Having opened a new detective agency with her eleven sisters, Artemis accepts her first case, find the burglars that are stealing from the wealthy homeowners in Houston. When her physic abilities are interrupted by man she meets she decides he must be at the heart of the thefts, but the mistake puts her and those she loves in grave danger. The dark wizard angered at her ability to temporarily block his magic begins attacks on her, her family, and others she loves. But he is not the only dangerous one she must face. She must battle the wizard and the thieves that come at her armed and ready to do them harm.
Gloria startled awake. Holding her breath, Gloria watched through slitted eyes as the dark silhouette moved through the room. Did he know she was awake? Did he care? Her heart pounded in her ears and strained to escape from her chest, the pain more than she could stand. She bit her lip, tasting blood, but it helped. He was pawing through her jewelry box. Did he know the best of the jewels were in the safe?
Squeezing her eyes shut, she thought of Malcolm. He would have sprung up and confronted the thief, but that may have been as dangerous as the car accident which had taken him from her. Tears escaped her tightly closed eyes, and she sent a prayer to Malcolm to help her calm down as she fought to control the scream which threatened to escape. She had no defense, no knife or gun, and could only pray he would take what he wanted and leave.
She lay there for long minutes after she no longer heard the click and scratch of the jewelry being moved about. Would he be standing over her if she opened her eyes? Would he have gone next to Candy's room? The thought he might threaten her daughter forced her eyes open, a sigh of relief escaping her lips as she no longer saw his dark silhouette. She threw back the covers and carefully sat up. She had to know had he gone to her daughter's room?
Candy had nothing of value. There were other things he could do if he decided to sneak into her room. Slipping from the bed, Gloria found her knees weak, refusing to support her effort to stand. She grasped the bed post, and forced a step, then another, bracing herself against the furniture as she inched toward the door.
Reaching the landing, she looked down into the entry hall where she saw the thief salute her and exit through the front door. She stumbled down the hall, peering into Candy's room to find her daughter sound asleep. The strength returning to her legs, she rushed down the stairs where she locked and bolted the door and turned on the alarm system.
Unable to return to sleep, she checked and rechecked every window and door. She briefly thought of calling the police, but rejected the idea. Candy had had some trouble with them recently, and Gloria was sure they would immediately blame her for anything the thief may have taken, and to be honest, she wasn't sure her daughter had not had a hand in giving the thief access to their home.
She made a pot of coffee and watched the clock in the kitchen as the minutes ticked slowly away. She would have to lay down later, try to wipe the exhaustion from her face. She needed to make the guests coming to the charity ball believe she was excited to have them.
The valet held an umbrella over Artemis as she stepped from the cab. He walked with her to the wide covered veranda before returning to escort the next guests. Entering the broad hallway, she was greeted by Gloria's assistant who directed her to the living room already filled with other guests. The men were dressed in their power suits, and women in stunning and brilliantly colored gowns where diamonds, rubies and emeralds circled their necks in compliment to the clothes they wore. She saw her sisters Calypso and Athena, but the other five must have been running late.
She hesitated to step down until she had an idea where those she had agreed to chat with were located. She and her sisters hoped to spread the word of the new company they had established and have a chance to speak with the friends she had not recently seen. Once on the ballroom floor, she would see nothing but the men's chests and many of the women's enhanced breasts. Stepping down, she crossed the room hearing snippets of conversation, including some rather steamy admissions.
She knew everyone she saw and was happy she was short enough many of them didn't see her as she passed. None of them were true friends, but perhaps in the future, they would become clients of the detective agency she and her sisters had started.
The room was filled with too loud music and voices pitched even louder to be heard over the pounding beat of the song. Harried servers wove through the crowd offering appetizers on silver trays, or glasses filled with champagne. To the right were tables with ice sculptures in the center of the cold tables filled with beautifully displayed buffet fare.
Spotting her hostess, she wove her way in the direction she had seen Gloria talking to one of the power couples attending the evening's event, a charity ball to benefit the local women's shelter. Hoping to avoid conversation as she glided forward without looking up at the guests she passed, which was a mistake, a strong masculine hand reached out and snagged her arm, pulling her to stand in front of him. Pressing her lips tightly together in a frown, she looked up at a wide smile. She immediately smiled back as she looked at the face towering above her with laughing deep emerald green eyes.
"Alex, when did you get back? You should have called me."
Instead of answering, he grabbed her hand and drew her to a conversation pit at the edge of the crowd, moving two chairs close to each other before waving her into one and taking the seat next to her.
"Artemis, my sweet elf, you are just as beautiful as always."
Artemis laughed. "I am not an elf. I'm a real girl and you know it. Now, when did you get back?"
"I got in late Monday night. I admit I slept as much as I could and avoided letting anyone know I was home enjoying the peace and quiet. Then mom called and told me about Gloria's ball, and I knew I'd see you here. Surprise! I'm home."
Artemis laughed. "What's going on, are you back for good?"
"Yes, I was discharged and will be staying home until I decide what to do next. It's not going to be easy leaving the Marines and becoming a civilian, but I was wounded." He rushed to erase the worry she was sure she had shown on her face, "Really rather minor, but enough that makes it impossible to go back in the field."
She bit her lower lip, her eyes narrowing as she studied him. "Alexander, don't bullshit me. If they discharged you, the wound wasn't that minor."
"You mean you couldn't read me when I touched you? This isn't the time or place to go into detail. I promise we'll talk about it later." Abruptly changing the subject, he continued. "I can't believe your hair has gotten long. You always had such an adorable pixie cut, but it's beautiful. I dreamed of you, your golden eyes, and your full exquisite lips, when I was recovering in the hospital. I thought I was making it up, the way you look had to be a fantasy, but nope, you're just as gorgeous as I thought. Actually more so than I remembered."
Before she could respond, Gloria, the hostess of the night's event, walked up.
"Artemis, Alexander, I just knew you two would find each other. I'm so glad you're both here. Isn't it a wonderful turnout? The governor and his wife will be here soon. I'm so excited."
Artemis stood. "Sit down a minute." She reached over and guided the woman to the chair she had just abandoned. "You're totally frazzled. I mean the hair and makeup are perfect, but you're tired, and don't tell me you're not."
"Are you doing that psychic thing on me? You're right. I'm a wreck. I should never have volunteered to host tonight's event. It's been a particularly hard week. We've had some things go missing, nothing of real importance, but a couple of candlesticks, a broach Mal gave me, stuff like that, and last night, I woke and found someone in my room, pawing through my jewelry box. The worst part of it is Candy, my daughter, has been dating this totally unacceptable young man, he's covered in tattoos and rides a motorcycle, but what can I do? She's nineteen and considered an adult. I just wish she'd act like it. I admit I wondered if it was him."
Artemis rested her hand on Gloria's shoulder and allowed herself to see it was much more than the petty theft. The memory of the man in her room flashed through Artemis' mind and the fact Gloria was afraid Candy may have helped the thief enter the house and take the missing items.
Gloria tried to smooth away the worry and replaced it with her best hostess smile before she stood as a man walked toward the trio. "Alexander Ruston, Artemis Mathison, I want you to meet, Hannibal Gray. He's just taken over as chief financial officer for Gordon, Coleman and Gray CPAs, the firm Mal worked at before he--he died."
Had it not been for the distinctive pucker of his thin lips, Mr. Gray could have been nothing more than a poorly animated skeleton. Artemis couldn't help wonder how he could possibly walk in the suit that looked as if it weighed more than he did though the fit was impeccable.
"Very nice to meet you both," Gray said with a phony smile, reaching over to shake Alexander's hands before turning to Artemis.
The moment she touched his bony fingers, she felt like he had punched her in the stomach. She would have fallen had Alexander not caught her in his arms. She recovered quickly. "Sorry, I planned on browsing the buffet shortly after I arrived. As you might expect, I didn't eat today," she said to explain her reaction. Alexander carefully lowered her into an armchair, sitting on the arm, petting her like a puppy. She studied Gray, wondering what had happened.
"Miss Mathison," Gray said, "I am happy to meet you. I have been working with your sister Calypso and hope to gain her trust so we may manage your family's accounts.
Artemis plastered a smile on her face and thought, not if I have anything to do with it. "I'll tell her I met you, this evening. Actually, I'm surprised you haven't met her yet I'm sure she's somewhere in this crowd."
"I'll go get you something to eat," Alex said. "Gloria would you mind staying with her a few more minutes? I'll be right back."
Gray turned and walked off, barely hiding his disgust.
Artemis turned to Gloria. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize how weak I had gotten. I'm famished. Now that we're alone, I was going to offer you the help of our new agency. I'll be glad to personally look into the thefts for you. Of course if you'd rather call the police, I'll understand."
"No, no police. Thank you. You're such a good friend. I know you and your sisters have opened that new detective agency, and if you're going to do this, I insist on paying your normal rate."
"Only if you promise to tell all your friends about us so they'll call if they have something we can do for them." Artemis said handing her one of her cards.
"Dozen Dames Detective Agency?" Gloria read. "What an unusual name, where did you come up with that?"
Artemis laughed, "We all love the music from the 40's, and the musical South Pacific by Roger Hammerstein especially the song There Ain't Nothin Like a Dame and it just seemed to suit the twelve of us. We'd run around the house singing it after watching the movie on stormy days, a regular occurrence here in Houston and surrounding cities, you could have found us around the television watching the movies starring Bogart or Cagney.
"Send me a stack of your cards. I'll paper the town with them for you." Gloria laughed.
"Thanks, I think I can say you are now relieved of duty. Here comes Alex, and I have to wonder if there's anything left on the buffet for your other guests."
Alexander sat down and handed Artemis a dish loaded with fruit, cheeses and crackers, a long time favorite of hers, before he began on the platter towering with a combination of meats and fish. As soon as she had picked her way through the meal, she stood. "I have to go. It's been good to see you. Call me when you get settled. I'd love to hear about your experiences in the military. I'm sure you have some fascinating tales."
He wiped his hand on a napkin before he stood. "I'll walk you out. Did you drive or come in a taxi?"
"Then I'll drive you home. I understand you moved out of the family mansion. I'd love to see where you live now."
"No need. A cab is on the way and should be here any moment."
Ignoring her objection, he gave the valet his parking stub. Unwilling to make a scene, she gave him her address as soon as she was seated in the passenger seat of his beautiful royal blue Lamborghini.
Alexander glanced over at her. "What happened back there with Gray. I've never seen you do anything like that before."
"I never experienced anything like it before. When I touched him, I didn't see anything except a black fog, and I've never had a physical reaction like that to someone. I feel foolish for making such a display."
"Do you think he had a shield? Something to block you from seeing into his thoughts?"
"I guess it's possible, but why would it be so violent? Your friend Keenan is psychic and has a mental shield, but it's never affected me like that." She shrugged. "Unlike you, who--who is completely impossible to read--it's possible Gray is psychic and had a bad experience at some point, and then developed an extremely strong shield. I saw him smiling when it happened, so he knew exactly why I collapsed. He's not a very nice man, and I intend to let my sister know we don't want to do business with that firm while he is there."
"I'm no psychic, and I admit I found him rather odd, someone to avoid if possible." Alex pulled up in the front of her house. "Are you going to invite me in?"
Artemis gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "Sorry, not tonight. How about you come to dinner at Calypso's tomorrow. She lives in Mother's home in Clear Lake. Do you remember how to get there?"
"Of course, will all the sisters be there?"
"Not this week, but Electra and Athena will be there."
Inside the house, she pulled out her cell phone and called Sinead. In addition to her eight sisters, her parents had fostered four young women, now all of them lent their powers and abilities to the investigations firm. Sinead and Felicity were amazing hackers. They could get into any system and find information on anyone.
"Artemis. What do you need?" Sinead was always in a rush and rarely chatted.
"I need you to do a background check on Candy Rebecca Coleman, Gloria's daughter, and her boyfriend, Erik V. Savage. I need to know if Candy is involved in using or selling drugs and anything else you can get for me. I also need a separate deep search on a Hannibal Gray and the firms he has worked for in the past."
"Got it. I'll call you back." Sinead didn't wait for Artemis' reply, disconnecting as soon as she finished speaking.
Artemis unzipped her dress disrobing as she climbed the stairs to her bedroom. In the master bath, she turned on the water and stepped into the shower hoping to wash away the darkness Gray had left. It was a shame she felt so dirty, otherwise, she hoped Alex would be beside her as the hot water sluiced over them. She had missed him when he left to join the marines five years ago. He had never made any promises, but she was certain they would be together now that he had returned.
He was the one person she could never read. It had concerned her at first, but eventually she realized this was how it should be. She wasn't sure she could share her life with someone whose mind would always be open to her. When she had seen him, desire pooled in her belly, making her wet and hungry for his touch. Stepping from the shower she dried off, then slipped between the soft, cool sheets, slipping her finger over her clit, she closed her eyes and remembered what had been.