Excerpt Psyche’s Search
Book Two of the Transformation Series
Doctor Lara McInnis began the day clinging to a slender island of solace. Hours later, waves of patients, errands and phone calls had pounded against that island till it was nothing but a rubble heap. Rubbing wearily at her eyes, Lara finally gave up and closed them. For a moment or two she thought she might get away with it, but then an image of Arabel, her long time receptionist, lying in a pool of her own blood rose out of some subterranean reservoir. The grizzly scene was so real, Lara’s stomach clenched. And then, like an unwelcome tape loop, it played again. And again. Opening her eyes didn’t help one whit. Arabel was just as bloody and just as dead.
Lara collapsed into the chair generally reserved for her patients. Outside her western window a scarlet sunset streaked the Seattle skyline, adding its bloody motif to the one already playing in her head. Disgusted with herself, Lara got to her feet and began pacing the length of her spacious office, burning a track in the Oriental rug. She knew she should be boxing up client files, but couldn’t force herself back to a task she was ambivalent about—at least not until she could get her emotions under better control.
The doorknob rattled. It startled her and Lara’s heart jumped into overdrive. In her current state, the familiar sound was like a reproach. “How could I not have locked it with everything that’s going on?” she muttered as she rushed into the outer office. Arabel’s desk, another Oriental rug and ornate Victorian furniture with floral upholstery flashed past the edges of her vision, but she was focused on the door as she watched the knob slowly turning.
This is ridiculous, she told herself. It’s probably a pharmaceutical salesman thinking I’m a psychiatrist.
Or that demon that’s been dogging you, a darker inner voice insinuated.
Since the only other option was throwing herself out a second storey window and hoping for the best, Lara crossed the few feet to the door and yanked it open. A decidedly overweight woman jerked her hand away from the doorknob and eyed Lara balefully out of rheumy, blue eyes. Pale brown hair, going gray, was gathered into an untidy bun and fat rolls bulged over too-tight jeans and under an inadequate T-shirt.
“Missus Stone.” Lara tried to smile as she coaxed her heart back to a normal rhythm.
“Hmmmmph, surprised you remember me.”
“Of course I do.” Lara stepped aside, gesturing for the woman to enter. The last thing she wanted was another patient visit, but it would verge on the unethical—never mind the rude—to ask Myra Stone to go away without at least finding out what she wanted.
Lara waited while Myra stalked past her, looked inside the inner office and circled back to stand in front of Lara, hands on her hips. “Guess she’s not here,” Myra snapped as she sat down in one of the reception chairs.
“If you’re looking for Caren, no, she’s not,” Lara agreed, mystified. “Is your stepdaughter missing?”
The woman grunted. She still had an expression on her face that could curdle milk, but she knotted her fingers together and said, “How about if you sit down and you and me can have a little talk.”
“Okay.” Lara kept her voice as neutral as she could, pulled the office door shut—taking care to lock it this time—and rolled Arabel’s chair out. Her butt had barely grazed the seat cushion when the woman started talking.
“I don’t think spending time here is helping Caren. Nope, not at all,” Myra complained in an unpleasant, nasal twang. “I never know where she is. She’s still taking what doesn’t belong to her and that father of hers, well he’s not any help at all. So it’s just me.” Accusatory eyes drilled into Lara. “All my real kids turned out fine. This one, she’s just a bad seed.” Rooting around in a battered handbag, Myra pulled out a cigarette. “Do you mind?”
“Uh, yes, I’d prefer you didn’t smoke,” Lara managed, struck by the gall of the woman and offended to hear her belittle her stepdaughter so blatantly. Caren had said Myra hated her, but Lara had assumed it was just teenaged hyperbole.
Myra stuffed the cigarette into her T-shirt pocket and pushed her bulk upright. “Not much reason for me to stay,” she muttered. “Really thought she’d be here. You’re the only one she ever says anything good about.”
If she felt like one of your real kids, maybe she’d say good things about you—or feel safe enough to love you . . . Discouraged by the woman’s callousness—after all, Caren had been through hell in her sixteen years—Lara stood, too. Trying for a positive spin, she said, “You must be concerned or you wouldn’t have come looking for Caren. Would you like to make an appointment, Missus Stone? I already told you on the phone I’m closing my practice, but I’d be glad to find a time slot for you in the next couple of weeks. We could talk about some of the challenges of step-parenting and how hard it is for abused children to learn to trust—”
“Nah.” Myra waved her to silence. “Hell, my uncle did me and I didn’t turn out like her. I didn’t cut school or steal stuff. Or carve on myself.” Shuffling over to the door, she pulled it open and stalked out into the hall, the tiny chink in her armor replaced by a brittle, defensive anger.
“Well, think about it,” Lara persisted, addressing the woman’s back as Myra headed for a stairwell. Drawing the door shut behind her, she retreated to her office thinking that Myra could do with a smattering of psychotherapy herself. Yeah, like about ten years worth. Crimson from the sunset bled through stained-glass windows, casting her familiar furniture in an eerie light. Lara wrapped her arms around herself, seeking the warmth of her own body for comfort.
That poor child… From abusive kin to a stepmother who doesn’t want her. Sorrow for Caren replaced the Arabel tape loop as color faded from the room. Lara decided it was an improvement, all in all, and she kicked a box over a few inches so she could open the lower drawer of her filing cabinet. Pushing her long red hair back over her shoulders, she proceeded to dump banded files into the banker’s box without any particular regard for order.
The outer door of her office rattled again. This time, though, it was a key sound.
“In here, Trev,” she called back, straightening to greet her longtime boyfriend.
Trevor, his usually buoyant mood notably subdued, held out his arms. “’Lo, Lara. Sorry I’m a bit late but . . . well, never mind, it will keep.” He scanned the room with his intensely blue eyes, taking in her half-finished packing job. “How much more . . .” he began tentatively as he put his arms round her for a hug.
Shooting him a look that was laced with pain, she shook her head. “I don’t know. I’m doing this as fast as I can in between seeing patients who want a last session or two. Thank god Arabel started calling all of them before . . .”
His arms tightened around her. “Doesn’t matter, love. It’ll be done eventually.” Blonde curls brushing against her face, he kneaded her shoulders with both hands. “Bloody hell, you’re wound up tighter than a spring.” The familiar clipped tones of his British accent washed over her like a balm.
“Feels heavenly,” she breathed. “I didn’t realize how . . .” Her voice trailed off. “Well, maybe I did, but I’ve been forcing myself not to pay attention.” She pulled away, sinking onto the floral couch spanning part of one wall. Exhaustion dragged at her as she dropped her head into her hands, rocking slightly.
Pushing a couple of boxes out of the way, Trevor joined her. “I miss Arabel, too, you know.” There was a catch in his voice that he tried to clear away. “Any of those ready to take home?” he asked, pointing at the half dozen boxes littering the floor.
“Yeah, those three.” She jabbed her index finger at a corner of the room. “They’re records from patients I haven’t seen in at least a couple of years.”
“What are you going to do with the others?” His voice was gentle, but he placed a finger under her chin, forcing her to look at him. “What are you saving them for?”
“Guess I can’t very well keep any of them,” she muttered. “It’s not like we’re even going to be here after a little while.”
“No,” he agreed solemnly. “It’s not. And we’re not.”
Pursing her lips into a thin line, she found her feet. “Okay, then,” she snapped, angry with the universe that seemed to be stealing her life away. Pulling open file drawers, she grabbed a few charts and dumped them onto her desk. “I need these since I’m not quite done with these people, but all the rest can go.”
Nodding, Trevor joined her in front of the twin horizontal files, and together they began to move twenty years worth of Lara’s psychology practice into the waiting cartons. “You’ll need more boxes,” he noted after a few minutes. “Lots more.”
“Thought we could fill these, dump them at home, and then I’d just bring the empties back tomorrow and begin all over.”
“Ah, brilliant. Of course that’s the obvious thing to do.” Grunting, he shouldered a box and headed for the door. “I’ll be back directly for another.”
“Right behind you,” she said, picking up a box. “I do feel better when I’m doing something other than wallowing in my own misery.”
“That’s my girl,” he shot back over his shoulder.
The minute Trevor opened the door of his old Mercedes convertible, Gunter, their eleven-week-old German Shepherd lunged out of the car, making a beeline for Lara. The little black puppy yipped, whined and launched himself at her, pulling at her wool skirt with his claws. “There, there, little man,” she cooed, putting her box down so she could unhook his feet from the fabric of her skirt. “Yes, yes, I’ve missed you, too.”
As she fondled the puppy, she glanced at Trevor. Dressed in faded blue jeans, a green chambray shirt and a tan corduroy blazer, his tall, lanky frame exuded its usual casual elegance. “How’d your day go?” she asked.
“Not bad,” he replied, shoving his box of files into the car’s small trunk and reaching for the one she’d set on the sidewalk. “We’ll have to put the rest in your car, love. No more room in here.” He slammed the car’s boot. “I started really taking stock of what’s in our house . . . and making lists. Went down to the waterfront, too.” His lips curved wryly. “Didn’t find much in the way of antique farm equipment, but I did get some leads. Bloke at the flea market looked at me as if I was daft.”
She flashed him a weak smile. “Well, dear, I suppose it’s not every day they get customers hunting for scythes, or whatever it was you asked for.”
“Let’s get those other boxes down here. Then we can walk the pup before we go home.”
Lara inclined her head and turned to go back into her building Lucky for us the electricity’s not on the fritz. It’s almost dark out here. Power outages had been hit-and-miss. More often than not, she’d had to use a flashlight to find her way out of her building. Back in the office, she continued throwing files willy-nilly into the boxes she’d bought earlier that day. An orderly part of her rebelled when she looked at the files, no longer alphabetized, lying on their sides like beached whales. “It doesn’t matter,” she muttered fiercely. “All we’re going to do is burn them.”
She remembered something Raven had told her. Your thought patterns are still trapped in your old life. That is what has brought modern civilization to the brink of extinction: an intransigent unwillingness to change anything.
As she thought about Raven, a vision of the tall, broad-shouldered Sidhe with his flowing black hair filled her mind; and the amulet Lillian had given her, nestled between her breasts on its golden chain, thrummed approvingly. Lara grasped the moonstone through the fabric of her teal silk blouse, enjoying its warmth. Raven and Lillian: two ancient creatures, somehow alive and well in the early years of the twenty-first century. Doesn’t matter why or how, I’m just glad they’re here, helping us.
Trevor strode back into her inner office. “Got another box ready?” he asked, looking confused. “I know you told me earlier, but I don’t remember.”
“Uh-huh.” She crooked a finger off to the side. “That one. I’ll just finish this one and cart it out. Then there’ll only be two more to fill and we can head home.”
“Ugh,” Trevor grunted as he shoved the last of the boxes into Lara’s silver BMW. “Glad you only got six boxes. I don’t think we could have crammed any more in with a shoehorn, since all that outdoor clothing we bought is still in there.”
“Brrrr . . .” she wrapped her arms around her upper body. “It’s getting cold. Why don’t you start for home? I’ll be along soon.”
“Right, then.” Coming over to her, he gathered her close. “No wonder you’re cold, love.” He fingered the silky fabric of her blouse. “Be sure to put on your jumper before you leave.”
“Yes, Daddy.” She smiled into the folds of his blazer, thinking how good it felt to be cared about.
He ruffled her hair, spun her round and gave her a friendly swat on the butt. “Off with you, love. I’ll try to have something started for supper by the time you get there. You are leaving directly behind me?”
“Right after I lock up.”
Lara ran up the broad front steps of her Victorian office building knowing she’d miss the old place with its unique stained glass windows. Pulling the front door shut and taking care to spin the deadbolt, she padded up the carpeted stairs to her office, opened the door and stopped short. Caren was sitting on the floor in the darkened reception area.
“Caren! How on earth did you get in here?”
“Back door was open.” The teenager’s voice was barely audible.
“I don’t think so,” Lara said, looking closely at her young client. “I distinctly remember locking it earlier.”
“So, I helped it along a little,” the girl said, her voice rising defiantly.
“It’s okay,” Lara murmured. “However you managed to get in, it must have been important for you to find me.”
“Uh, yeah. I—I didn’t believe what my stepmother told me. I thought she was just being mean. But it . . . it’s true.” Caren’s voice broke and a low, keening moan escaped her. “I looked in there,” she jerked a thumb towards the inner office where Lara saw her clients. “You’re really leaving, aren’t you? Just like everyone else has left me. You’re leaving, too.” Reproachful blue eyes vilified Lara.
“Oh, sweetie . . .” Lara began.
“Don’t sweetie me,” the girl snarled. “You really had me going there, Doc. I thought you actually cared about me. But it was just a job, wasn’t it? Just a fucking job and now you’re . . . you’re . . .” Her face twisted into a rictus and Caren began to cry. Soft little animal sounds tore out of her as she turned her face to the wall.
Ach, what can I tell her that she’ll believe? “Do you mind if I sit down?” Lara asked, as she drew the outer door of her office closed.
“I don’t fucking care what you do,” the girl choked out between sobs.
Nodding, Lara sank to the floor, but not too close to Caren. “I can see why you’d think I’m abandoning you,” Lara began, as she reached out to her psychic side for help. Caren’s aura reflected the girl’s misery. Instead of lively colors, it had reverted to an opaque gray.
“Well, I am leaving,” Lara agreed. “But I’m not leaving to get away from you.” Caren was silent, so Lara forged ahead, hoping against hope the girl would listen for long enough to not simply pigeonhole what was happening now into the long cavalcade of adults who had let her down. “My receptionist, Arabel, was murdered during the riots last week. She . . .” Lara swallowed hard. “She was like a mother to me, since my own mother died when I was very young. I . . . well, Caren, I just can’t stand to be here without her. I know it’s abrupt, and I would have liked to have had at least a month to tell all of my patients goodbye, but . . .”
A tear dripped down her face and Lara brushed it away. “I don’t think I can keep on seeing people without Arabel’s help. What I do is hard work. I can’t do it if I’m empty inside.”
“Oh.” The girl’s voice was small and wounded. “You didn’t have a good mother either?”
“Uh-uh.” Fishing around in her skirt pockets for a Kleenex, Lara wiped at her eyes.
“That’s why you understood . . . about me.”
“Yes, dear. That’s part of it.” Glancing at her patient, Lara saw that Caren had straightened slightly from her slumped position in the corner where she’d looked like a discarded rag doll. Her aura seemed just a bit better, too.
“But I don’t want you to leave.” The words tore out of the girl like shards of glass, painful to hear.
Lara held out her arms. “Come here,” she invited. “Let me hold you. You look like you could use a hug. And I know I could.” Figuring it was the last phrase that had done it; Lara took a deep breath as she closed her arms around the distraught teen who’d scuttled across the floor, flinging herself into the offered embrace.
“This is so hard,” Caren snuffled. “You’re the first one I’ve trusted in . . . in years. And now you won’t be here anymore.”
“But you’ll carry the knowledge in your heart that you can trust someone,” Lara murmured, stroking Caren’s soft, dark hair. “And I’ll carry you with me as well.”
“You won’t forget about me.”
“Oh, sweetie, how could I?” Lara closed her eyes. Disclosing personal information ran against her professional grain, but what possible difference could the truth make at this point? Disentangling herself slightly from the trembling girl, Lara said, “Look at me. I want to tell you something.”
When the girl’s troubled eyes met hers, Lara let out a breath. “I could never forget you because you remind me so much of me when I was young.”
Caren’s eyes filled with tears. “You aren’t just saying that. You really mean it.”
“Yes, I really mean it. Now, when I called your stepmother, I asked her to find out if you wanted to come in for a last session or two. Did she tell you that?” Caren shook her head and Lara was filled with silent fury at the woman. “How about tomorrow after school?”
“I . . . I’d like that.”
“Okay, let me take a peek at my schedule.” Lara heaved herself to her feet, feeling even more drained than when she’d been packing boxes. Just then her cell phone trilled. Picking it up, she glanced at the number and then pushed the answer key. “Hi, Trev . . .” she began.
“Where in the bloody blazes are you?” he snapped. “Please, please tell me you’ve got a good reason for not being home.”
“I’m almost out of here,” she replied carefully, aware Caren was listening. “I’ll call you from the car once I’m on my way. Don’t worry, Trev. I’m okay.” She heard his breath whistling through the cellular system.
“Righto.” His accent was very crisp, betraying his fear. “I’ll wait for you to ring me back.”
Of course he’d be worried after the riots and Arabel, never mind that patient of mine who tried to kill me. Lips pursed together, Lara pulled up the calendar on her phone.
“Is your husband mad at you?” Caren asked tremulously.
“No dear, just worried. Would three-thirty work?” Lara looked questioningly at the teenager. At Caren’s nod, Lara began tapping buttons. “There,” she said. “You’re in. Do you have a ride home?”
“Yeah, I brought my car. It’s in the, uh, alley.”
“Next to my back door?”
Caren dropped her eyes. “Yeah.”
“Okay, give me a sec and I’ll walk you out.”
Lara slipped on a gray tweed wool jacket, grabbed her phone, pager and purse and shepherded Caren out of the office, down the stairs and around to the back. “Is that it?” Lara asked, pointing to a yellow Volkswagen.
“Are you better?”
Caren looked at her, bit her lower lip and said, “Yes, some. But I still wish you weren’t going.”
I wish I wasn’t either. “Bye, dear. Drive safe.” Locking up, she marveled that the unruly teen had managed to defeat a locking mechanism designed to stymie professional burglars. After setting the building alarm, she hit the speed dial digit on her BlackBerry that would connect her to home. Trevor picked up on the first ring.
“Well?” he said, still sounding half-sick with fear.
“It was one of my younger patients,” she said as she walked to her car, “needing reassurance. She’d snuck in the back while we were out loading boxes and, well, she looked round the office, put two and two together and panicked. Anyhow, I’m on my way. Can I tell you the rest when I get home? I’m tapped out, and I don’t want to try to talk and drive at the same time.”
“Sure, love.” His voice had softened. “See you soon.”
“I love you.” She hit the end call button and engaged the ignition.
Shutting her eyes for a few seconds to rest them before trying to deal with the glare from other cars’ headlamps, Lara grimaced. Her eyes felt gritty and she was so tired her bones ached.
Well, nothing’s going to get better with me just sitting here. May as well get moving. As she guided the car into light traffic on her way to the freeway, Lara thought about the last three weeks. Hard to believe it had only taken that short amount of time for life-as-usual to collapse. “Get a grip,” she hissed as she drove, fingers clenched around the leather-clad wheel. “It’s not like Trev hasn’t been warning me for months there wasn’t enough gasoline or food. I just did my usual ostrich routine and didn’t pay any attention to him.” She sighed. Truth, when it reared up to slap her in the face, was always daunting. She knew she was a master of only looking at what she wanted to see. Yeah, I save the hard work for my patients . . .
Her minded drifted to Lillian. After years of a love-hate relationship with her own psychic abilities, Lara had finally made an effort to find someone who could teach her about her magical side. “Heh! I got a tad more than I bargained for,” she mumbled, finding enough energy to laugh ruefully.
Lara’s forehead creased in thought. Everything that had happened since Ken Beauchamp had accosted her on the front porch of her office, threatening her because she’d tried to help his abused wife, merged into a confusing maelstrom. I can’t think anymore. Maybe I could just do some breathing . . .
When Lara finally turned the car onto her street on Queen Anne Hill, she was painfully close to the end of her emotional tether. Relaxation breathing hadn’t helped much and she still felt like she was running on fumes. Her head throbbed dully. As she scanned the street for parking spots, she spotted one fairly close to the twenty-five stairs leading to their house and maneuvered into it. Shutting off the engine, she folded her hands together over the top of the steering wheel and rested her forehead on them. A sharp tap on her window made her jump, head swiveling quickly.
“Lara?” Trevor’s voice, muted by the thick safety glass, still sounded worried.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming.” She pushed the door open and stumbled out into the chill damp of a Seattle evening. His arms closed around her. “Bring what you need, love. Or I can get it for you.”
“Bag, phone, pager.” She drew in a shuddery breath. “Hell, Trev, I’m not that bad off. Nothing wrong with my body. I’m just emotionally drained and my head hurts. If you hand that stuff to me, you can haul one of those boxes upstairs.”
Wordlessly, he extracted the BMW’s keys from her, then reached inside to gather up her things. While he was doing that, Lara walked around to the back of the car. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, an inner voice scolded. He needs your help. Straightening her shoulders and blowing out a couple of breaths, she called out, “Hit the hatch release, would you?” Once it was open, she reached inside and grasped one of the banker’s boxes by its built-in handles. “Here.” She walked to the side of the car where he was standing, holding her things. “Just drop them on top of this box.”
“Bloody bollocks, Lara. When you got out of the car, you looked like you could barely stand up.”
“Being home helps. Come on, dear. Please don’t fight with me.”
With an exasperated sigh, Trevor clipped her phone and pager to her bag, then laid all three atop the box she was carrying. “See you inside.”
“No, you’ll see me back out here in a couple of minutes. We can eat after all those boxes are in the house. I can’t leave them out here. They’re confidential patient files. Burning them is one thing. Leaving them, even in a locked car, is quite another.” Turning, she began to climb the steps to the front porch of their five storey home.
“We could try one of those shredding services,” he called after her.
Balancing the box carefully on a step, she trotted back over to him. “No, we couldn’t,” she said in a low voice. “Raven said it’d be dangerous for us if people know we’re leaving. If we give hundreds of pounds of files to the shredders, someone’s bound to get suspicious. Especially since they, of all people, would know I’m supposed to hang onto things for at least seven years.”
Pulling the hatch closed, Trevor picked up two boxes, one atop the other. “Hmmmmph, hadn’t thought about it in quite that light. Lead on, then. I’m just behind you.”