Serafina and the Virtual Man - By Marie Treanor

Chapter One

The house was a modern monstrosity, all sharp lines, glass, and concrete, like a city office block mysteriously teleported into otherwise pleasant countryside.

Jilly wrinkled her nose. Disappointing that someone of hero status—at least in Jilly’s eyes—should live somewhere so ugly.

“What makes them think they have a poltergeist?” she murmured. “It’s more likely to be the locals throwing stones at their windows.”

Beside her, in the driver’s seat, Sera gave a wry smile. “Don’t think there are many locals. The house is pretty isolated.” Which was quite an achievement only half an hour’s drive from Edinburgh.

“Not surprised,” Jilly muttered.

Sera drove the battered Citroen around the curve of the drive and pulled up outside the huge office-house. The front door—disguised as part of the wall of glass that fronted the whole building—opened before they were out of the car, but then they were expected. They’d had to identify themselves to a talking wrought iron gate at the beginning of the long, sweeping drive. The Ewans, it seemed, valued their privacy.

Jilly got out, inhaling the sharp, frosted scent of the countryside on a bright January morning. She narrowed her eyes against the low sun and settled her laptop bag over one shoulder while she counted the security cameras and alarm sensors. “Bloody hell. You couldn’t get much past that lot.”

“Spirits don’t need to get past them,” Sera pointed out. “They form inside.”

Sera was allowed to make statements like that. She talked to the dead all the time.

“So, remind me why I’m here,” Jilly murmured as they walked together toward the open door. Not that she was sorry to tag along; Dale Ewan, the cofounder of Genesis Gaming, was pretty high on her list of people to meet. “I can’t help you beat up a poltergeist, can I?”

“I told you. I don’t know anything about computer games, let alone this new virtual reality stuff. I need you here to spot when he’s talking bollocks.”

“And to make sure we’re not the ones being scammed for once?”

Sera grinned, which made Jilly anxious. The Ewans, being disgustingly wealthy—and having such offensive taste in architecture—were prime targets for a bit of unique Serafina’s Investigations-style scamming. Jilly, on the other hand, was more inclined to give a lot of leeway to the people who’d come up with such clever and innovative systems that not only brought virtual reality gaming into every enthusiast’s home but increased the effectiveness so drastically. Jilly wanted to pick the guy’s brains, have long and involved conversations with him about present technology and future possibilities. On this particular occasion, she really didn’t want Sera taking the piss.

Unless, of course, he pissed first.

Besides, Sera always sussed her clients out before she acted—people made up stories for all sorts of reasons—and after the vampire fiasco last year, she was much warier of making snap judgments. Jilly was warier of lots of things, mostly vampires.

A slender, glamorous woman appeared in the threshold. She was a little older than Jilly and Sera—maybe midthirties—blonde, fully made-up even in her carefully casual designer jeans and artfully sloppy shirt in a stunning shade of blue. Jilly found herself coveting that shirt. It probably cost a month’s mortgage payment on her flat.

“Miss MacBride? I’m Petra Ewan.” Her accent was English without being limited to region, somewhere between posh and merely privately educated.

Sera, who was seldom upstaged by money or glamour, even in her cheap jeans and lived-in leather jacket, smiled back and held out her hand. “Mrs. Ewan,” she returned, and as their hands clasped, she went on, “This is my colleague, Jill Kerr. We hear you have a troublesome poltergeist.”

Petra Ewan’s gaze flipped briefly to Jilly and, clearly recognising her as of little account, moved back to Sera. “Not sure what it is, to be honest, but it’s scaring the hell out of me. Out of both of us.”

Sera smiled noncommittally and released the woman’s hand. By now, she’d know if the wealthy Petra was lying. As their hostess turned and led them inside the house, Sera glanced at Jilly, lifting one eyebrow and one corner of her mouth. Petra, it seemed, was truthful thus far. She really was scared of something.

“So who all lives here?” Sera asked as they entered a bright, spacious hall, which seemed to double as a kind of reception room. It had white walls and wooden floors, and there were no coats or shoes lying around. Not even an umbrella. “Besides you and your husband.”

A wide staircase swept up one side to a horseshoe-shaped gallery above, where there

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