Mermaids, menehunes, and murder.
Riga Hayworth just wants to relax with her new husband on their Hawaiian honeymoon. But the bodies of a murdered man and a seal found on a Kauai beach pull them into an investigation and send the supernatural world into an uproar.
When Riga detects traces of magic at the murder scene, she knows she can’t ignore the call. There’s necromancy afoot, and she must prepare for the battle to come. But can Riga fight the elemental forces of nature? Or will they destroy her and everyone she loves?
Book four in the Riga Hayworth series of urban fantasy and paranormal mystery novels, The Elemental Detective is fun, fast-paced paranormal women’s fiction. If you’re looking for a page-turner with a complicated, 40-something heroine, scroll up and buy The Elemental Detective today!
Release date: January 1, 1970
Publisher: misterio press
Print pages: 192
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Elemental Detective
The palms rattled like bones, awakening Riga. A warm salt breeze slipped through the open door, and shivered across her bare skin. Beside her, the mattress sagged, the bed frame creaking an accompaniment to her own, steady breathing.
One breath, rising and falling. Her breath.
Muddled by sleep, she stilled, her heart leaping with a sudden jolt of adrenaline as she understood it wasn’t her husband beside her, weighting the bed. Riga kept her breathing steady, and extended her other senses. Probing. She opened her eyes, peering through her lashes. Through the open glass door, the moon illuminated a winged figure, hunched beside her on the hotel’s bed.
“Brigitte!” Riga sat up, torn between annoyance and the panic rising in her throat. She clutched the sheet to her breasts. “What are you doing here? Where’s Donovan?”
The gargoyle shrugged, the sound of rocks grating together, and the bed shifted. “Monsieur Mosse left an hour ago,” she graveled, a French-accented Lauren Bacall. “And his whereabouts are the least of your worries.”
Riga lurched to the left and reached for the bedside lamp. Instead, her fingers found emptiness, fumbled in the dark, then touched a wooden leg, upright, seemingly supporting nothing. Where the hell had the tabletop gone? Her fingers brushed a rounded stump and it fell over with a crash. Where the hell had the lamp gone?
She swung her feet out of bed, took two steps, and bashed her shin into something hard. Riga felt along the wall and smacked the light switch, cursing. Uncomprehending, she stared. Everything but the bed had been turned upside down. Cushioned wicker chairs. Wooden table. Television… She grabbed her silk robe, draped over an upside-down ottoman, and slipped it on, walked to the entertainment center. That was still upright, but the TV inside had been inverted.
Wonder leaked past her anxiety. She sniffed. A trace of magic lingered, wild like a forest glade, elemental. Fae? She regarded the creative destruction she’d slept through, and amended that thought. Stealth fae. Dammit. She fumbled the belt of her robe.
“What happened to Donovan? Where is he?” Riga’s voice sounded shrill, even to her ears.
“Your husband left of his own accord.”
“Alone?” Riga motioned toward the mess. No, it couldn’t be happening again. Not another run-in with the faery world. Not here. Not now. “Did you see who—”
Brigitte’s stone-feathered head reared backwards. “I do not spy!”
“But you saw Donovan leave.”
“And then I waited by ze rocks until you woke up.”
“You woke me up.”
The gargoyle picked at her feathers. “I grew bored, and the sun will rise soon, and we have much to discuss.”
The diamond on Riga’s finger glinted, and she rubbed the back of her wedding rings with her thumb. She and Donovan hadn’t yet adjusted to island time, and both were rising well before daybreak. Donovan had probably woken up while she was sleeping and grown restless, hadn’t wanted to wake her. Of course he was safe. It couldn’t be happening again. That would be stretching the bounds of… She worked the knot on her robe. He was safe.
She swallowed, despising the remnants of fear that made her muscles twitch, and flipped her emotions to anger. Anger was simpler.
“For Pete’s sake, Brigitte! We’re on our honeymoon. Whatever the problem is, it can wait.” Only two weeks ago, she and Donovan had had an undead crisis at their wedding. She just learned her niece may be a necromancer. Had just learned that she, herself, was a necromancer, albeit an unusual one, and connected in horrifying ways to dark magic. And Donovan was… God only knew what he was.
Brigitte tossed her head. “You and your niece are necromancers, even if you happen to be a terrible disappointment at the art. And I am here because I sensed dark magic, black necromancy, and not your own.”
“Well, of course not mine. I would hardly—”
“Black magic, Riga. Big magic. You cannot ignore this.”
“Faery tricks? Oh yes, I can ignore them.” She allowed herself to hope. After all, these were just silly pranks. It wasn’t as if someone had died.
“Not ze furniture. Something else, something terrible. This is serious.”
“No. It’s always serious,” Riga snarled. “And there’s always something terrible coming. Let someone else deal with it this time.”
Riga righted the bedside table, replaced the clock and lamp. “It’s four A.M., and I’m on my honeymoon. Go away.” Well-traveled and just north of forty, Riga was experienced enough to know she had a lifetime ahead of her with the man she loved. This honeymoon was just an interlude. But their first week in Hawaii had been blissfully supernatural-free, and she’d hoped...
The gargoyle flapped her wings. “Ze honeymoon is over! Put your big girl pants on and stop ze dark magic.”
“Put your big girl… Did you get that from my niece? And you’re supposed to be watching her, training her.”
“Pen is fine. You, however, are headed for big trouble.”
Riga righted a chair. Her stomach tingled unpleasantly. “This is Hawaii. I’m sure they’ve got their own shamans and kahunas. They don’t need me.”
The gargoyle shook her head. “But this magic is—”
The lock on the bungalow door clicked.
“Get out,” Riga hissed.
The gargoyle’s stone muscles tensed beneath her stony feathers, and she leaped, wings angling to soar through the open glass doors.
Donovan edged inside, carrying a wooden tray laden with fruit and juices, and relief flooded her senses. Rumpled raven-black hair, broad shoulders, chiseled features, green eyes that crinkled around the edges. He stopped and took in the disarray, his expression shifting to surprise. “Redecorating?”
“Not me. You know how I feel about morning exercise.”
His eyes glinted. “Not all morning exercise.”
Riga’s heart beat faster, warmth spreading through her. She contemplated her new husband – her first. She was his first, too, which had struck her as miraculous given his age (mid-forties) and astonishing good looks. Donovan owned a chain of casinos, and the patina of money and power made him even easier on the eyes to most women. While she couldn’t claim complete immunity to those charms, Donovan was so much more. He was someone to grow old with, an idea she’d once found trite but no longer.
As for herself, Riga knew why she’d stayed on the shelf. Ever since her college years, she’d been a magical freak, and a powerful one. Last year, her life had changed, and that power had flickered, turned erratic. And life had grown dangerous.
“What happened?” he asked.
“I’m not sure. Menehunes, maybe.” She grimaced. “This has the smell of fae about it.”
He nudged the door shut with his bare foot and the tray wobbled, threatening to stain his loose, white linen shirt with orange juice. Catlike, he regained control. “What are menehunes?”
“The Hawaiian little people.”
He eyed the overturned bureau. “How little?”
Smiling, Riga righted a chair. “I’ve never actually met one.”
“And they turned our bungalow upside down because…?”
“They’re known as tricksters.”
“Annoyances, is more like it.” He handed her the tray, and ran his hands down her arms, to her hips.
“Or they might just want to let us know they know we’re here.”
“That’s one of the many things I love about being with you. You introduce me to the most unusual… people.”
Her heart turned over. And that was one of the many things she loved about him. He didn’t just accept the magic, he embraced it, another adventure. But he was new to the magical world, and the fae weren’t the cutesy faeries of Victorian greeting cards. They could be capricious, deadly. “The fae aren’t people. And I’d rather they stay out of our honeymoon.”
“Hold that thought.” He flipped the table, took the tray from her, and placed it on top. “You were saying?”
“They might have been trying to send us a message. Brigitte—”
“Forget the faeries.” His mouth claimed hers, and her blood hummed in her veins.
His lips drifted to the arch of her neck, and his attention drifted lower.
She gasped. “But…”
There was something she had to tell him. Something…
He smelled of ancient forests, wild and primal, and heat rose inside her. She found the buttons of his shirt. “Later,” she said, her voice husky.
Their lovemaking was slow, sweet. And when they lay curled in a drowsy knot, he bent over her and brushed her lips, and heat flared between them again. Afterward, he pulled her into the wide shower and they bathed, and then settled down for breakfast on their balcony, watched the stars dim. The sky over the Pacific lightened to gray and the curve of Hanalei Bay took on definition, mountains rising in the background.
She sighed. “Is this heaven?”
Donovan’s broad hand covered her own. “It ought to be.”
“Only one week left in paradise.” Riga brushed a fleck of croissant off her short-sleeved blouse, and it fell to the lap of her white skort.
“I couldn’t take more time away,” he said.
“You were a marvel to manage two weeks.” Donovan’s casino in South Lake Tahoe was still in rocky condition. And he owned other casinos as well, in Las Vegas and Macau. But she hadn’t seen him check his e-mail once, or more than glance at his smart phone.
“And we can always come back.” His thumb traced a pattern in her palm, leaving it tingling.
He rose. “Shall we?”
She let him pull her out of the chair. He unlatched the patio gate and they stepped into soft sand. They were staying in one of the hotel’s private bungalows, tucked amidst kukui trees behind a small private beach.
They walked past a tangled banyan tree, and clambered onto a pile of smooth rock, slick with sea spray. Donovan froze, the grip on her hand tightening.
“Do you hear that?”
She strained to listen, caught a woman’s soft sobbing.
Slowly, they picked their way over the pile of large rocks. At the top, a woman’s outline, semi-transparent, blurred. The Christmas lights on a kukui tree shimmered through her bathing suit, through her slim arms and legs, glittering off the water droplets in her hair.
“Hello,” Donovan said. “Can we help?”
She ignored them, and Donovan gave Riga an apologetic look. It wasn’t the first ghost they’d seen on the islands. None had been aware of their presence, and this one seemed no exception.
“I had to try,” he said. “There’s nothing worse than hearing a woman crying.”
The ghost turned and walked through him.
He winced. “I take it back. That’s worse.” But he watched the woman disappear into the trees, his expression regretful.
Riga watched too, her scalp prickling. She touched his hand. They both knew the ghost would become aware when she was ready. “We’ll be here another week. Who knows? Maybe she’ll notice us.”
He nodded, and led her onto a long stretch of beach, curving around the bay.
Gentle waves lapped the sand, covering their feet and ankles, and Riga felt that strange disorientation of the earth being sucked from beneath her. She stooped to pick up a cowry shell.
A sweet miasma choked her throat. The world slipped sideways, and she stumbled as her other senses recoiled from the scent of dark magic, rotting, sulfurous. And then it was gone, as if carried off by the wind.
Donovan caught her arm. “Careful.”
“Thanks.” Not now, she prayed. The fae were one thing, but dark magic was quite another.
They walked on, skirting rocks and bits of driftwood. Palm trees still wrapped in Christmas lights twinkled along the shore.
“What do you think of our hotel?” Donovan asked.
“I love it, of course,” she said, looking at him curiously. Donovan had chosen the hotel, and it wasn’t in his nature to seek approval or validation.
“But what do you think about it?”
“Spectacular location, recently renovated interior with a modern, eco-chic feel, a bar and restaurant that makes me want to stay in… What’s not to like? Why? Has it given you ideas for your casinos?”
The sky above the mountains pinked, shot through with ribbons of gold. But a chill rippled through her. The sense of dark magic had returned, crawling along the edge of her awareness, making her want to run. She stopped, tightening her grip on his hand, probing with her senses.
“It’s our casino, now,” he corrected. “And no. Those are two different worlds. I’m thinking of…” He stopped, frowning.
She followed his gaze. Something lay still on the beach. No, she realized, two somethings. But one was bloated, misshapen. Its image flickered, as if a television channel had been switched. “Oh, my God.”
Donovan was running across the sand.
Riga already knew – the somethings were dead.
Bare feet dragging in the damp sand, Riga trudged toward Donovan and the two motionless figures. Donovan knelt beside the smaller lump and as she neared her chest tightened, the full horror revealing itself. Orange tape flapped loosely, tied to two pegs in the ground before a man and a… She blinked. A seal? Blood stained the sand around their shattered skulls and her stomach rolled.
A shutter dropped over her mind and she tried to view the scene dispassionately. Bullet wounds to both heads. A good bit of damage, so a larger caliber. Dark magic tugged at her senses, a sickly-sweet cocktail that both repelled and attracted Riga. She clapped her hand over her mouth, acid rising in her throat, and focused on the torsos. The man was well-dressed, in expensive boating shoes and creased khakis. He wore a blue windbreaker with the logo from their hotel. A guest? An employee? “That’s a hotel jacket,” she said.
Donovan looked up. “It’s Dennis Glasgow, the owner.”
She nodded. Of course they’d chosen a hotel where the owner would be murdered. On the other hand, they hadn’t picked the hotel, Donovan had. Which meant… She rubbed a spot above her left eyebrow. What did it mean?
The morning light had turned pale gray, and if there were footprints in the sand, Riga couldn’t interpret them, so she looked for other signs. And they were there, a circle drawn in the sand around the bodies as if with a stick. She squinted. The slanting pre-dawn light illuminated magical sigils carved in the loose sand. A sour taste rose in the back of her mouth. The magical symbols could only mean one thing.
“This tape…” She motioned toward the pegs, the plastic, orange ribbon.
“It looks like the beginning of one of those barriers people put up around the seals, to warn others away,” Donovan said.
She relaxed her gaze and turned to the seal. Its image flickered again, something with a long tail, scales, and then it was just a poor, dead seal. Opening herself up, she probed deeper, let the boundaries fall away. Terror. Rage. A dark wave washed over her, nauseating. She gagged, stumbled toward the ocean and fell to her hands and knees, retching.
Behind her, Donovan’s footsteps pounded in the sand. He touched her shoulders. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, and wiped her mouth with the back of one hand. Cold sand pressed into her palms, her knees. “Magic,” her voice trembled. “A sacrifice. Black necromancy.”
He rubbed his broad hand along her back, and a soothing warmth spread where he touched. “I’ll call the police.” His voice was tight. Donovan drew his phone from his pocket, called 9-1-1.
She sat down in the sand, legs crossed, staring at the roll and swell of the ocean, half listening to the conversation. The wind picked up, tossing her auburn hair. Magic was involved. Which meant she was involved. She was a metaphysical detective, with a P.I.’s license. Walking away from this type of murder would be like an off-duty paramedic walking away from a choking victim – legally correct, but soul destroying and morally wrong. But now, on her honeymoon? She scrubbed a hand over her face, torn between frustration and guilt over her desire to walk away.
Donovan ended the call. “I need to make sure no one disturbs the body.”
She nodded, began to rise, but he put a hand on her shoulder.
“You can stay here, catch your breath,” he said.
“Thanks,” she said, grateful. “It’s hard to tell in this light, but I think someone drew a magic circle and sigils around the bodies. Be careful where you step.”
She watched him trudge back to the bodies. Dark magic they could handle. Donovan had said he knew what he was in for when they married, and he brought some magic of his own to the partnership. But she’d hoped they’d catch a break on the islands, that mayhem wouldn’t prick their bubble of happiness.
She wasn’t used to being responsible for the happiness of another, though Donovan would consider his happiness his sole responsibility. And she wanted to make him happy.
A wave washed her stomach contents into the bay. At least she’d made some fishes happy.
She looked over her shoulder. Donovan stood relaxed, the wind pressing his loose linen shirt and trousers against his muscular frame. And now her new husband was guarding two corpses.
The police arrived quickly. First a white squad car. Then an ambulance. Then another squad car. A man in uniform drew Donovan aside and took notes in a small pad. Donovan rubbed the back of his neck, pointed down the beach, toward their hotel.
Riga stood, brushing the sand from the back of her skort. Her mouth tasted of bile. Until she could get back to the hotel and her toothbrush, she’d need to keep downwind of Donovan and the detective.
A tingle of energy tickled the edge of her awareness.
“Have a peppermint,” a male voice said, close by.
She turned, bewildered, saw only beach and the far-off policemen and Donovan.
A laugh, rich, rolling. “Here.”
Riga looked down. Beside her stood an elderly man, his chubby arm upraised, offering a candy wrapped in pink foil. He was waist-high to Riga, and his red and white Hawaiian shirt fluttered in the strengthening breeze. She assumed there were pants or shorts beneath the shirt, but from her high angle, his beach ball stomach hid whatever came below. His fisherman’s hat threatened to blow away, and he clutched it to his shock of white hair, hair that accentuated the deep bronze of his skin.
“Thank you.” She took the candy and unwrapped it slowly, popped it in her mouth. It was a buttery peppermint, recalling the candy bowl her father had kept at his office when she was a child.
They watched the remnants of waves edge toward their feet. She drew in her energetic center and then blew it outward with her breath, extending her psychic senses. A ripple feathered across the edge of her perception, and her skin twitched in response. The man was magic, or he had magic, but it was like nothing she’d ever encountered.
When it was clear he wouldn’t say anything more, Riga spoke. “Did you see what happened here?”
“I didn’t need to see it happen. I can see what has happened. And it’s clear what will happen.”
“Sacrifice has returned to Kauai.”
“It came to this island long ago. The old kings used it to increase their power, their mana.”
“And did it work?” she asked.
He nodded. “For a time, but there was a terrible price. It’s bad magic. Your kind of magic, sorceress.”
“I don’t kill people,” she said sharply. “Or animals.” At least, not intentionally. And not for magic.
“But the creature who did this is one of your kind. Which, I believe, makes you responsible.”
She drew breath to argue, but he was right. She was responsible – not because whoever had done this was her kind, but because she could stop him. “Who are you?”
“Just a humble kupua.”
“You would call me a shaman. You would be wrong, but shaman is close enough.”
“What do you know about this?” She motioned toward the bodies on the beach.
He clucked his tongue. “Big trouble is coming. Big trouble for your kind. Big trouble for mine.”
She pressed her lips together. Why, why, why did magicians insist on being cryptic? She suspected it was because it made them seem wise and mysterious.
Across the bay, the sun broke the mountaintops, sent shadows slanting across the dry sand.
“I don’t suppose you can be more specific?” she asked.
He didn’t reply, and she looked down. The little man had vanished.
“Damn, he’s good.”
A uniformed policeman labored through the white sand toward her, flipping the pages of a leather-bound notepad. “Mrs. Mosse?”
She didn’t bother asking if he’d seen the kupua. “Technically, my last name is still Hayworth. Riga Hayworth.”
“I know who you are.” Impassive, he scrawled notes in his pad, too young to recognize the closeness to the name of the silver screen goddess, Rita Hayworth, born too late to acknowledge the strange resemblance between the two women. Riga answered his questions, and he dismissed her, just an unlucky tourist who’d stumbled upon a body.
She rejoined Donovan, and they walked slowly back down the beach.
He cleared his throat. “There’s something I need to tell you. I wanted it to be a surprise, partly because I wasn’t sure if he was going to go through with it.”
“Tell me you’re not a suspect.”
He arched a brow. “No. Why would you think that?”
She didn’t respond, and he smiled. “Fair enough. But one of the reasons we came here was because the hotel might be for sale. I was thinking of buying it.”
She tugged at his hand to stop. “Buying it? But it’s not a casino.”
“I’ve decided to diversify, but I want to stick to an industry I know. And I know resorts. And if we owned this place—”
“We’d have lots of excuses to return,” she finished for him. “So that’s why you wanted to know what I thought of the hotel. But that doesn’t make you a suspect, does it? Dennis Glasgow’s death doesn’t benefit you.”
One corner of his mouth tugged upward. “No, Riga. I’m not a suspect. Dennis and his brother both own the hotel, and both were interested in selling, though the younger brother is more eager. Dennis’s death doesn’t change anything for me.”
“Which was killed?”
“The older brother.”
The one less enthusiastic about selling.
Riga furrowed her brows. So to an investigator, it might look like Donovan had a motive, that he’d cleared a path to buying the hotel.
He chuckled. “Don’t look so worried. I’m not a suspect. But I don’t like the timing.”
“Donovan, there’s something I need to tell you,” she said. “I was right – there was magic involved in the murder. While you were talking to the police, I was approached by a local kupua, a sort of shaman. He told me the murder had been committed by one of my kind.”
“And I assume by ‘your kind’ he didn’t mean mainlander.”
“I don’t know what’s more disturbing – that magical people can see what I am so easily, or that we’ve only been in the islands a week before finding a body.”
“This wasn’t your fault,” he said.
She bit her lip. “No, but it’s my responsibility. This is magic. The police may not be able to take care of this.” Unwelcome, a memory popped into Riga’s mind. Tangled white hair, wild eyes. A woman she’d met, who had the same powers. And like Riga, she’d attracted violent deaths, magical deaths. But she had ignored the calls of the dead and gone mad.
“What are you thinking?”
Her jaw tightened. Why did this have to happen to them now? So much had come between them before the wedding, and she’d hoped… “And I don’t think I can ignore this, not a magical death, not necromancy.”
“The police have the crime scene and will interview the people at the hotel who knew Dennis, as well as anyone on the beach who might have seen something. We can’t do anything for now.”
“We?” She felt suddenly lighter. He was with her on this. He understood.
“If Dennis was killed by someone for magical reasons, as you say, it’s unlikely the police will be able to manage it.” He squeezed her hand. “Besides, I have a stake in this.”
“The hotel.” She gnawed her lower lip. The hotel purchase would both ease and complicate things. “But Donovan, we’re more likely to hear truths when people are off balance. We should talk to the victim’s wife and brother as soon as possible.”
“And if they’re innocent, we’ll be harassing them for no reason.”
And making it harder for him to buy the hotel, she thought cynically. “Donovan—”
“If I was your client, would you do things my way?”
He barked a laugh.
“Okay,” she relented, “for you and only you, yes. But you’re not my client. Besides, how would you pay me?”
“I think I can afford your rates.”
“You said when we got married that what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours – it would be like paying myself.”
He cocked his head, his dark brows drawing together. “What if I told you I hadn’t actually meant that?”
“No take backs!” In spite of the situation, she almost laughed.
He rubbed his chin. “Well, I do believe a wedding present is traditional, and you still haven’t gotten me one.”
“Oh.” She’d wanted to get him something, but it had been one of those man-who-has-everything conundrums. “I suppose that would work.”
“Then I suggest we go on with our plans for the day, and use your celebrity status to gossip with the locals.”
“What celebrity status? You’re the one in the business pages. I’m just an afterthought.”
“That’s what you think. Did you see the tabloid pictures of our wedding?”
“Wait a minute.” Her eyes narrowed. “If you’re trying to buy the hotel… Is our honeymoon a tax deduction?”
“No.” He darted a glance at her. “Not all of it.”
“Not our time on the last island, and only part of our stay here. You did say it was a lovely hotel. You’re not angry, are you?”
“No. But don’t think you’re off the hook just because I’m madly in love with you.”
Riga’s mouth twitched. “Maybe.”
The catamaran powered atop the crystalline waters, bouncing against the waves. Riga sat on Donovan’s lap, beside the captain, in swivel chairs beneath a blue awning. The warm wind streamed through her hair, and she knotted it at the nape of her neck. Strands flew out, striking her skin. Riga’s hand drifted to her stomach, glad she’d taken the motion sickness pills. Perhaps she should take them every day to ward off these random bouts of dark magic nausea.
She itched to be back on land, investigating the murder. But Donovan had been right – for now, the police were in charge, and there was nothing to be done. And she was on an island paradise, and Donovan was beside her and God, oh God she loved him.
But a trickle of unease leaked past, and she wondered how long this could last. Necromancy had nearly taken Donovan from her once, and she was now a necromancer, whether she liked it or not. And while she wanted to believe she could make necromantic magic her own, create a system for herself she could use for good, that sort of thing was years in the making. She had a feeling she’d need magical help a whole lot sooner. For her, there was no vacation from the supernatural.
Donovan’s arm tightened around her waist, and she leaned into him.
“There it is.” The captain, bronzed and bare-chested, shouted over the roar of the motor. “Na Pali.”
Fingers of mountain, red earth and green, cascaded into turquoise water that grew dark as it edged away from the island. They rounded the bend, and a deep cleft appeared in the dagger-like cliffs, a call to Shangri-La.
Donovan’s grip tightened. A dozen inadequate platitudes about the beauty of the place poised on Riga’s lips, and she said nothing, laid her hand on his bare knee.
“Those are called ‘Pali.’” The captain scratched his beard. “The cliffs are carved by waterfalls at the top, and shaped by the sea at the bottom. According to legend, Pele, the volcano goddess, came to Na Pali coast searching for a home. But her angry sister, the goddess of the sea, Namakaokaha'i, drove her away. The elements are still battling here. Fire, earth, air and water are still shaping these islands. The volcanoes grow the islands and the water chips them away. We’ll visit a lava tube later.”
“Are there any other legends about Kauai?” Donovan asked.
“Lots. Ever heard of the menehunes? They’re our little people. According to legend, they built the sacred sites, the heiau, overnight. There’s also a cave near the Na Pali coast trailhead that’s believed to be menehune.”
Riga made a face. Menehunes. That would be a cave she’d be steering clear of.
Donovan glanced at her, his emerald eyes dancing.
Grudgingly, she broke into a smile.
“And now this trip is research,” Donovan said.
“Research?” The captain asked. “What are you researching?”
“She’s a writer,” Donovan lied. “Very interested in local magic and legends. Especially about – what did you call them? Menehunes?”
“Well in that case…” The captain droned on about gods and ghosts as they traveled up the coast.
He turned the boat in a wide arc, and pointed. “Spinners.” Suddenly they were racing a pod of dolphins, flashing mercury in the waves.
Riga gasped with delight and hurried to the side. Donovan followed, steadying her against the rail. The dolphins slipped in and out of the water, effortless grace and muscle. One leapt from the water, twisting its body and exposing the white patch on its belly, then splashing onto its side. Riga could almost feel the water streaming across her skin, the freedom of skimming through the waves.
“They’re magnificent.” Donovan’s voice was a low rumble. He turned to the captain: “How fast are we going?”
“Fifteen knots. That’s roughly seventeen miles per hour.”
Donovan braced one hand on the rail and studied them, as if to learn their secrets.
“We’re coming up on our snorkel spot. Looks like we may be in luck,” the captain said.
He navigated into a crescent-shaped bay, and to more shallow waters. They shimmered cerulean, clear enough to see patterns in the white sand below. The captain cut the engine and Riga’s ears rang in the abrupt quiet, broken only by the lap of water against the boat. The captain dropped anchor, and Riga and Donovan went down below and changed – Donovan into a pair of black trunks, and Riga into a white two-piece.
Sunlight shimmered off the water, inviting. Riga ran to the back of the boat and dove. The water was a cool shock to her skin, and she broke the surface with a yelp.
Donovan stood on the platform at the rear of the boat. “Cold?”
But Riga was already growing used to the temperature. “Not anymore.”
He twisted behind him and picked up a mask, tossed it to her. It plopped into the water. “You forgot this.”
She reached for it and a shadow slipped beneath Riga. A dolphin popped up beside her, and she gasped, startled, then laughed. “Well, hello.”
The dolphin chattered, bobbing its head, and swam in a circle around her. She watched, entranced.
The captain appeared beside Donovan. “I think it likes you,” he shouted to her.
“The feeling is mutual,” she said.
The dolphin brushed her leg, its skin soft and slick.
“He might even let you go for a ride,” the captain said. “See if he’ll let you touch him.”
Slowly, she swept her hand across the animal’s silky back. It continued to circle.
“Take his fin,” the captain said. “Gently.”
Carefully, she took hold and the dolphin moved forward slowly, then with increasing speed, pulling Riga in its wake. For a moment she was flying, free, powerful. Then she let go, uncertain if the dolphin was trying to escape her, but it circled back toward her with two more members of its pod.
The captain leaned close to Donovan and said something. Donovan looked startled, and grinned, shaking his head.
More dolphins appeared, some chattering at her urgently, others circling.
Donovan dove into the water, his body arcing through the air, and swam toward them, his strokes smooth, powerful. A dolphin blocked him, chirping, and he stopped, treading water.
“It looks like they’re protecting you,” he said.
She arched a brow. “They can sense your intent. Do I need protecting from you?”
He swam more slowly toward her, but another dolphin cut in front of him. Donovan’s lips turned down.
And Riga was suddenly aware of how large the dolphins were. She looked toward the boat. The captain had disappeared.
Riga shook her head. She was being ridiculous. The dolphins were playing, and there was nothing wrong.
The air pressure changed, pressing on her. She shivered in the rapidly cooling water. The dolphins darted around her, silvery blurs, their circle closing. And suddenly, she wanted out.
“Swim toward me, Riga.” Donovan’s voice was rough, commanding.
She had the sense of doors sliding open, reality shifting. Blood drained from her face. Magic. Cold, menacing. They needed to get out of the water. “Dono—”
Something jerked him beneath the waves.
Riga stared for a moment, stunned, waiting for him to reappear. He didn’t. “Donovan!” She took a deep breath, and dove. The dolphins flashed around her, parted before her. Salt stung her eyes.
Coils of deep pink bloomed in the water. Her chest tightened; her stomach turned to stone. No, no, God, no. Not Donovan. She swam through a rose-colored tide. Blood everywhere, and where was he, where was he?
She swam toward the surface, thinking she might see him there, and touched sand. Her heart thundered against her ribs. Disoriented, Riga pushed off from the bottom, her vision obscured by the coiling pink clouds.
Fire burned her lungs. Blindly, she reached out for Donovan. But she couldn’t find him, couldn’t find the surface. Air, she needed air.
And then her fingers brushed the sandy bottom again and her senses lurched, twisted.
Riga stood on a beach, alone. She staggered, confused by the sudden shift in reality. A wave, as tall as a lighthouse, raced toward her. Fear clubbed her, a leaden weight from above weakening her knees. Someone grasped her wrist and she turned, gasped. She was choking, blinded.
Donovan. She grabbed for him, tears welling behind her eyelids. His arms went around her, and he towed her roughly toward the boat. She coughed, spitting water, twisted, determined to see, to know how he’d been hurt.
But he gripped her firmly. “Don’t struggle. You’re safe.”
She coughed, kicked out. “I’m okay. Donovan, are you hurt?”
He relaxed his hold, and turned her in his arms. His green eyes darkened with worry. “Something—”
“Hey, you two!” The captain leaned over the side of the boat. “What’s going on out there?”
“Riga got a cramp,” Donovan said loudly. “We’re coming in.”
Riga pushed the hair out of her eyes. The dolphins had vanished. The water was clear and still. And on the beach stood a diminutive, pot-bellied figure in a Hawaiian shirt. He beckoned to her.
She turned to Donovan. “On the beach, do you see him?” She looked back. The figure was gone.
“I thought I saw someone. From a distance, he looked like the shaman I met near Dennis’s body.”
On the hill above the beach, something twinkled. Magic tugged her gaze upward, toward a cut in the hillside, a trail. She extended her senses and felt that odd prickling of magic. Riga probed deeper, but all she could sense that magic was there, not what was causing it. She ground her teeth in frustration. There had been a time when she could have sent her senses flying and seen, known, acted. But now her magic limped, and she was back at beginner’s level. Sensing without understanding. Relying on the crutches of candles and cards, sigils and stones to cast her spells.
“There’s no one there now,” he said.
“But there was, and something up further, on that trail. I think we need to find it.”
She let Donovan pull her to the boat and hoist her up to the captain, who helped her climb the ladder. A breeze brushed her skin, and her flesh pebbled. The captain dropped a towel around her shoulders.
Donovan climbed up the ladder. Only when he was completely out of the water, his dark hair plastered to his muscular legs and chest, did she relax.
“Lunch?” The captain said brightly.
Donovan nodded, and the captain busied himself below deck.
“Someone grabbed me by the ankle, pulled me under,” Donovan said in a low voice. But his eyes glittered.
She stared in disbelief. He was actually enjoying this. And then reason reasserted itself. Of course he’d enjoy it. It was something to battle, a problem to solve.
But she hadn’t enjoyed it. Riga looked away. The beach, white and shining, seemed to bob with the rhythm of the boat. Magic was her first love. She’d never grow bored with its mysteries. But Riga didn’t like it when its forces played with her, dragged her into terrors, shoved visions into her head. It made her feel small, weak, insignificant. She liked it even less when the people she loved got hauled along for the ride.
She ran her fingers over Donovan’s arms, assuring herself he was unhurt. A band of angry red circled one of his ankles. “Someone pulled you under? Or something?”
“Someone.” He lifted his ankle, tilting his head to examine it. “Teeth would have left more of a mark, though whoever it was moved inhumanly fast. I was under the boat before I knew what was happening. And then there was a sort of surge of energy and whoever grabbed me, let go. I saw you floating underwater unconscious.” He grasped her hand, his expression darkening. “Your turn.”
“I saw you go under.” She put her head in her hands, felt the towel slip from her shoulders. “It was like a scene from Jaws, all that blood in the water.”
She bent and picked up her towel from the wooden deck. Still shaken, Riga was having a hard time looking at him. “It must have been part of the vision. It seemed real until I found myself on a beach with a tidal wave headed in my direction.” A band seemed to squeeze her chest. Her struggle to find the surface had been no trick, no vision. It had been real. She didn’t know if she’d come close to drowning, but it had felt like it.
He didn’t respond.
He toweled off his arms, looking thoughtful.
“What?” she asked.
“The two events – your vision and my attack – came so close together I thought they were related. But now I’m not so sure.” He went to a white-cushioned bench and sat, one leg extended, the other drawn up, his hand dangling off his knee.
She sat beside him, and curled her legs beneath her. “You said you felt a sort of shock, and then the hand released you?” That implied magical aid – aid she hadn’t delivered – and competing forces at work. Unless Donovan himself had somehow done it.
He rubbed the faint cross-shaped scar on his jaw. “In dreams, water represents the emotions, and a tidal wave could mean you feel swamped by an emotional upheaval. Our marriage could account for that.”
“But not the blood I saw in the water. Or the dolphins behaving so strangely.”
He looked at the awning above them, and his lips parted. Then he snapped his jaw shut.
Donovan’s phone lay on the table, and she picked it up. “I’m calling Pen,” she said. Her niece was probably awake by now, and without Brigitte as protection. Were her other loved ones under attack? Pen only had the meager protective spells she’d been taught – spells Riga suspected the teenager wasn’t practicing.
But there was no service, no signal, no luck. She put the phone down, frustrated.
“Pen’s fine,” Donovan said.
She pressed her lips together. Now was the time to tell him about Brigitte’s appearance here on the island. “Donovan—”
“Can we agree the attack underwater is related to the bodies we found?” he asked. “Which Pen has nothing to do with?”
“Bodies?” The captain clambered onto the deck, a wicker basket in one hand and a metal bucket filled with ice, juice, and hard liquors in the other. He stopped in front of them. “You found bodies?”
“On the beach this morning,” Donovan said, “between Princeton and Hanalei. A man and a seal, both shot.”
The captain whistled. “They killed a man? Now they’ve gone too far.”
“They?” Riga asked sharply.
“I don’t know if it’s a ‘they’ – might just be a ‘he.’ Or a ‘she.’ Someone’s been killing the seals.” He put a finger to his temple. “Shot through the head.” He raised the bucket. “Drink?”
“No thanks,” Riga said, leaning in. “But why?” Something like this had happened before?
Sketching a bow, he opened the basket on the table before them and whipped a red and white checked cloth over the table, followed by plates, sandwiches, and plastic containers filled with food. “The popular theory is that it’s a local pissed off at the haole seal-lovers. You know, the ones who block off the beach around the seals. The Hawaiians have been walking those beaches their entire lives. Now whenever a seal shows up, they can’t. It makes people angry. You know who got shot?”
“Dennis Glasgow,” Donovan said. “He owns the Aloha Princeton Resort.”
The captain nodded. “That explains it. He’s part of that group that protects the seals. Probably got in the way of the killer. Sure you don’t want anything to drink?”
“Just juice,” Riga said absently. It was too hot for alcohol.
The captain’s theory was neat, clean, logical.
And she knew in her bones it was wrong.
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