Chapter One

 

THE SPIRIT plane was generally one of the most peaceful places Samuel Jones had ever been. The first time he crossed from the mortal plane, he immediately felt it. And that hadn’t changed in the hundreds of cases he’d taken over the past twelve years. Every time he died and became aware on the spirit plane, he took a few moments to just soak it in. It was a shadow of the mortal world, so it was comfortable and familiar, but also inherently other. Sam loved it, and he loved his job as a ghostwalker.

Sam also had a penchant for going after the hard cases—not spirits who were in immediate danger of turning malevolent. Those spirits were handled by a team of ghostwalkers who worked together. And not the children his brother Blake had an affinity for. No, Sam’s focus usually fell on reluctant spirits who liked being in limbo just fine. Those souls needed coaxing and time, and Sam often spent days or weeks meeting with them again and again until he could convince them it was better to rest than to wander. Those spirits would eventually go dark if they didn’t cross, as resentment at the living always wormed its way in. But the ones Sam chose had plenty of time before they got to that point. He could revisit them as often as needed until they moved on.

“Back again?”

Sam smiled. He didn’t need to turn to know the voice. Thomas Picciano was one such spirit. He’d been lingering for more than a year, occasionally popping up on a medium’s radar. His file held a long line of comments from mediums throughout the country, whenever his aura caught their attention.

“Well, you haven’t crossed yet. I’ll come back until you do.” Sam kept his gaze fixed on the forest they were standing in. He always found Tom there, as the man had been an avid hiker and bird-watcher in life. Actually Sam was surprised it had taken him so long to find Tom on this trip. While time moved differently on the spirit plane, Sam was certain he’d been there for hours.

“Pshaw. Ain’t nothing or nobody waitin’ on the other side for me.”

Tom had said that before, but Sam couldn’t believe it. There was always someone waiting on the other side.

“You really think that, Tom?” The question was out of Sam’s mouth before he could stop it. He knew Tom didn’t like being confronted, and the first time Sam encountered Tom’s spirit, he’d made that mistake. It ended their meeting before Sam could blink—not that he needed to on the spirit plane. He’d been careful ever since to keep the dialogue open and to be subtle while he pushed Tom to go on.

“I know it.” Tom made a sound like a sigh, even though he didn’t actually have any breath. “How’s things going with your guy?”

Sam’s frown was immediate. He’d regretted mentioning that tidbit to Tom ever since it tumbled from his mouth in an unguarded moment. He’d been trying to make a connection with Tom, who was relentless and liked to put the focus on Sam rather than himself.

“I told you, he isn’t mine. It’s not going to work between us.”

Tom moved into Sam’s field of vision. “But you keep hoping.”

Sam shrugged and made a concerted effort not to drop his gaze. “Maybe a sliver. An itty-bitty, tiny sliver.” Sam made the habitual motion of expelling breath. “But he’ll never allow it.”

“Because he’s older’n you?”

“That’s one of his reasons, yes.”

Tom made a thoughtful sound. “Or is it really because he’s your boss?”

“That’s what he says.” He fought the urge to kick at the ground like a petulant child.

“So you’re giving up.”

Sam shrugged and shook his head. “It’s not giving up. It’s… accepting the inevitable. Nothing I do or say will change Michael’s mind. I should move on.”

Tom’s eyes lightened. “Aha. See, you keep telling me to move on, but you don’t do it yourself.”

The laugh was involuntary, but Sam didn’t check it. Though their situations were very different, Tom had a point.

Sam had been half in love with Michael King pretty much from the moment they met. But he also knew it was a fruitless longing. The ten-year age difference meant nothing to Sam, but Michael held it between them like a shield.

Michael was his boss, and a Guardian—an anchor who not only carried the anchor gene but had also developed telepathic abilities. That should be enough to keep them apart.

Sam respected that. Mostly. Until the day several months back when his anchor, Dom, called in sick, and all other ghostwalkers were called to an emergency on the spirit plane. They had to help one of their own cross over. So Michael anchored Sam himself, and when Sam came back to life, he saw affection on Michael’s face.

“Did I lose you?” Tom’s voice was laced with sarcasm, eliciting another smile from Sam.

“No. Just thinking. Hey, what do you say we make a pact? How about we both move on?”

Tom’s snort of laughter made Sam grin. Tom kept a respectable distance between them, but he shook his head and leaned in a little. “Nice try, pretty boy. That was clever. But no. I like it here. I got no call to cross, and I know that look on your face. You’re well and truly caught by this man. Even if I go, you won’t hold up your end of the bargain.”

Sam rubbed the back of his neck, properly chastised. “I need to, though.” He knew that. Despite his feelings for Michael, nothing would ever come of them.

Tom was quiet for a long time. “Maybe not. Some things in this world… heh. Or I guess that one. Some things are worth fighting for.” Tom’s expression cracked and showed a hint of vulnerability underneath that Sam had never seen. Tom shook his head. “I didn’t do enough of that when I was walking the world.”

“Yeah? Tell me about it.”

“Nope. You’re getting all wiggly, so I guess we’ll have to save it for another day.”

Sam frowned, confused. But then he felt it—the slight tug in his chest that meant he was being pulled back into his body. Since he hadn’t found a medium to alert Michael to bring him home, he must have been there longer than he thought. Requiem’s strict protocols stated that no ghostwalker could be left for more than six hours. Rigor mortis started to set in at that point, and it was harder to come back. Though his genes benefited him in a lot of ways beyond the obvious—including increased healing and longer life—nothing could keep death at bay indefinitely.

Both Dom and Michael would be watching the clock.

Sam stepped back. He wanted to be out of Tom’s sight before he was pulled away. “Another day, then.”

At Tom’s nod of acknowledgment, Sam hurried toward a thick copse of trees. The tug was stronger, and he closed his eyes. He hated that part. Blake had once described it as akin to throwing up backward through your own nose, and it was an accurate description.

Another moment, and the trees started to fade. Then everything went black.

He came to as Dom pressed on his wounds to staunch the blood flow. He tried to draw breath, but his lungs hadn’t gotten the news that he was alive again. Dom turned him onto his side so he’d cough up the blood instead of choking on it.

“I got ya, buddy. I’m right here.” Dom’s low voice in his ear was the welcome comfort it always was. But as Sam regained his ability to see, his gaze was fixed solely on the other person in the room.

Michael, six feet of solid muscle, held a sword that dripped with Sam’s blood. He was broad shouldered and narrow hipped. His dark hair was long enough to reach his collar, and his dark eyes were sharp and assessing. Sam tried for a smile—because damn, did he love looking at the man—but coughed up blood instead. Dom was right there with a warm cloth to clean his face.

“Four days in a row, I’ve had to pull you back when the time limit approached.” Michael’s voice was quiet, but the tension and displeasure were evident. Sam winced more at the tone than the pain in his chest and back. And Michael didn’t lift his gaze from Sam’s. “When you’re recovered, I want both of you in my office.”

He didn’t wait for a response from either of them. He just slid the sword into a plastic bag so it didn’t trail Sam’s blood everywhere, and left the room. As Sam watched him go, he barely registered Dom’s attention to his wounds.

Well, that wasn’t good.

“Ready to get up?” Dom asked.

“Yeah,” Sam croaked.

Dom pushed the button on the recliner, and it slowly lifted into a sitting position. Once Sam was upright, he remained still for a few minutes so the dizziness would pass. Then he took Dom’s offered hand and stood up. Dom immediately wrapped his arm around Sam’s waist and supported him as he walked to the bed. Sam and Dom’s office was just like every other ghostwalker/anchor office on the floor—a bed, a table and a couple of chairs, a sink, cabinets full of supplies, and the dreaded chair in the middle of the floor. It looked comfortable, but Sam wasn’t particularly fond of it, considering it was where he repeatedly died.

“Pain meds?” Dom kept his voice low.

“Please.”

Sam was settled on the bed, snuggled under the covers, and watched Dom at the counter. When Dom turned, he held a premeasured syringe of pain medication. Having a sword shoved through his chest hurt like hell, and Sam needed the relief. It was a violent method, but it was also the quickest, and it guaranteed the ghostwalker would stay dead until it was removed.

“Dying sucks.” Sam sounded petulant, but he didn’t care. He hurt. “Coming back to life sucks too.”

“I know it does.” Dom walked toward him, needle in one hand, a gel cold pack in the other, and a bottle of water under his arm. He slapped the pack down on Sam’s chest, right over his wound, and Sam let out an involuntary hiss. Even knowing it was coming couldn’t prepare him for the sharp sting of cold. But a moment later, he settled into it, and his tension eased.

“Bet you’re glad your brother died instead of you, huh? All you had to do was get tested for the gene after that.”

Sam scowled at his partner. He and Dom had been together since the beginning—twelve years. They went through training at the same time, and were paired together immediately because they had a compatibility rating of 87 percent. Dom quickly became his best friend, and there was nothing about his care that Dom didn’t know. That gave Dom license to say things other people couldn’t get away with.

“He drowned at seventeen. I’m sure Blake would have rather not done that. And I would have died for him if I could.”

Dom’s expression softened. “I know.”

“Yeah.”

Dom did know. He was privy to all the stories from Sam’s childhood, including the one where Sam’s parents had him tested the moment Blake recovered from his ordeal. Then they proceeded to ignore both their sons. It didn’t matter, though. It had always been Blake and Sam against the world, anyway.

“Good thing you grew up here, though, huh? Duncan Moor had a branch on hand to help you both through it.”

“Yeah.”

It had been lucky. Requiem Inc. was right there, ready to swoop in to offer them both a place and to train them once they were old enough. It had made those years bearable, knowing he would be part of something bigger, something important, when he was old enough.

Dom held up the needle, and Sam winced, though he barely felt the pinch when Dom injected the meds. Then Sam dutifully drank several mouthfuls of water at Dom’s urging. By the time he was done, the meds were working, and lethargy stole over his limbs. He closed his eyes, and felt Dom push his hair back from his face.

“Rest now. I’ll get your vitals in a bit. And then we’ll go see King.” Dom tugged lightly on his hair in gentle admonishment. “You’re in trouble.”

Sam let out a tired laugh. “What else is new?”