Sample Chapter

On the Hunt

Imprints #2

Chapter 1

Psychometry. The word sounded like a method for measuring a person’s mind, not a scientific term for reading emotions mysteriously imprinted on random objects. I hadn’t even heard the word until I’d been reading imprints for months. In no way did the term reflect the vivid scenes or raw feelings that often left me dazed or confused.

Neither did it convey the lives I’d saved. Or those I hadn’t.

I hoped today’s imprints would be the saving kind.

My sister, Tawnia Winn, sat on the tall stool behind the long counter at my antiques shop, her swollen belly stretching all the way to the counter. With four weeks left of her pregnancy, I didn’t see how she could grow any larger and not be pregnant with twins, but the doctor had assured her there was only one baby.

“Sophie should be here any minute,” she said. “I called her before I left work, and she was already on her way.”

Traffic was often busy in the Hawthorne District of Portland, Oregon, especially on Fridays, and I knew Tawnia was worried about the possibility of Sophie not arriving before she had to return to work. Since I was the one who had to read the imprints, I wasn’t as anxious.

“What about naming the baby Lark?” I asked, leaning over to move an antique toy soldier closer to its opponent. For the safety of my younger customers, I carried only the plastic kind, not the lead figures. “Or maybe Saffron or Rose?”

Tawnia let out a long-suffering sigh. “How do you know it’s even going to be a girl?” She took a last bite of the sandwich she’d bought on her way to the shop. White bread, mayo, processed turkey with preservatives—I was proud of myself for not mentioning how bad it all was for her.

“How about Sky or Cyan? Those could be for either sex, I think,” I said. Tawnia wanted the baby’s gender to be a surprise, a decision that had both me and her husband, Bret, mad with curiosity. I planned to have the child in my shop a good portion of each day, and I wanted to know if I should focus on buying more soldiers or antique dolls, though when I thought about it, they were actually the same thing.

“I think we need something a little more traditional. You know how my parents are.” Tawnia looked like a model from an expectant mother’s magazine. Her dark brown hair had grown thick and long during the past months, and she had the means to buy the latest maternity wear. Her face was a little bloated, but the added roundness and a good base made her absolutely beautiful.

By contrast, when I looked in the mirror I saw a gaunt copy, a shadow twin, with freckle-blotched skin and chopped hair dyed red on the top, who looked decidedly on the scroungy side in camouflage pants and a T-shirt.

Of course, the adventure that had landed me in the hospital three and a half weeks ago while rescuing two women from a cult masquerading as a commune hadn’t helped, but my broken rib was healing, my cuts were gone, and the bruises faded, except for the narrow green half moon across my left cheekbone. My right wrist gave me problems only when I carried something heavy.

Reading imprints had definitely made my life more interesting, if not exactly safe.

“Look,” Tawnia said, moving from behind the counter, one hand resting on her stomach in the agelong way of expectant women. “If it’s something really terrible, go easy on telling Sophie, okay? It’s hard enough with Dennis gone and having to take care of the children by herself. I don’t know how she’s going to handle bad news.”

She meant, of course, if Sophie’s husband had left of his own free will. “Either way, he’s missing,” I said. “It can’t be good.”

Tawnia frowned. “She’s such a sweet person, you know. I couldn’t ask for a better neighbor.”

Tawnia and Bret had built their new house in a cozy settlement of houses owned by couples who were in the same stage of life—married and having children. Sophie Briggs and Tawnia had taken to each other instantly, and though I really liked Sophie, I missed having Tawnia around as much. At least for now my sister still worked in town and we could have lunch together, so I could make sure she ate decent food for my niece or nephew. Tawnia was the only person I knew who consumed as much as I did, but she tended toward junk food while I was a health nut. It wasn’t really my fault—growing up with hippie parents who owned an herb shop had a tendency to do that to a child.

“How about Sunwood or Gypsy?” I asked, moving my bare feet into a patch of sunlight that came through the window. You’d think the shop would be warm in July, but I felt cold in anticipation of the imprints waiting on whatever Sophie was bringing for me to read.

Tawnia wrinkled her nose at the faint shadow of dirt on the tips of my toes, though they were as easy to wash as her hands, which touched far worse things in the course of a day. Doorknobs, for instance. “Sunwood? You’re joking, right?”

I was, a little. “Okay, how about Tempest, if it’s a boy?”

“With a name like that we’d have nothing but tantrums and rebellion.”

Children did tend to live up to expectations. Tawnia and I had, in our separate adoptive homes. Tawnia had grown up to be an organized, forceful, wildly successful art director, while I had become an herb-loving, shoe-hating free spirit. I loved cooking and was good with a needle; Tawnia burnt everything she cooked and hated sewing. We both were directionally impaired, which was why Bret had finally bought Tawnia a GPS so she would stop getting lost while driving her car.

Strong brown arms came around me at the same instant I perceived Jake’s presence. He turned me around and gave me a kiss that warmed me far better than the sunshine, but I noticed he didn’t hold me too tightly, and his gaze lingered regretfully on my bruised cheek. He thought he’d failed at protecting me, though I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself. Rescuing two women, putting two bad men behind bars, and freeing that tiny community had been worth everything I suffered while undercover at the commune. That and learning Jake loved me.

Tawnia beamed at us as though she was personally responsible for our relationship. Maybe in a way she was. She’d kept throwing us together when I’d given up hope of ever being more than best friends.

“Anyone thirsty?” Jake asked, releasing me. “I have a new tea we need to try before I start selling it.” He held up a hand. “Don’t worry, Tawnia. No caffeine or anything weird. It’s completely safe for little Indigo.”

“Indigo?” Tawnia guffawed. “You’re as bad as Autumn.” Her smile vanished as the electronic bell above my door sounded. “She’s here.” She hurried over to meet Sophie before I could tell her not to look so devastated—she was probably thinking how awful she’d feel if Bret had gone missing. I knew how I’d react if it were Jake.

As though reading my mind, Jake, already a few steps away, glanced at me over his shoulder and winked. “I’ll put the water on and be right back, okay? Don’t start without me.”

Since the commune and a few imprints that had left me barely conscious, he’d been a bit over protective. Something I needed to get him over. After thirty-three years of doing things my way, I wasn’t about to lose my independence, new boyfriend or no.

I rolled my eyes. “I’ll be fine.”

“Whatever.” Jake threw me a grin that melted my resistance. His brown skin emphasized his muscular build, and the short dreadlocks added an air of mystery. He was entirely too handsome, my Jake. A handful of female customers often came to buy something from my shop or his, expressly for the joy of feasting their eyes on him. I didn’t mind as long as he knew he was mine. Though if I were to tell the truth, my relationship with Jake was still so new that I wasn’t comfortable with it yet.

He hurried to the back room that ran the width of my shop, while I turned to face Sophie Briggs. I’d come to know her fairly well in the past month. A wholesome-looking young woman several years younger than I, she was the kind you wouldn’t think twice about leaving your child with—if you had a child, which I didn’t. Average height, a little baby fat around her waist, nothing really to set her off from other housewives who’d recently given birth, except an adorable dimple in her left cheek and a mass of brown hair with natural curl that was carelessly swept up in a clip, the awkwardly straying pieces betraying her state of mind even more than the reddened eyes. Lizbeth, her three-month-old infant, snuggled in a carrier next to her chest, and she pushed her toddler son, Sawyer, in a stroller.

Tawnia placed a hand on her friend’s arm. “How are you holding up?”

“Okay, I guess.” Sophie looked between Tawnia and me as even our closer friends still had a tendency to do, taking in our similarities, especially our eyes. Those didn’t change regardless of weight or hair color.

“Hi, Sophie.” I smiled to put her at ease. I’d shared half a dozen dinners with Sophie and her husband during the past month, but it’s surprising how things like my unusual talent didn’t come up in social situations. If she’d noticed that I avoided touching certain things on the table when we were together, she’d never pointed it out. Tawnia had only told her about my ability this morning.

Sophie came around the stroller and reached for my arm, looking ready to burst into tears. “Can you really help me find Dennis?” The fingers that touched me were cold, and I was glad she didn’t shake my hand or press the ring she wore against my skin. After the past two days of her worrying, the imprints wouldn’t be pleasant. “I don’t know, but I’m willing to try.”

“This isn’t like him. He always comes home. He doesn’t stay after work to play computer games, he doesn’t go to bars, he loves to be with the kids. With me. We planted a garden. We’re going to paint the baby’s room. He wouldn’t leave us.” Her voice broke, and I felt her fear. Though I knew she believed what she was saying, there was always room for doubt.

“Anything missing from his closet?” I asked, more to calm her than anything. That was something Detective Shannon Martin would ask, and it was possible, depending on the imprints I picked up in the next few minutes, that I might have to talk with him about the case. I doubted he’d be pleased to see me, however, and he was definitely not high on my list.

Sophie nodded. “Some shoes, a pair of jeans, T-shirts, and one suit, but he might have been wearing that. His shaving stuff is gone, too. There was a withdrawal from our savings—two thousand dollars.”

Not a good sign. Still, if he’d been planning to leave his wife and children permanently, he would have packed far more.

“Where does he work?” I asked.

“At Simeon, Gideon & Associates. It’s a law firm. He’s their IT guy. He does programming and keeps their network running smoothly.”

“I see.” I really hoped his job didn’t figure into his disappearance, one way or the other. A law firm trying to cover up fraud would be careful to cover their tracks, as would anyone who might have taken him to hack into their system.

“What did you bring for Autumn?” Tawnia asked.

“I wasn’t sure what was best. Everything’s in that bag under the stroller.” She reached toward it, but I waved her back.

“I can get it. I want to say hi to Sawyer any way.” I squatted down beside the stroller to speak to the three-year-old.

“Hi, Autumn.” His brown hair was curly like his mother’s, though better combed, and he was dressed neatly in cargo jeans and a red T-shirt. “I wanna get out.” His tanned skin told of hours playing in the backyard. Obviously, he was the outdoors type and not at all used to being confined.

“Can I play with the toys?” he added, pointing at my soldiers. “I bringed the other ones you gived me.” He dug a chubby hand in his pocket and brought out a blue-clad soldier carrying a rifle. At some point in the toy’s history, someone had severed one of the two places where the rifle connected to the soldier’s hands, and from the moment Sawyer had seen it in a bunch I’d taken for him to play with during a barbeque at Sophie’s house, he’d loved how he could move it back and forth, pretending to shoot. I’d given it to him to keep, along with another soldier mounted on a horse, which he confessed he liked a “tiny bit” more.

“No, Sawyer,” Sophie said. “Just play with those you brought.”

“I don’t mind, if you don’t,” I said, thinking that if Sophie could name her son Sawyer, maybe there was hope Tawnia wouldn’t settle on a boring name for my niece or nephew. “He can’t hurt them.” I kept the most valuable toys in a glass display box.

Sophie eyed the shelf of breakable antiques beyond the soldiers. “Okay, but it’s better that he stay in the stroller.”

When Tawnia’s baby was born, I might have to rethink the placement of a few things.

Tawnia swept up a row of soldiers and deposited them into the boy’s waiting hands. He laughed and promptly began placing them in strategic locations around him.

I retrieved Sophie’s bag from under the stroller. It was one of the reusable grocery bags that were popping up everywhere and heavier than I expected. Gently, I tipped the contents onto the counter. Books, several tools, a letter, a recent family portrait, a tie, a stamp collection, a notebook with baseball cards, a signed baseball packed carefully in a little box, a phone charger, an electronic book reader, and an elaborate pen and pencil set.

“He doesn’t like a lot of extra junk around, you know,” Sophie said. “Not like me. I have a lot of knickknacks and keepsakes, but he doesn’t care about that sort of thing. I got a lot of this stuff from his office, but I’m not sure how he felt about any of it. His keys are gone, and his phone. So is his car. I didn’t know what else to bring.”

“This is a great start.” As usual, I was struck with how little was left behind, a mere hint of who Dennis had been to those who didn’t know him well. “You know what it is I do, don’t you?” I wanted to make sure she wasn’t expecting miracles.

“Tawnia said you could sometimes see scenes or feel emotions left on objects.”

“Not just any object. It has to be something frequently used or treasured by a person, articles that aren’t often washed or forgotten. Or it can be something a person touched while experiencing a great emotion—love, sadness, anger.” Also hate, guilt, terror, jealousy and more. The list was long, but some were better left unsaid.

Sophie frowned. “I don’t know if I brought anything useful.”

“I can always go to your house later. Or to his office.”

“Thank you.” In her chest carrier, Lizbeth was moving restlessly in her sleep, her dark, fuzzy head tilting side to side. Sophie swayed back and forth to soothe the child.

“I’m happy to try to help.” Before beginning, I removed my four antique rings, including a tourmaline and a black-and-white hard-stone cameo. Two of the rings were silver, another a tricolor of elaborately twisted gold, and the cameo was set in rose gold. Each had once belonged to a woman who’d given them comforting imprints, now long faded into a pleasant buzz, a barrier for me against any sudden shocks when I was out and about in the world, which happened more often these days than was comfortable. In the year since my gift had appeared, I’d gone from being open and friendly to everyone, even strangers, to being careful not to touch personal items belonging to anyone.

Jake was usually my official ring-holder, but he was still in the back room making tea, and the anxiety on Sophie’s face nixed any idea of waiting for him.

I needn’t have worried. He was there before I set them on the counter, his warm fingers giving mine a subtle squeeze as he took them from me. I smiled at him, and he winked.

Slowly, I extended my hands over the items. Imprints were there—I could feel them already, but I didn’t know what they would tell me. The moment of truth was here. I let my hands drop.

Sometimes when I did a formal reading like this, I’d flash back to the day my ability first manifested itself. On the day of my adoptive father’s funeral, I’d picked up a picture of my mother that he’d treasured, but instead of seeing her face as I’d always seen it, I was looking at her through Winter’s eyes, experiencing his love for her as his worn finger stroked the lines of her face. Though the imprint was tender, I’d dropped the picture in my shock, shattering the glass. In that moment the photograph, always cherished, became even more treasured.

I touched Dennis’s books first, but they had nothing to tell except a hint of concentration. If Dennis had loved these books, it was not for themselves but for the information he’d long ago internalized. The baseball was different. It held a distinct imprint of love and pride, yet it was an old imprint, one from a young boy. It made me smile.

“What?” Sophie asked, sounding out of breath.

“He really loved this ball—when he was a boy, I mean. He hasn’t left any recent imprints on it.”

The hammer gave me an image of hitting a thumb, the screwdriver a sense of satisfaction. From the letter, I felt a sense of deep love, followed by an image of Sophie’s face. I ran through the rest quickly—the portrait (hint of pride and love), the stamp collection (fading youthful eagerness), and the baseball cards (vague regret). From the phone charger and the electronic book reader there was nothing except a slight annoyance that might have derived completely from my imagination. While reading vivid imprints was similar to experiencing a real event, especially of late, some of the fainter imprints often made me wonder if I was reading my own feelings instead of the owner’s. The pen and pencil set and the tie had no imprint at all, real or imagined.

I shook my head and met Sophie’s eyes. “I’m sorry. There’s nothing here that says he was planning to leave or that he was in trouble.” I motioned to the letter, whose address was facing down on the counter. “That’s from you, isn’t it? He loves you very much. I can feel how much he treasures that letter.”

Tears filled her eyes. “What am I going to do?” She brought a hand to her mouth as if to stop herself from crying out loud.

I put a comforting hand on her shoulder at the same time Tawnia put an arm around her. Sophie blinked rapidly, calming herself, before patting my hand in silent thanks.

My stomach jolted. “Wait,” I said, grabbing her hand. Around her slim wrist was a gold charm bracelet decorated with a variety of interesting charms, including several heart lockets for holding miniature pictures.

“What?” Sophie asked, alarmed.

“There’s an imprint on your bracelet. Can I see it?” Though it had only brushed against me, the imprint had been strong, sending me the image of a suitcase.

Sophie struggled with the clasp, finally allowing Tawnia to undo it for her. Tawnia slid it into my hands.

I saw Dennis on Wednesday, two days earlier, standing before the mirror of the dresser he shared with Sophie. Also reflected in the mirror was a small suitcase with the tags still on it, sitting on the bed. Items had been haphazardly thrown inside without care for organization. The imprint was strong and vivid, pulling me inside until I was looking out of Dennis’s eyes into the mirror.

He/I stared down at his hands at the bracelet, the anniversary gift he’d bought for Sophie. There was a sense of disconnection, a surreal, subdued determination. He/I was leaving. I wanted to leave. Now, before Sophie came home. It was the right thing to do. I reached out to set the bracelet back in the box on the dresser. The image vanished.

There were no more imprints, and there was no use trying again. I never saw any more. Never. Even if I didn’t understand what I saw the first time, or if what I saw wasn’t complete, the images and emotions wouldn’t change. The bracelet slipped through my fingers to the floor before I realized I’d let it go.

Sophie gasped. “What did you see?”

I looked at Tawnia, who watched me with her mismatched eyes, the right eye hazel, and the left one blue. Heterochromia was the medical name, and in our case the condition was hereditary, but we didn’t know from which side of our birth family it had come. She started to shake her head but stopped, knowing that I wouldn’t hide any information from Sophie. She deserved to know.

Jake’s hand went to my waist, his warmth encouraging and comforting all at once. Since the day of Winter’s death, he’d been there for me—no, even before that. First as a friend and now as something more. We’d spent hours together, working and playing. We’d faced danger together more than once, and I trusted him without question.

I found my breath. “I saw a new suitcase with tags attached and things piled inside. He was standing in front of a dresser with a mirror holding that bracelet. It was on Wednesday afternoon.” Pinpointing the exact day was easy this close to the day of imprinting. “I’m sorry, Sophie, but it seems he left of his own will. He thought it was the right thing to do. You weren’t home, were you? He knew that.”

“Then why go out and buy me this bracelet?” She bent down awkwardly to pick it up, the baby in the carrier giving a sleepy grunt of discomfort. “Our anniversary isn’t for two months. He never remembers. I found it this morning before I drove here. That has to mean he left it for me to find. Why would he do that if he wanted to leave me?”

A goodbye gift? I wouldn’t say it aloud.

“I’m sorry,” I repeated. “I know it’s not the full picture of what happened, and I don’t know his reasons, but Dennis bought a suitcase and packed his own bag before he left. He planned it.”

Sophie stared at me, tears leaking from her eyes. “There has to be an explanation. He loves me!”

“I’d be willing to try to find out more.”

“I don’t know. What if . . . what if . . .? What about his job? He loved that. He’d never quit.”

“Have you talked to the police?”

“Yes, but I didn’t get the feeling they thought anything was suspicious. They gave me odd looks. I caught one rolling his eyes and looking at the kids as if they were a disease.”

“We’ll do whatever we can to help,” Tawnia said to her.

Sophie was shaking her head. “No. This was a mistake. I won’t believe it. Not any of it. Dennis loves us!” In two steps she was at the stroller, gathering the toy soldiers from her son and tossing them onto the nearest shelf.

“Wait! Those ones are mine!” Sawyer protested. Sophie gave him back one of the soldiers and then a second one he pointed at before hurrying to the door.

“Sophie, stop!” Tawnia started after her friend. “What about Dennis’s things?”

But Sophie shrugged her off and fled outside. I sighed.

“Not good, huh?” Jake placed a small poetry book in my hands, and joy arched through me as if someone had turned on the light. A man and woman stood together exchanging wedding vows. My adoptive parents, Winter and Summer Rain. My energy level soared. Sometimes Jake knew me so well it was scary.

“It wasn’t a bad imprint. Just vivid. Determined. And sad because he left of his own will.” Though I appreciated Jake’s foresight, I tucked the little book under my arm, keeping my contact as brief as possible. I didn’t want my parents’ imprints to fade under my own. Their imprints on that book and on a few other possessions meant everything to me.

“You ready for tea?” Jake put an arm around me. Yes, it was possible for a man to say those words and still be incredibly attractive, especially when he owned an herb shop. Then again, any man making me something to eat or drink was always sexy.

“I am.” Tawnia moved down the aisle like a woman with a purpose. “But first I have to show you both something. Autumn, I know you’ve never been wrong about an imprint before, but maybe there’s a first time.”

If she’d experienced imprints herself, she wouldn’t suggest such a thing, but I’d hear her out. She was my twin, and I knew she didn’t take my ability lightly.

She reached for her oversized bag on the counter next to the items Sophie had left. “I was so sure you’d find someone had taken him or something. Because what you said doesn’t explain this.” She slapped a sketchbook down on top of Dennis’s books. “If Dennis wanted to leave Sophie, why did I draw this?”

I stared at the paper. My sister also had an unusual ability that we’d only become aware of within the past month. During the problems at the commune, she’d used her talent to help solve the mystery, but since then it had disappeared.

Apparently not for good.

The sketch showed a man in a sedan, fear distorting his handsome features. Behind him were two men in another car, one with his hand out the window firing a gun.

“That’s Dennis,” I said, recognizing the man in the front sedan. “And his car.” Tawnia chewed on her lip. “I don’t know who the other men are, but I was trying to come up with a new billboard for Mr. Lantis today, and this is what came out instead. It’s why I urged Sophie to come here.”

“Did you show her about this?”

“No.” Reluctance laced Tawnia’s voice. She still didn’t admit to having an ability, but I’d already seen proof that she could draw things happening miles away, involving people she’d never met.

“So, it’s okay if you have a weird sister, but not if you’re weird yourself.”

“It’s not like that, Autumn. I just—this comes from the pregnancy. I know it. Or something connected to you. It’s not me.”

I sighed. It wasn’t like my sister to hide from the truth. The woman had moved to five different states in ten years searching for something—for me, it turned out—and she still didn’t believe she was special.

“Whatever it is,” Jake interrupted, “this guy needs help now.”

I turned back to study the page, thinking that if Tawnia had drawn the reality of Dennis’s situation, we might already be too late.