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Cursed by Night: A Reverse Harem Urban Fantasy (Her Dark Protectors Book 1) by Jasmine Walt, Emma Stark (1)

1

Rise and shine, bitches.

I don’t need to look at my phone to know who’s calling. There’s only one person—and one reason—my phone is ringing at five-thirty AM. Only a mile into my run, I stop, breath clouding around me, and pull my phone from my armband. A bead of sweat rolls down between my breasts.

“Bisset,” I answer, and start walking to keep my muscles warm.

“Sorry to wake you, Detective,” the officer on the line says, and I recognize the voice as Mike Anderson, a rookie cop working the graveyard shift.

“I was already up. Have a body for me?”

“We do. Joggers found it about twenty minutes ago on a run. Just another reason not to be a runner, eh?”

“I’m literally on a run right now.”

“Well, too bad you didn’t find it. These girls are pretty shaken up.”

“I can imagine.” I stop at a crosswalk and take a minute to stretch my calves. “So why are you calling me?”

“Once you see it, you’ll know why.”

Desperate to work my way up the ranks, I took on the cases no one else wanted. The ones deemed “spooky” or “weird” that got me the nickname of Mulder amongst the other detectives. What started as a joke quickly became a compliment. The occult and magic don’t exist. There was always a logical explanation, well, as logical as any murder can be. Taking on—and solving—some of the Philadelphia Police Department’s most obscure cases was no easy feat, but I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge.

“Text me the address.”

“Sending now.”

“Thanks, Anderson.” I stretch my legs and wait for the text to come through with the location of the body. Then I’m off, turning around and running home to change and take off again, though this time by car.

The body was found along a road on the outskirts of town. Three college students stumbled upon it on their run this morning, noticing a bloody shoe sticking up from the weeds.

I park behind a marked police car and get out, looking at the small gathering of people. Most are official law enforcement, and a few others are gawkers. There aren’t too many houses on this road, which is both good and bad. The road has been blocked off on either side, stopping any traffic from coming through and tampering with my crime scene. The area around the body has been taped off, and the girls who found it are sitting inside a squad car to keep warm.

“Morning, Detective Bisset.”

“Morning,” I say, ducking under the yellow police tape Officer Nick Beasley is holding up for me. I gather my hair at the nape of my neck, securing it in a messy bun to keep it out of the way. Nick casts me a sideways glance, one I purposely ignore, and walks in stride with me to the crime scene. “So what are we looking at here?”

“I’m not really sure. We can’t make sense of it. Just wait and see.”

I pull latex gloves from my pocket and put them on. The body is in a ditch on the side of a rural road, and I can smell it before I can see it, letting me know right away it was dumped here days after the murder took place. I move down the ditch, careful not to get my feet tangled in the tall dead grass that’s been buried under snow until recently.

Flies swarm around the body, landing on the man’s face. His lips are dry and cracked, parted slightly. One fly lands on the side of his mouth and crawls inside. His eyes, once brown, are slit halfway open and sunken into his skull. I start with the head like I always do, well, when my victims have heads, that is, and scan my eyes down.

There are multiple puncture wounds on his neck. At first glance they look like they’re from barbecue skewers, but the bruising around them looks more like a hickey. I run my eyes down his arms and—fuck.

Now I know what everyone was talking about.

Both of the victim’s arms have been sliced open from the elbow to the wrist and his bones removed. That is definitely something I haven’t seen before.

“Do we have an ID on the vic?” I ask, crouching down to further inspect the body. I turn my head and inhale. Even after years on the force, the smell of a rotting human body doesn’t get any easier to take in.

“Yes,” Officer Beasley tells me. “Eric Brownell, thirty-two. He lives alone in an apartment downtown, and wasn’t reported missing. We did call the gaming store where he worked and he was a no-show for his shift on Wednesday.”

“When was the last time he was at work.”

“Tuesday. He closed the store along with one other person. She said she saw him get in his car and drive away.”

I nod, looking at the victim. He wasn’t murdered on Wednesday, I can tell from the state of the body. Today is Monday, and I’m guessing he wasn’t killed until Friday, left to decay over the weekend. Once he started to smell, the murderer dumped him.

I inspect the site around him, looking for any evidence left behind. We canvass the area and I have two officers go door to door on the few houses on the street, asking if anyone saw anything.

No one did.

Going back to the body, I look for defensive wounds, careful not to touch him until the crime scene photos have been taken. It’s hard to tell, since the poor guy’s flesh has been ripped open and pulled back, but I think there are bruises consistent with being tied up around his wrists.

“Hey, Ace,” Tiffany Woo says, standing at the top of the ditch. She’s one of the crime scene photographers I frequently work with, and the closest thing I have to a friend. She pulls her camera from her bag and attaches the lens. “How was your weekend?”

“It was pretty low-key. Better than his.” I motion to the body. “How about yours?”

“Good. We took Mavis to the zoo for the first time. She loved the monkeys.”

“Aw, I bet that was fun.” I look away from the body to smile at Tiffany. We’ve gone out for drinks a few times after work, but she has a family to keep her busy and I, well, don’t.

“Jesus,” she mutters, holding up her camera. “What the hell happened?”

I shake my head and lean in, covering my nose. Flies buzz around me, and I swat them away with my free hand. “It looks like the bones were broken first, then the skin was ripped open and the bones pulled out.”

“What the fuck?” Tiffany comes around me and takes more photos.

“My thoughts exactly.”

“Don’t get me wrong, all murders are grisly. But this…this looks like something straight from a horror movie. With demons or aliens.”

“I’m gonna catch the bastard who did this.”

“I know you will.” She takes more photos. “You always do. Sorry, don’t mean to jinx you or anything.”

“You know I don’t believe in that shit.”

“Well, I do. So knock on wood, or whatever you’re supposed to say to counteract it.”

“If that makes you feel better.” I stand, turning my head to take in a breath of fresh air. I do more investigating and question the joggers who found the body before it’s bagged and taken in for an autopsy.

“This whole thing is weird, right?” Tiffany asks quietly as we walk back to our cars.

“All murders are weird, in a sense.”

“Yeah, but this is different, which is why you’re here, I suppose.”

I give her a wry smile. “Different and weird are my areas of expertise.”

She zips her camera bag and pulls her blonde braid over her shoulder. “I smell like death, don’t I?”

“We all do. That scent clings to you.”

“I’m going to have to shower before I can even pick Mavis up.” She sighs. “And I was in the shower when my phone rang this morning. My hair is still wet.” She pulls her keys from her pocket. “You’re closing on that house today, right?”

Shit. I almost forgot about it. “More or less. I have an appointment with the bank this afternoon.” I take a look back at the body.

“No. Don’t even think about canceling,” Tiffany scolds. “You did that last week.”

“I know.” I take my work seriously and put it first. Always. I might not have any family, but this guy does. Or did. And they deserve to know what happened. “I don’t think I can put it off any longer, anyway. The government wants their taxes on the place and the bank certainly isn’t going to pay it.”

“I think it’s cool. Or at least it looks cool from the pictures you showed me. I’d love to inherit a huge house like that. Hell, I’d love to inherit a small house.” She laughs. “When is your appointment?”

“Two.”

“I’ll remind you at one-thirty.”

“Thanks, Tiff.”

“See ya in a bit.” She unlocks her car and gets in.

I go to my own, pausing when I get to the driver’s side door. As a cop, I know to always trust my intuition. But right now, I’m questioning it. Because it’s telling me the world I’ve worked so hard to prove doesn’t exist might very well be real.

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