(After Deacon and the Dead)

Chapter 1


“There’s a headless ghost in my hall.”
“What?” I was irritated, confused, and a little disgusted.
“It…it’s headless.” Deacon frowned and crossed his arms.
Deacon stared at the wall...no in front of the wall. His dark eyes were focused on something in the air. I’d rushed over at Deacon’s call and come in to find him standing in this position. I glanced around, but of course saw nothing. Some days I thought I’d like to be able to see what Deacon saw, but others, like today, not so much.
“So, what did you call me for?”
“I don’t know!” Deacon threw his arms in the air. “For moral support? What the hell am I supposed to do with it? It can’t tell me anything.”
“You? What the hell am I supposed to do? It’s not like I can even see it.” I sighed and walked around Deacon to go to the kitchen. I grabbed a beer out of the otherwise empty fridge. I drank and propped a shoulder on the doorjamb. “What’s it look like?”
“Headless,” Deacon reiterated.
I scowled. “Clothes? Is it old? New?”
Deacon snapped into inquirer mode. “New. Male, adult. Looks like dark skin on the hands and,”—he gulped– “neck.”
I pondered the situation of a headless ghost. Something I never thought I’d do before meeting Deacon Stone. “Can ghosts write?”
“Uh, I don’t know.” He scratched his stubbled chin. He hadn’t shaved much lately, since we didn’t have work at the moment. “I doubt it, unless he can move objects.” Deacon turned to the wall. “Can you understand me?” He waved his hands in the air. He reached out and cringed as he poked at the air.
“Well?” I asked.
“No. Nothing.”
“Too bad Nona Mary left. Maybe she could have helped.”
“I guess I can screen her and ask if she’s ever come across anything like this.” Deacon grabbed his screener and talked while I wandered behind him, trailing him to the bedroom, where he perched on the edge of his mattress.
I ran my fingers through his hair as I sat beside him, and he gave me a smile.
“Is that Kota?” Mary asked when she came on.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said as I leaned toward the screen. I liked Deacon’s grandmother. He was a lot like her, blunt and incapable of subtlety. She was sitting in what looked like a living room, but when she moved, I saw Israel behind a counter helping someone. They were at her psychic shop. Mary was training Israel to take over so she could retire.
“What’s going on?” Mary asked.
“I have a conundrum,” Deacon began. “There’s a headless ghost in my living room and I don’t know what to do about it.”
“Oh, dear.” Mary’s eyes rounded and she blinked.
“Amos figured out how to whisper to Ian through speakers, but this guy has no mouth. I mean is it mental or does he need a mouth? Can he write?”
“I’ve seen ghosts move objects, and I’ve seen them use spirit boards.”
“Spirit board!” Deacon yelled, making us jump.
Mary put a hand to her heart. “Deacon.”
“Sorry. But yes, I’ll try that. I haven’t used one of those in a long time.”
“You’ll need a second,” Mary said.
“Kota doesn’t have any psychic powers,” Deacon said.
“Nope,” I agreed.
“He’ll be fine. Everyone has some. Call it your ‘sixth sense’,” she said.
“Oh.” I looked at Deacon who gave me an encouraging smile.
“Are you up for it?” he asked.
I studied Deacon’s hopeful face and felt a smile stretch my lips. “Of course.”
“Great! We’ll have to go buy one.”
“Deacon Montgomery Stone,” Mary said, making us both sit up straighter. “You don’t own a spirit board?”
“No, I haven’t needed one.”
“It’s like you’ve forgotten everything I taught you.” Mary frowned, but I detected a hint of humor in her eyes.
Deacon grinned, unrepentant. “No, ma’am. I’ve just been using alternative methods.”
Mary harrumphed. “Well, be careful. You remember I taught you not to let any other spirits in.”
“I remember. Thank you, Nona.”
“You’re welcome. Let me know how it goes.”
We waved, and Deacon signed off. He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. I shook my head. He wasn’t happy unless he had a mystery to solve.
Deacon kissed me. “Let’s go shopping.”


We took Kota’s skim to downtown Metis, since it had better heating and navigation systems than mine. The area known as Mystic Alley, wasn’t too crime-riddled (no more than most downtown areas), but it had a certain type of people who worked and shopped there. People I considered fans of all things paranormal. I didn’t go there often, preferring to keep myself to myself, but every now and then I needed something.
We got out of the skim and hopped over melting snow. Kota was still a little sore where he’d been stabbed and surgically repaired in his abdomen, so I made sure to slow my steps.
Excitement coursed through me. I loved a mystery. It was one of the reasons I decided to become an Inquiry-Detective. And being on grief leave was making me restless. The good part was Kota was on medical leave at the same time, so we got to spend some non-work time together.
“Does this count as work?” I asked him as I led the way to a small store. It was down an alley and some steps. I made sure they weren’t too slippery before letting Kota follow behind me.
He gave me an affectionate smile making his gorgeous face even more…well, gorgeous. He was part Native and part French, so his bright blue eyes stood out in stark contrast from his deeply tanned skin and black hair. “Not really. Unless it turns out the guy was butchered. Then we’d have to find a way to poke around the inquiry. If we find out who he is—was.”
I nodded and opened the door to Paranormal Paraphernalia. A chime sounded from deep within the dark store. I moved aside so Kota could enter and let my eyes adjust to the gloom. Once they did, I realized it was a nice place. Nicer than I remembered it being. It was all dark faux-wood and twisted metal railings. There was a pleasant scent in the air that made me think of moss and rain in the deep woods.
“Welcome.” A clerk said from behind the long counter.
“Hello. I’m looking for a spirit board,” I said. His name-tag said Albus, and he had piercing green eyes.
“Oh?” Albus asked. “Any particular kind?” His eyes swept over me in a look I was used to. Assessing, appreciative, and suspicious all at once. Then he glanced at Kota and did a double take. I guess we weren’t his usual clientele.
“All natural, if you have one.”
He seemed surprised that I knew the difference. “That’s a bit pricey.” He eyed my black ribbed sweater and jeans under the navy-blue pea coat I’d unbuttoned.
I smiled. “I’m aware.”
He nodded and brightened, probably thinking about the sale he was about to get and led us over to a back shelf.
“All natural?” Kota asked in my ear. “What does that mean?”
I shivered and relished his closeness. “Handmade by someone who is, or claims to be, in touch with the paranormal,” I said. “Not machine manufactured.” I glanced around at crystals and herbs. “It messes with the signals otherwise.”
Kota digested that as Albus stopped and showed us the selection. There were only a few since they were handmade.
A guy, more of a teenager, shuffled his feet nearby as I looked over the boards. He had dyed black hair and brown eyes. Skinny in the way only teenagers can be. I thought about school. He must be a home student, since it was the middle of the week, unless he’d just graduated. He glanced at me and Kota while hovering near the candles. I caught his eye and he blushed, frowned and ducked his head until his hair blocked my view. I chuckled quietly, picked a board made of wood and glass, and gave Albus my credit code.
“Thank you,” he said. “Come again.”
“I bet he wants you to come again. That’s ridiculously priced,” Kota muttered.
I shrugged. “It’s worth it.”
We walked down the alley, both of us aware the boy had followed us out. I gave Kota the board and he frowned but acquiesced when I glared.
I stopped and turned before he could scamper away. He jumped but stood his ground. His fingers curled in his demi gloves, and I made sure to stay a few feet back.
“Can we help you?”
He glanced at Kota then me. “You’re inquirers. I saw you guys in the news.”
“Yes, we are. Do you need help?”
He eyed my purchase in Kota’s arms. “What are you buying that for?”
“None of your business,” I said as I crossed my arms.
Surprisingly, he smiled, and I saw what a good-looking young man he was. “Do you know how to use it?”
My eyebrows went up under my wool beanie. I glanced at Kota with a ‘Can you believe this?’ look, and his lips moved in the ghost of a smile.
“I do know how, yes. Thank you for your concern.”
“Is it for an inquiry?”
“Also none of your business.” I would have turned and walked away, but I liked his moxie, and I wanted to hear the real reason he’d stopped us.
“I can help,” he said.
“I don’t need help.”
It was his turn to look surprised. “What’s a couple of I-Decs know about spirit boards?”
“What’s a teenager know about ‘em?” I countered.
He drew up to his full six-foot height. “I’m a witch. And I’m eighteen.”
He was hoping I’d slip up and spill my guts. I smiled and stepped a few inches closer. “That’s cool. Now, is there something else you need? We have to get going.”
He frowned and chewed on his lower lip. “You need a second.”
I hesitated. “I have one.” I nodded at Kota without taking my eyes of him.
“He’s not psychic. Not like you.”
I froze, wondering if he’d just guessed that or if he had talents that let him see what I was.
“What’s your name?”
“Well, Keegan, I appreciate the offer, but I don’t know where you got that I’m psychic. Are you in trouble, do you need help?”
“Oh…no.” Keegan slowly shook his head, eyes unfocused. “I can see it in you. Like, your aura or whatever. It’s glowing bright blue. You are some sort of psychic.”
My spine straightened. “You can’t tell what kind?”
“No. You don’t know what kind you are?”
I didn’t answer, and he scowled, shoving his hands in his pockets. “You’re not going to tell me.”
“Why should I?”
Keegan shrugged and took a step and turned. “Whatever. Good luck with that.”
I watched him go for a moment, then shook out of it. Kota was watching me.
“Weird, huh?” I asked, stepping up to him.
“Mhm,” he said. “Want me to check on him?”
“Sure. But later. Let’s get home.”


I’d never played around with supernatural stuff as a kid. People didn’t do that where I grew up. It wasn’t taboo, or a religious thing, not really, it just wasn’t in my wheelhouse. So, watching Deacon get ready to speak to a decapitated ghost was both disconcerting and fascinating.
He didn’t light candles, though he did dim the lights, or chant, he just placed the spirit board on the table in front of the sofa and sat cross-legged in front of it. I joined him on the other side with a pillow behind me.
“Just touch the indicator like this and let me do the talking. You can watch and help me figure out what he’s spelling. Don’t take your fingers off it, though.”
“Are you going to channel the ghost or something?”
Deacon tilted his head. “Not exactly, though, it’s similar.”
He looked sexy, in his element, with his dark hair shining under the lights, and his midnight eyes focused inward. The shadows accentuated his sharp cheekbones. I shook off my lust and watched our fingers.
The board itself was an oblong shape carved of wood, which explained the price, since real wood was a luxury. Letters, symbols I didn’t recognize, and a few words were carved around the perimeter and blackened with what looked like scorch marks.
Huh. Interesting.
“Man standing in the hallway, please talk to me. Use my hands.”
Deacon focused on what I knew was the ghost in the hallway. His eyes tracking something. I startled when the indicator moved, but I kept my fingers on it like Deacon had asked.
“Tell us your name.”
The indicator pointed out several letters, and I struggled to spell them out in my head.
“Looks like Ralph Herring,” I said.
“Is it Ralph Herring?” Deacon asked. The indicator pointed to “yes”.
“Okay, Ralph. When were you born?”
“A few years older than me.” Deacon concentrated. “When did you die?”
“Two months,” I read.
“Two months ago,” Deacon reiterated. “Was it an accident?”
The lights flickered, and I was proud to say I didn’t flinch. “No,” I read.
“Okay. Can you tell us the name of the person who killed you?”
“My wife.” The indicator flew across the board. “Skim.”
“Your wife killed you with a skim?” Deacon said.
“What’s her name?”
“Josie Herring” Deacon said.
“Yes.” I kept reading. “Hovered with skim over me.”
Deacon and I winced at the same time. The thrusters on a skim were relatively safe, in case there was someone or something underneath it when you tried to go in the air, but if the skim hovered it would eventually melt through what was there.
“It must have taken a while,” Deacon said with a boatload of sympathy. “Were you unconscious?”
His shoulders sagged. “Oh, thank Buddha and Jesus.”
I nodded vehemently. What a way to die.
“Not that I’m glad you’re dead,” Deacon hastened to say. “Just that you weren’t aware at the time.”
Deacon took his hands off the indicator, so I did as well. He had on is thinking face, so I waited to hear what he had to say. The ghosts weren’t the only reason he was the top closer in Metis. He was brilliant and cagey, and known for thinking outside the box. The ghosts helped point him in the right direction, but it was up to him to figure out the rest. Oh, and me, as his partner.
I couldn’t take much credit. Although, I was an I-Agent, technically Deacon’s superior, but it was more of a way to appease the higher-ups with Deacon’s unconventional ways. They figured with a ranking inquirer as his partner, I’d be able to keep him in line. Little did they know Deac did what he wanted when he wanted to, and I had little say in the matter. The only thing that kept him on the straight path, as far as I’d ever seen, was the fact that he had to find evidence to bring the bad guys to justice.
“He’s gone.”
“Gone?” I asked. “Like Gabriel?” The only time I’d seen Deacon speak for a ghost was when Johnny Curtis had to say goodbye to his brother Gabriel who had been murdered. It had been emotional, to say the least.
“No. He just left, like Amos always did.”
“Still no word when Amos will be back, huh?” Deacon’s ghost sidekick and protector, Amos Aberns had disappeared, and Deacon had yet to find him.
Deacon stared at the wall where Amos usually stood sentinel. “No. Nothing.”
I reached over the table and grabbed his hand. “Come on. Let’s make some inquiries into your headless ghost.”
I screened a few people and discreetly asked around about one decapitated man named Ralph Herring. I told them I’d heard some rumblings about Mrs. Herring and delicately suggested putting more pressure on her. Specifically, about the gruesomeness of poor Ralph’s death. Even if he had been unconscious, it would have been a mess, and I was willing to bet his wife would cave under pressure from such a thing.
I clicked off the call and hunted Deacon down until I found him in the bath. I stripped where I stood and joined him. I faced him in the large tub. “Good, God. You like to boil your balls?”
It made him smile, which is what I wanted.
“You okay?” I found his ankle in the water and squeezed.
“Yeah.” He rolled his head until he met my eyes. “I’m thinking about that kid, Keegan. I want to know his story.”
“I’ll look into him tomorrow.”
He nodded, still lost in thought. “I wonder if he was telling the truth, or if he was just guessing.”
“Did you sense anything in him?”
“No. I couldn’t get into his mind, though, so he knows how to block. The last time that happened…”
I ducked my head, and finished for him, “Was with Ian.”
“Yeah.” He dunked under the water and emerged, slicking his hair back leaving his beautiful face naked. Water dripped off his nose and lips, and I surged through the water until I lay between his legs.
“HI, there,” he said with a grin.
“Hi.” I kissed the water from his lips and licked it from his jaw and neck.
“Are you bothered by it?” I asked, too afraid to see the truth in his eyes.
He didn’t pretend not to understand what I was asking. “That you slept with him right before we got together, and before he tried to kill you and Israel?”
I pinched his side and finally met his gaze. Deacon had his arms around me, cupping water and running it over my back and shoulders. “Don’t be a smartass.” We still hadn’t had intercourse, and I was okay with that. He needed time to grieve the death of his father, and I needed to get over the fact that I’d slept with my psychotic ex.
He smirked. “I won’t say no. That would be a lie. But it doesn’t keep me awake at night.” He placed his hand on my cheek. “You’re human, Kota.”
“We all make mistakes?” I guessed.
He leaned in and I met his lips with mine. Our skin was stuck together under the water, and I slid my torso against his, trying to get closer. Our rigid cocks brushed, and he moaned into my mouth.
I moved my hips against his, creating friction on our shafts. The water sloshed and our skin stuck, so I stopped.
Deacon chuckled at my irritation. “Kneel up.”
The breath backed up in my lungs as I did what he asked. He scooted down until his head rested on the edge, until he was almost prone. I fitted my knees along his sides under his armpits and leaned in until my hands met the wall. I tilted my pelvis forward and Deacon took the head of my cock into his mouth.
I groaned and tried not to thrust. His hair, made darker by the water, moved as he sucked. He opened his eyes and I was staggered by the love in them.
Deacon wasn’t an innocent, but he had a pure heart. He was also a terrible liar, so I knew I could trust what he showed me. I took a hand off the wall, sliding through the condensation and threaded my fingers through his hair. My breathing grew harsh and I couldn’t help the small thrusts of my cock though his wet lips.
“God, Deacon,” I moaned as I sped up. I heard splashing and knew he was getting himself off. That turned me on even more and I came into his mouth with short jabs of my hips. “Fuck,” I said, chest like a bellows as I collapsed on top of him.
He held me to him with weak arms and nodded in agreement. “Fuck, indeed.”
I snorted and moved my neck to kiss him. “You’re such a dork.”
He smiled and slapped my ass.
We got out, dried off, and dressed in sleep clothes.
Sprawled in bed, I turned to look at him. “Deac, do you ever get scared by what you see? I remember you told me you got scared when you first started seeing ghosts, but now?”
“Seeing a headless man standing in my living room, you mean?” He chuckled without much humor. “That one was rare. Obviously. But everyday spirits don’t bother me anymore. They were just people like you and me not that long ago.”
“I don’t think anyone’s like you, Deacon Stone.”
His smile crinkled the corners of his eyes. He rolled into my side and threw a leg over mine.
“I love you, Kota.”
My heart thumped and settled. “I love you too, Deac.
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