Inherent Truth

Book Cover: Inherent Truth
Part of the Blood Secrets series:

A woman with buried secrets...

An agent with an impossible mission...

An inheritance that will destroy them both...

When Liv Sullivan’s grandmother beckons for help from beyond the grave, the reluctant psychic returns to her small Ohio hometown. Scrambling to make sense of the clues left by the vision, Liv finds herself face to face with undercover agent, Ridge McCaffrey.

Assigned to protect a woman whose gifts unnerve him, for a covert psychic intelligence operation he doesn't understand, Ridge struggles to place duty over desire. But when a gruesome discovery is unearthed at Sullivan Farm, the truth becomes clear...

Some family secrets are best left buried.

Inherent Truth is the first book in the gripping new Blood Secrets psychological thriller series about the cost of truth and the price we pay for love. If you like pulse-pounding page-turners laced with a touch of romance, and shocking twists that will leave you dying for the sequel, Alicia Anthony’s thrilling debut is for you.

 

 

 

Excerpt:

PROLOGUE

LIV

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I was ten when I watched my cousin die. Granted, at the time I didn’t know the kid I’d seen through a light blue haze was a member of my family. To me, he was just a stranger, like all the rest. A specter sent from the depths of my brain to wake me up in the middle of the night. I still remember like it was yesterday.

The dream sent our household into a sleep deprived frenzy. Me, screaming for my parents to turn on the lights, tears running in rivers down flushed cheeks. My dad, sitting on the edge of the bed, rubbed his hand in circles across my shoulders, consoling me. It took a long distance phone call the following morning for my mom and dad to understand that the dream had been more than a figment of my overactive imagination.

“How did it happen?” My mother’s voice was tight, wobbly as she spoke into the kitchen telephone receiver. It was the only one in the house that was still corded. I watched from the living room couch as she twisted the stretched curlicues of cord around her index finger.

When she slid into a chair at the kitchen table with her hand planted firmly over her lips, heaviness descended on the room, blanketing the air with cold finality. To this day I remember the lead weight in my chest, the struggle for breath. Maybe that’s what he’d felt in his last moments. My mother was still holding the phone in one hand when she turned to stare at me. Eyes wide with some emotion I couldn’t yet interpret. Now, sixteen years later, I can tell you for certain it was terror.

My sixteen-year-old cousin, Curt, had been killed racing home from a party to make curfew. I’d seen it all. Told my parents every detail. The skid on the damp roadway. The slam into a poorly placed telephone pole. Even the good Samaritans who’d stopped in the dead of night to try to dig him out of the twisted wreckage. Smoke filtered up from the heap of metal before I saw him, standing on the other side of the car, smiling at me.

“Tell Mom, I’m sorry,” he’d said. His voice cut short by the wail of a siren.

It’s funny. I can still picture that dream in lifelike detail. But now, instead of terror, there’s a peaceful comfort attached to the memory. I think that’s how it works for me. The visions can’t hold any power over me once I work them out–figure out how to help.

In those early days, I’d been scared senseless. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, flailing to turn a light on, to familiarize myself with reality again. For a while I slept with the bedside lamp on, hoping the luminescence would create some kind of barrier between this world and the next. It was my grandmother who helped me realize it was useless, of course. The dreams were a part of reality–my reality, anyway.

But that awareness of what my dreams were–what that made me–changed everything. The energy in our household sparked with frustration. My mother and father argued. Family outings trickled to a rare occurrence. My life consisted of school, home, homework, and bed, praying to whatever god would listen to let me sleep through the night. Every once in a while some deity would listen, most times, not. I learned to keep what I saw to myself. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Within two years, my mother had run through all the psychiatrists and magic pills she could find to make me normal again. By the time I was twelve, I was spending the majority of my time at my grandparents’ farm, away from the family I’d disgraced and the marriage I’d destroyed. At least, that’s how it seemed to twelve-year-old me.

“I will not allow my daughter to be a freak.” My mother’s words after a particularly heated exchange with my father regarding my condition are what drove me to become the Liv Sullivan I am today.

The “f” word, as I’d taken to calling it, hummed in my skull now, just as it had when I was a girl. Hunkered down on the steps of my parents’ home, eavesdropping through tears, the people I loved arguing about an affliction I didn’t fully understand and over which I had no control.

Of course, if it wasn’t for all of that, I might never have learned I had two choices in life–remain the small-town freak or reinvent myself as a big city fraud. I chose the latter, finding out pretty quick that the best place to hide was in plain sight.

I grabbed my headset off the chair and slid into position in front of my laptop, fresh cup of coffee in hand. Rays of early January sun filtered through the sliding glass door of my studio apartment.

“Liv, you free?” A clipped note of anxiety in Celeste’s voice crackled through the earpiece. Cee and I had worked together for almost two years now and although we’d never met in person, she was the closest thing I had to a friend. She worked from headquarters, dispatching calls, and always passed the most challenging cases off to me. But more calls meant more money. I glanced at the stack of unpaid bills on the corner of my desk. At this point, I’d take just about any loon she threw my way.

“I’m here, Cee. What’s the story?”

“Won’t say. Came in on the direct line. Asked for you by name.”

“Gotta be a regular. Patch him through.” The musical ding from my headset signaled the transfer. I waited for the line to click open before launching into the script. “Thank you for calling Celestial Spirit, my name is…”

“Olivia.” My name on his voice split my mind in half, emptying my lungs and echoing with an all too familiar surge of electricity. I cleared my throat, fighting the haze that pulled me in, raking over my skin like fingers of an unseen being. My scalp prickled against the force. He kept talking, unaware I had no breath to respond.

“They routed me through two other people before you, Gabriella.” He dragged the pseudonym out, letting it roll over his tongue. I shivered, a snake of fear crawling down my spine. “You should use your real name. They already know where you are.”

I sucked in a breath, forcing air into my lungs and squeezing my eyes shut against the onslaught of memory that wasn’t my own.

“I’m sorry, do we know each other?” I fought to infuse my voice with some sense of normal.

“Not yet,” he said.

There was a pregnant stillness before the image slammed into me. I squinted against the hum in my skull, focusing on the yellow smiley face mug on my desk. Bright colors sometimes helped stave off the visions. But the image tightened its grip, seeped into my consciousness and blocked out the comfortable reality of my studio apartment.

Blue eyes, frightened and wide, stared at me–a moving image clawing its way into my consciousness, refusing to let go. Long honey-blonde hair swept crossways over pale skin. A gust of wind sent her locks flying, twisting them over her face and obscuring her features.

She turned to run, a yelp of fear filling the wooded space around her. Thunder broke the silence, followed closely by a bolt of lightning that lit the entire woods– a woods I knew.

“It’s taken them a while to find you,” the caller said, his voice cutting through the buzz, grounding me in reality.

I shook my head, the image dissolving from vibrant hues into shadows surrounded by blue haze. I picked up the mug of coffee from my desk, thumbing the hard smoothness of the ceramic handle, anything to maintain connection to the real world. As I brought it to my lips, my hand trembled, sloshing a bit of the black liquid onto the papers below. I covered the headset mic and forced an exhaled, “Just get this over with.”

“Tell me what question urged you to call today, and my spirit guides and I will help uncover the answers you seek.” Somehow, I managed to deliver the line without a hint of wobble in my voice. Although, the scripted nonsense still made my stomach twist.

It was bad enough when I had to say it to random hotline callers, the ones who wanted to know if they should take that job offer or if the guy they met on the train was “the one.” But callers like this? Thank God these guys didn’t call often.

“You see her, don’t you?” His breath hitched in the line between us. I caught the hint of an accent. Born somewhere else but raised in the States?

I replaced the mug on my desk and closed my eyes, allowing the blue haze to trickle in, like smoke under a doorway. The image flooded back, the panic behind her eyes punched through the fog as the image widened. She turned away, long pale legs beneath cut-off shorts pumping as she ran. Large hands reached for her. Tree branches stretched gnarled fingers, slashing the soft, exposed flesh on her face and arms.

“She’s your sister.” Somehow, I knew. The same way I knew he wasn’t lying when he said they knew where I was. If only I could figure out who “they” was. “She’s missing.”

I clenched my jaw as the image shifted. The haze intensified, the hum along my jawbone sending a slice of pain through my temple. She tripped. A panicked scream ripped from her lungs. Her attacker lunged. She faced him, scrambling, crab-style backward. Another bolt of lightning split the sky. And I saw it. The familiar boat house at the edge of my grandparent’s farm, two thousand miles away in Cascade Hills, Ohio.

“Who are you?” I managed into the headset through clenched teeth. “Where are you calling from?”

There was only breath on the other end. The open-air silence of satisfaction. Of someone who’d accomplished what he’d set out to do.

Large hands gripped the girl’s throat. Not girl exactly–a few years younger than me–twenty, twenty-two maybe?

Don’t do this. Please don’t do this.” Her voice was small, constricted by the hands wrapped around her throat. Her attacker squeezed, pulling her forward and thrusting her back with the force of a jackhammer. She dug dirty, chewed fingernails into the back of his hands, his arms. But he was too strong, she too fragile. Words became gasps. Widened eyes. Silent fish gulps of air. One last thrust sent her tumbling backward. Her limp body landing with a crunch against the leaf-strewn ground of Sullivan woods–my woods.

I squinted against the scene. My own muscles trembling in response to the force. A rollercoaster of terror roared through my gut. I jerked the headset from my head and bent to the side, over the trash can, waiting for the dry heaves to subside.

Breathe, I coached. Pushing out breath and pulling it in to ease the panic constricting my chest. The heat of a tear against my cheek completed the familiar cycle, evaporating the image and pulling me back from the brink of someone else’s reality.

“Are you there?” His voice was small and tinny from the headset speaker. I shoved the earpieces back onto my ears.

“I’m here,” I assured. Apologizing, I adjusted the mic so that my irregular breathing didn’t overpower our conversation.

“How long has she been gone?” I asked. Silence on the other end of the line.

“You’ll be next, Olivia,” he finally said, his voice dark, clotted with emotion.

I ignored the warning, jotting notes on the pad of paper in front of me. Girl, missing, blue eyes, strangled, Sullivan Farm.My fingers hesitated over the last words, a trickle of guilt joining the ranks of second-hand terror.

The corner of the script I was supposed to be using peeked out from under the short stack of mail on the edge of my desk. I tugged it free. Stick to the script this time, Olivia.

“Have you called the police?” I asked, flipping through the tabs, searching for the label marked, Illegal Acts.

My boss’s latest warning came just two days ago. Her bracelets jangled like rings of bells cuffing both wrists. She’d warned me more than once not to veer from the accepted attorney-vetted script. It seemed psychic call centers were less connections to the otherworld and more well-oiled money machines. Go figure. No one, not even my boss, thought I actually possessed psychic abilities. Little known fact, the more you claim to have them, the less people believe you.

“It’s too late, Olivia. The police don’t care about people like us.”

I closed my eyes, pulling the emotion from his voice. Anxiety. Hurt. Frustration. But deep down, a sensation I didn’t expect–honesty. The energy thumped, pulsing against my eardrums.

“She trusted them. You saw how that turned out.”

I pushed the script away. Screw protocol. “How do you know who I am?”

The heat of his frustration singed my ears as he responded. “Don’t push us away, Olivia. They want you back in Cascade Hills, and they’ll find a way to make it happen.”

The familiar beep of the ten-minute warning cut through the silence between us.

“You deserved to be warned. You’re the only one with the power to stop them. Please, Olivia. We need you.”

COLLAPSE

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