Murder Feels Bad
… But you do at least know about the empathy thing, right?
Okay. Super fast, so we don’t bore all the organized readers … my friend, housemate/landlord, and sidekickee Mark Falcon (I’m the sidekick) is the world’s one and only legit empath detective.
He can feel other people’s emotions. Even when he doesn’t want to.
Which is crazy awesome, but on top of that, Mark has chosen to use this superpower to fight crime, vibing the innermost secrets of real-deal murderers and bringing them to justice. So far we’ve been at it for a solid month.
And there were these two suspects, Dr. Jivanta Kistna and, um, this other guy I won’t name in case you didn’t read Book 1 (Murder Feels Awful) yet, and they did a bunch of crazy stuff I can’t tell you about here but the upshot was, they decided to get married.
Like, right away. I don’t know how they pulled that off, since Jivanta’s family turned out to be Catholic and I thought they had rules about that. I think Jivanta wanted to get the wedding in while the Blue Ridge Mountains were still at Peak Autumn Gorgeous.
In a good year, the view out here in rural Virginia is continuously breathtaking. You can’t even (for instance) be running late for a wedding without a lush distant backdrop of mountainous fall foliage, serene in every direction.
Unfortunately, if you are running late for that wedding, the fantastic scenery on a crisp sunny morning just seems wildly inappropriate, even sinister…
[Mark, Pete (the narrator), and Pete’s plus-one, his nurse friend Ceci, barely make it to the wedding on time…]
We grabbed a pew, just as the music fired up and the first awkward couple started the long march.
I didn’t know any of these people, but Ceci was craning to see the entire wedding party with endless enthusiasm. She’d probably know half of them by the end of the reception.
I caught her eye and grinned. She grinned back, sparkling and happy.
Then Jivanta made her entrance.
I hadn’t seen Jivanta since the “suspect party”, weeks ago. Even in civilian clothes, Jivanta’s eyes and smile can induce a mind-altering state. Now, maxed out in makeup and a bridal gown…
… I kind of blissed out.
Except the bliss was steeped with pain, because how could I ever really have a woman like that?
When my trance faded, Ceci was staring ahead, obviously hurt.
I gave an inward sigh. Even though we were totally here as friends, it couldn’t feel great to have your dude gawking at another woman … especially the bride. I realized I’d have to show some finesse here. Not only is Ceci one of my best friends, but I’d been racking up karmic debt to her like crazy, especially lately. The last thing I wanted was to make her feel bad.
I leaned toward her to whisper some smooth reassurance.
Oops. Wrong sight line.
Because in the next pew over, the hottest blonde I’d seen in months stood alone.
She didn’t just stand, she had that curvy lean thing going on, relaxing on one black-hosed leg, where a woman has so much pent-up curvaceous goodness in so many ways that she can’t even stand up straight, she has to slow burn in a sinuous stance of sensuality.
Even as I looked, she turned right toward me, locked my gaze in her own mascara-ringed infinities, and smiled. At me.
And I thought I’d been blissing over Jivanta.
I startled, panicking that I’d been caught again. “What?” I whispered.
“Female emergency,” Ceci hissed.
“What is it?” I whispered. “You can tell me.”
“No I can’t,” she snapped. “Save my seat.”
She slipped out and clacked away down the aisle. She always wobbles a little on those unfamiliar high heels.
With Ceci gone, the pull of the blonde amped up like crazy. I was terrified to look back, terrified not to look back. At the front of the church, the wedding had already begun, but I was in another world entirely.
Beside me, Mark grunted. “Seriously, Pete? Now?”
Have I mentioned that Mark and I have this weird connection? And it’s getting worse. I wouldn’t mind so much if I could vibe his thoughts once in awhile.
“Dude,” I whispered. “Look at her.”
Mark flicked her a glance. “So?”
“So?” I said. “Can you see if she likes me?”
“WHAT?” he snapped. “Did you not hear anything last night from my Akina disaster?”
Oh right. The night before, we’d stayed up too late doing this whole interview thing that turned into a novella. Like, literally, it’s a novella now, you can read it. And it’s free, it’s a mailing-list-only thing — but don’t go get it now if you haven’t read it, I’ll put the link at the end.
All you need to know here is that in Mark’s distant past, trying to vibe whether women liked him had led to, um … problems.
“That was different!” I said.
“Sure it’s different,” he said. “You’re fricking here with Ceci.”
“As a friend! And I’m not going to ignore Ceci, I could just get the girl’s number—”
“No! Besides, I’ve got my shields maxed out.”
You remember shields, right? In theory, an empath can reduce the constant emotional onslaught by visualizing some kind of shield. A castle wall, a glowing force field, whatever. But it takes a lot of concentration, and it’s not super reliable, especially (apparently) at keeping out me.
“Why would you have your shields up?” I said. “It’s a wedding!”
“Are you kidding? Weddings are worse than funerals. Every woman’s comparing herself to the bride, every dude’s wishing he could have the bride—”
“Okay, okay, TMI!” I said. “But can’t you just do a quick check? It’ll only take a minute.”
“If you don’t, I’ll just be wondering the whole time.”
Mark eyed me. “You’re going to regret this,” he muttered. “At least try to calm down, you’re causing major interference.”
He closed his eyes and looked focused.
I strained to be calm. I tried to focus anywhere but the woman … anywhere at all…
The priest at the front was super young. He was cracking awkward jokes about him being a new priest and this being his first wedding, and hoping he could say the same for Jivanta and the groom. That one didn’t land so well.
I was trying so hard not to look at Mark and guess what he was reading.
Then he gasped.
And not just any gasp. The kind that made the skin of my neck start to crawl.
I looked. He was darting gazes in every direction like a bloodhound.
“What is it?” I whispered. “Does she secretly hate me?”
“It’s not her,” he snapped. His eyes narrowed. “Something is very wrong.”
The priest made another awkward stab at humor, how he was pretty sure he was more nervous than the bride and groom. He’d woken up that morning praying nothing would go wrong--
Everyone in the entire church jolted. What the hell was that?
The bell. The bell in the old tower was booming, blasting through the church like an air raid siren.
The priest’s smooth face creased with anxiety.
Mark shoved out of the pew and ran for the back. I stumbled after him, my heart thudding.
As we rushed into the lobby, a piercing wail shrieked beneath the bell.
It was a kid, howling.
And beneath that, a new yell of pain was stabbing us, a woman crying for help.
We followed the cries and burst through a side door into an old brick hallway that led to the tower. We nearly collided with the fat, familiar woman I’d seen before, who was still clutching the cute toddler. Both their faces were distorted with terror. The woman was fleeing, and the girl was squirming frantic against her, trying to escape even faster, mashing her mother’s shoulder with some old holy card. Even in that moment, I noted that the card had a delicate border of lace. It was getting crushed.
Then I saw behind them.
The frayed end of a thick rope lay on the old brick floor like the rattle of a snake. The rope wound back to what was left of a woman.
I could only look for a split second.
The body was crushed and obscene, like a broken deer on the side of the road, the red half-eaten carcass stretched across the asphalt. Except this was much worse.
Revulsion clenched me. I could already feel the doom of my future nightmares. I had to look somewhere, anywhere else. I looked up.
High in the tower, in the dizzy upper darkness, the broken rope dangled. The bell was still ringing from the force of the body’s release…
Mark Falcon, the Empath Detective, may be able to sense people’s emotions, but the rest of us need a little help. If you win this giveaway, you’ll not only get paperback editions of all Mark’s detective adventures so far (including his prequel novella, ORIGIN STORY, which you can’t even BUY in print, because it’s only a gift ebook for my email list friends) … you’ll also get the technology to BE an empath yourself! I refer, of course, to … MOOD RINGS!