front of their high-definition televisions, while local newscasts alternated between self-promotion and breathless promises of news and weather reports to come.An unexpected downpour, the last April shower of the year, had just swept through on its way northward. Sound traveled with uncanny clarity in the rain-washed air, and the quick, light slap of feet against wet pavement rippled through the silence like pebbles thrown into still water.Two women ran full out along the deserted road, soaked to the skin by the sudden shower. Both were dark-haired and both ran with single-minded determination, but there the similarity ended. Kate Myers, the older of the two, was a tall, rangy woman with a long-legged, mile-eating stride. A serious runner since high school, she was built for speed and trained to win. She still ran every day, and she played soccer on the weekends with women half her age. Tonight she was running hard, yet her much shorter companion matched her pace with ease. Kate wasn't sure whether to be impressed or annoyed.They rounded a corner at the edge of Swan Point Cemetery and began to run beside a stone wall, a staple of the New England landscape. This one, however, was built of improbably large rocks. Huge boulders perched here and there atop these walls, giving silent testament to the precarious nature of existence.Kate glanced into the graveyard, a nervous habit she'd been trying without much success to break. Fog was starting to rise from the rain-soaked ground, only to be swept off by a quickening wind. This part of the cemetery was more horticultural park than resting place, but Kate could envision the swirl of earthbound clouds curling around nineteenth-century mausoleums and lending an illusion of flight to angel wings of immovable stone or bronze. It was that sort of night--one that H.P. Lovecraft, one of the more famous inhabitants of the cemetery, would no doubt find inspiring.Kate had scant appreciation for the macabre, which, given her line of work, never failed to amuse people.A soft, slightly husky alto chuckle snapped her attention back to the run, and she realized she'd picked up the pace considerably. Cheeks flaming, she dialed back her speed and glanced at her new running partner.Gwen Gellman was at least a head shorter than Kate, and waif thin. Her slim legs were bared to the butt by skimpy purple running shorts, and a tiny black tank top contrasted with skin so pale it brought to mind fine porcelain. Kate guessed Gwen to be about a hundred pounds soaking wet, which she currently was, and though she wasn't more than a year or two younger than Kate, she didn't look a day over seventeen. Despite all this, words like "delicate" and "fragile" just didn't apply. Five kilometers of hard running, and the girl hadn't broken a sweat. If there were any justice in the world, allthat let's-go-clubbing makeup rimming her eyes would be running down her face in dark rivulets. Her hair was as wet as Kate's, but instead of hanging limp and lank, the girl's short, thick locks reshaped themselves into glistening curls.Kate could have forgiven Gwen for all that, had she not also been a former cop with all the annoying traits of that breed. She was relentless and cat-curious, with the usual arrogant disregard for her own safety. That last, Kate would never understand. She dealt with death every day, but she was in no hurry to experience it herself. But Gwen? Kate had yet to decide whether the girl was too stupid to recognize the danger she was putting herself in, or too driven to care.They reached the end of the course and slowed to an easy trot. This was their third shared run in as many days, and they'd fallen into a pattern: meet at Brown Stadium, run a five-K loop through the quiet charm of Blackstone Boulevard, cool down on the way to Kate's house. Her neighborhood was a tangle of narrow side streets, with tall wooden houses painted in muted pastels and cars parked on both sides of the road. The only place to run was down the middle of the streets, but at this hour there was little competition from traffic.Gwen waited until they'd slowed to a walk to bring up her personal crusade. "I hate to nag--""But in my case, you'll make an exception?"Kate's sarcasm was answered by a quick, fleeting grin. "Hey, you asked for three days. Time's up. Did you find anything new?""Gwen, there isn't anything to find," she said patiently. "I reviewed all my notes and test results, and found nothing to indicate that Frank Cross's death was anything other than an accidentaldrowning. His blood-alcohol level was nearly four times the legal limit. I'm not surprised he fell off his boat. It's a wonder he managed to get as far as he did.""Don't think that hasn't occurred to me," Gwen said darkly. "Any sign that the alcohol was forced into him? An IV track, maybe?""Nothing."They walked several paces before Gwen spoke again. "What do you know about foie gras?"Kate shot her a puzzled look. "Foie gras? It's a pate made from duck or goose liver, usually served on crackers. I've never tried it, though I was tempted to after watching this old James Bond movie. Sean Connery sneaks some foie gras into a spa and feeds it to his physical therapist. Judging from her reaction, it qualifies as foreplay. Before I get too distracted by that line of thought, maybe you should tell me where this is going.""Do you know how it's made?"She ran an impatient hand through her wet hair. "With some sort of food processor, I'd imagine. Cooking doesn't interest me.""Me either. But I dated a chef once, and he went on and on. Apparently the geese used for foie gras have to be fattened until their livers balloon up to seven or eight times the normal size. Since no animals except humans and lapdogs willingly fuck themselves up to that extent, people shove tubes down the birds' throats and force-feed them."Kate grimaced. "That sounds like torture.""You think? I'm guessing anything that extreme would leave forensic evidence, even after just one time.""It would, yes. I wasn't specifically looking for ... intrusion ofthat sort, but nothing I saw suggested that consuming half a bottle of Scotch was anything but voluntary.""That's not what happened," Gwen said stubbornly. "There's got to be another explanation.""And I'm sure you have several.""I'm only interested in the one that's true, and so far we haven't found it," she said curtly. "Alcohol can be absorbed through the colon. Did you check ...""For evidence of an eighty-proof enema? C'mon, Gwen.""Did you?" she persisted.Kate suppressed a sigh. "Not specifically, no. But the contents of his stomach helped establish time of death. There was enough alcohol present to explain his state. You were at his house--did you see anything to indicate a struggle?""No, but people have been known to clean up a crime scene. And maybe there wasn't much of a struggle. You said Frank had a cut on his head. They could have knocked him out.""More likely he hit it when he fell. What about motive? Was anything taken from his house?"Gwen took a moment to think that over. "The investigating officer didn't see any evidence of theft," she said carefully, "but that doesn't indicate absence of motive. Frank was a cop for over thirty years. If you do the job right, you can piss off a lot of people in three decades.""Yes, I know."Kate's voice was sharper than she'd intended. She softened her words with a faint smile before turning away to prop one foot on the third step of her front stairs. She took her time leaning into a hamstring stretch. When she could trust herself to speak withoutemotion, she said, "Give me a minute, and I'll drive you home. You shouldn't be running by yourself at this hour."The girl flashed an angelic smile. "Like the man said, 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, because I'm the meanest motherfucker in the valley.'""Why do cops think you're invincible?" she snapped, hearing the bitterness in her voice but not particularly caring. "No job too sordid, no street too dangerous, no risk too stupid."Gwen's smile broadened. "Don't hold back on my account. If that's how you feel about the job, I can see why you dumped Quaid." She cocked her head to one side and considered. "Well, plus the fact that he's about as interesting as white bread with mayo.""Actually, I didn't mind that Gary Quaid was cautious and conservative.""But ..."This wasn't a subject Kate liked to discuss, but she could see how it might work to her benefit tonight. She straightened up, put her other foot on the third step, and leaned back into the stretch, holding it while she gathered the composure needed to recite the grim facts of her girlhood."My father was a cop. He was killed on the job when I was still in high school, by a man he'd arrested years before. Knowing this, do you really think I'd skim over Frank Cross's autopsy? Take the easy explanation without a good, hard look at other possibilities?"Gwen nodded slowly. "Point taken. Did they get the guy?"That wasn't the response Kate would have expected from most people, but it seemed typical of Gwen. She'd met the former cop about a week ago, just after Gwen had fished the body of her mentorand best friend out of the Narragansett Bay. From day one, Gwen had wanted answers, not sympathy. No doubt she thought everyone processed grief in the same fashion."They got him," Kate said shortly. "But in Frank Cross's case, there's no one to 'get.' You've got to let it go, Gwen.""Gee, Kate, you don't seem to be very big on closure. Didn't you give the same advice to Quaid when he was following up on the raid at Winston's?"The memory was like an icy hand around Kate's throat. "You know about that? And about the ... warning?""Yeah. So?"Kate huffed in exasperation. "So? Someone broke into the morgue and mutilated the bodies of the two policemen killed in the raid. In my lab. Using my equipment.""Seems to me you'd want to find whoever did that, if for no other reason than to keep your equipment clean."Her gaze slid away. "The police are looking into it.""Since when? Last I heard they were covering it up. Bad for morale, or some similar pile of bullshit.""You'll have to take that up with the department." She straightened up. "It's getting late. If you're sure you don't want a ride ..."Gwen took the hint and trotted off. After a few paces she stopped and turned back. "One more thing--did you ask about the fingerprints found in Frank's house?""His prints were the only ones found on the glass of Scotch, but you knew that.""What about the bottle?""Same thing."Gwen's eyes narrowed. "Only Frank's prints," she repeated."On a bottle that's probably been handled by at least a dozen people between the distillery and the package store. That didn't set off any alarms?""What I meant was that his fingerprints were found on the bottle. I don't know how many other prints were found," Kate said hastily, "but I'll see what I can find out.""Thanks. I wouldn't ask, but ..."She didn't elaborate, and didn't need to. Kate knew the story: Gwen had left the force nearly two years ago under a cloud and set up a small PI business. A few people on the inside were still willing to deal with her when no one else was looking, but the investigating officer assigned to Frank Cross's case was personally offended by any hint of tarnish on the badge, and he'd spitefully--and effectively--blocked Gwen's attempts to follow up on her mentor's death. That, apparently, was where Kate came in. A medical examiner known for her obsessive habits on and off the job, she could ask the occasional odd question without raising too many eyebrows.She waved Gwen on her way and headed up the stairs. The screened porch on the front of her house was deeply shadowed. That was strange, considering how much attention Kate lavished on safety precautions these days.Strange, too, that she hadn't noticed the darkness until now. But the nearest streetlamp was just across the narrow road, and the light outside the house was bright enough to distract the eye from the darkness within. Kate tested the porch door and found it securely locked. Most likely the lightbulbs had burned out, or perhaps she'd simply forgotten to turn on the light when she'd left. God knows she had enough on her mind to justify a lapse or two.She let herself in and flipped the light switch. Faint, yellow light filled the small porch. She's just forgotten to turn on the porchlight, something people did every day. Most people, that is. For Kate, it was the equivalent of a red-flag offense. When this was over, she was definitely going to take some of that vacation time she had piled up.After securing the dead bolt on the porch entrance, she unlocked the front door. The heavy wooden door swung shut behind her as she stepped into the hall. Here, too, the lights were off, and she palmed the wall for the switch.It felt slightly sticky. Kate regarded her hand, and her eyes widened.Blood, so thick and dark it was nearly black, smeared her hand. Her eyes focused on the floor beneath her feet, and she noted that the sisal mat was sodden with blood.The familiar smells of death hit her in a sudden rush. Panic struck, and she whirled toward the door--And fell back, stumbling a little because she couldn't tear her horrified gaze from the door. Her throat worked as she fought back waves of bile. She desperately wanted to scream and run, but the nightmare quality of the ugly little tableau stole her ability to do either.A neighbor's dog--a squat, ugly little mixed breed that looked like a cross between a Chihuahua and a footstool--had been duct-taped to the door. The little dog had been gutted, and above the killing slash was an elaborate design, carved into its broad, nearly hairless belly. Though somewhat obscured by blood, the design was plain enough: a circular, mazelike pattern that looked like a spiral and its mirror image.The same design that had been cut into the bodies of detectives Tom Yoland and Carmine Moniz.Kate lunged for the doorknob. The door opened only an inch ortwo before slamming shut. For a moment or two she tugged at the knob with both hands, then fresh horror swept over her in an icy wave when she realized what this meant:Someone was in the porch, holding the door shut. Someone was in her porch. Toying with her. Taunting her.For a moment, anger was stronger than fear, strong enough to clear Kate's thoughts and prompt her to action. She quickly flipped the lock and raced up the stairs, taking them two at a time.Her bedroom was a minor fortress, with a solid wood door secured not only by dead bolts but with two long metal bars that slid into braces secured to wall studs on either side of the door. There was no way anyone could kick down that door, unless they planned to take most of the wall out with it.She dashed into the room and slammed the door, sliding the various locks into place. A metal bat, a relic of her softball days, was propped against a potted plant by the door. Kate hefted it as she moved cautiously through the room, turning on lights, throwing open closet doors, checking under the bed. As soon as she was certain she was alone in the room, she picked up the bedside phone to call for help.There was no dial tone. She slammed the receiver back into the cradle, picked it up, and listened again. A soft, faintly husky chuckle mocked her.The receiver fell from her suddenly nerveless hands. The intruder was in the house. He'd left the line open, waiting for her to pick up the receiver.She ran to the nearest window and fumbled with the lock. Alarms on the window were connected directly to the police station. Opening the window was as good as making a 911 call.Her fingers felt thick and clumsy, frostbitten with fear. Finallyshe disengaged the locks and pushed at the window. It raised a fraction of an inch before it stopped dead. Kate peered out the window, and her heart sank as she noticed the heavy nails driven into the outer frames, holding the lower window sash shut. She checked the other windows, just to make sure, but as she expected, she was thoroughly trapped.A sudden flare of light drew her eye to the lone tree in her narrow back garden. High in the branches, not more than twenty feet from her window, sat a shadowy figure, holding something that appeared to be a small torch.An eternity passed as Kate stood frozen, staring into that grinning face. Then her tormenter dropped the torch. It fell into the bed of shredded garden mulch she'd had delivered last week but had never found time to spread.The flame flickered and died. Thank God for tonight's rain shower, she thought fervently.Even as the thought formed, a thin tendril of smoke began to rise from the pile of wood shavings, carrying an acrid chemical smell. Small, bright flames licked across the pile and slithered toward the house.Kate sank down onto her bed and considered her options. She had a rope ladder in her closet, and if she had to, she could break one of the windows and climb out. But if she left the house by the bedroom window, the intruder would see her. Going down through the house didn't seem any safer. Her best bet was to stay where she was and hope the police response came in time.If indeed the alarm had been triggered.The jangle of the front doorbell brought her leaping to her feet. She was at the door, throwing aside the first dead bolt, when it occurred to her that the bell might not be a harbinger of rescue. Forall she knew, it could be the intruder's ploy to get her out of her bedroom.She peered out the side window, looking for any hint of the strobing light that might indicate a police response. Unfortunately, no light at all found its way into the narrow side yard.A loud thump came from the floor below. Startled, Kate jumped back from the window. As she did, she realized the source of the noise--the back door had been forcibly opened. She heard the faint sound of footsteps, and a familiar voice called her name.Weak with relief, Kate threw back the locks and cracked open the door. "Be careful," she yelled. "There was someone in the backyard. He was in the house, too.""Stay where you are. I'll check it out."Long minutes passed before she heard footsteps on the stairs. She peeked out again, then swung the door open wide."Thank God it's you! Did you see him?""No. The sick bastard is long gone. There's no one here but you and me."Maybe it was her strained nerves, but that observation struck Kate as more ominous than comforting. Her eyes dropped to the gun in her rescuer's hand.Of course there would be a gun. Who responded to an intruder alert unarmed?On the other hand, who took time to add a silencer to their weapon?Kate's gaze flashed up to that familiar face, and what she saw confirmed her fears. The first bullet tore through her shoulder, spinning her around and sending her pitching facedown onto the carpet. Oddly enough, she felt the impact of the floor before hermind registered the pain of the gunshot wound. Then the pain came in a screaming, blinding rush.The second shot slammed into her, and the third. There might have been more, but Kate was beyond the point where such things mattered. Her entire world began and ended with the white-hot agony radiating from her chest into her useless, twitching limbs.Dimly she was aware of a cool pressure at the base of her neck, and in some corner of her mind she understood what was about to happen.A lifetime of fear and resentment fell away, and Kate welcomed Death with a gratitude so vast it bordered on affection.Copyright © 2006 by Elaine Cunningham and The Literary Agency East

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