Chapter One: The Assignment
and ghostly taunts
A familiar face
for Samuel Chase awaits
After several moments of silence following the pronouncement, Amira Walker glanced up from her notebook and stared at the man across the desk. The cream-colored parchment in the director’s hand exploded into a confetti mist with a muffled poof. From the colorful mini-explosion and the horrid attempt at rhymes, the personality of the assigner reminded her of her youngest sister, Ris. Vibrant, explosive, unpredictable.
The pink, blue, purple, and yellow remnants landed on the desk, and Sparsh raked the paper puddle into a black wastebasket. He wore a stern expression, a black, tailored three-piece suit, and a tie with bright yellow pineapples over a rainbow background. The first time she’d seen Sparsh, she’d jokingly called him the agency’s Bosley. But no iteration of the man from the Charlie’s Angels television series or movies was a powerful warlock that distributed secret paranormal assignments. The intimidation factor was high.
He’d read the rhyme twice in his deep, monotone voice.
Calex Dimas, Lex for short, her senior partner and kind of boyfriend, leaned back in the chair beside her, his easy demeanor belying the keen wit and sharp intuition she’d seen in action firsthand when she’d met him three weeks ago. “I didn’t think we’d be hearing Samuel Chase’s name again so soon. Can’t the Council come up with a few more lines of instruction so we can have a better understanding of what’s happening?”
The rhyme came from seers inside the Council on Crimes Against Humans. They then employed the LSP to handle the assignments.
Sparsh ignored the question and clicked away on his desktop computer. The printer behind him churned to life and spit out sheets of paper.
Amira clicked the top of her pen in and out three times. Poofs and rhymes and magic, oh my. Just another day at Lost Souls ParaAgency. She was a long way from her tea shop in her hometown of Burberry, South Carolina. Well, not too far actually, since the LSP office was located just west of Savannah, Georgia and therefore only a couple of hours drive south.
With her free hand, she smoothed the top of her skirt. A tickle of anxiety trickled down her spine when she thought how little she knew about the agency or the Council that employed them. Since entering LSP’s headquarters a half hour ago, she’d seen less than five people milling about in the stark, undecorated hallways on the surface level. The main thing she knew for certain was that they kept the paranormal community a secret from regular humans as well as protected humans from bad paranormals. She agreed with their overall mission, even if she didn’t agree with all of their enforcement tactics. The three-page strongly worded letter she and her middle sister Ally had penned to the LSP outlined all of their grievances and suggested ways of improvement.
When she’d asked Lex about training, she’d received a manual through overnight delivery. Apparently, the assignment she’d interfered with in her hometown the month prior had been the only on-the-job training they intended to provide. Being on her home turf and surrounded by her witch family had been a major bonus for that incident. With shaky confidence, she wondered if she could handle what came next.
She suppressed her doubts and reminded herself that the part-time job with the LSP would help keep her sisters safe and off the Council’s radar. That took priority above all else.
Her gaze wandered around the room and settled on Lex’s profile. The Council and LSP had sent Lex to her town to find a bad witch. After a good amount of confusion and a wrongful accusation, they’d worked together as a team to find the culprit creating magical chaos. She’d also fallen for him. Hard. Unfortunately, they’d had their first and last real date the night they’d solved the Burberry case after he’d asked her to join the agency. Since then, their late night conversations during his visits had centered on personal security and which alarm system would best fit her lifestyle. She appreciated his almost constant concern, but had hoped for a tad more in the romance department.
That alone was a good enough reason not to put a label on their relationship this early on. But add in her three spell-casting, meddling great-aunts who wanted nothing more than for her to marry him and have his babies as soon as possible to guarantee the future of the family magic, and she wondered if she and Lex really fell into the “meant to be” category. Amira saved those depressing thoughts for a late night tub of ice cream.
She cleared her throat to redirect her thinking and focus on what she could control—being an invaluable part of the agency team. “If the assignment is so vague, why does it have to poof Mission: Impossible style?”
“The ‘poof’ connects the magic to the amulet, and once Lex places it around his neck, the Council will automatically be notified that the assignment has been accepted,” Sparsh answered, his tone matter-of-fact. He collected the printed documents and slipped them into a manila folder. “As to the vagueness—that’s not my department.”
Amira’s tingle of anxiety returned at the mention of the Council. Sparsh and Lex’s grandfather were convinced a coup within the Council simmered below the surface, and the troublemakers had grand designs on becoming less human-friendly.
Sparsh stood and handed an opened black jewelry box to Lex. The amulet adorned with a golden stone in the center would give them a magical “power up” on their assignment. The amulet could be used as a tracking device and had other magical properties that could come in handy in a pinch.
This one was different from the one Lex used during the assignment where they’d met. That necklace had produced a zing between Lex and herself every time they’d touched. Fun, yet distracting.
Not that she’d be an advocate for magic.
Amira reached for the sparrow dangling from a silver chain around her neck, her mom’s talisman a constant reminder of the unpredictability and all too often tragic consequences of spell-casting. Even though she’d agreed to improve her magic by training with her great-aunts once a week, she still preferred to stick to her wits and newfound ability to doggedly uncover the truth before resorting to spells to solve problems. And since she and Lex had recently discovered that the Council wanted the Walker sisters for their magical abilities for unknown reasons, she planned to only use magic when absolutely necessary.
“So if the magic connects with the amulet,” she asked, “then that means this is a real haunting, right? Like how Lex knew that there was a bad witch in Burberry?”
Sparsh raised one of the caterpillar-ish eyebrows camped out on his forehead and sat back down. “Determining if the ghost is real or fake will be part of your investigation. Do you have your manual with you? On page two hundred sixty-one, you’ll find the protocol for spectral hauntings.”
One of the many issues in her and Ally’s letter to the agency—vagueness of assignments.
“There’s a manual for this job?” Lex chuckled, drawing an eye roll from Sparsh.
“Your former assistant must have read it for you,” the other man answered, his tone dripping with sarcasm.
Sparsh has some sass hidden under his starched collar.
Amira stared at her two lines of notes again. She drew a frowny face with vampire fangs near Samuel’s name. In Burberry, the scripted television ghost-hunter had tried to blackmail her and her sisters into becoming a “real lives of witches” reality show. “How does this work since we’ve met Samuel Chase? Will the mind-erasure hold for the duration of the assignment?”
“For that reason alone, it’s too risky of a case.” Lex interjected before Sparsh could open his mouth. “Even if the LSP erased his memories and that of his crew, they might have missed someone, and being recognized could blow our cover. An errant cameraman they forgot could expose us.”
She slanted her eyes toward Lex, but not to take in the crisp lines of his beige button up shirt that added an unhealthy dose of sex appeal. His objections irked her. They were partners, and she should have a say in whether they accepted a case. “I’m more curious to know why Samuel would have a legitimate ghost problem. I heard he retired from ghost hunting after the Burberry fiasco. The stress gave him a gray hair or something.”
For the first time since she’d been shown into Sparsh’s office, Lex angled his body toward her and gave her his full attention. “Attempted murder might do that to some people.”
She waved her pen with a flick of her wrist. “I think our witch was just trying to teach him a lesson.”
His lips formed a half-smile. “Which was?”
She mimicked his smile, wishing she’d put on another coat of lip gloss in the lobby as his gaze traveled to her mouth. “Don’t tick off a witch.”
His smile fell and he lowered his lids over his brown eyes. Due to family drama of his own, Lex would never be a big fan of witches in general.
Sparsh set a file folder down on his desk and pushed it toward Lex. “Mr. Chase has indeed retired and opened a bed and breakfast north of Atlanta. Ironically, it’s now haunted, but the occupants have kept it low-key. This wouldn’t have come on our radar if the Council hadn’t sent the assignment.”
Lex cut his gaze toward Sparsh. “Which is odd for a television personality who makes a living off of fake ghost encounters. Something isn’t right about this case.”
“This has become a high priority job.” Sparsh said. “Our tellers foresee an incident as soon as this weekend. There’s no time for a complex set up, and your history with the ghost hunter puts you ahead of the game. Celebrities like him get more attention than the average ghost chaser, so this needs to be debunked and silenced ASAP.”
Lex pushed the file back toward Sparsh. “Send another team. I don’t want to end up in a tabloid magazine. We’ll wait for something else.”
Sparsh pushed the file back with one finger. “Your grandfather says it has to be you.”
The atmosphere in the room shifted as Lex leaned forward, losing all of his relaxed posture at the mention of his grandfather. “Why am I not surprised? I still don’t think this is a good first assignment for Amira.”
“Are you saying I can’t handle a ghost?” She’d done a pretty good job of handling Samuel just a few weeks ago.
He tossed his hands wide. “Don’t put words in my mouth.”
She bit the inside of her cheek. Goddesses alive, were they having their first argument as an almost couple? She ended it quickly by reaching forward and grabbing the amulet. She tugged the leather throng over her head. “There. Assignment accepted.”
She patted it twice, and then removed it and put it in the black box.
Lex’s mouth gaped open.
Sparsh tapped his fingers on the desk, the corners of his eyes crinkling as if he wanted to smile. “Moving on. Amira, your insurance benefits paperwork needs to be filled out in human resources. Tippie will show you down to sublevel four.” He cleared his throat with a few ahems and shifted in his chair. “And… You both need to fill out the Consensual Romance in the Workplace Agreement.”
Lex grunted out a strangled noise.
She blinked several times as her cheeks warmed. A pre-typed form would definitely put a label on their relationship.
Sparsh glanced between them and settled his gaze on the top of his desk. He picked up a few files and placed them back in the same position. “I don’t do relationship counseling. I only hand out the assignments. Can LSP count on you two as a team?”Amira held her features still, not giving in to the disappointment of Lex choking instead of gallantly professing his affection for her in front of Sparsh. “Absolutely.”