Amanda Stevens

The Prophet

Chapter One

Something had been following me for days. Whether it was human, ghost or an in-between—like me—I had no idea. I’d never caught more than a glimpse out of the corner of my eye. No more than a flicker of light or a fleeting shadow. But it was there even now, in my periphery. A darkness that kept pace. Turning when I turned. Slowing when I slowed.

I steadied my gait even as my heart raced, and I berated myself for having strayed too far from hallowed ground. I’d lingered too long at my favorite market, and now it was nearing on twilight, that dangerous time when the veil thinned, allowing those greedy, grasping entities to drift through into our world, seeking what they could never have again.

From the time I was nine, my father had taught me how to protect myself from the parasitic nature of ghosts, but I’d broken his every rule. I’d fallen in love with a haunted man, and now a door had been opened, allowing the Others to come through. Allowing evil to find me.

A car thundered down the street, and I tensed even as I welcomed such a normal sound. But the roar of the engine faded too quickly, and the ensuing quiet seemed ominous. The rush hour traffic had already waned, and the street was unusually devoid of pedestrians and runners. I had the sidewalk all to myself. It was as if everything had faded into the background, and the scope of my world narrowed to the thud of my footsteps and heartbeats.

I shifted the shopping bag to my other hand, allowing for a quick sweep to my left where the sun had set over the Ashley River. The mottled sky flamed like embers from a dying fire, the light casting a golden radiance over the spires and steeples that dotted the low skyline of the City of Churches.

It was good to be back in my beloved Charleston, but I’d been on edge ever since my return, the raw nerves a symptom of the emotional and physical trauma I’d suffered during a cemetery restoration in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But there was another reason I couldn’t eat or sleep, a deeper unease that made me pace restlessly until all hours.

I drew a quivering breath.


The haunted police detective I couldn’t get out of my mind or my heart. The mere thought of him was like a dark caress, a forbidden kiss. Every time I closed my eyes, I could hear the whisper of his aristocratic drawl, that slow, seductive cadence. With very little effort, I could conjure the scorching demand of his perfect mouth on mine…the honeyed trail of his tongue…those graceful, questing hands… .

Returning my focus to the street, I glanced over my shoulder. Whatever stalked me had fallen back or disappeared, and my fear eased as it always did when I neared hallowed ground.

Then, a bird called from somewhere in the high branches, the sound so startling I stopped in my tracks to listen. I’d heard that trill once before in the evening shadows of a courtyard in Paris. The serenade was like no other. Gentle and dreamy. Like floating in a warm, candlelit bath. I would have thought it a nightingale, but they were indigenous to Europe and by now would have made the three-thousand mile trek to Africa for the winter.

In the wake of the songbird, a fragrance floated down to me, something lush and exotic. Neither sound nor scent belonged to this city—perhaps even to this world—and a warning prickled my scalp.

I heard a whisper and turned, almost expecting to see Devlin emerge from the shadows the way he’d appeared to me from the mist on the night we met. I could still see him as he was then—an enigmatic stranger, one so darkly handsome and brooding he might have stepped straight from my adolescent fantasies.

But Devlin wasn’t behind me. At this hour, he was probably still at police headquarters. I’d heard nothing more than the rustle of leaves, I told myself. The phantom whisper of my own longing.

And then, distantly, a child’s laughter drifted over me, followed by a soft chant. Somehow I recognized the voice even though I had never heard it before, and an image of Devlin’s dead daughter formed in my mind as clearly as if she stood before me.

Papa would have warned me to remember the rules. I recited them to myself as I turned slowly to scour the gathering twilight: Never acknowledge the dead, never stray far from hallowed ground, never associate with the haunted and never, ever tempt fate.

The ghost child’s voice came to me again. Come find me, Amelia!

Why I didn’t ignore her and continue on my way, I had no idea. I must have been enchanted. That was the only possible explanation.

The nightingale crooned to me as I left the sidewalk and followed a narrow alley to where an ornate gate opened into the walled garden of a private home. By entering, I ran the risk of being shot on sight for trespassing. Charlestonians loved their guns. But the danger didn’t stop me, nor did Papa’s rules because I’d fallen under that strange hypnotic spell.

Months ago, when I’d first seen Shani’s ghost hovering at Devlin’s side, she’d tried to make contact. That was why she’d followed me home that first night and left a tiny garnet ring in my garden. That ring had been a message just as surely as the heart she’d traced on my window. She wanted to tell me something… .

This way. Hurry! Before she comes… .

An icy foreboding clutched my spine. Danger was all around me. I could feel it closing in, but still I kept going, following the nightingale and that tantalizing scent through a maze of boxwood hedges and palmettos, through trails of evening primrose and midnight candy. The trickle of a fountain mingled with Shani’s ethereal laughter and then the hair on my nape lifted as she started to chant:

“Little Dicky Dilver Had a wife of silver. He took a stick and broke her back, And sold her to a miller. The Miller wouldn’t have her, So he threw her in the river.”

It was a ghastly rhyme, one that I hadn’t heard in years, and the lines were made even more grotesque by the innocence of Shani’s singsong.

Fighting that sinister lethargy, I turned to retrace my steps to the gate, but she’d materialized on the walkway behind me, a mere shimmer of light at first, and then slowly the outline of a child began to take shape as the garden grew colder. I was scared—terrified, actually—and I knew that I was treading on dangerous territory. I was not only acknowledging the dead, but also tempting fate.

None of that seemed to matter at the moment. I couldn’t turn away. I couldn’t tear my gaze from that delicate specter that now barred my exit.

She wore a blue dress with a matching ribbon in her hair and a sprig of jasmine tucked into the lace trim at her waist. A mane of wiry curls framed her tiny face, giving her a winsome loveliness that stole my breath. She was lit by the softest of auras, silvery and diaphanous, but her features were clear to me. The high cheekbones, the dark eyes, the café-au-lait complexion spoke to her Creole heritage, and I fancied I could see a bit of her mother in that gossamer visage. But not Devlin. The Goodwine influence was far too dominant.

Very deliberately, the ghost child plucked the stem of jasmine from the lace and held it out to me.

I knew better than to take it. The only way to deal with ghosts was to ignore them, pretend not to see them.

But it was too late for that. Almost of its own volition, my hand lifted and I reached for the flowers.

The ghost floated closer—too close—until I could feel the death chill emanating from her tiny form. My fingers brushed the creamy blossoms she held out. The petals felt real to me, as warm and supple as my own skin. How

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