Excerpt from Deadly Curiosities Book 4: Inheritance

by Gail Z. Martin

Chapter One

“I have a problem antique I’d like you to take a look at.” The man on the other end of the call sounded rattled. I recognized his name—Alfred Stone, from Stone Auctions—but I didn’t think we had ever spoken, let alone met.

“What kind of ‘problem’ does it present?” I asked. A number of possibilities came to mind. “Questionable provenance? Not sure how to authenticate?”

“I think it’s trying to kill me.”

Well, damn. That kind of problem. “All right, Mr. Stone. Try to stay calm.”

“I just told you, it’s trying to kill me. I heard you…know…about these things. Please, help me.”

Across the store, Teag Logan glanced up to make sure everything was all right. I nodded, and he went back to helping a customer.

“I can come now. Are you at the showroom?”

“Yes. Thank you. And…please…hurry.”

I ended the call and sighed. This might be the first time Alfred Stone had an antique try to kill him, but that made it just another day here at Trifles and Folly.

I’m Cassidy Kincaide, and I own Trifles and Folly, an antique and curio shop in historic, haunted Charleston, South Carolina. The shop has been in my family for more than three hundred years. While we’re known as a great place to buy high-quality antiques, the shop is also a cover for the Alliance, a coalition of mortals and immortals who save Charleston—and the world—from supernatural threats. I’m a psychometric, which means I can read the history and magic of objects by touching them. Teag is my assistant store manager, best friend, and sometimes bodyguard—and he’s also a talented Weaver witch. Sorren, my business partner, is a nearly six-hundred-year-old vampire. Together with some other friends with very specialized abilities, we do our best to keep the world safe from dark magic and things that go bump in the night.

“Problem?” Teag asked when the customer left.

“I’m not sure,” I replied. “Alfred Stone just called—from the auction house. He says he’s got an item that’s trying to kill him.”

“You want me to go with you?” Teag pushed a lock of dark hair out of his eyes. His skater-boy haircut and skinny jeans made him look younger than his late twenties. “Maggie can handle the store.”

On cue, Maggie—our lifesaver of a part-time associate—waved to agree from the other side of the store. She was sporting a new bright pink streak in her short gray hair, and it matched her sweater, a reminder—as if I needed one—that she believed in taking risks and living large.

I reached up to slick my humidity-frizzy strawberry blond hair back into a ponytail and shook my head. “Let me go see what the problem is, and I’ll figure out what to do from there. It’s not far away, in case I need to give a shout.”

“Just let me know,” he said, with a look that told me I’d better not get myself hurt. “I can be there in ten minutes. If in doubt—call.”

“I promise.” I appreciated Teag’s concern, but I had proven my ability to hold my own against some pretty nasty creatures, and while I didn’t intend to push my luck, I didn’t know enough about Stone’s “problem” to call in the cavalry just yet.

As I drove over to Stone Auctions, I tried to remember what I knew about the man and the business. While Trifles and Folly had enough of a reputation in the area that a lot of people sold their items directly to us, Teag and I sometimes bought from auctions and estate sales. Occasionally an item would be listed that we knew would be a perfect fit for our typical customers, who were tourists looking for a one-of-a-kind souvenir, interior designers searching for just the right piece, or antique enthusiasts hunting down the perfect addition for their collection.

More often, we bought pieces because they were cursed, haunted, or so tainted with bad mojo from long-ago tragedies that we needed to make sure nobody got hurt.

Usually, we spotted a dangerous piece ourselves or got a heads-up from someone in our network of friends. This time, whatever had spooked Alfred Stone had enough juice to get his attention, even though he didn’t have insider knowledge about just how much of a spookapalooza Charleston really was. That told me the item might be especially dangerous.

To my surprise, Stone was waiting for me near the front desk. He looked like he had probably hovered behind the poor receptionist since he called me.

“Cassidy Kincaide?” he asked, extending his hand. “I’m Alfred Stone.”

Stone was a stocky man who looked to be in his fifties, and he stood only a few inches taller than my five-foot-eight height. He had a twitchy energy that I suspected was a combination of caffeine and hustle. The man also had a black eye and a gauze bandage on his forehead, like he’d been in a fight. His once-over glance told me that I looked younger than he expected. I’m close to Teag’s age, but don’t look it. Someday, that may be an advantage. Now, it’s more of a liability. I gave Stone credit for not mentioning it.

“Good to meet you, Mr. Stone. I’ve attended some of your events, but we’ve never had the opportunity to meet.”

“Alfred, please.”

I smiled, trying to set him at ease. “Cassidy.” Now that we were on a first-name basis, I hoped we could get down to business. “How can I help?”

Alfred led me down a hallway, away from the reception area. “If you’ve been to some of our events, then you know Stone Auctions has an eye for the unusual, the off-beat. Our repeat buyers know they can come to us for pieces that are, if not completely unique, then at least unlikely to pop up everywhere.” He tugged at his collar, trying to hide his discomfort. “Sometimes, we end up with pieces that are…unsettling. We’ve had items made from bone, and odd taxidermy pieces, mourning jewelry, that sort of thing. But I’ve never sensed anything dangerous—until now.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that was because Teag and I bought the malicious items from prior sales before they had a chance to hurt anyone. Since he hadn’t recognized their negative juju, then whatever it was that freaked him out had to be hella bad.

Which, given the kinds of things I’ve seen since I took over the store, could go anywhere from soul-sucking demons to end-of-the-world Viking sorcerers. Never a dull moment.

“How did you come to purchase it?” I asked. Not that I expected Alfred to give up his sources—those were a trade secret in this business—but I needed something to go on, and finding out where a piece came from usually told me a lot about what to expect.

“Through a seller’s representative,” Alfred replied. “Fairly common, for someone who wants to sell a piece but doesn’t wish to handle the sale directly. I’m sure you’ve done acquisitions that way yourself.”

I had, but rarely. Given our particular specialty at Trifles and Folly, I liked to know exactly who I was dealing with. Sometimes that could be a life-or-death detail.

“Anyhow, this gentleman assured me that the piece had been in the collection of a very wealthy man from an old family, whose will directed that the pieces be sold after his death,” Alfred said.

“Did he give you a name? Of the man or the family?” I had a bad feeling about this. There was a thin line between discretion and deception.

“No, although the paperwork all seemed to be in order,” Alfred replied, shaking his head. “And before you ask—I tried to reach him when the … problems…began, but his number has been disconnected.” His cheeks colored, telling me that he knew exactly how bad that sounded.

Great. So it’s not just a secret…the piece was probably stolen.

There could be situations in which a representative could not disclose the former owner. That was rare because an item’s history—the fancy word is “provenance”—usually increases the price. A common object that was owned by a famous person is worth far more than the item itself would fetch. Keeping the ownership and history a secret hurt the representative’s ability to get the best price for the client—unless the history would raise a scandal.

Or, as I suspected happened here, the item was hot.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Alfred said, with an embarrassed expression. “I may have left myself open to legalities. A rookie mistake—and I assure you, I’m no rookie. But…the piece wasn’t terribly expensive, although it was unique. And it called to me. I realize how that sounds.”

It sounded exactly like what would happen if a cursed object saw the perfect victim.

“What you’re describing isn’t that unusual when an object has troublesome energy.” I’d learned to use phrasing that didn’t come right out and mention ghosts and magic to set people at ease, people who wanted to go back to their ordinary lives and forget that they ever got a glimpse of the supernatural. Sometimes the lucky ones could do just that.

Usually, it wasn’t that simple.

We reached the door to the storage area, where items are checked in, cataloged, and tagged while awaiting their turn in the spotlight during an auction. While the auction theater is luxurious, like good seats at the symphony or opera, the room Alfred led me into was utilitarian, with functional wooden racks and plenty of shipping boxes. We crossed to the far corner, to a small room with a steel door and a reinforced glass window.

“It’s in here.” Alfred sounded less than excited about getting close to the troublesome piece. He unlocked the door and gestured for me to go inside. While I was ready for danger, I had to admit to being curious—especially since Alfred seemed to swing between fear and chagrin.

“That’s it.”

All right, then. Now, I understood—at least a little more. It wasn’t every day when a well-to-do business owner was forced to admit he was terrified by a framed mosaic made up entirely of seashells.

“It’s a ‘sailor’s valentine,’” I said, recognizing the style. I leaned closer, careful not to touch. While the idea of an intricate design crafted from shells sounded like a kitschy souvenir, antique sailor’s valentines could be true works of folk art and fetch thousands of dollars. This one was particularly well done, with a floral rose inside a nautical wind rose, enclosed in a detailed decorative border, and all of it painstakingly pieced together from naturally-colored seashells.

“We can authenticate the original ownership,” Alfred asserted, probably hoping to regain my professional respect. “It’s old—the date on the back says 1845, and the appraiser confirmed that the materials are consistent with that period. The writing next to the date reads, ‘To my darling Millicent, undying love from Joseph.’”

“Do you have any idea who Joseph and Millicent were?”

“Unfortunately, no,” Alfred admitted. “The representative said that it had been given by a sailor to his fiancée when he returned to port.” He cleared his throat. “Unfortunately, it was a parting gift, because the sailor had already married someone else. After that, the piece passed through various hands until it was acquired a few decades later by the family of the late owner.”

I walked around the piece, which was secured on an easel. The mahogany frame appeared to be in good shape, and despite the age of the piece, the shells had not discolored or come loose from their glue, and the glass had no chips or breaks. The shell work itself was a wonder, using a variety of types—common cockles, beaded periwinkles, baby’s ears, bubbles, jingles, and more—in an array of colors and sizes. I could understand why it could catch someone’s eye.

Assuming they couldn’t feel the psychic reek of malevolent energy that made me recoil. If it has that much resonance when I’m a foot away, I really don’t want to know how it feels to pick it up.

When an item gave off vibes that were that strong, I could usually get a read without having to touch it. I closed my eyes, aware that Alfred was watching, and reached out with my psychometry, stretching my gift toward the piece but not getting any closer than necessary.

Hatred and vengefulness hit me like a punch to the face. After all this time, the resonance was so powerful that I caught my breath and took a defensive step back. I saw everything, like a movie in fast-forward. Millicent’s happiness that her beloved had returned from the sea, and her delight in the beautiful gift. Joseph’s admission of betrayal. Her shock, turning to grief and then cooling into anger. A heated argument, and the swing of a candlestick in rage, leaving Joseph in a pool of blood. Fear, remorse, loss, and guilt, and then a knife blade that Millicent used to open veins and let herself die beside her faithless lover.

The vision ended as abruptly as it had begun, leaving me breathless. I might have spared some sympathy for Millicent, despite her reaction, if I didn’t feel the temperature drop and know from the prickle on my skin that Millicent’s spirit still clung to the tragic gift.

“Get back!” I reached into the pocket of my jacket and grabbed a handful of the loose salt I kept there for situations just like this. As Millicent’s spirit began to take shape and the air around us grew freezing cold, I hurled a handful of salt at her ghostly outline, making her flicker and vanish.

“Run!” I grabbed Alfred by the arm and dragged him with me as I sprinted toward the storage room door. I’d disrupted Millicent’s manifestation, but it wouldn’t take a spirit that strong long to regroup.

I slammed the door and reached into my large tote. In this business, it never paid to leave home without tools of the trade. I grabbed a canister of salt and a small bag of iron filings. “Go over there,” I ordered, and Alfred was all too happy to put distance between himself and the small room. Then I laid down a line of salt across the threshold and sprinkled iron filings on top. As an extra precaution, I hung a small, blessed silver chain from the door handle.

“What are you doing?” Alfred sounded skeptical but curious.

I straightened and put the items back in my bag. Just to be safe, I palmed an iron dagger and the old wooden spoon I used as an athame to channel my touch magic defensively.

“Keeping Millicent in the storage room until we can send her on her way,” I replied.

His eyes widened. “So, you saw her too?”

“Yep. Throwing salt at her bought us time to get out, but it won’t stop her from manifesting again. And the line at the door will only hold her for a while. I think we need to talk, while I call in a consult.”

Alfred seemed lost in thought as he led me to his office. I paused in the hallway to call Father Anne Burgett.

“Cassidy? What’s up?” Father Anne knew I didn’t call to chat.

“Got a vengeful ghost I could use some help with. Are you free?”

She chuckled. “Give me the address. I’ll be there as soon as I can,” she replied. I rattled off the information and walked to the front desk to let the receptionist know I was expecting someone. When I came back to Alfred’s office, he was pacing and looked like he could use a stiff drink.

“I called in a priest who can help the spirit move on—I hope,” I told him. “And I’d like you to send everyone home, so no one gets hurt from Millicent acting up. But before my priest friend gets here, I need to know everything—including how you got that black eye.”

Alfred stopped pacing and sat. He glanced toward a side cabinet with a look that suggested it was probably the liquor cabinet. “I should have known something was wrong when the damned thing seemed irresistible. I’m not usually an emotional buyer.”

I shrugged. “We all are, whether we like to admit it or not. And the piece is well made. It could fetch a good price.”

He shook his head as if he hadn’t quite made himself clear. “This was different. It wasn’t just strongly liking the piece. When I saw it, I had to have it. And then afterward, I wasn’t sure what came over me.”

I had a suspicion, but it could wait. “Did Millicent give you that shiner?”

Alfred reached out to touch his sore eye, looking chagrined. “She packs quite a punch—for a ghost. I was alone with the piece, and all of a sudden the air got very cold and I felt shivery. And then I saw a gray woman in an old fashioned dress appear out of nowhere. She rushed toward me and knocked me into the wall. I tried to get away, but she slid furniture into my path. I tripped and fell, and that’s how I hit my head.”

“You said she tried to kill you.”

He nodded. “When I was on the floor, I felt like there was a heavy weight on my chest. I couldn’t breathe. And I heard a voice say, ‘you’ll pay for what you did.’”

“How did you get away?” I asked, as my theory grew stronger.

“Thank God one of the appraisers heard all the thumping. Kristen opened the door to check on me, and the weight on my chest vanished. I made up a story about toxic fumes from the glue in the artwork and asked her to put it in the side room. I figured if the ghost went away when Kristen came, she might be able to move it without getting attacked.”

“Did Kristen notice anything odd about the piece?”

He shook his head. “No, and nothing strange happened when she moved it. I watched her.”

Lucky for him, although Kristen would have found it hard to file a workplace safety claim against a ghost if something had gone wrong. I leaned forward, anticipating his reaction to my next question.

“Have you been unfaithful to your partner?”

Alfred’s head jerked up, and for a moment before he regained control, his eyes were wide with fear. “What did you just say?” he sputtered, but I already had my answer.

“Ghosts that cause problems often have an agenda. In this case, Millicent punished her unfaithful fiancée and killed him. I suspect that, if we could find the provenance of the art, it’s caused quite a few deaths over the years. Did the representative show you other pieces you declined?”

A sheen of sweat dotted Alfred’s forehead, and he refused to meet my eyes. “I…I mean…” He sighed as if all the fight had gone out of him. “Yes. He showed me two or three other items, but once I saw the sailor’s valentine, nothing else interested me.”

I nodded. “I suspect that Millicent chose you as her next victim. That’s why you felt the strong attraction to the piece.”

He licked his lips nervously. “I’m getting a divorce,” he admitted. “It isn’t public knowledge yet. I fooled around on my buying trips, and she found out.”

“With anyone here at the auction house?” I doubted Millicent would take pity on someone she perceived as a homewrecker. Since Kristen hadn’t been touched, I ruled her out immediately.

“What? No. No one here.” Understanding dawned, and he caught his breath. “Because you think she’d hurt them?”

“I’m sure she would.”

Alfred ran a hand through his thinning hair. “And she’ll try to kill me again.”

“Yes. But we’re not going to let her do that.”

His phone buzzed, letting him know I had a visitor, and he told the receptionist to send “him” back and then close up. A few minutes later, Father Anne walked in. I knew immediately she hadn’t been what Alfred pictured when I said “priest.”

With short, spiked dark hair, a clerical collar over a black T-shirt, protective tattoos that peeked from beneath the shirt sleeves, black denim, and Doc Martens boots, Father Anne didn’t fit most people’s mental image. She’s the rector at St. Hildegard’s Episcopal Church, but more importantly—for me—she’s also a member of the St. Expeditus Society, a secret group of priests who take on demons, monsters, and other supernatural riff-raff. Including, fortunately, vengeful ghosts.

“Thank you for coming on short notice,” I greeted her, and made introductions. “We’ve got a haunted picture with a dangerous spirit attached to it.”

“Let’s do it,” she replied, with a grin like she was looking forward to the challenge.

I turned to Alfred. “Wait here.” I walked a circle around him, laying down a line of salt and iron filings. “Don’t leave the circle, no matter what.”

He swallowed hard and nodded.

Father Anne had a duffle bag with her gear shouldered, and she stood by the door, ready to go. “Hang in there. We’ll be back,” she told Alfred, and then we headed to have a come to Jesus moment with Millicent.

On our way, I filled Father Anne in on the particulars.

“Do you think the ‘representative’ knew the piece was haunted?” she asked.

“I think the representative knew that the items for sale had a questionable chain of ownership,” I replied. “I’m betting they were stolen—whether by outsiders or from family, by family. Hence the mysterious, vanishing broker.”

Father Anne snorted a laugh. “Yeah. That’s not sketchy at all.”

“Millicent is powerful enough to make herself visible and throw objects. She knocked Alfred around and kept him pinned. If she’s been killing unfaithful lovers for a century or more, she might feel like she’s on a mission. I’m not betting that she’ll be excited about going into the light.”

“There’s a rite for that,” Father Anne replied. We stopped a few doors down from the storage room, and she set the duffle on the floor and unzipped it. I already had my iron knife and athame handy, and while I’d left my tote in Alfred’s office, I had salt in my jacket pockets and some small bits of iron, too. I wore a silver and agate necklace and an onyx and silver bracelet, since I never left home without my protective jewelry,

Father Anne took out a piece of rebar, a flask of holy water, and the sacramental stole she wore to administer Last Rites. She tucked that last item into a pocket and pulled a silver cross on a chain from beneath her T-shirt, putting the protective charm in full view.

“Ready?” I asked, moving to the storage room door. She gave me a curt nod in reply. I opened the door, taking care not to break the salt line. I didn’t want Millicent getting loose.

The room was quiet when we entered. Millicent’s sailor’s valentine sat on its easel, deceptively pretty, waiting for the next victim.

“It’s time to move on, Millicent,” Father Anne called out. “We know what happened with Joseph. He hurt you, and you killed him, then yourself. Other people too, since then. Now it’s time to rest.”

I didn’t trust Millicent. Whatever had turned her spirit vengeful meant she wasn’t likely to go quietly. Especially if she saw herself as the protector of wronged women, carrying out a trail of vengeance, one dead lover at a time.

“He deserved it.” The disembodied voice sounded scratchy, like a bad recording. Ghosts didn’t usually have the power to say much, if anything. I guessed Millicent saved her energy to tell us what mattered the most.

Father Anne and I watched as Millicent’s ghost took form. She stood beside the shell art, and her face contorted in rage.

“Joseph was wrong to lie to you. He hurt you. But you didn’t have the right to kill him—or any of the others. There have been others, haven’t there?” Father Anne asked, refusing to let the ghost bait her.

Instead of trying to reply, Millicent charged at us, arms outstretched, hands clawed. I sliced through her form with my iron knife, and she blinked out.

“Start the rite!” I yelled. “I’ll keep her busy.”

Father Anne spread a handful of salt around where she stood—not as secure as a circle, but better than nothing on short notice, and pulled the ceremonial stole from her pocket. She placed it around her neck and began the prayers to break Millicent’s connection to this world and send her to the next.

“Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world; In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you…” Father Anne began the litany.

Millicent shrieked and appeared again, this time in front of Father Anne. She tried to close the distance, but the salt on the floor held her back, so she wheeled on me once more.

I didn’t need to hear Millicent’s voice to understand the fury in her eyes. Joseph had betrayed her, and so she had made vengeance for wronged women the cord that bound her to this world. Since Father Anne and I were trying to stop her, that made us betrayers, too.

I blocked out the rise and fall of Father Anne’s voice. To keep Millicent from killing me, I needed to stay focused on her, without distractions. Millicent circled, watching the iron knife in my left hand. That meant she wasn’t considering the wooden spoon, gripped handle-out, in my right hand to be a threat.

She came at me from the right. I focused my touch magic, drawing on the resonance of all the love and memories of my grandmother that her spoon represented and felt the energy spark. Millicent’s ghost lunged for me, but the cone of white light from my athame reached her first, shining through her and scattering her image like cinders in the wind.


Father Anne gave me a look, wordlessly reminding me that sacred rites can’t be rushed.

For as many times as I’d heard Father Anne read through the liturgy, I couldn’t remember how much more she had to go. A spirit as stubborn as Millicent’s wouldn’t leave quietly. I turned slowly, alert for tricks.

The easel with the sailor’s valentine crashed to the floor, taking the artwork with it and shattering the glass. In the next moment, shards of glass and loose shells rose into the air, and I knew what Millicent intended before I saw the glass hurtle toward us.

I raised my athame and let loose a blast of cold, white energy, intercepting the sharp glass and sending the pieces flying toward the other side of the room. I slowly moved to put myself in front of Father Anne, and she turned to face the opposite direction, so we were standing back to back. Since she knew the rite by heart, her hands were free to use the iron rebar or splash holy water.

We just had to keep Millicent at bay until the rite ended, and her spirit moved on. Maybe Millicent thought her work on earth wasn’t finished, or perhaps she was afraid of where she might end up on the Other Side. But no sooner had Father Anne and I positioned ourselves than the glass shards rose again and were flung toward us like a hail of knives.

I got off another blast from my athame, but some of the shards got past me. I closed my eyes and threw one arm in front of my face, but splinters lodged in the sleeves of my shirt and my hair, opening tiny cuts where they reached skin.

Millicent tackled me before I could safely see, and we crashed to the floor. I felt glass and sharp shells crunch beneath me and knew I was bleeding. A heavy weight pressed me down, making it hard to breathe, each inhale more difficult than the last.

“Deliver Millicent, O Sovereign Lord Christ, from all evil, and set her free from every bond; that she may rest with all your saints in the eternal habitations; where with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen!” Father Anne’s voice rang out, defiant and commanding.

Abruptly, the weight on my chest vanished. Millicent let out one long, furious wail at being denied her vengeance, and then the sound cut off, and the energy in the room shifted.

Millicent was gone.

“Cassidy!” Father Anne’s boots ground the glass beneath them to powder as she squatted next to me. “Are you okay?”

“I need to pick the glass out of my skin and rinse it out of my hair,” I replied, hesitant to move and scared to open my eyes.

“Stay still,” Father Anne commanded. She’d had her back to the last rain of glass, and I hoped that meant she had avoided quite as much exposure. I heard her leave the room, and several minutes later, she returned.

“I’m going to pull you up,” she told me and reached down to grip my wrist. Once she had me on my feet, she guided me out into the hallway and into the bathroom.

“Let me clean you up.” From the concern in her voice, I stayed still and didn’t argue. Blood trickled down my neck and cheek, and I felt like a pincushion.

“I’m going to wrap a wet towel around your hair until you can shower and get any glass out.” Moments later I heard water running.

“Let’s rinse your arms under the water, and your face, too.”

The water sluiced away the splinters, and I resisted the urge to rub, not wanting to push more shards into my skin. Father Anne helped me splash my face again and again until I could run my fingers over the skin without finding anything sharp. Only then did I dare open my eyes.

“Wow.” Thin trickles of blood mingled with the water on my face, arms, and hands.

“Give it a minute, and you’ll stop bleeding. Fortunately, it doesn’t look like you’ve got any serious gashes.” Father Anne produced a stiff brush that she’d found somewhere and began to whisk it over my clothing, followed by a quick swipe of another wet towel.

“There. I think that should do it,” she said.

“Are you all right?”

She chuckled. “Thanks to you heroically throwing yourself in front of me, I’m fine. I also had my back to the worst of it.” Father Anne handed me the brush, and I dusted off her back and shoulders, just in case.

“Is Millicent really gone?” I asked, as the adrenaline from the fight drained away.

Father Anne nodded. “Yeah. You couldn’t see it, but when I finished the rite, she vanished, and the whole room felt cleansed.”

“Thank you.” I blotted my face gingerly, removing the worst of the blood.

“All in a day’s work. Unfortunately, the shell art didn’t survive.”

“I didn’t think we should leave it behind. A century of being haunted by a killer ghost has to leave a psychic stain,” I said. Of course, explaining that to Alfred might not be quite so easy.

“Come on. Let’s clean up the pieces, go report to the auction guy, and get out of here. I think we could both use a shower.” Father Anne shouldered her bag, and we headed back to the office.

We found Alfred sitting where we’d left him, and he had obviously been freaking out.

“Is it over? Is she gone?” He looked at me with wide eyes, and I guessed I hadn’t washed off all the blood.

“Millicent is gone,” I reported. “She attacked us, trying to stop the rite, and in the fight, the art piece got broken.” I shook the garbage bag that contained what was left of the shell valentine.

“I never want to see that awful thing again,” Alfred replied with a shudder. “Please, take the pieces with you and…burn it or bury it or…just make it go away.”

“We can do that,” Father Anne said. She shot me a satisfied glance.

“Thank you.” Alfred looked from one of us to the other. “I don’t know what I would have done without your help.”

I smiled and shrugged. “Happy to help.” From the abashed look on Alfred’s face, I didn’t think I needed to add any warnings about buying art from shady brokers or avoiding pieces that “spoke” to him. He probably wouldn’t be handling any new acquisitions himself for a long time.

We found a box to safely transport the ruined art.

“I’ll get rid of this,” she said, taking it from me when we walked out to the parking lot. “Thanks for having my back in there.”

I grinned. “What are friends for?” I groaned when I glanced at the time. “Crap. I need to get home and clean up. I’m supposed to have dinner with Kell tonight, and it would be nice not to look like an extra from a horror movie.”

My boyfriend knew about the other side of my work, and he’d been part of some big showdowns. It didn’t hurt that he ran a paranormal investigation group, meaning I didn’t have to convince him that spooky stuff was real.

“Go. Have fun. I’ll burn what’s left of the art while I write my homily for Sunday,” Father Anne said. “I’m thinking that this week’s message will be about keeping your promises,” she added with a wink.

“Sounds like a winner. Might be a nice touch to add something about letting go of grudges,” I replied with a wan smile. Given what we deal with, if we couldn’t share some dark humor, we’d probably all go nuts.

“Good idea. Now go—get cleaned up for your date. And call me if you find out anything else about the artwork. If it’s stolen, there might be more where it came from.”

I felt a chill at her words, despite the warm Charleston temperature. As I waved goodbye and got in my car, I had the feeling she was right—and that trouble was headed our way.