Dawn’s Shadow by Deborah Gilbert

“How did you die?” Evan Powell kept his voice low and stepped toward the teenage girl, who stood in an open area near the airport’s baggage claim. She looked as if she didn’t have a friend in the world. The truth was — she didn’t. Not in this world.

Her eyes widened when they met his and an incredulous smile spread across her face. “You can see me?”

“Yes.” Ever since he was a little kid, the dead had appeared to him. Not in the Technicolor of the living, but in shades black and white.

At first glance, he couldn’t tell how she’d died. No scratches on her skin, no indication of an accident. Maybe an O.D.?

She darted toward him, arms outstretched, crossing the few feet separating them.

He braced for impact. The all-encompassing chill came as it always did, sharp, intense, a fraction short of painful.

She stepped back, then studied his face. “You aren’t dead.”

“No.” He made a slow scan of the people around her. A young mother stood nearby, preoccupied with scolding her child. A bulky man wearing a backpack stalked toward the row of payphones. Good. No one seemed interested in him.

A frown creased the girl’s forehead. “But you can see me?”

“Yes. What’s your name?”

“Callie.” She tilted her head to the side. “Who are you?”

“This isn’t the place to talk.” He’d had a hard enough time with security. No doubt the stubble covering his lower jaw and his long black hair had made them think twice. They’d taken him aside, spit out a handful of questions and patted him down before letting him go. If he were spotted standing near the luggage terminal talking to himself. . . He didn’t need any more trouble.

He retreated to a deserted corner, away from the hordes of people starting to gather around the conveyer belt.

Callie followed, a cautious look in her eyes.

With her low-riding jeans and tight little top, she appeared seventeen or eighteen. But there was a vulnerability about her that suggested she might be as young as thirteen or fourteen. It was hard to tell. He’d never been good at guessing anyone’s age -– alive or dead.

“Now answer my question.” She put a hand on her hip. “Who are you?”

He touched the air near her shoulder. “A friend.”

“I feel you.” She gazed up at him, her brows drawn together. “Your warmth.”

“So I’ve been told.”

She crossed her arms over her chest and studied him. “What do you want?”

“You looked lost.” Damn his inability to walk away from somebody in need. “I thought maybe I could help.”

“Can you bring me back to life?” Sarcasm dripped from her voice.

His heart twisted and a knot formed at the back of his throat. “No.”

“Then leave me the hell alone.”

Leave her alone? Who chased who into the corner? He shook his head and went to claim his luggage. Fine. She wanted him to go. All the better, it let him off the hook.

His oversized black leather duffel bag stood out among the myriad of nearly identical suitcases and white cardboard boxes that littered the conveyer. He grasped the sturdy handle and hefted up his sole belongings.

“I’ve been waiting forever for Randy to come back.” Callie appeared by his side, her voice wavering. “Where’s Randy?”

No one else could hear her, so there was no reason to be embarrassed or uncomfortable. But he was. She sounded lonely, and scared. Damn. But there were too many people around to risk speaking.

“Now you’re ignoring me tooooo.” She wrapped her arms around her body, her gaze unfocused. A few passengers looked in their general direction. Coincidence? He’d often wondered about that. Though he had the gift, were there other people who stood on the brink of the next sense, needing a mere nudge to push them over? Or had Callie’s distress generated some energy, something that filled the air with palpable tension?

He waited until two sets of businessmen and a family passed before speaking. “Randy your boyfriend?” He glanced at her.

She beamed. “Yeah, for about a year. He’s a great guy. You got a girlfriend?”

His chest tightened at the innocent question. Damn, it shouldn’t be this hard after four years. He shook his head, not trusting himself to speak.

“That’s okay. You’re good-looking. For an old guy. You’ll find someone.”

He nearly choked as he turned and headed for Thrifty Car Rental. The fact he was a few months shy of forty occasionally nagged at him. But old?

The cashier behind the counter waived him forward. Evan completed the paperwork, then picked up the keys for his rental car and breathed a sigh of relief. At least one thing that day had been easy.

He turned to find Callie waiting for him. She fell into step with him as he strode toward the exit. When he placed a hand on the revolving door, she stopped and gestured behind her. “I think I’ll stay here. Randy may still come.”

“I’m sure he will.” For her peace of mind he hoped her boyfriend would show up, but nothing could change the fact that she was dead. She’d have to deal with that when the time came.

She stretched out a hand and cold numbed his arm. “Wait. Could you do me a favor? Go talk to Officer Dennehy?”

He shook his head. “I can’t. I’m here to see my family.” About time too. Would they be happy to see him? A feeling of dread settled in his chest. What was done was done. Nothing to be gained by berating himself now.

“You asked me how I died.” Callie raised her brows. “Don’t you want to know?”

With a sigh, he stepped back from the door and returned her challenging stare. “How?”

She looked around, then lowered her voice. “I think I was murdered.”


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