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THE NIGHT IS FOREVER
by Heather Graham

Genre: Paranormal Romance, Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

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“Yes, I’ve met Malachi. No, I haven’t worked with him. This is my first assignment with the Krewe of Hunters.”

“What?” She jumped up, sloshing tea, and then set her mug on the coffee table as she stared at him. “What? Oh, I don’t mean to be insulting, it’s just that…I call for help, and my cousin sends a newbie?”

“I’m hardly a newbie, Olivia,” he told her, trying not to lose his temper. She was looking at him as if he’d barely managed to graduate from high school. “I’ve been with the bureau. I’ve been a Marine. I’ve been a cop. I  think I’m up to the task.”

“I—I—I said I was sorry,” she said. “I’m not trying to offend you, but this isn’t…well, you can see how much good it’s done to go to the police, to anyone—”

“And I told you that I believe you when you tell me you’re speaking to a dead man!” He was letting his voice grow too hard. She didn’t mean to offend. She wasn’t trying to do so.

But it seemed that she didn’t need to try.

She opened her mouth and closed it again, struggling for poise. He kept his own mouth shut, waiting. He was a professional, for God’s sake. He would act like one.

“Okay,” he said at last. “Cards on the table. I wasn’t thrilled to have my first Krewe assignment be a situation in which we’re not even officially invited and in which everyone I meet seems to think I’m a lawman run amok. Half of them assume I shot up a pool of suspects and the others figure I went crazy. Still, that’s part of the job. I said I believe you, and you need to do me the same courtesy. But you have to trust in me and keep me informed. And please don’t worry so much about my credentials. According to Jackson Crow, I’ve been on his radar for a while now, and when this came up, it seemed the right time for him to call on me. I’m from Nashville. I know the city and I know this area. Malachi couldn’t come himself—not with any real validity, or any real chance of blending in with the locals, if you will. Do you understand?”

She slowly sank back onto the couch.

“Yes,” she said flatly. She still didn’t look happy.

He shook his head and leaned forward. “There are laws and this country has a constitution, Olivia. You’re fighting for a friend. You hoped that Malachi could get the government barging in and demanding that it all be solved. It doesn’t work that way. And that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

“I said yes. My capacity for comprehension is actually pretty good.”

He wasn’t sure if she was trying to lighten up or if she was speaking seriously.

He leaned back again. “Okay, so tell me what happened with you.”

“With me?”

“The day Marcus was killed.”

 “I’d had a few sessions and  I’d just finished up with the last one when I heard a commotion going on. We knew something was wrong when Sammy came running to the Horse Farm, badly hurt. Marcus loved Sammy. And the dog was devoted to him. If Sammy was there, something  had to be wrong with Marcus.”

“You didn’t let Sammy lead you back to him?”

“By then, the dog was exhausted. He’d lost too much blood. Physically, it would’ve been impossible for  him to search. We did call the police, and two officers came out to help us look.” She was quiet for a minute, pensive, remembering. “I—I’ve never blacked out in my life before, but…after I found Marcus, I blacked out. When I came to, Aaron was at my side, the police were already making notes, and…”

“And?”

“And then Marcus’s body was taken away.”

“Why did you black out?”

She pursed her lips. “You’re from this area, right?”

“I’m from Nashville. But naturally, growing up, I came out to the country plenty of times. Every school kid’s done some of the battlefield tours. I’ve been hiking, camping, skiing…you name it.”, She was still quiet.

He smiled. “Ah.”

“Ah?”

“You’ve seen the general,” he said.

She sat straighter. “You know then—you know about General Rufus Cunningham?”

“Everyone knows about him.” He grinned. “Okay, not everyone, but most people who’ve lived around here. My grandfather belonged to a Civil War roundtable. You know—groups of men who may or may not do re-enactments, but who are fascinated by the history of the Civil War. They love to argue strategy. Which side did  the right thing when, what could have changed the tide of battle.  I’ve been to a few. They’re especially interesting here in Tennessee, because this state was  so divided. Tennessee seceded from the Union, but the Union held Nashville early in the war, beginning in 1862. Pitched battles went on around Nashville, but the Confederates never regained the city. When they’re all arguing policy and strategy at the roundtables,  they occasionally agree on one thing. Like the fact that General Rufus Cunningham was one hell of an interesting and commendable man. He was out to win back the city, but he was also a humanitarian. When he was in charge, the wounded were helped, no matter what the color of their uniform. He’d take personal and physical risk when necessary.”

She nodded. “It always seemed to me that his death was a terrible tragedy.” She paused again. “Have you ever seen him?”

“Yes.”

“You have?” She asked the question very carefully.

He nodded. “I was about sixteen. We were at the old Brentwood Campground. I’ve heard the acreage has been bought by a large corporation and is due for a major building operation, but back then it was a campground. It’s only a few miles from here and borders the same stream that runs through Horse Farm acreage. I woke up in the middle of the night during that camping trip. I was restless. Didn’t want to wake the other kid in my tent so I went  outside.  The general was standing by the stream, just staring at it, almost like he was keeping watch. He had a foot up on a rock.He was leaning on  his knee with one arm and he held his horse’s reins in the other hand. He looked at me. I looked back at him. He tipped his hat, and I waved.”

“Did he disappear? Fade into the night?”

“No, he stayed there.”

“So—then what?”

“I waved again and went back to bed.”

“You weren’t frightened?”

“No. Are you still frightened when you see the dead?”

“Actually, I haven’t seen that many just wandering around. I’ve seen General Cunningham a few times. But half the world’s seen General Cunningham or at least  lot of people believe they’ve seen him, so…I know my cousin’s ghost. Zachary Albright. He’s been around since the American Revolution, but he’s…I don’t know. That was easy. Malachi was there and Malachi and I are the only two in the family, as far as we know, who…talk to the dead.”

“I don’t think anyone would need to be afraid of General Cunningham. He hated the war, hated pain and suffering. I think he stays around to try and prevent it,” Dustin said.

“Yeah. Maybe. And I’m not frightened of him.”

“But—you were frightened of Marcus Danby?”

“It was the way it all happened,” Olivia explained. “First, I found Marcus down in the ravine. Then, I saw General Cunningham up on his horse. Next thing I knew, I was with the body of Marcus Danby when the spirit of Marcus Danby tapped me on  the shoulder. Frightened? Stunned? Both. But I’m not afraid of Marcus. He’s so …real.”

“Well, in a way, he is real. He’s just not flesh-and–blood real,” Dustin said.

“Strange dilemma, isn’t it?” she asked and then gestured with one hand. “Anyway, I’m not prone to hysteria or passing out but, when I was holding Marcus and Marcus was behind me at the same time, I passed out cold. Just like I told you. When I came to, there was no sign of Marcus’s spirit or the general’s.”

“But then Marcus visited youhere?” he asked. “Twice?”

“Yes, this was the second time. But  as soon as I walked to the door to let you in, he disappeared.”

“Does he know what happened to him?”

“He told me that Sammy ran ahead of him in the woods,  barking. He went to find the dog—and after that, he doesn’t know. So, whoever did this was waiting for him.””