Page 26

 D.B. Reynolds

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“The usual.”
She looked up from where she’d sat down to tie her shoes and was distracted for a moment by the view of a very naked Aden from this perspective. It took her a moment to remember what she wanted to say.
“Do we have a usual?” she managed, then laughed at his flat look of disapproval. She stood, going up on tiptoes to kiss his scowling face, her arms circling his neck. “There’s the no-nonsense Aden I’m used to. I’ll be here.”
“See that you are,” he said, walking her to the door. And then he kissed her good-bye. A full-body kiss, deep and slow and promising all sorts of dark, erotic pleasures.
When he finally let her go, she had to hang onto him for a bit, her legs were so wobbly. Yeah, she definitely needed more of that before she gave up her bad boy fling.
She waved as she walked down the hallway, hearing his door close behind her with a very solid thunk of sound. The red doors were equally substantial, and when she turned to make sure they’d closed completely, she found they had already locked behind her. Down the hall, the elevator was open and waiting. She took it down to the fifth floor and was nodding a somewhat embarrassed hello to the guards when one of the men approached as if he’d been waiting for her. He was slightly older, maybe mid-forties and had an air of authority.
“Ms. Reid?”
“Yes?” she responded, wondering if she’d triggered some sort of alarm by coming down in the elevator when she did.
“My name’s Earl Hamilton. I’m chief of Lord Aden’s daylight security team. Lord Aden said I should introduce myself.”
Sid smiled. Bad boy, schmad boy. How could you not love a guy who thought about you like that?
“Thank you, Mister Hamilton.”
“Oh, call me Earl. Everyone does.”
“Earl. It’s a pleasure, thank you. I’ll just—” A thought occurred to her. “Let me give you my cell number, Earl, just in case I can ever help out.”
Numbers exchanged—she got Earl’s number, too—Sid made her way to the street and climbed into the taxi which Earl had summoned for her. The ride was thankfully short. At her own building, she rode up to her condo, went directly to the shower, and then to bed. She was nearly asleep before she realized there’d been something . . . or rather, someone very important who’d been absent from the night’s bloodbath at the slavers’ holding house.
She reached for her cell phone automatically and called Aden, not remembering until she got his voice mail that he wouldn’t get the message until later, and she simply could have waited until she saw him. But as long as she had him, or at least his so-abrupt-it-was-almost-rude voicemail response, she left a message.
“Hey, it’s me. We’ll talk later, and you probably know this, but . . . we didn’t get everyone at that house tonight. You know that, right?”
She barely managed to disconnect before she was sound asleep.
Chapter Twelve
“WHAT DO YOU mean we didn’t get everyone?”
“And good evening to you, my lord,” Sid said. She dropped her backpack and walked right up to Aden, smiling up at him expectantly.
He stared down at her, his eyes sparking blue fire and promising all sorts of retribution, but he fisted a big hand in her jacket, yanked her closer, and then he kissed her, starting out hard and dutiful, but quickly turning seductive and ending with a sensuous flourish of his tongue that left her breathless.
“We’ll continue that later,” he murmured directly into her ear, and she wiggled happily.
“Now, what did you mean by your message?” he demanded.
Sid pressed a hand to her chest, still trying to catch her breath. She glanced up to let him know an answer was coming and found him regarding her with a smug look that said he knew exactly why she was having trouble breathing. She rolled her eyes, but he only winked back at her.
“Okay,” she said, taking a full breath. “I didn’t see everyone you killed last night, because—”
“Because some of them died before you made it through the door,” Aden interrupted impatiently. “What’s your point?”
“I’m getting there,” she admonished him. “I think you missed someone. The slave business was Klemens’s operation, but he didn’t do the grunt work. There was another vampire who ran the whole thing, drugs and slaves both. I got the impression he did other stuff, too, because he wasn’t around much, but he was definitely in charge. His name was Carl Pinto.”
Aden glanced over her head, and she turned to see Bastien coming through the door to the office where they stood. Bastien was the most buttoned-up of Aden’s vampires, always dressed in black, his hair a neat razor cut. He moved with an economy of motion that Sid thought must indicate military training, maybe Special Forces or something.
“Pinto,” Bastien repeated, then shared a look with Aden before asking Sid, “When was the last time you saw him?”
She grabbed the notebook out of her bag and thumbed through it, looking for Pinto’s name. “It was just before the big gala,” she said, half to herself, then found the note she was looking for. “Yep. Eight days, to be precise. He was at their place in Fuller Park. It’s kind of a drug clearinghouse for them.”
Both vampires were looking at her oddly.
“What?” she asked.
“I don’t want you lurking around drug houses anymore,” Aden said flatly. “Especially not in Fuller Park.”
She shrugged. “I’m careful. And that’s where they do their business. It’s hard to keep track of them if I don’t go where they go. Duh.”
For the first time, she registered how intent he was. How angry. At her? Why would he be angry at her?
“What?” she asked, confused and a little irritated that he was giving her attitude for doing her job.
“I understand your need for revenge for your friend’s murder,” Aden told her, clearly trying not to be patronizing and failing miserably. “But this has to end. If Pinto is still alive—”
“He is.”
“—we will take care of it. These people are too dangerous for you to continue this surveillance on your own. It’s only dumb luck that you haven’t been seriously harmed before this.”
Did he just say dumb luck?
“If not for me,” she pointed out with admirable patience, “you’d still believe Pinto was dead. I think there’s a little more to what I do than dumb luck.”
“We’re getting off the subject,” he said, shutting her down. “Bastien, if Pinto’s alive—and it seems he is,” he added, before Sid could do more than open her mouth to protest. “I want him found. Get Elias on it immediately.”
Bastien nodded, turned on his heel, and left the office, leaving Sid alone with Aden.
“You,” he snarled, closing his fingers around the front of her jacket again, pulling her against his body and up onto her toes, and holding her there as he lowered his mouth to hers. But Sid wasn’t ready to kiss and make up. She bit his lip angrily and pulled back.
“Look,” she said, trying without success to push him away. “I get the whole alpha male, vampire lord-of-all-he-surveys thing, okay? I kind of even like it in the bedroom. But out in the real world, you are not the boss of me. I don’t forfeit my brain just because we have sex. And I’ll do whatever I think is necessary to get my story. And it’s not like most of what I do is that dangerous. I’m not aiming for Woodward and Bernstein. But I’m not stupid either. I don’t take unnecessary risks, and I’m careful with the risks I do take.”
Aden was eyeing her with very little expression on his face, which made it difficult to tell how he was receiving her liberated woman speech. Whatever his reaction was, however, it didn’t extend to his body, which was ready to fuck, and no question about it.
“Kind of like it?” he asked finally, one corner of his mouth curling upward with amusement as he focused on the one part of her speech that she’d thought he’d have no problem with. “I think I can do better than that.”
Sid’s first thought was that she wouldn’t survive if sex between them got any better than what they’d done last night. But she didn’t tell him that.
“I’m serious,” she insisted, trying to keep from smiling back at him.
“So am I,” he insisted.
“Aden—” she began, but Bastien chose that moment to return.
“My lord,” he said. “Elias is here.”
Aden glanced at her, but anticipating his vampires-only speech, she said, “I’ll sit in the outer office. I want to check some things anyway, and I’ve got my laptop with me. You all have Wi-Fi?”
“Of course,” Bastien assured her. “The code’s above the keypad on the phone.”
“Good enough,” she said. She looped her backpack over her shoulder, but then she paused, pretending a thought had just occurred to her, and said, “Don’t forget to engage your cone of silence device.”
Aden rolled his eyes, but still managed to give her butt a firm swat as she walked away. What was it with him and her ass?
She sat down at the desk, pulled out her laptop, and went to work as Bastien and Elias disappeared into Aden’s office and closed the door. What she’d told Aden about her last sighting of Carl Pinto was correct as far as it went, but her full notes, going all the way back to the beginning of her investigation, had all been transferred into her laptop. She had a system that let her track the individual players over time. And just as she’d been able to predict which house the slavers would use for this month’s transfer, she’d be able to see the pattern in Pinto’s movements that would help Aden track the vamp down and get rid of him once and for all.
She was still hunched over her notes when the office door opened and Elias walked by sometime later. She nodded at him and waited to see if Aden would call her back in. When he didn’t, she wasn’t particularly concerned. Figuring he and Bastien were still conspiring, she flexed her fingers, ready to go back to her own work, but then realized Elias had left the door partway open, and she could hear Aden and Bastien talking. Eavesdropping shamelessly—she was a reporter, after all—she stopped working and leaned toward the open door, listening.