Unassailable: The Case Files of Dr. Matilda Schmidt, Paranormal Psychologist #5 (The Case Files of Matilda Schmidt, Paranormal Psychologist), page 1
The Case Files of Dr. Matilda Schmidt, Paranormal Psychologist
Cynthia St. Aubin
Copyright © 2014 Cynthia St. Aubin
All Rights Reserved
The book contained herein constitutes a copyrighted work and may not be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, or stored in or introduced into an information storage and retrieval system in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the copyright owner, except in the case of brief quotation embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Cover designed by Scarlett Rugers Design, www.scarlettrugers.com
Illustration by Stephen Richards
Formatting by Bob Houston eBook Formatting
Other Matilda Schmidt, Paranormal Psychologist Novellas:
For L.A., first reader, and dear friend. There’s luck, and there’s fate. Having you in my life is proof of both.
Special thanks to Steph and E.J., ghost huntresses extraordinaire, for sharing their stories and expertise with me, and to Crystal, for riding shotgun on the adventure.
To my Minions Rochelle Thorne, Kim Bernier, Mary Barger, and Deanndra Hall for helping me name the nameless buccaneers.
To my friends and fellow authors: Kerrigan Byrne, Tiffinie Helmer, and Cindy Stark for their constant support in the face of my ecstatic ramblings about pants-less ghost pirates.
He parted her thighs like the prow of his ship cleaved the shifting waves, her depths already dewy with anticipation. She bit a rubied lower lip, white teeth gleaming like the strings of pearls dangling from the wooden chest in the corner. The whole of his cabin creaked and pitched—a preamble to their own rhythmic rocking.
Desire darkened her eyes to sapphires as she reached for him. Fingers twined around his swollen length, releasing from him a tortured groan.
“Prepare to be plundered,” he warned.
A shadow fell across the book’s dog-eared pages, plunging me into a brief chill. I followed the dark shape as it moved across the water—no bigger than a shark ghosting the shallows in search of prey. The blatting of a plane’s engine chopped into the hushed lullaby of waves that had sung to me all afternoon.
They had soothed me until now.
Sand slid between my toes, a cool, delicious contrast to the sun-soaked warmth kissing my skin. From the shade of my floppy beach hat, I had watched the surf break itself into a scrim of ethereal foam on the shoreline before drawing away again. I turned my every care over to it, letting the waves pull them away one at a time into that shifting deep too old for memory.
My schizophrenic mother was abducted by someone who wants to hurt me.
She was rescued by a man who kills people for a living.
The life I had imagined for myself is over.
For hours I had observed the back-and-forth sway, the give and take of tide and time, the music’s pull on two bodies.
But I was partnerless.
Which is precisely how I had planned it.
An escape from reality. A vacation filled by the smell of briny air and only a bag heavy with smutty paperback romances to keep me company.
One of these being the account of Cunning Captain Cruelcock, whose talented tongue could transform even the sauciest tavern wench into naught but jellyfish and a corset. In the course of only a couple short hours, I had read my way through half, pausing only to sip at scotch growing watery on the arm of the wooden Adirondack chair. Not the worst bodice-ripper I had read by any measure, except for the metaphorical abuse of the term booty.
The shadow looped around a second time and stretched into a ribbon of taffy on the beach. I could make out letters sliding over the mounded sand. One of those crop duster planes towing a banner.
A woman stopped only feet away from me, cupping one hand over her eyes to blot out the sun while clutching the chubby fist of a toddler in the other.
Her swaybacked offspring tugged against the unwelcome tether, its shovel paddling toward the sand it longed to dig into.
I followed the woman’s gaze skyward, squinting against the glare on my glasses before sliding them off my nose to polish their surface with the sarong lying across my lap.
The ocean’s roar amplified into static inside my head as the letters arranged themselves into words.
Dr. Schmidt!!!Call the office!!! Now!!!
A few choice words escaped me, loud enough to cause the woman to clap her hands over the child’s ears and shepherd it off toward a beach blanket in the distance.
My cell phone had remained behind at the bed and breakfast, along with my laptop bag and any other tethers to the outside world.
Like my solo vigil on the beach, not telling my assistant Julie Harrison where I had wandered off to had been a deliberate move on my part. Though well-meaning, Julie’s uncanny ability to provide capital-T trouble a greased skid right to my front door was legendary. I had canceled all my appointments for the week and left her the lone guardian of the wood-paneled office where for two years I had treated everything from garden-variety bipolar disorder to delusions of grandeur.
Most recently, those clients ran to the non-human variety.
For the past couple of months, skittery supernaturals had invaded my office, my home, and my life in general.
And this was to say nothing of my bed, which had seen more action in the past weeks than in the entire thirty years previous.
Coming down from my recent run-in with three reckless werebears had driven my longing for solitude to crisis point and propelled me to Hilton Head, whose sandy shores beckoned during many a long New York winter.
My plan had worked beautifully for all five hours and twenty-three minutes, not counting flight time and a blissfully uninterrupted night beneath the canopy of a four-poster bed. How Julie had found me remained a mystery, but her reasons for doing so had to be pretty damned urgent if she resorted to hiring a crop duster to get my attention. Looking at the flapping tail of excess exclamation points, I hoped they didn’t charge by the letter.
On a heavy sigh, I dropped Captain Cruelcock back into my bag of goodies and peeled myself out of the beach chair for the sandy trek to the hotel. A sudden gust set the silky fabric of my bathing suit cover whipping around my ankles, and I pressed my palm against the crown of my hat to avoid having it blown into the surf.
The tropical smell of coconuts and ripe fruit rose from brown bodies baking on foldout chairs as I passed—a marked contrast to the vaguely medicinal scent of my SPF 5000 sunscreen. Like my hazel eyes, chestnut-hued hair and a rack that didn’t require a padded bikini top, I had inherited my mother’s creamy ivory skin. Logging as many hours behind office doors as I did meant
My feet, liberated from their typical prison of stiletto heels, gloried in the textures of warm sand, dry beach grass, and even the clammy knots of kelp washed up during high tide. I grudgingly dropped my leather sandals and slid into them for the last hundred yards across a splintery wood pier that salt air had bleached silver.
An old house rose over the dune, its siding the pale yellow of pound cake, embellished by a icing of white trim. Some careful hand had piped the elegant lacework around the windows and doors, across porch railings and over the eaves. It was far enough from the shore to be surrounded by a canopy of trees, one of which scraped the glass of my window in the breeze exhaled nightly by the sea.
I dropped my sandals into an old wicker basket by the door and scraped my feet across the doormat to rid them of sand before stepping into the entryway.
Ruth Hilliker, the bed and breakfast’s 83-year-old proprietress, self-appointed tour guide and social coordinator, hovered by the expansive buffet in the formal parlor like a steel-haired angel, smoothing doilies.
“Why, Dr. Schmidt.” She lingered over doctor, the same way she had when I checked in, her thin lips pursed against the desire to ask me of what? I had encountered the reaction before from women of her generation, and was used to being a novelty on occasion. “Did you enjoy your afternoon on the beach?”
“I did, Ruth. Thank you. Did you happen to take any calls for me?”
Her eyebrows drew together over wide-set blue eyes that must have reduced men to quivering puddles of pudding in earlier years. “Not as I remember.” One corner of her mouth slid upward in a sly grin. “You were expecting someone, perhaps?”
Even at eight-plus decades, Ruth’s face still bore the countenance of a much younger woman, all shine and openhearted innocence. Upon meeting the evening before, her gaze had flicked to my ring finger the way an emergency triage nurse looked over a new arrival: to assess the damage and determine whether the case is salvageable, and at what cost.
“No. None that I’m aware of.”
“Such a shame,” she clucked. “Pretty girl like you. I’d have thought your dance card would be full for life.”
I hoped my derisive snort could pass for a laugh. If I had been in possession of such a metaphorical dance card, I would have only started checking off my waltzes in the preceding months. Not that I had been saving them for anyone in particular. Just that I hadn’t come across anyone I felt the compelling urge to tango with.
Or course, my choice in dance partners might raise an eyebrow or seven among anyone who cared to keep track: a hit man who had claimed a two-step, quadrille, and a couple other numbers I was certain had never made it to the page; and a demigod who had scarcely been able to escort me to the floor before the band had been interrupted.
I brushed wind-tangled strands away from my sweaty forehead and took a warm oatmeal raisin cookie from the tray Ruth gestured to. The flavor of browned butter and damp, molasses-rich sugar hugged my palate.
My sigh released a complicated mix of pleasure edged with frustration. Even this simple indulgence was time stolen from returning Julie’s call. “I’m headed up to my room for a bit. Thanks for the cookie.”
“Do you have plans for dinner?” Ruth’s question floated after me like a rope, anchoring me to the second stair. “There’s a very nice young businessman who checked in earlier. Alone.”
The smile I summoned to my face felt heavy enough to slide toward my toes. “Given my luck lately, I think it might be best if I sat this one out.”
“Let me know if you change your mind.”
“I sure will,” sounded much more civil than the not bloody likely that sprang to mind first.
I crested the stairs to the third floor landing and sprawled face-first into a heap on the worn Oriental rug.
The cord I had tripped over jerked a blinking display perched on the spidery legs of a tripod. Two bodies dove to catch it under a flurry of angry mechanical beeps and squawks.
“Did you see that spike on the EMF?” A tangled halo of auburn curls ducked behind an antennaed box, the glow of whatever screen he was consulting turning his glasses into eerie, eyeless blue rectangles.
“Holy cats!” His partner, a tall brunette holding the camera I had upended, leaned her disheveled pageboy over the screen. “I’ve never seen anything like it! Did the laser thermometer pick up any changes?”
“Only her.” Auburn jerked his head in my direction but didn’t look up from the screen. He pointed a device at me that looked like the lovechild of a grocery store price scanner and a cop’s radar gun. “Her temp is a little low. That could be hormonal, though.”
“Don’t mind me,” I said, hauling myself from the floor, knee stinging from what I was sure would be nasty rug burn. “I can help myself up. Though you might want to move that trip wire from the top of the stairs before someone gets hurt.”
“But it might not be hormonal.” Pageboy took the thermometer from him and traced a circle around me in the air while staring at the screen. “What if she walked through a cold spot on her way up the stairs?”
Speaking of the stairs, I now noticed the tidal wave of smutty books that had fallen from my dropped beach bag. And so, apparently, had Ruth, who was standing at the bottom landing, staring wide-eyed at the book by her feet. Captain Cruelcock rakishly looked up her skirt from the cover.
I nearly tripped a second time in my eagerness to retrieve it.
“So sorry about that, Ruth.”
“If you like pirates, you mustn’t miss the Squatting Watchman museum over on Main Street.”
“The Squatting Watchman?” I dropped the Captain facedown into my bag for the second time in ten minutes.
“Why, yes.” She smoothed her gnarled hands over her apron—an automatic gesture I doubted she noticed. “That’s the name of the shipwreck they brought up a century ago this summer. Did you not come to town for the festival?”
The word festival dragged to mind images of too many people and not enough port-a-potties. “No. I didn’t even know about it.”
Ruth’s face broke into a wide smile. “The Squatting Watchman Pirate Days Centennial. By this time tomorrow, I bet the town will well flooded.”
I fought a disappointed sigh. “Fantastic.”
“Did you happen to run into that nice young man up there?” Ruth’s eyes lit up to the landing, where Auburn and Pageboy were now following the same lighted box up one wall and tracking it across the ceiling.
“I’m afraid not.”
“I’m sure he’ll be around later. Don’t forget our evening wine hour. Five to six. My Charlie might be back by then. I would love for you to meet him.”
Of all the options Ruth had mentioned so far, this alone sounded halfway endurable, though the prospect of an awkward introduction followed by a stranger stealing glances at my cleavage through the bell of a wine glass dampened the prospect considerably.
“That would be nice, Ruth. I’ll try to come down.”
“Just be careful on your way.” Ruth glanced down at my scraped knee with motherly concern. “Can I get you a bandage for that?”
I felt a surge of irritation for the two squinting faces at the top of the stairs followed by a wave of embarrassment. My own distracted state certainly hadn’t helped. “I have some in my makeup bag. Thank you, though.”
When the machines once again exploded in a chorus of beeps and squeals as I passed, I didn’t pause to look back.
“Julie, slow down. What’s wrong?”
The bed’s wooden frame squeaked as I sank down on the plush comforter and tossed my hat toward the post. It sailed wide and settled on the steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.
Thirty-seven missed calls greeted me when I had lifted my phone from the nightstand, and though Julie had answered on the first ring, all she had yet managed was “Dr. Schmidt…thank God,”
My mind filled in the pause punctuated only by Julie’s panting with the usual imagery of death and destruction—a possibility all too real given the chaos of the preceding months.
Another heaving gasp. A little moan of dismay.
“Oh God, Julie. Is it Sigmund?” An image flashed through my mind of Sigmund Freud, my goldfish, peering out at me from the stronghold of his miniature castle when I planted a kiss on the glass before I left. I had taken enough seminars in my graduate work to know the correlation between brain size and function to understand that what went on behind those gilded scales was the equivalent of television static, but still I had explained to him I would only be gone a few days.
I also knew the extra sprinkle of food on the water’s bubbling surface had been a guilt-driven gesture on my part, and yet it brought some measure of comfort.
“No,” came her long-awaited answer. “It’s…Crixus.”
My heart galloped like it had been flicked by a riding crop. “What’s wrong with him? What happened?”
Here, possibilities were harder to conjure, for in my experience, if there was trouble, Crixus was the cause, not the recipient. As a sex-addicted demigod and supernatural bounty hunter who looked like sin on a stick, was it any wonder?
More than once I had caught my pen absently re-creating the line of ligaments disappearing over his hips into the waistband of his faded jeans when it should have been documenting some scrap of insight from the client I was tuning out. Replaying his shape hovering over me in the lamplight, his oceanic eyes finding mine through the frame of my thighs.
“He’s here. In your—unh! Oh my GodohmyGod!”
Whether the tone of Julie’s voice changed, or my perception did, I couldn’t say, but at that moment some certain knowledge clicked into place. Those weren’t moans of panic.
“Julie Harrison, so help me God, if you two are at it again—”
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