Gillian stood across the street from her destination, and taking that first step into an unknown future seemed so daunting. The hollow sensation in her abdomen became a chasm.
Adrenaline amplified the scent of wet tarmac, exhaust fumes, and garbage from the bins around the corner. Sirens wailed in the distance, a man yelled at someone down the street, and music blasted from some underground place.
She inspected the old single-story brownstone with its glass doors, gathering the courage to enter their world.
“Come on, you can do this,” she muttered.
Crossing the road would lead her from her safe existence into something dangerous, unconventional, and filled with pitfalls—a life free of the trappings of her birth and station, but at a price. If she did this stupid thing, there would be no letting her guard down.
Failure wasn’t an option; she would have to live a lie until it turned into truth, forgetting all about the past.
She packed her doubts into that secure box in her imagination, and the world narrowed into a controllable pinpoint of existence.
Gillian forced herself to take that first step onto the tarmac. She checked her stride, reining her senses in until the world shrunk to just her and the bit of gravel circling that precious bubble of personal space, which humans so valued.
She reached the other side, half expecting someone to appear and stop her as she adjusted her grip on her gym bag.
The door slid open noiselessly as if inviting her in.
She barely hesitated before crossing the threshold, blinking to adjust her sight to the over-bright, incessantly buzzing fluorescent lights. The scent of sweet pulsing blood tugged at her hunger, and she shut herself off to the drumming, regular beats of their hearts as two men and a woman passed by her.
A shining expanse of dark lacquered wood served as a counter. The serious-faced men and women in their dark blue uniforms stood behind the brittle barrier of its frame—guarding vigilantly against the world outside.
In their sheltered, isolated reality, they had no idea of the real darkness outside those doors, and, hopefully, they would never awaken to the truth surrounding them.
They were close enough to touch, forcing her to secure the predator and its demands into its prison until she was invisible, hidden, controlled, and safe.
One of them.
Her voice startled the female desk sergeant, and she altered her mental attitude—no need to scare anyone.
Humans were such easily excitable creatures.
She had to stop herself from smiling and then grimacing as she remembered whose words echoed through the halls of her mind. Grandfather Gideon. This was not the time for things of the past.
The desk sergeant’s eyes wandered past her as if she searched for the means by which Gillian appeared before her, unnoticed. Instead, her gaze fell upon the group who exited when she entered, and the cop wasted no effort on confusion, taking the situation in hand. Gillian liked that, respecting the ethics behind it.
The officer’s bright, intelligent eyes were not dim like those of the other desk officer. The older, red-headed woman stared at the clock with bored disinterest while a female victim sobbed out her plight.
Gillian ignored her disgust and anger, concentrating on the officer on the other side of the counter.
“I’m Officer Gillian Beaumont, reporting for duty,” she offered, allowing a smile to tug at her lips.
“I’m Sergeant Forrester.”
Her strong southern accent lent her words a calming charm.
The hint of uncertainty Gillian injected into her expression, although endearing to Sergeant Forester, did not fool her. She had a gift for reading people, which was why she liked desk duty.
She didn’t miss the little flash of irritation on Beaumont’s face as she glanced at Polasky. The other officer, once again, displayed more interest in her smoke break than the poor, beaten, mugging victim, pleading for help she would receive reluctantly and halfheartedly.
Beaumont took her in with a glance, reading her name tag and noticing that she was left-handed.
Forester had greeted many officers fresh from the academy, who thought they knew it all. They were all so brash and innocent and woefully unprepared for this world they were about to enter. Outfitted with no genuine concept of the horrors that they would find beyond those doors.
This cop didn’t fit that description. She rarely saw the likes of this one; she would wager her badge on that. The girl was not as young as she seemed—something betrayed by her expression and hinted at by the set of her mouth. Beaumont had seen the face of darkness and knew the taste of pain. It made them kindred spirits.
This was no fresh-faced, half-grown, impudent child but a woman who already saw too much of the world to be blinded by the glitter of a shiny new badge. Forester focused more intently, and Beaumont’s bright, icy blue eyes instantly met hers. They caught her gaze and weighed her as if the woman knew what she was doing.
How odd. No one ever realized it before. She pulled back her gift and nodded, disengaging. Even what little she sensed gave her an impression of such deep pain that it scared her, but she hadn’t pried into it.
That cool gaze simmered down, becoming thoughtful in its intent, and she did not back down from it, keeping her expression open and candid. She never met another with this... awareness of the world and those in it.
She would not ask or be asked; they understood each other.
Forrester nodded at Beaumont’s paperwork and held out her hand.
Gillian watched the dark-eyed, petite blond woman read through her file until she found what she sought. Although in her late forties, she looked younger. The strength of her perception was surprising. Few humans had such keen senses; most were deaf and blind to the world around them.
Even though perfect for this job, Forester would have been a better detective. Something about her screamed of darkness, great sadness, and a burden too heavy to carry. The void touched her, and she did not come away unscathed.
The officer had a child or children at a young age, and she carried that worn-down air of a single-mother-trying-to-make-ends-meet like a badge of honor.
Divorced? No, the way she twisted her wedding ring while she talked on the phone earlier spoke of great love and loss. Widow. Divorced people don’t keep wearing the ring.
“Go down the hall, turn right, and take the elevator to the third floor. Walk down the corridor and find the third door on the right. Walk to the offices, find the middle one, and ask for Senior Detective Hoight and good luck.”
Despite her solemnity, amused fondness lightened her expression.
“Thank you very much,” Gillian said.
A frown tugged at Gillian’s brow as she took her file and moved off.
Beaumont never glanced back, and Forester watched her retreating back as she disappeared around the corner.
Why did she feel the absence of the girl’s presence? Was Beaumont one of those rare people that made a lasting impression on every person they met, bad or good? Her forceful manner was almost commanding and something that young cops usually don’t come equipped with.
A smirk curved her lips. Finally, a personality that would fit Hoight’s parameters, and he wouldn’t miss it. The time had come for someone to fill shoes that had been empty too long. Her smile vanished as the thought entered her mind, and she attempted to pay attention to what the man was saying, but her mind kept returning to the past.