It's fight or flight in this sultry, suspenseful GhostWalker novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Christine Feehan.

Gideon "Eagle" Carpenter is used to rolling with the punches life has thrown at him. It's the only thing that's kept him alive. He and his team of GhostWalkers have seen and experienced it all. He does his best to live with all the sins written on his soul. Then he hears the laughter of a woman with the ability to erase—even for a few previous moments—the darkness of his past.

Laurel "Rory" Chappel has always been a nomad. She's accustomed to taking care of herself, despite the physical challenges she lives with. She thinks she's too weak to find real love, but that doesn't stop her interest in Gideon from turning into a full-on addiction. He's all rough edges and danger contrasted with a tenderness that makes her feel safe. Still, after a life spent in motion, she's not sure she knows how to stay in one place.

Gideon hopes he can persuade Rory to take a chance on him with every electric touch. But soon, life conspires against him, forcing the GhostWalker to risk everything to protect the woman he loves....

Christine's Notes

Christine Feehan
Gideon and Laurel's story is unlike any of the previous GhostWalker stories. Laurel has something about her that will shock Gideon and all of the other GhostWalkers. She's not aware of who or what she is. And there's something about her that keeps the other GhostWalkers from being able to tell as well. This gave Gideon and Laurel a clean slate so to speak. Their relationship isn't about international intrigue, experiments, powers, or missions. It's about something altogether different - murder. I'm excited for readers to join me and Team 3 on this murder mystery adventure. I hope readers enjoy catching up with some favorites. Yes, you'll see Javier (I know you're going to ask.) LOL I love writing mysteries and enjoyed being back with Team 3 in San Francisco. I loved writing about a heroine with normal friends and what seems to be a regular life. Gideon gets to woo her and fall for her without worrying about Whitney. It all seems so norm...until it isn't.

— Christine Feehan

Christine regularly writes about her books (and all kinds of subjects) in the following places:


Ghostly Game

More Order Options

GhostWalkers ,
Book 19

Release Date: December 26, 2023
Number of Pages: 416 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Language: English
ISBN: 0593638700

Ghostly Game (GhostWalkers, #19)

Excerpt: Chapter 1

“Sometimes things just go south, and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.” Gideon “Eagle” Carpenter eased his body back slowly until he was entirely prone, linked his fingers behind his head and stared up at the stars.

This was San Francisco. Viewing stars wasn’t always easy because fog liked to creep in at night, at least where he was located. He was on the roof of the four-story, wedged-shaped original warehouse made of red bricks that rose like a monstrosity to stand out among all the cool newer concrete and steel warehouses surrounding it. Considering the building was the only one on the street to survive the 1906 earthquake and fires and was still standing, despite the city condemning it and threatening to demolish it several times, Gideon thought what others considered an eyesore was worth saving. So he’d saved it. Mostly for this—the rooftop. He’d used every penny of his share of money and then some in order to see to it that the best of the best ensured the old building would withstand anything thrown at it for the next hundred years.

“Yeah, Gideon,” he repeated aloud. “Shit happens. You roll with it. You don’t let it get to you. You come here, high in the sky, and you get rid of it.”

Because shit did happen in his life far too often. It had been happening since the day he was born, and he was damn sure it would continue to do so until the day he died. He’d created the mantra, found the highest place possible wherever he was, repeated that shit over and over until he made himself let the clouds take it all away. They had to take it away. Sometimes, like tonight, when his churning gut was in knots and the devil was riding him hard, he had to call on the universe to shoulder his shit.

A whisper of movement had him dropping his hands slow to his sides, the fingers on one hand wrapping around the butt of one of his favorite weapons. He could shoot the wings off a fly in the dead of night if he had to. His other hand settled around the hilt of his knife. Up close and personal wasn’t necessarily his first choice, but he had skills, and when push came to shove, he could use them. Few knew the code to open the hidden stairs to the rooftop, but he wasn’t taking chances. He was a careful man. That had been ingrained in him, long before he’d taken to living on the streets and a ragtag family of sorts had been formed by several throwaway kids—of which he’d been one.

He waited in silence, air moving evenly through his lungs. The trapdoor opened carefully. No one emerged.

“Gideon? You going to take my head off?”

The voice was soft with the merest hint of an accent even those with great ears couldn’t detect. Javier Enderman. One of his brothers from the street. Family. One of his brothers from the service. One he’d live and die for. Gideon hadn’t expected him, but he should have.

“I’m considering it. I’d have to get up to do it, and I’m not liking the idea of moving, so I think you’re safe enough.”

Javier pushed the trapdoor open all the way and climbed onto the roof. He was all muscle, but with his lithe build, it was impossible to tell. He looked young; impossible to guess his age. In their business, it was a decided advantage. Thick black hair fell onto his forehead, spilled over his ears and curled around the back of his neck. He had black, black eyes that appeared to look right through a man to uncover every secret. Once he stepped into a shadow, it was nearly impossible to find him if he didn’t want to be found. Gideon considered him the most dangerous member of their team.

Javier barely made a whisper of sound as he crossed the roof to take a seat a few feet from Gideon. He added energy drinks to the cooler and three Ziploc bags of what appeared to be fresh spinach chips to the lock box that was never locked beside Gideon.

Gideon raised an eyebrow. “Where the hell did you get those?” There was reverence in his voice—awe even—because fresh spinach chips, the real deal out of the oven, deserved awe.

“Swiped them. Stole them. Lifted them. It was a sweet little heist too. Right out from under Rose’s nose. In her kitchen. Know how much you love them, and I’ve got to keep my skills sharp, so we both win.”

“Rose will cut you into little pieces if she catches you stealing her spinach chips. They take forever to make,” Gideon said.

Javier shrugged. “You want me to take them back, I’ll do it.”

“Hell no.” Gideon burst out laughing. “She’s not going to kill me; she’ll go after you. And then there’s Kane. You lift a finger to defend yourself when his cute little lethal wife, Rose, is cutting off your balls, Kane will beat you to a bloody pulp.”

Kane had been one of the original street kids, one of those idiotic enough—as all of them were—to follow Mack McKinley into the service and then into specialized training straight to the classified psychic GhostWalker program.

“Fortunately, she won’t find out,” Javier said. “You’re perfectly safe with your spinach chips. Eat them in peace. I had a little help. Her son happened to start fussing, distracting her when she was putting all her fresh chips in the Ziploc bags. There were so many all over the counter she couldn’t possibly know three bags went missing. Even if she counted them, the piles had fallen over.” He flashed another grin at Gideon. “No one makes that many fresh chips all at the same time. Kane is addicted just the way you are. She spoils him.”

That little grin Javier gave him made him wonder about Rose’s son suddenly getting fussy. Kids liked Javier. All of them. Rose and Kane’s son, Sebastian, was all kinds of talented. He might be a baby, but he was already exhibiting signs of psychic gifts. It wouldn’t surprise Gideon if Javier had a way of communicating with the little ones recently born to various GhostWalkers. He didn’t ask.

Silence fell. Gideon liked silence. What he didn’t like was the reason Javier was there and what was coming next, but he couldn’t think of a way to stop it, so he just remained still.

Javier shoved both hands through his hair. “Hate that you took a slew of bullets that were mine, brother.”

“They were anyone’s. I was just in the way.”

Both knew that wasn’t the truth. Javier had been out of his mind. They all had been. Gideon had been. They hadn’t been prepared for what they’d seen. Innocent women and children, civilians who should have been safe in their homes. Going to school. To work. Just living their everyday lives. Mowed down. Raped. Murdered. Hacked to pieces. Dead bodies lying in the streets, like so much garbage. Left as bait for any soldiers to find, mines under their bodies.

It wasn’t as if they weren’t experienced and hadn’t seen the worst. They were urban fighters. Good at what they did. Ghosts sent in to retrieve prisoners, slipping in unseen and getting out without anyone ever spotting them. Right in the middle of a city. Right in the middle of the enemy’s home. They’d seen it all, been through it. Been taken prisoner. Tortured. They’d been shot. More than once, the plane they were in had been shot down. They were experienced, but this—seeing infants and children and women, innocents in schools and homes—this was too much for all of them.

Javier had lost it. They all had, but Javier had lost his mind. He was entitled. The sight was a trigger from his childhood buried deep, but his reaction had endangered the entire team. Gideon had taken out six of the enemy to keep them from killing Javier. But Javier hadn’t stood down. He had charged with no cover, no backup, right into the heart of the enemy. Gideon, looking through his scope into Javier’s eyes, had been able to see he was gone—no longer thinking. He’d shut down completely. Gideon calmly took out two more who would have killed his brother, and then he made the decision to go after Javier, protecting him the way he always had.

Gideon didn’t want those memories brought here, not to his rooftop. Not when they were still burned behind his eyes. The smell in his nostrils. Even the coppery taste of blood lingered in his mouth. The pain of bullets tearing into his flesh and through his insides was far too fresh. Those memories were already too close. He hadn’t had the chance to put them away.

“Wasn’t the bullets, Gideon. I was out of my mind. Just like when I was a kid. You came for me.” Javier dropped his head into his hands and rubbed at his temples. “You fuckin’ came for me again.”

Gideon regarded him in silence for a long while, letting the breeze from the ocean cool the stench of vile gore from his mind. This rooftop was his sanctuary, his one place of peace—his only peace—and it was so fleeting. He wanted that same peace for Javier, but knew Javier had yet to find his path.

Gideon sighed. “Javier.”

Javier shook his head and then looked directly at Gideon with his black, fathomless eyes, two dark pits of relentless agony. “Am I a psychopath? Tell me the fucking truth, brother. Should I put a bullet in my head? You’ve pulled me back more than once. What if you couldn’t get me back? What if I just stayed in that state? I would have killed everyone. All of them. Every single fucking one of them.”

“Don’t you think every single one of us would have killed them, Javier? You weren’t feeling anything different than the rest of us. Those intense emotions were triggered by the needless slaughter of infants, of children, of young and old women. What we saw was so wrong, and we weren’t prepared. We walked blindly into that nightmare without considering it would be there. Our minds weren’t in the right frame to accept it. You weren’t the only one struggling to keep it together and not take out the entire unit of . . .” He broke off for a moment, searching for a word to describe who would do such a thing.

“They aren’t soldiers. They aren’t even mercenaries. Butchers. Something is wrong with them.” Gideon tried not to see the images of the babies and toddlers strewn in the streets and playgrounds—hacked to pieces. Not shot, hacked. What kind of men did that? “Mack says we’ll find them. If he says that, you know we will. We’ll do it right, brother. As for you being a psychopath, Whitney put that shit in your head. He’s the fucking psychopath, not you. We volunteered to have our psychic abilities enhanced in order to better serve our country. Dr. Peter Whitney thought he was a god. Hell, he still thinks it.”

Gideon breathed deep to push other images crowding in away. “Javier, think about it with a clear head. You were reacting to what you saw. What we all saw. You weren’t the one chopping up children. You would never do such a thing for any reason. And before you object and talk to me about children with guns and bombs, I’ll remind you there’s a difference between saving the life of a brother with a single well-placed bullet and chopping up a child for some kind of sick amusement.”

Gideon prayed there was. He had so many real sins on his soul. Too many. Javier was his brother from the streets and from his unit. “Don’t let Whitney do that to you. He fucked us up by giving us animal and reptile DNA, or whatever the hell he decided he wanted to play around with. We were already jacked up enough and didn’t need his added aggressive DNA, but we had no say in that. Worse, he didn’t tell us. He just let us discover what he’d done. We’re still discovering it.”

Gideon felt the burn of Javier’s black eyes. They could appear like two dark holes in that handsome face. Flames could flicker there. Right now, there was intensity as only Javier could give him. Sometimes Javier looked at him as if Gideon were leading the way to water after being lost in the desert for a long, long time. Gideon wanted to tell him he was no hero. He sure as hell wasn’t the man to look up to. He was lost himself.

“I tell Whitney to go fuck himself every day, Javier. He isn’t going to win. Not ever. He isn’t going to know one thing about any gifts or curses I have. He won’t ever take a child from one of the women we protect here in our compound. He isn’t going to prevent me from living whatever kind of life I choose to live. I choose to serve my country because that’s my choice. When Mack decides he’s had enough, I’ll most likely bow out as well. We’ve always stood together. We’re family. We always will be. Stop thinking you’re on the outside looking in. Here’s a little news flash for you, brother. Every single one of us feels that way. Whitney made sure of that. For all that, knowing that, I refuse to allow him to take my family from me.”

Gideon didn’t like talking. He never had. But this was Javier, and Javier was important, and he was one fucked-up brother. He needed help. He wouldn’t go to Mack because he was afraid Mack would decide to force him to stop working with their team. It was Gideon or no one. Gideon didn’t want Javier eating a bullet. Just the fact that he’d mentioned the idea made Gideon very aware Javier had contemplated it. So, that meant talking until Javier could get off his rooftop before discovering Gideon was in worse mental shape than he was.

“You with me on this, brother? Because I need you to be. I need you to know Whitney’s the psychopath and you’re just fucked up like the rest of us.”

Javier held his eyes for a long time. Gideon didn’t so much as blink. He had eagle in him. Harpy Eagle. He could hold that gaze until the cows came home.
Finally, Javier nodded slowly. “I’m with you, Gideon. Tell me what Doc says about the bullet holes.”

“Says I don’t see action for a while, which is fine by me. Needed a vacation and I’m taking it.”

“That isn’t what I meant. You do know I have computer skills.”

Gideon flicked him a quick, forbidding glance. Pure steel.

Javier gave him a faint grin. “I get it. Don’t eat your spinach chips all in one sitting. You might actually get an ounce of fat on you.” He stood up with his usual fluid grace and made his way to the trapdoor. He stood there, his back to Gideon, looking up at the stars while the clouds drifted across the sky.

“Don’t know why you saved my ass when I was a kid or even how you found me, brother, but I know I can always count on you. I just need to say thanks and you need to let me.”

Gideon wasn’t entirely mobile. He couldn’t surge to his feet and wrap the kid up in a hug, not that Javier would have gone for it. More than likely, he’d shove a knife in Gideon’s ribs. They really were a fucked-up lot, the entire urban team. Poor Mack. He was stuck with them.

Gideon had excellent hearing, and he caught the whisper of emotion in Javier’s voice—sentiment his brother didn’t often let slip. That got to him whether he wanted it to or not.
“I hear you, Javier.” Gideon gave his brother what he needed to hear, and he was sincere. He watched Javier nod, although he didn’t turn around. He just disappeared into the abyss that was the dark hole where the opening to the stairs led into his home. The trapdoor closed.

Gideon stared at it for a long minute before he allowed his body to begin to relax again. He hurt like a mother—everywhere. They’d given him pain pills, but he wasn’t taking them. Now he was going to have to start putting himself in a meditative state all over again. To do that, he was going to have to clear his mind. To do that, he was going to have to face those images all over again. He pressed the heel of his hand to his pounding forehead. He didn’t want to go there again.

Javier thought he was the only one who wanted to rip those sick bastards into little pieces? What did he think happened to the men who murdered Javier’s family? Did he ever wonder how Gideon had gotten to him before those butchers had finished hacking into him when he’d been just a little boy? Probably not. That was a nightmare Javier relived in his dreams but couldn’t examine in the light of day.

A groan escaped. Not one of regret. How could he ever regret saving Javier’s life? Despite the kid believing Whitney’s armchair assessment of him, Javier was invaluable and had saved countless lives. That wasn’t even counting the times he’d saved team member’s lives. The groan was for the images of their recent mission, along with those of the past pouring into his mind when he’d fought so hard to get rid of them. It wasn’t easy to force himself to breathe in and out and allow his mind to accept the horrors it had lived through, but he did it.

He built his lake in his mind, the deep, fathomless water a turquoise, the shores wide. Overhead, the skies were blue, and the clouds were light and drifted on a cool breeze. The images, when they came, tumbled into the lake and were carried away from him. He let them go, giving them up to the deep water.

A sound penetrated his concentrated breathing, that steady rhythm that brought images into the pool in his mind and allowed the ripples to carry them away. Laughter, sounding like beautifully tuned chimes skipping over water, didn’t belong in his carefully built setting. Those chimes were faint and far away, but they invaded and sent the images away faster than any meditation he’d ever done. Each individual note blew up an effigy of one of his memories. The explosion over the lake appeared as multicolored fireworks.

As far as Gideon was concerned, there was only one thing for him to do, and he did it. The psychic talent he used he’d been born with. Since Whitney had enhanced all psychic talents whether he’d known what they were or not, Gideon had discovered it was stronger than ever. He closed his eyes, blocking out everything but the sound of that far-off laughter. Even after the notes had faded away, he still had direction, and he had the exact pitch and rhythm he was looking for. He was ready for the sound to repeat itself, and it would. He was already casting his lure, sending it out into the night like a fishing line in the direction of that enticing laugh.

Minutes crept by. Gideon would have much preferred to be on the hunt in person, but his body wasn’t in any kind of shape. He would have to rely on his considerable skills with his talent—using an invisible line with an anchor to find his prey, much like a spider might. He’d been honing this one since he was a child. It didn’t always work. Sometimes, whoever he sought was too far away, but this was worth the try. Minutes turned to a quarter of an hour. He was patient. He’d learned patience a long, long time ago. On the half hour mark, it occurred to him he hadn’t been visited once by his past.

He opened a bag of the contraband spinach chips Javier had brought him, popped the top off a can of beer and allowed himself to indulge. Beer and chips. Not everyday fare for him. He ate the chips slowly, savored the salty seasoning on them and then washed them down with beer.

Another fifteen minutes. A whisper. Far off. A barely-there thread of sound. He knew it was that same laughter. The same pitch. His hearing was acute and he was not mistaken. Those little chimes, not quite as loud this time, but he had homed in on them. Feminine for certain. Taking his time, Gideon carefully attached his thread, an anchor, much like a spider might, casting it into the air, right off the roof, sending it back along that same path to find the owner of that laughter.

Now it was another waiting game. This one wouldn’t be quite as long. Gideon changed position carefully. Moving hurt. Still, with this new intrigue, he didn’t feel it quite so much.

He felt the bump as the anchor attached itself to something solid. He found himself smiling. He was in San Francisco, and it was night. He didn’t need the Harpy Eagle or any of the large raptors for this purpose. He wanted a small bird no one would notice. The field sparrow was prevalent across all Northern California. A beautiful little bird with a gray head and rust-colored crown. Small, very slender, with a pink bill and white eye-ring; the long tail was forked.

The little sparrow was reputed to be largely monogamous, and yet they sometimes had a secret, sneaking out and singing to attract another lady. Often that lady had her own male who seemed to turn a blind ear to the new upstart singing to entice the female out of the nest to go meet with him.

Gideon sang softly, a very short whispered song to entice a female to him. The answer came immediately, as he knew it would. He’d made friends with the female, and she was nesting in the bushes he’d planted that now grew thick on the wall farthest from him.

She came to him in little stops and starts. It wasn’t difficult to tie her to him and send her out to investigate for him. He needed eyes and information. The little sparrow wouldn’t be noticed, and if she was, no one would ever equate her with spying. That had always been his advantage. Because, even as a child, he was so stoic that no one ever thought his imagination would enable him to envision calling birds to him and making them his allies.

His little sparrow flew down three long blocks on the same side of the street to land on a windowsill and peer in. The bar was noisy, packed and popular. It wasn’t one of the bars the local fishermen gathered in after coming back to the harbor. This was new, with a frenetic dance floor, mood lights and a young, hip crowd. When the bar had opened, no one thought it would do very well, but the locals hadn’t counted on the draw of the harbor and old-world San Francisco culture.

The bar was just far enough away that his team didn’t have a lock on the building yet. They could tap into the cameras easily enough, and Jaimie—Mack’s wife—or Javier could lock into the security system inside the bar. Javier might just be doing him a payback much sooner than either of them thought, because somewhere inside that building with all those civilians drinking and laughing and hooking up, there was one woman whose laughter had the ability to erase—even if for a few minutes—the utter darkness of his past.

Laurel “Rory” Chappel lifted a hand to her fellow coworkers as she wound her way through the narrow maze that should have been a wide hallway leading to the back employee entrance. She was tired. More than tired. Exhausted. She was a night owl—awake all night and sleeping during the day, except she hadn’t been sleeping much.

She was a rolling stone, a nomad, a woman who liked to travel and see what was around the next corner. She’d been drawn to the harbor, a strong compulsion that had brought her there to check it out. She loved the water, the feel of the fog and spray on her skin. The newer buildings, down farther from the actual working harbor, were clean and inviting. She needed clean. The bar, fortunately, didn’t allow smoking, so she was free to work there.

She had skills when it came to bartending, so the moment she hit San Francesco, she had researched the best paying and most popular bars. Then she went to each district and walked around, immersing herself in the neighborhood to see if anything appealed to her. She always waited for something to click so she knew she was supposed to be there. She had instantly clicked with the harbor.

It was nice to be outside in the night air. She wasn’t someone who enjoyed being indoors, or at least in cramped spaces. The bar she worked behind was ideal for her. Long and slightly curved, it went nearly the length of the room, giving plenty of space for each bartender to have his or her own workstation. Behind the bar was room to maneuver, so when it was extremely busy, the bartenders didn’t run into each other if they did have to step out of their own work area.

Rory thought she’d found an ideal situation. Her apartment was fairly new, a building three stories high, and she was able to choose from several apartments. There was a waiting list for the first floor, but no one had requested the third-floor apartments. Each had a stairway to the roof, where they had their own little section railed off from the neighbors for privacy. She was told she could put in a garden if she wanted. What she wanted most was to sit outside on her rooftop sanctuary and breathe in the ocean after the stale air of the bar.

Her apartment building was on the opposite side of the street as the bar but down two and half blocks toward the harbor. She was fortunate that across the street from her apartment, the building facing hers was only a couple of stories versus three or four. That meant she had a fantastic view of the harbor and, further out, the ocean from her rooftop patio.

The building had a keypad to put in a code to access it, making it a safer place to live. Rory thought it was a good idea, but the manager didn’t seem to have a very good sense of safe people to rent to. She utilized the gym nearly every day since she’d first signed her lease. Ordinarily, because she worked nights, she could count on any gym she used being fairly empty during the time she chose for her workout.

Unfortunately for Rory and the other women choosing to work in the early afternoon, a few of the apartments had recently been rented to four single males who didn’t appear to work. They had money, but they hung around and leered at the women as they used the various machines. They also tended to be in the laundry room at inconvenient times.

There was no doubt in Rory’s mind the four men who pretended not to be more than casual acquaintances were not only business partners, but they were running drugs and possibly other illegal things she didn’t want to know about. She did her best to avoid them, just as the other women in the building did. She’d learned early that there was always a fly in the ointment with any place she lived or worked. Nothing was ever perfect, and she accepted that. It was simply life.

Rory let herself into her apartment and tossed her bag onto the nearest chair as she hurried through the open living room and dining room to the door leading to her bedroom. She kicked off her shoes and unbuttoned her white shirt until she could whip it over her head with one hand, dragging in a lungful of air as she did so. Both hands dropped to the black trousers, the standard uniform the owner preferred his bartenders to wear while they were working. She peeled them down her hips and legs to kick them off. She did what she always did the moment she got home: she stepped into the shower as quickly as possible.

One of the best features, other than her rooftop patio, was the shower with hot water. She scrubbed her skin and rinsed out her hair. Next was moisturizing her face, throwing on flannel pajamas to stay warm, wrapping her hair in a towel and rushing up the stairs to her rooftop. Her breathing machine was inside the weatherproof cabinet, and she set it up on the little table beside her favorite chair. She liked that lounge chair. No, she loved it. It was the most comfortable outdoor chair she’d ever come across, and she carted it around with her wherever she went.

Rory tucked her feet under her and tipped back her head to look at the stars as she gave her laboring lungs a treatment. She normally could last an entire shift with just her inhaler as long as she went straight home afterward and used her machine. She didn’t get rashes from an allergic reaction to the cleaning chemicals she used when she closed if she got home fast and made it into the shower. The key was to shower with cool water first and make her way to hot. She had it down to a science after all the times she’d been bartending when things had gone wrong fast.

She had sensitive skin and weak lungs. There was no getting around those two things. She’d been born that way. It hardly mattered to anyone but her. She really detested using an inhaler in front of anyone, as if that made her weak; not her lungs—her. She’d been taking care of herself for years now, and doing a pretty good job too, but she had so many problems. Not just her health. She had issues.

Rory made a face around the mouthpiece she was using to get the medicine into her lungs. Early on, she’d realized she wasn’t going to be that girl that men raced to make a life with. They didn’t want someone with her precarious health and neuroses for the mother of their children. She wanted a home, children, a family, but once she allowed herself to be realistic and her lungs didn’t get better no matter how much time she put into exercise to strengthen them, she accepted that she was always going to be alone. Hence her decision to see as much of the world as possible. She couldn’t be a wife and mother, so she chose the next best thing—she was a traveler. She was a darn good traveler, and for the most part, she was happy.

She continued to stare up at the stars. The clouds had darkened slightly, but they moved with the breeze. Fingers of fog drifted across her patio. She liked the harbor at night. Lights shone on the water and boats rocked and swayed with the tide. She had excellent hearing and very good eyesight, a tradeoff for her faulty lungs. The sounds of the waves breaking against the piers and numerous fishing boats were a kind of lullaby, allowing her to relax after so many hours on her feet.

Rory had a memory that allowed her to remember names and faces better than most people. She didn’t forget drinks, not even if the customer hadn’t been in for a while. That was a gift that did make her a good bartender. She also had the uncanny ability to sense lies, but that didn’t help in the bartending business. It only prevented her from going on dates if she considered it at all.

The medicine had finally run out, so she could shut off the machine and just enjoy her favorite spot. As she carefully wrapped up the nebulizer and made her way across the rooftop patio to the weatherproof cupboard, a small bird flew past her ear. It was so close, the tip of the wing brushed her skin. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of wicked talons before an owl pulled up, screeching in dismay at missing its prey. Simultaneously, she heard a thunk as the sparrow hit the open cupboard door and dropped to the floor right at her feet.

Rory’s heart sank. She didn’t like any animal hurt or killed. The owl had to eat, so she couldn’t be upset at the owl. She had opened the cupboard without thinking as the sparrow approached, cutting off its escape. The little bird ran right into the door, which meant its demise—if it was dead—was on her.

She shoved the breathing machine into the cupboard and quickly closed and locked it before sinking down in a crouch. “Are you alive?” She placed one palm gently over the bird to feel the flutter of its heartbeat. A sigh of relief escaped.

“I’m going to examine you to make sure you’re just stunned. I was afraid the door broke your neck the way you flew into it.” Rory sat on the floor and cuddled the bird in her palm while she gently moved two fingers over the delicate bones and feathers. “Everything seems to be okay. No broken bones. Your little beak isn’t cracked or broken. Your wings are good.” She rubbed gently with her two fingers on the bird’s chest in an effort to stimulate it.

The beak opened and closed. One foot twitched, the three toes with the thin, curved nails moving jerkily.

“That’s it, little one, come around. You need to be getting home, where you’re safe. What in the world were you doing out this time of night?”

Rory breathed warm air onto the bird and then straightened to tip her head back and look up at the stars again. The mist touched her face, feeling good on her skin. She was very tired and wanted to go to sleep, but she wouldn’t abandon the sparrow. She thought it best to keep the bird outside where it could fly away the moment the creature was feeling better. In any case, since coming to San Francisco, her nightmares had been increasing.

It didn’t take long for the sparrow to open its eyes and regard her silently for a moment before it turned over in her palm and stood quietly, staring at her.

“I can see you’re still a little dazed,” Rory whispered, afraid to move. She didn’t want to frighten the sparrow after its scare with the owl. “We can just sit here for a few minutes until you’re fully recovered. I can see I’m going to have look up what kind of bird you are and why you would be out at night.”

Rory was used to talking aloud to herself. The little bird righted itself, still looking at her, its dazed eyes winking open and closed. “I think the owl has moved on to find something else to eat for dinner, but you need to get back to your home and be safe.” She kept her voice soothing and very low, hoping to avoid scaring the sparrow.

The bird stayed in her palm rather than jumping out. It flapped its wings several times, all the while looking at her. Rory couldn’t detect fear. The sparrow seemed to be just fine standing in her palm.

After a few minutes of staring at one another, the sparrow finally hopped from Rory’s hand to her thigh and then to the patio floor. It hopped around the two raised flower beds she’d planted and flew onto them as if inspecting them. Finally, after another long look at Rory, the bird took off into the night.

Rory found herself smiling as she picked up her phone and immediately looked up images of birds to see what kind of sparrow would be flying around at night and why. She was a little shocked to find out that her visitor most likely had been going to a clandestine meeting with a male sparrow who was not her mate. She was having an affair—or she had most likely flown out of her nest with the intention of meeting a male. Rory played the recordings of the male calling to the female and the female answering.

“Naughty bird. Maybe that scare with the owl and getting hit by the cupboard door will scare you straight,” Rory whispered. “Who knew birds had affairs? Sheesh. What’s the world coming to? That’s why I know better than to go for the kind of men I find attractive.”

She detested going back inside and thought about putting a bed on the roof to sleep outside, but the weather really wasn’t conducive to that. Sometimes, when she first entered her apartment after being on the roof, air would be trapped in her lungs and she’d feel as if she couldn’t breathe. She knew what not being able to actually take a breath was, so it was silly, but she would have to push down a panic attack.

Rory never invested in a lot of furniture. Buying furniture wasn’t practical, because she couldn’t haul it around with her when she moved on. In any case, she liked as much space as possible in her apartment. She looked for open floor plans, and in the places she rented, the higher the ceiling, the better.

It didn’t take long to get ready and fall onto her bed. No covers. Sometimes, if she was restless, the covers would tangle around her legs and she’d wake up fighting, gasping for air. Her heart beat too hard and too fast. She loathed the sensation.

She closed her eyes and pulled air into her lungs. Slow and steady. She was such a wreck. So many silly issues. She knew she wasn’t the only person in the world with health issues that kept her from running marathons. She also wasn’t the only one having full-blown panic attacks that had more than once landed her in the emergency room, certain she was having a heart attack when she wasn’t.

Rory always assessed her situation at night before she fell asleep. On a scale of one to ten, where was she? Happiness? She was a solid seven, creeping toward an eight. She liked where she’d landed this time, and she was making friends. Good friends. She liked several coworkers at the bar where she worked, and she liked her boss. She’d made friends with five women at the apartment building she really enjoyed, and that had never happened before.

She’d been in San Francisco five months already. Normally, she’d be thinking about moving on, but she might actually stay here awhile. She liked her job, and it was close to her apartment. Most days, even when it rained, she could walk to work. She had a parking spot allocated to her with her apartment, something coveted in the city, so most of the time she kept her car there and used public transportation if she couldn’t walk. Yes, this was one of the best places she’d landed. Satisfied that she was in a good space, she closed her eyes.

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