Snippet

This snippet is from Muddy River Three:  ALL THE MISSING CHILDREN.  Prim Tallow, a Fae who lives in Muddy River, married the town’s bartender, Derek–a vampire.  They’ve been sending money to help a new supernatural community that’s started up on the Mississippi River.  Prim grows worried when she can’t get in touch with anyone there for three days.  She convinces Hester and Raven to drive there to check on them, and she and Derek go with them.  They join a supernatural law enforcer for the area to see what’s happened. 

A half hour later, we set off, Raven driving my SUV west toward the Mississippi. Claws curled on the backseat, and I fell asleep with my head propped on a pillow, pressed to the passenger window. Raven had told me once that he could go days without sleep when he was on a case. Witches might not have to sleep, but I sure enjoyed it. And I was a lot less grumpy when I could get my eight hours.

That wouldn’t happen tonight. Raven didn’t know a speed limit, so we’d cross the Mississippi into Missouri sooner rather than later. My night’s sleep would feel more like a nap. But I’d be with Raven. And that’s what mattered.

Nyte was waiting for us at the ferry crossing. His name fit him. Longish, ebony hair framed a lean face. His eyes were so dark, they looked black. He wasn’t exactly handsome, but compelling. About the same height as Derek, he was still inches shy of Raven’s height.

He strode forward to shake hands with my demon. “Haven’t seen you for a while.”

“Maybe three years? Probably a good thing. We only work the worst cases together.” Raven introduced all of us and when he included Claws, Nyte’s black brows rose in surprise.

“Your group is quite a mix. Did the new settlement have this many different types of supernaturals?”

Prim shook her head. “Most of them were shifters and vampires with only a few witches. The witches were all younger, not very well trained. I was hoping to travel here with Hester someday so that she could teach them more spells and potions.”

I’d wondered why the town wasn’t protected by wards and shields to fend off whatever had attacked them. From what Prim said, maybe they didn’t know how.

We boarded the ferry and rode to the far side of the river, then Nyte drove off, staying in the lead to guide us to the settlement. He drove as fast as Raven, zipping alongside the banks of the Mississippi so fast, I couldn’t make out much of anything. I could smell the river water, though, heated by the early August sun. A combination of fish and murky mud. We only headed north a few minutes before a dozen small houses came into view. Every one of them was built shotgun style, long and narrow with a second story. Only three buildings formed the town center—a market, a gas station, and a school.

As we clamored out of our vehicles, I frowned. “A school? How many young children lived here?”

“Every family had kids,” Prim said.

Nyte turned to stare at her. “I didn’t find any kids’ bodies. I didn’t find any kids period.”

“No kids?” Prim marched toward the too-still town. No voices drifted from the houses. No lawn mowers broke the quiet. No kids on bicycles pedaled on the sidewalks. “That’s not possible,” she called over her shoulder. “I’ve talked to every adult who lived here at one time or another. They all had children.”

“Follow me.” Nyte hurried to catch up with her and led her to the last house on the street. He had the smooth, easy glide of all vampires. Opening the door, he led us inside. Claws padded behind us, then arched his back and hissed. My ocelot wasn’t fond of dead bodies.

Prim glanced at the house number as we entered. “White Tip and her husband lived here, a shifter and a vampire.”

Nyte motioned us up the stairs and led us to the first bedroom on the right. A man lay on the floor in pajama bottoms and a woman lay next to him, dressed in a long nightgown. Nyte bent to turn them over, and we saw the bite marks covering their faces, necks, and shoulders. Claws growled deep in his throat and backed up so that he was half in, half out of the room.

Raven pressed his lips together in a tight line. I waved my hand over the bodies, looking for residual magic. “Serpent bites and venom from some supernatural being. Nothing I can identify.”

Nyte scrubbed a hand through his dark hair. “There are so many bites. I thought it must be a swarm of something that attacked them.”

“Flying serpents?” I asked. “Are there any such things?”

“I’ve never dealt with any.” Raven started to another room. We followed him. Empty. A pink comforter with kittens prancing on it lay rumpled, half on the bed, half on the floor. He went to the last bedroom. It was empty, too. This comforter was blue, covered with toy trains. He looked at Prim.   “How old were their kids?”

She leaned into Derek, and he wrapped her in an embrace. Voice strangled, she said, “Auriel was five. Tad was seven.”

The names made it more personal. The comforters bothered me even more. Every school day, I taught kids aged five to eighteen. I had a thing for them. Loved watching them grow into their potential. Where were these two? What had happened to them?

Raven yanked a piece of folded paper out of his back pocket and a pen. He handed them to Prim. “Let’s start listing names of the dead and the missing.”

We went from house to house, and Prim told us the name of each parent and names of their missing children. True to her word, every house had kids’ beds or cribs. My stomach started feeling queasy. Too many dead bodies. And too many horrible possibilities of what had happened to the kids. I tried to push fears out of my mind, but they crept into all of the unguarded crevices of my psyche. I shut them there. I didn’t want to think about them.

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