With her present-day life in upheaval, the last thing archaeologist Zoey Kincaid needs is a 25-year-old letter carrying a message of doom. Forced to dust the cobwebs from her own shadowy past, Zoey uncovers crimes, deception and buried family secrets, but will she put it all together in time to ensure a future?


Zoey Kincaid, archaeologist, receives a 25-year-old letter from her deceased mother describing her impending murder on the banks of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Unbeknownst to Zoey, her mother had belonged to a select group of foretellers - people affected by tainted water who could see beyond normal timelines.

Zoey then learns of her mother’s rape long ago. A recently arrested criminal may be her real father... with her DNA as the only link to the crime.

Things go from bad to worse. Zoey’s fiancé begins to behave irrationally. The rapist learns of her existence. A former stalker, now a powerful corporate titan, resurfaces. The more secrets she unearths, the more the foretelling gains credibility. With suspects in every direction, Zoey is forced to believe in the mother she barely knew to save her life.

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Richmond, Virginia

October, 1986

The stroke felled her two months ago, marking the first time Susan Collette regretted her inability to tap into her own future. The events yet to happen to others had never been a problem, but her own story remained off limits. She closed her eyes again, longing for sleep and relief from her misery. At least in her dreams, she could still scurry about the kitchen or head out for a walk on the city streets.
To Susan’s right lay three-year-old Kyra, half-asleep and curled into a crescent shape, her tranquil breathing always a comfort. On Susan’s other side, the grumble of a low snore signaled that Matthew, her husband of eight years, had finally drifted off. She could see the two days’ worth of coarse stubble on his thin face, crying out for a shave to better match the clean-cut, dark thatch of hair he’d maintained since his military days. As his raspy breaths grew rhythmic, they lulled Susan into a semblance of slumber, but the more her body succumbed to its state of numb rest, the greater the spikes of activity in her mind. Her brainwaves suddenly soared to a frequency and rate unknown to most, until they zeroed in on a hot, deeply wooded river bank with a moist, earthy aroma—and Susan was there.
From the river ahead of her came the sound of water splitting itself in two, each droplet forced to discover its own path around the jagged rocks. Susan watched, smelled, and intuited for the next five minutes as tragedy unfolded, her breathing frantic, her fear insurmountable. Finally, as if being ejected from a gritty chute, her head jerked and her eyes flew open. Her ears throbbed with the sound of a racing heartbeat, deafening all external noise, while the moonless night blinded her with its blackness. As the droning in her head subsided, and the state of panic lessened, she became aware of an ache in her right arm. Uncomfortable, yes, but she welcomed any feeling there since the stroke. She shifted her eyes to examine the source of pressure: Kyra again.
The little girl had rolled over and cuddled in more closely. She stirred and reached a tiny hand toward her mother’s mouth. “Mommy talking,” she said.
Susan tried to say, “It’s okay, go back to sleep,” but what came out sounded to her like a guttural mess.
“You okay, Suze?” Matthew said, stumbling to wakefulness.
Susan shifted her head in his direction, surprised to see his hand resting on her left arm. She hadn’t felt it there; she never did anymore. The moon found a gap between the clouds, and in Matthew’s coal-black eyes, she could see the adoration and protectiveness he always projected when gazing upon her. She could hardly imagine the contrast projecting from her own eyes right now, given the terror and dread she’d just witnessed on the riverbank.
“Nightmare, babe?” he said.
Susan shook her head and uttered, “Foretelling,” but Matthew looked confused. He smiled and caressed her face, his go-to habit when he didn’t want to ask her to repeat herself.
“Foretelling,” Kyra repeated sleepily. She’d been acting as a translator since Susan had come home from the hospital three days ago.
Matthew then noticed the small hand near Susan’s face and raised an eyebrow. “When did she come in?” Without waiting for an answer, he forced himself from the bed and walked around to his wife’s side.
Susan wanted to squeeze her little girl, to keep her near, maybe use her as a charm to fend off more horrific foretellings. But her arm would not squeeze, and she lacked the faculties to verbalize her wishes as fluidly as she’d like.
Matthew grabbed the sleeping child in one swift motion, barely glancing at the small bundle. He whisked her off to her lavender, princess-themed room down the hall, the one Susan had decorated in the hope that a fairy tale room would overcome the horror story that had begun the little girl’s life.
When Matthew returned, he adjusted Susan’s pillows, kissed the top of her head, and reassured her with a gentle squeeze of her good hand. Sleep returned to him quickly, a restful state likely unburdened with knifings and bullets and smells of death. But Susan remained awake for hours, recalling every detail of the previous five minutes, even those she hadn’t consciously noticed at the time.
She needed to warn the victim.

Chapter 1

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

April, 2012

Zoey Kincaid and Jake Medeiros swung their intertwined hands in a wide arc as they strode along 15th Street in the heart of Philadelphia. The odd looks they received from passersby bothered them not a whit. Besides, the women in their pearls and high heels could learn a thing or two about dressing functionally and fashionably from the fit, auburn-haired beauty bouncing down the street. Even dressed up, Zoey managed to find comfortable, funky shoes that accentuated her bohemian style. Earth tones and natural materials defined both her look and her life.
“Hey, check it out,” Jake said, halting their jaunt. He released Zoey’s hand and bent his broad-shouldered frame over a sidewalk crack in Philly’s finest show of civic disrepair.
“What is it?” Zoey said, trying to peek past his muscular back.
He dug his fingers into the dirt to unearth a shiny object peeking out from its trodden hiding place. When a semi-circle of silver shined through, he stopped and raised a teasing brow to his green-eyed girl. “Hey, shouldn’t you be doing this?”
“Not if I’m not sucking from the teat of some rich guy’s grant money. Besides, I just got a manicure.”
Jake put his hand to his chest in faux-shock. “You got a what?”
“Maybe I knew tonight would be special and I didn’t want my nails looking like they belonged to the unburied dead.”
Jake screwed up his handsome face into one of playful cynicism as he glanced up at her. “Who are you and what have you done with my fiancée’s brittle nails?”
Zoey broke into a wide, full-lipped smile that brought new dimensions of beauty to an already vibrant expression. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to hearing that word.”
“Brittle?” he said.
She smacked him in reply.
“Well, if you mean fiancée,” he said, “don’t get too used to hearing it.”
“Thinking about dumping me already?”
“Hardly. But I wouldn’t mind eloping tonight.” He resumed his digging. “We could head to St. Pete’s on 3rd and Lombard.” He finally stood up, clasping his newly discovered treasure behind his back.
“Tonight?” Zoey said. “My God, honey, I may not be comfortable with the French label, but I’d like to own it for more than an hour and a half.”
She held out her hand and admired her sole piece of jewelry—a blue sapphire stunner on her left ring finger. It reminded her more than a little of Jake’s eyes, which usually excited her but occasionally left her feeling exposed and vulnerable. In contrast to his Portuguese roots, Jake’s olive-skinned face surprised with intense baby blues. But tonight, of all nights, Zoey didn’t want him peering inside her psyche and performing a cold, analytical dissection.
“So come on, whatcha got there?” she said, shifting left and right to peek behind his back. “Tutankhamen’s cousin’s femur? Hoffa’s big toe?”
“Does that count as humor among you archaeologists?”
“As much as sarcasm passes for journalism among you reporters.”
Zoey, fast as a pickpocket, sneaked her hand behind Jake’s back to grab the mystery object. Ironically, in a profession where patience was the only virtue that kept its occupants sane, Dr. Zoey Kincaid had none when it came to gifts or surprises. Not once had her grandmother, Magda, been able to make Christmas or birthday gifts a surprise. By Zoey’s ninth birthday, Magda had simply let Zoey choose what she wanted at the store and then rewrapped it for the party or holiday. But Jake prevented her success this time with his finger hooked firmly through his find.
“I think it’s karma that I found this tonight,” he said.
Zoey smirked. “No such thing, my dear. Now show me what it is or I’ll write you up for disturbing a historically registered site.”
He glanced at the dirty sidewalk. Three pieces of petrified gum dotted its fragmented edges. “Historic? This?”
“It’s Philadelphia.” She pointed to a chained trash barrel across the street. “I could have that garbage can declared a landmark if Dolley Madison ever dropped an ice cream cone in it.”
Jake flicked his dark brows. “I’ll show you what I found if you admit it might mean something.”
“Okay, sure. It means a tourist dropped something on their way to the Liberty Bell, or a mugger ran off without his heist. But does it mean we’ll have a happy marriage, or that we’re cursed from now till eternity? No, I don’t believe in fated finds, dire destinies, or karmic collisions of chance.”
“Yet you’re a supporter of alliteration. Very disappointing.” He whipped his hand around and presented her with her second ring of the evening—a heavy silver band with the head and horns of a bull carved into its flattened top. “Check it out. Probably ancient Indian jewelry, right?”
“My God, Jake. I take it all back.” With a fake expression of awe on her face, Zoey hovered her hand above the ring like a psychic performing a reading. “Clearly, this does not bode well for the Federated Islands of Micronesia and their banana crop this year.”
Jake feigned offense, stuffed the ring into his sports jacket pocket, and grabbed Zoey’s hand as they moved on. “So think about it. I gave a ring and I got a ring, in the same night. Pretty cool.”
“Perfect closure to the evening.”
Jake stopped short, allowing Zoey to get one step beyond him before yanking her back. He spun her into him and held her closely enough that their midsections touched. A flash of panic crossed Zoey’s face as their bodies came together, but it passed before Jake could notice. He waited until she raised her eyes, and then he locked her in, his expression passionate. He had a way of blocking out distractions and zeroing in on subjects like a laser, and when his full intensity found an object of his lust, submission became imminent. Zoey relished being such an object. Usually.
“I planned on a different kind of closure this evening,” he said.
“You plan on digging up a necklace on 5th and Market?”
“No, I plan on burying you—under me—in your bed—in about five minutes.”
“Burying your fiancée on the night of the engagement? Kinky.”
A sleepy blues tune floated to their ears, breaking the moment. Jake gave her a soft kiss and they walked toward the source of the music. “Sounds like Mad Dog’s at it again,” he said, cocking an ear in the direction of the twangy notes. “That’s a new one, isn’t it?”
They turned onto Pine Street and saw a man in his sixties, but with the street-worn look of a 75-year-old. He picked a beat-up electric guitar with a jagged hole in its front. Wires that would fail a lenient electrical code attached the guitar to a small amp facing the street. One unlucky strike of lightning would probably send Mad Dog to the emergency room with enough burns to silence the music forever.
“Heard this one the other night,” Zoey said. “Muddy Waters, I think.”
Mad Dog’s small, weathered eyes caught sight of Zoey. Without missing a beat, he segued into The Little Red Rooster, singing with a raspy voice that wouldn’t pass muster anywhere but the gritty streets of Philadelphia.
“Your theme song,” Jake said with mild disapproval. “You sure this guy’s okay, you know, in the head?”
“Absolutely. Besides, if I round this corner and don’t hear Little Red Rooster, it feels wrong.”
“Great. A Pavlovian troubadour. Has he also trained you to throw money into his case?”
“Every time,” Zoey said, panting like a dog.
Two couples had stopped to enjoy Mad Dog’s nightly show. His upbeat rendition of the old Willie Dixon classic was more than respectable, and tonight’s addition of a thumbtack tap on his shoe added a funkiness that pulled it all together.
“I’ll get it,” Jake said, digging into his pocket. He fished out a dollar and tossed it into Mad Dog’s case. He might as well have thrown in a dead fish for all the acknowledgment Mad Dog gave him.
“He ever thank you?” Jake said as he and Zoey walked on.
“Once, he increased the volume a bit when I tossed in a quarter.”
“That wasn’t gratitude; that was punishment for being cheap.”
Zoey laughed as they entered her building, one of few original high-rises left in the redeveloping neighborhood. Zoey had chosen the building specifically for its historic roots. Civil War soldiers supposedly haunted the 32nd floor; Abraham Lincoln had once sipped tea in the lobby with his favorite senate buddies; and, over the decades, four people had jumped from its roof to their final demise. More than a few residents told elevator ghost tales, but until a ghost tapped Zoey on the shoulder and screamed, Boo!, she wouldn’t buy it. She reveled in the details of the architecture, the musty smell of the halls, and the way her cluttered lifestyle seemed to match the building. Piles of dirty clothes, half-finished grant requests, Stone Age weapons, and half-empty tea mugs just wouldn’t cut it in one of those rigidly furnished condos that most singles snapped up.
Hal, the doorman, greeted Jake and Zoey from behind his desk. The automated doors installed three years ago had made Hal’s job obsolete, but the owner retained the small, fit Filipino as a cross between security guard and greeter.
“Evening, Miss Zoey,” Hal said. “Jake, how are you?”
“Tonight, Hal, we’re wonderful,” Jake said. “We got engaged.”
Hal beamed. At sixty-eight, he retained his thick head of dark hair and the youthful demeanor to match. “Congratulations!” He came around the desk, hugged Zoey, and shook Jake’s hand. “You take good care of our girl now, Jake.”
“Oh, I intend to.”
“Miss Zoey, a letter came for you.” He reached behind the desk and handed her an envelope. Its red and blue edges looked all the more official due to the bold stamp of Certified Mail inside them. “Kind of bent the rules and took the liberty of signing for you.”
Zoey glanced at the return address: Richmond, Virginia. “Oh geez, hope it’s not about Aunt Eva.” Her frown indicated her mixed feelings about her only relative. Zoey thanked Hal and crossed the lobby with Jake. With her usual level of patience, she tore into the envelope the moment they entered the elevator.
“Sweetie, there’s no chocolate in there,” Jake said. But Zoey ignored the comment. Her carefree expression turned serious as she pulled a single sheet of paper from the envelope and began to read.
“Well?” Jake said.
“Dear Ms. Kincaid,” she read aloud, “Your mother, Susan Anne Collette, of Richmond, Virginia, retained our law firm, Hooper, Schmidt and Caldone, shortly before her death, to deliver this letter to you on April 26th, on the eve of your 29th birthday. We have in our possession a key to a safe deposit box in The Alston Bank of Richmond. Mrs. Collette requested that you obtain this key from us and retrieve the information from the box no later than May 1st. According to our client, it is of the utmost importance. Please do not delay. Call our office immediately to arrange a date and time to pick up the key. Sincerely, Alexander Schmidt, Esquire, Senior Partner, Hooper, Schmidt, and Caldone.”
“Uh oh,” Jake said. “Sounds like the crazy train’s coming to town.”
“This must be a joke.” Zoey said. She turned the letter over, half expecting to find a note explaining the gag. Nothing. Perhaps an elevator ghost had tapped her on the shoulder after all.
Jake took her arm and led her around the corner to her apartment. “Maybe your mom wasn’t as bonkers as you thought,” he said. “Maybe she left you a pile of gold, or this law firm is going to reveal some big family secret.”
The mention of a secret made Zoey flinch inside, and just enough on the outside for Jake to notice.
“What’s the matter?” he said. “Is there a secret?”
Zoey unlocked the apartment door. Now or never. “Come on,” she said. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

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