Olivia LeClair's experiment with speed dating is not going well. First there was the nasty encounter with the date from hell who tried to murder her and now the mysterious Harlan Rancourt—long believed dead—sits down at her table and tells her she's the only one who can help him locate the legendary Vortex lab.
This is not what Olivia had in mind when she signed up for the Four Event Success Guaranteed package offered by the dating agency. She doesn't have much choice, though, because her psychic investigation firm works for the mysterious Foundation and Victor Arganbright, the director, is adamant that she assist Harlan. There's just one problem—no one knows Harlan's real agenda. His father once ran the Foundation like a mob organization, and Harlan was destined to be his heir. There's a real possibility Harlan has returned to claim his inheritance.
For now, however, it's a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend because others are after the secrets of the long-lost lab. Unfortunately for Olivia, the one thing friend and foe have in common is that everyone is convinced she is the key. Her unique psychic talent is required to defuse the ticking time bomb that is Vortex.
Neither trusts the other but Olivia and Harlan soon realize they must work together to survive and unlock the Bluestone Project's most dangerous secrets before more innocent people die.
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About the Author
Place of Birth:San Diego, CA
Education:BA in History, University of California at Santa Cruz, MA in Librarianship from San Jose State University (California)
Read an Excerpt
Olivia LeClair was halfway across the parking garage and thinking about getting a cat when she realized the man coming toward her intended to murder her.
"Hi, remember me?" the killer said. "Brian. Brian Gatewood. We met at that speed date event last week. I didn't realize you lived in this apartment building. What a coincidence. I just moved in. I'm on the tenth floor."
As if she didn't have enough to deal with, given the new wave of nightmares that had been robbing her of sleep lately. The dream images came in whispers and ghostly fragments: A voice she almost recognized told her to run. A cobalt blue mirror stood in the way. Unseen monsters chased her. And now she was about to confront a very real killer. She needed a vacation.
Brian Gatewood was good-looking in an open, Mr. Nice Guy way, and he was smiling, a friendly, ever-so-slightly flirtatious smile. The misty Seattle night had dampened his jacket. His running shoes were leaving footprints on the concrete floor. He had a grocery bag cradled in one arm and a key fob in his hand. A baseball cap was angled low over his eyes.
"I remember you," she said. "Welcome to the building. I think you'll like it here. The amenities are terrific."
She accompanied the warm words with a dazzling smile. In the months since she and Catalina had opened Lark & LeClair, she had discovered she possessed a talent for acting. It came in handy in the private investigation business.
"That's why I signed the rental agreement," Brian enthused. "The amenities. What floor are you on?"
Killers were often excellent actors, too. The problem for Brian was that no matter how smooth and polished his performance, he could not disguise the faint, almost invisible wavelengths that sparked in his aura. To a woman who could read energy fields as easily as she read books, the shafts of pale radiance spelled one word: blank. It was the paranormal community's slang for sociopath.
That information, while chilling, was not what signaled Brian's intention to attack-not all sociopaths were violent. A lot of them were content to lead relatively quiet lives as con artists and fraudsters. They broke people's hearts and ripped off their money, but they didn't slice open jugulars.
But there was the other kind, the sort that fed on people's fear, pain and, in some cases, blood. Brian Gatewood was one of those. The warning blazed in his aura in the form of hot currents of bloodred energy.
"I'm on the ninth floor," she said. "You'll love the gym. It's on the top floor."
"Looking forward to trying out the equipment," Brian said.
She calculated the distance back to the relative safety of her car and then estimated how many steps she was from the locked doors of the elevator lobby. It didn't take a mathematician to know she was trapped. She didn't stand a chance of escape in either direction. Even if she could outrun Brian-doubtful, given that she was in heels-he would have no problem overtaking her while she was in the process of trying to unlock either the car door or the lobby entrance.
She stopped, careful to keep smiling. "Lucky me. I'm so glad you're here. I just remembered I left my key fob on the kitchen counter. You can let me into the lobby. I won't have to call the concierge desk and ask someone to rescue me."
Brian hesitated for a split second, just long enough to confirm her suspicion that the fob in his hand wouldn't open the lobby doors. Things were not going quite the way he had planned.
He recovered quickly. "Sure. Hang on." He glanced at the vintage camera hanging from a leather cord around her neck. "That looks like an antique."
"It is," Olivia said. "Mid-twentieth century."
"Do you collect old cameras?"
"Just this one."
He lost interest in the camera and went toward the door. The path he was following would bring him very close to her. She stepped aside as if to get out of his way. He altered course ever so slightly, just enough to ensure he closed the distance between them.
She took another step back and let her handbag slide off her shoulder onto the concrete floor.
"Damn," she said. "I just bought that bag. Now it's going to have garage dirt on it. That stuff never comes off."
She bent down, trying to appear as if she was intent on retrieving the handbag.
"I'll get it," Brian said. "So, what did you think about the speed date event? Any luck?"
He slipped the key fob into the pocket of his jacket. When his hand reappeared, she saw that his fingers were closed around a knife. He started toward her, moving fast.
"Nope, no luck," she said.
She straightened, raised the camera and peered through the viewfinder. Senses kicked up, she focused a crushing wave of energy on Brian's aura and pressed the crystal button that, in a real camera, would have released the shutter.
Paranormal energy flared around Brian. For those with the psychic senses required to view the scene, it looked as if he was about to become the victim of spontaneous human combustion. But instead of going up in flames, he convulsed. For a few frozen seconds he stared at her in disbelief. His mouth opened on a cry of panic and rage.
"Fuck you, bitch. What are you doing to me?"
The grocery sack fell from his hand, the contents scattering across the concrete floor. Brian's eyes rolled up in his head. He collapsed with a thud that echoed in the shadows.
Olivia was stunned. She watched the unconscious man as if he were a snake. Her pulse skittered. She started to shake. Great. The last thing she needed was a panic attack.
She forced herself to concentrate on what to do next. A faint but fairly steady aura still glowed around Brian. Okay, so he wasn't dead. There was no way to know how long he would remain unconscious. Maybe minutes. Maybe forever.
She had discovered the camera in Swan Antiques a few days ago. She knew almost nothing about it-just that she had some sort of intuitive connection to it. She had become obsessed, never letting it out of her sight. She carried it everywhere. Slept with it beside her bed. Sure, that was not normal, but not normal was pretty much the definition of an obsession.
The realization that the old camera might be a psychic weapon had come over her slowly but surely. Tonight she had been forced to put the suspicion to the test. Now she was certain she could have killed Brian if she had generated a little more heat through the crystal lens.
She got her senses and the incipient panic attack under control with an effort of will and studied the items that had tumbled out of the grocery bag-a roll of duct tape, a wig and a syringe.
She drew one more deep breath, took out her phone and called a familiar number. Roger Gossard, the head of Gossard Consulting, a cutting-edge psychological forensics agency, answered on the first ring.
"Olivia," he said, his voice sharp with concern. "What's wrong? Are you all right?"
She looked at the unconscious man and the items that had fallen out of the grocery sack.
"Gatewood was waiting for me inside the garage," she said.
"Inside? Shit. I don't know how he got past us. Where are you? Are you safe?"
"I'm all right. I'm in the garage near the elevator lobby. Gatewood is unconscious." She paused, swallowed hard. "I think he suffered a seizure."
She put one hand on the camera and looked at the fallen man. "Maybe a brain aneurysm. How should I know? I'm not a doctor."
"I'm on my way in with the team," Roger said. "We'll be there in a couple of minutes. We'll take charge. Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yes. Remember, you promised to keep Lark and LeClair out of this. I'm supposed to be working undercover. If the media finds out our firm was involved in the investigation, they'll run with it. Catalina and I are still trying to live down the rumor that we're running a psychic investigation agency. We don't want to attract any more clients who think we read palms and tell fortunes."
"Don't worry. Gossard Consulting doesn't want the wrong publicity, either. Any hint of the paranormal would hurt our credibility. Got to protect the brand."
"Speaking of your brand, you'll be thrilled to know your psychological profile was right about one thing. The Speed Date Killer really does look like Mr. Nice Guy."
"Thought you were dead," Victor Arganbright said.
"You mean you hoped I was dead." Harlan Rancourt contemplated one of the hundreds of pictures that cluttered Victor's large paneled office. "You never really believed I was permanently out of the way, did you? That's why you spent the past five years looking for me."
Five years. He had been on the run for five very long years, hiding not just from the Foundation but from the past. In the end he had been forced to acknowledge that, although he could probably evade Arganbright's security people indefinitely, he could never outrun the past. It was always there, one step behind him. He was so damned tired of running.
"You did a good job of hiding," Lucas Pine said.
"Coming from you, that is a compliment," Harlan said.
He studied the painting a moment longer. The oil was a mediocre nineteenth-century picture of the oracle of Delphi. It wasn't much to look at. The oracle was shown in her classic pose, seated on a three-legged stool that straddled the crack in the floor of a vast cavern. The figure, draped in a hood and flowing robes, delivered her prophecy as she inhaled the mysterious fumes that seeped up through the opening in the rock. Those who had paid handsomely for her pronouncements waited nearby, anxious to hear her cryptic warnings and advice.
It was, of course, up to the customer to interpret the meaning of the prophecy. You paid your money and you took your chances.
The pictures hanging on the walls and stacked on the floor of the office varied in quality, artistic style and value. Some were hundreds of years old. Others were modern. But they all had the same theme. Arganbright was obsessed with the subject of oracles.
So am I, Harlan thought.
He turned away from the painting and regarded the two men he was confronting. He was well aware he was taking a risk, but it was a carefully calculated risk. That was the only kind he took, and he was very good at the business. He was a grand master-level chess player when it came to judging the odds and predicting the outcomes. But even for him this was a major move. If he was wrong it could cost him his life, or worse. He might end up in a locked ward at Halcyon Manor, the psychiatric hospital where the Foundation confined the real monsters.
It was late afternoon. Arganbright and Pine had been working in the office when he had called Victor's private number to inform them that he was standing thirty floors below their penthouse at the front door of the Foundation tower. After ending the call he had been met by two armed guards and escorted upstairs in a private elevator.
Victor was seated behind a massive desk. Lucas lounged on the corner, one elegantly shod foot braced on the floor, arms casually crossed. They had dismissed the security team, but Harlan was sure both men were armed. They watched him as if he was one of the psychic monsters the Foundation hunted down and housed in Halcyon.
Monsters like Larissa Whittier.
They all had good reason to be wary of each other. It was no secret his father had viewed him as the heir apparent to what had become the Rancourt family business-or criminal mob, depending on your point of view-the Foundation. He knew that as long as he was alive, he represented a threat to the men who were now at the top-Arganbright and Pine.
They made an intriguing couple. Pine, silver-haired and polished, had the looks and stage-trained voice of an actor. It would have been easy to assume he was just another retired Las Vegas show personality-a former lounge singer or a magician, perhaps. He was retired, all right-from the CIA.
Victor Arganbright appeared at first glance to be Pine's polar opposite. He radiated the grim, humorless demeanor of a man who was haunted night and day by his self-imposed task of tracking down a dangerous conspiracy.
Harlan understood. He was obsessed with the same conspiracy. It went by the code name Vortex, and it dated from the days of the top secret Bluestone Project. Bluestone was a clandestine government program that had been established in the latter half of the twentieth century to conduct research into the paranormal. At its height it had consisted of as many as three labs, possibly more. But the entire project had been shut down decades earlier, in the last century. The order had been given to destroy the labs and any records associated with them.
But it was impossible to conceal a secret as big and as dangerous as Bluestone forever. Over the years, rumors had circulated. Physical evidence in the form of objects infused with a lot of hot energy had surfaced. In the case of the tiny town of Fogg Lake in the Cascade mountains in Washington State, the DNA of an entire population had been changed, thanks to a disastrous explosion in the secret Bluestone lab that had been built in the nearby cave system.
The paranormal gases that had been released had blanketed the community in a strange mist. The locals had slept for two days. When they woke up they discovered that things had changed; they had changed. Some began seeing auras. Others had visions or developed uncanny abilities. The paranormal energy released in the explosion had awakened latent psychic talents. The new traits had proved to be inheritable.
"How did you do it?" Lucas prompted.
"How did I stay off your to-do list?" Harlan said. He crossed the room to stand at the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Las Vegas Strip. There was still some daylight in the desert sky-the real action wouldn't start until night fell-but it was always midnight inside the casinos. "I used the same technique you're using to conceal the Foundation here in Vegas. Closing down the Los Angeles operation and moving the headquarters here was a brilliant move, by the way. It's the last place anyone would think to look for a government contractor devoted to paranormal research, investigation and security."