Dangerous Games
Chapter Seven

 Keri Arthur

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The woman lay on her back, her arms and legs spread wide, like a starfish. She was naked, and there was an almost rapturous expression frozen onto her dead features. As if the manner of her death had aroused her to the point of fulfillment.
Just like the other women we'd found.
A shiver ran through me, but I wasn't entirely sure whether the cause was horror, or the odd chill in the air. A chill that spoke to an awareness deep within, one that suggested we were not alone in this warehouse.
That dead things abided here.
I rubbed my arms and let my gaze slide down the woman's white body. Like the other victims, she'd been opened up from neck to knee, and all her main internal organs removed. There should have been a lot of blood after a kill like this, but there wasn't - and in many ways that was far worse. Because it meant someone had drained her - drained her while they sliced her and removed her organs. Drained her while she lay there with that rapturous look on her face.
I shuddered, suddenly glad I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. I don't think it would have stayed down at that point.
I forced my gaze from the destruction of her body and looked at her left hand. Like the other victims, she was missing half her little finger. The wound, though healed, looked extremely fresh.
And for some reason, her missing a finger made me feel colder - sicker - than anything else that had been done to her. Which was an extremely odd reaction, even for me.
I looked past her. Jack and Cole were standing in the far corner of the old factory, talking softly. If I concentrated, I could probably hear what they were saying, but it felt like too much effort when I could just ask Jack later on. I studied the immediate surrounds instead. Cole's team had been here for a good half hour by the time we'd arrived, so the few clues evident were already tagged. Like before, the sooty remains of a pentagram was visible on the concrete, and droplets of black wax littered the ends of each point. While I didn't know much about magic, I knew black candles indicated the darker paths rather than the light.
Though the mutilation of the body was enough to indicate that.
I looked back at the woman as something stirred. A wisp of thick air. Smoke, perhaps, curling softly in the air, barely visible against the bright lights the clean-team had set up.
Another chill ran through me.
It wasn't smoke.
It was her soul.
And as it found shape, it found voice, words. Dahaki, it said. Azhi Dahaki.
The chill got fiercer, until it felt like fingers of ice were creeping into my soul. As if the woman's soul brought with it the fierce cold of the underworld. Who the hell is Azhi Dahaki?
I wasn't entirely sure whether I said that out loud or telepathically. Wasn't sure if the woman's spirit would even answer.
It stirred softly, a body of smoke with no features that gently rotated. But with every turn, energy built in the air, until the small hairs along the nape of my neck were standing on end. Only then did the words come again. You must stop him.
With that statement, the energy fell away, and the soul disintegrated, fleeing to whatever region of afterlife it was bound for.
I took a deep, shuddering breath. It was bad enough that I was seeing souls - now the fucking things were beginning to talk to me.
Jack's voice was soft, filled with caution, but I jumped all the same. I looked up, saw that he was standing only a few feet away. Cole stood beside him, a concerned look on his face. I hadn't heard either of them move.
"It talked to me, Jack." I rubbed my arms. "It actually damn well spoke."
"I did warn you that might happen."
I snorted softly. "Yeah, well, I was hoping you were wrong." I looked down at the body, to where the soul no longer hovered. "I don't want to be talking to the spirits of dead people, Jack. It's just too creepy."
Cole's eyebrows rose. "You can converse with spirits? Cool."
I gave him an annoyed glance, and concentrated on Jack. "It said a name - the same one Dunleavy's soul gave me. Only this time it was Azhi Dahaki. A full name, perhaps?"
"It's quite possible. It's an odd name, though."
"Well, it's an odd talent." And that's precisely why Jack had brought me down here tonight. He'd been hoping I'd see something. "Have you got an ID on her yet?"
"Karen Herbert," Cole said, looking down at the PDA in his hand. "Twenty-two years old. Lived alone. Parents currently holidaying in Queensland."
I looked at Jack. "The Karen Herbert? The one I asked for a background check on?"
He had the grace to look uncomfortable. "Afraid so."
"Well, if that isn't proof positive there's a link between Quinn's case and ours, I don't know what is."
"Which is why, when you see him next, you will be questioning him."
Yeah. Like that was going to result in anything useful. I waved a hand at Karen's face. "She didn't die in terror. There were no drugs found in the systems of the other women, and I doubt there will be here. It once again suggests she came here willingly, Jack."
"Or that there was psychic influence. That can't be traced after death, remember."
"Jin's not psychic, so maybe I'm following the wrong person."
"If Jin's blocking you telepathically, he's a psychic of some sort. Plus, he shares a house with the woman Quinn is following, he works at the same place as Dunleavy's girlfriend - who was killed by Gautier because she'd seen or heard something - and he has a ring the same as one found at a murder scene. It's too much of a coincidence. Everything is connected. We're just not seeing the complete picture yet."
And we needed to, before the next woman was murdered. My gaze went back to the body. "So are these ritual killings or sacrifices?"
"My guess would be sacrifices. For what, I'm not sure."
"Blood and organ sacrifices," Cole corrected, then looked at me, "which is a darker and more powerful magic all together."
"It's still ending up with dead women, buddy-boy."
Annoyance flared in his pale eyes. "The nature of the magic is often a direct indication of the nature of the magician."
"Doesn't take much of a genius to guess we're dealing with someone who's wry black in nature."
"No, but the fact that there's blood and organ used means we are dealing with an extremely strong type of black magic. And if the mage is adding his own blood, then we are dealing with someone who's raising a power capable of doing far more than calling a couple of demons."
"Meaning, you don't think Quinn's hunt and ours are merging?"
"Meaning, they may well be merging, but our boy is doing more with his power than releasing a couple of demons to harass a vampire." Jack eyed me for a minute. "You don't seem overly perturbed about Quinn locking you up."
"You haven't seen his house." I glanced at my watch. If I didn't get going soon, fin was going to start wondering what the hell was going on. "Look, if you don't need me, I've got a suspect to meet."
"Go. But be sure you hit the com-link if things get rough and you need out."
I raised my eyebrows. "Why tell me that when I know for a fact you don't say it to other guardians?"
"Because the other guardians are dealing with regular old psychos. I've got a feeling your particular psycho is off the scale even by our standards."
"Well, gee, that's a comforting thought." I eyed him for a minute, then added, "And besides, you don't want me dead yet because you want to see where the drugs take my talents."
"Precisely." He smiled and threw me a set of keys. "Seeing Cole drove you here, take my car. But I want it back in one piece."
"You give me your keys, you take your chances." I grinned, tossed them lightly in the air, then headed out.
Night's curtain had well and truly fallen, and though the air was cold, the night was clear. The moon hung fat and yellow in the sky, not quite full but not far off it. The heat of it sung through my veins, a surging desire that was only going to get worse over the coming nights. It was, I thought grimly, probably the best time to get landed with the job of fucking a bad man.
And when I finished doing him tonight, I was going to ring Kellen. I had a bad feeling I'd need some tender care and gentle loving to wipe the foulness of Jin's touch from my mind.
I found Jack's car and headed into the city. It was a Monday night, so the streets were quiet and parking easy to find. I grabbed my bag and headed back up the street toward the club, discovering the number he'd given me was actually that of a multistory building and the club was on the nineteenth floor.
Which was pushing my phobia to the limit.
I took a deep breath and forced a smile on my face as I approached the guard. "Hi," I said, acting all cheery even though my stomach was doing a rebel dance. "I'm here for the Hunter's Club."
"You got a membership pass?"
"Can't get in without a membership pass."
Obviously, this security guard wasn't paid to be helpful. Either that, or he was just bored and having himself a little fun. "My name is Riley Jenson. I'm here as a guest of Jin Lu."
He glanced down at a sheet sitting on his desk, then picked up a book and placed it on the desk. "Need you to sign in there," he said, pointing to a space. "And write you name after it."
I did. He took the book, got a pass out of his drawer, writing a number beside my name before handing it to me. "This will work the lift and get you past the foyer doors. You'll need to return this pass and sign out when you finish."
I nodded, grabbed the pass, and headed toward the lift. The swift journey upward had a tremor running through my limbs, but thankfully, my stomach decided to stay where it was. The entrance to the club was all gold and white luxury, the carpet plush enough that I had to resist the temptation to rip off my shoes and run barefoot through it. But I couldn't help a wry smile when I spotted the sign emblazoned over the front doors. Not only did it say "Hunter's Club" in great big fancy letters, but it had "humans only" underneath it.
Humans were still trying to legislate a rule that would outlaw the "no-human" rule in the werewolf clubs, but it was just fine and dandy for them to outlaw us willy-nilly. The sooner we got some nonhuman representation in the government ranks, the better.
The doors swished open as I approached, and in that instant, I saw the sensors lining the doorframe. They really were serious about the club being humans only.
And it meant if I went through, I would be outed as something other than human.
I swore under my breath and glanced at the blonde manning the reception desk. She was one of those sexy, athletic types guaranteed to set on edge the teeth of any normally built woman, but more importantly, she hadn't appeared to notice that I'd stopped short of the doorway and was just standing there. She wasn't wearing a nanowire - unless they were now making them in designer earrings - and there didn't look to be any other psychic deadeners in the room. Not that they could actually stop me anymore.
I blew out a breath, then opened several shields and let my mind sweep into hers, taking control in an instant.
I might not be able to "sense" humans, but I sure as hell could control them. I made her turn off the alarm, figuring the club would be safe for the few hours I was here. And just in case someone higher up noticed, I had her pull the plug out of the wall. That was the trouble with sensor units installed after the building had been completed - a careless movement could every easily break their connection. Which is why many of them were now being directly wired into power mains.
I released my hold on her, then went through the door and approached the desk. I still had a telepathic finger on the pulse, so to speak, just to hear her thoughts and ensure there were no lingering doubts about what had just happened.
She blinked, like a dreamer waking from a dream, then gave me a bright smile.
"Well, hello there," she said, her welcoming tone as fake as her tan. "New to the club, are we?"
"We are," I showed her the pass. "I'm a guest of Jin Lu's."
Something flickered in her eyes - an emotion too fast to pin down - though the smile never dimmed. But her thoughts gave away what her eyes only hinted at - that her opinion of Jin was low. Indeed, she thought he was an arrogant pig who got altogether too rough during sex. She'd even had to lie to her boyfriend because the bruises had taken forever to fade.
Obviously, she wasn't a big believer in monogamy while in a relationship. I restrained my smile and accepted the pen she gave me, signing in a second time.
"I'll just call him," she said, handing over a locker key. "If you'd like to wait on the sofa."
I glanced at the sofa, then at the wall of glass beyond it, nothing with some pleasure it looked out over the main gym area. There were lots of men inside, working away on various machines, skin gleaming with sweat and muscles rippling. As views went, it was pretty damn fine, and I walked over to make the most of it.
Jin's name was announced over the speaker system. Five minutes later, awareness raced across my skin. Though I couldn't hear any footsteps - probably because of the thick carpet - I knew it was Jin. The heat and scent of him called to the wildness within, even from a distance.
I glanced over my shoulder. He strode toward me, wearing black gym pants and a black singlet top. His skin gleamed with sweat and heat, and he looked sexier than any man had a right to. Desire surged, but my gaze caught his and it fled as quickly as it had risen. His dark eyes gleamed with a ferocity I'd never seen before - a ferocity that was both ancient and inhuman. As if, in that one brief moment, I was viewing his soul and it was nothing that belonged in this time.
Nothing that belonged on this earth.
Then he blinked and smiled, and the strangeness was gone, leaving me wondering if communicating with the dead woman had shaken me more than I'd presumed. I mean, Jin mightn't be human, per se, but he had to be at least a subspecies or some sort of nonhuman. Didn't he? What else was there?
A comment Quinn had made a few months ago floated through my thoughts. He'd said that while he was raised as a human, technically he was only partially so. That the other half of his being was something that no longer existed.
If a half-breed from a race that no longer roamed this earth could survive through the ages, then other, darker things surely could.
The chill that raced through my soul this time was one of foreboding. I didn't want to know about those other, darker things. I really didn't. But I had a bad, bad feeling that not only was I fucking one of them, but I was stepping deeper into their world the longer I stayed by Jin's side.
He stopped and leaned forward to kiss me, and it was all I could do not to recoil. His mouth was cool and quick against mine and, for that, I was grateful. Right then, anything more passionate would have been too much.
"Hi," he said softly. "Nice to see you again."
He smelled of musk and man and dark spices - all scents normally guaranteed to set my hormones a-dancing. And admittedly, despite the chills and foreboding, desire did stir. I was a wolf, after all, and danger was an aphrodisiac.
But running underneath his lust-worthy scent was a trace of sex and blood, mixed in with a hint of jasmine. I couldn't help wondering if his exertion had been more the rough horizontal kind - involving straps, whips, and naked, perfumed flesh - rather than mere gym work.
"Looks like I've come here at a bad time."
He shrugged. "There's a gym and spa special running at the moment, so we've a bigger crowd than normal tonight. I'm afraid I can't give you that massage I promised, but I'll get Terri to start you off with the treatments, and I'll see if I can grab a break in the next twenty minutes or so."
"Look, if you'd rather I leave and come back - "
His grip tightened on my arm and the alien light gleamed briefly, starkly in his dark eyes.
"I have no idea how long I'll be," he continued, "but I'd rather you wait."
"Then I'll wait."
He nodded and pulled me forward, kissing me hard. It was very much a signal of intent and part of me quailed - if only because it suggested that last night was only a teaser. That tonight I'd get a more in-depth introduction to his darker needs and desires.
How far was I willing to go for the sake of the Directorate and tracking down a killer?
I didn't really know anymore, and that was perhaps the scariest thing of all. If my determination not to do what the Directorate and Jack wanted me to do had slipped so much in a matter of months, what would I be like a year down the track? Would I become the willing fighting and fucking machine Jack wanted me to be? Was it as inevitable as the cycle of the moon?
A tremor ran through me. Jin broke off the kiss, and smiled. "I shall try to hurry," he said, trailing one hot fingertip down my neck. His touch paused near the pulse point, and his smile widened. "I'd hate to waste such delicious excitement."
"Then don't." I stepped back. "The sooner you go, the sooner you can be back."
He laughed, then turned and walked away. I repressed another shiver and tried to ignore the humming of hormones that just loved the danger Jin represented. Sometimes being a werewolf was a pain in the ass.
I looked across to the receptionist. Her face was carefully neutral, but her distaste rode the air. Resisting the urge to tell her I actually sympathized, I said, "Where do I go for my treatments, then?"
"Just follow the door to your right. Terri will take care of you."
I followed the directions and pushed through a set of swing doors. A meaty-looking black woman possessing slick, tied-back hair and hands big enough to snap a bus in two approached from the opposite end of the hall. She stopped when she saw me, well-shaped eyebrows rising almost in alarm. It wasn't hard to guess why. She knew what I was, simply because she wasn't human herself.
I stopped several feet in front of her, and looked her up and down. I'd only ever met one bear-shifter before, but this woman left Berna for dead when it came to sheer muscles and size.
"How did you get past the monitors at the door?" she asked, her voice a low growl that was more curious than antagonistic.
I met her dark gaze with a raised eyebrow of my own. "Probably the same way you do."
"You're a half-breed?"
She nodded. "The sensors read us half-breeds as humans. Kinda handy in a situation like this."
It would have been if I'd actually been half-human. "When we want to go where the rules say we can't go?"
She grinned. "The club rules say no nonhumans. Doesn't say anything about us half-breeds." She motioned me down the hall. "I've set you up in cubicle three. I'll give you the massage, then Raj will show you to the spa. There's a twenty minute limit, unfortunately, because we're full tonight."
"Can I be nosy and ask why you're working here? It's a bit of a risk, isn't it?"
She shrugged. "The worst they can do is fire me. And the pay here is better than other clubs. Gotta go with the money when you've got a family to feed, you know?"
I nodded, taking in the scents and sounds as we walked down the hall. Hints of sweet oils and feminine musk rode the air, mingling with the tangy spice of male and the faint scent of chlorine. No jasmine, though. No hint of sex.
Whatever Jin was doing, he wasn't doing it in this section.
"Are you the only nonhuman working here?"
"Yep. All employees have to present a birth certificate as evidence of humanity, but mine says human, so I'm okay."
I raised my eyebrows. DNA tests at birth had been mandatory for at least thirty years, and Terri looked a lot younger than that. "And how did you manage to achieve that?"
She grinned. "My old man worked in the labs and fudged the evidence."
"Dangerous stuff." And worthy of at least ten years jail time if it ever came to light.
She shrugged. "He's dead now, so what can they do to him?" She opened the next to last door on the left. "You want to strip off and place all your valuables in the locker? I'll wait out here."
"And am I supposed to walk around in nothing but my skin?"
She grinned. "I've heard tell you wolves make a habit of it."
"Well, yeah, but humans get quite antsy about it."
"Which is why you put on the robe hanging next to the locker you've been assigned."
"Ah. Thank you."
The changing room was on the small side, and smelled faintly of lemon and ginger. There weren't many other lockers in use, meaning there weren't a whole lot of women in tonight. After quickly stripping off and putting everything in the locker, I grabbed the robe and walked around the room, sniffing the air lightly. And found the scent of jasmine coming from a locker on the far side of the room.
I glanced at the door, wondering if I should take the chance of breaking into the locker. I needed to find out who the woman behind that scent was, if only because she might be one of Jin's regulars, and therefore might know something more about him. Like what he really was.
I checked out the ceiling, but couldn't see any cameras. Not that cameras were usually found in changing rooms but I couldn't take the risk of security seeing I was up to no good.
I slipped my locker key in between the locker door and the frame, and jimmied the door out enough to grab it with my fingers. Then I gave it a quick, hard tug. Locker doors just weren't designed to withstand the strength of a werewolf, let alone one who also had the might of a vampire behind her as well.
With the door open, the scent of jasmine was more powerful. The woman had stacked her clothes in a neat pile, and had hung her handbag over the single hook on the side. I opened it, then searched through the mess of tissues, makeup, and keys until I found the holder containing her credit cards and photo ID. Her name was Jan Tait, and she was a pretty woman with green eyes and blonde-highlighted brown hair. I memorized her Carlton address, then flicked through the rest of the holder, seeing more credit cards, a gold card for the cinemas, and a picture of a black and white cat. Which probably meant she was single. Attached or married women usually had pics of their other half or kids.
I shoved everything back into the bag, then closed the door and gave it a light thump to force the lock back in place. After doing up the robe, I headed for the door and the waiting Terri. We only walked another four doors down before she stopped and opened another door, this time revealing a small cubicle with a lone table sitting in the middle.
"Here you go. Just strip off and lay on the table. I'll be with you in a moment."
"Thanks, Terri."
She nodded and closed the door. I took off the robe and threw it over the end of the table before laying down as directed. After about five minutes, Terri came in and got down to work. I have to say, she was damn good. By the time she'd finished, my muscles were all fluid and relaxed. Like the aftermath of fantastic sex, only without the effort and fun.
"Okay," she said, doing up the massage oil bottle lid, "I'll just buzz Raj and he can take you down to the spas."
"They're not on this floor?"
She shook her head. "Next one down, near the administrative areas."
This place had to be bigger than it appeared if they had a second floor just for the office crew and the spas. "That's inconvenient, isn't it?"
She shrugged. "It's only a set of stairs."
I guess so. I put the robe back on and lashed the front together. Raj, a pimply teenager who looked no older than seventeen or eighteen, strolled in a few seconds later and gave me an insolent wave to follow. We walked down a set of carpeted stairs and into another wide hallway that was lined with doors. From behind each came the sound of bubbling water and soft music.
"Individual spas?" I said, taking a quick glance up and down the hall. No security cameras here, either. Very convenient.
The kid nodded and threw open a door. As he did so, a pass-card swung out from under his shirt. It had a bar code across the bottom, suggesting that if I wanted to go anywhere less public, I might need a pass to get into it.
"Customers seem to prefer individual spas," the kid said, "and it gives management a chance to charge extra." He grinned and waved a hand toward the small cubicle dominated by a large bath. "Shower before you get into the water. The controls for the jets and music are on the left panel. Light controls on the right."
"And the toilets?" I lowered a shield and telepathically felt for his mind. His thoughts were bright and swift, reminding me of one of those com-games teenagers seemed addicted to these days.
Taking his pass and ensuring he didn't remember it was altogether too easy.
"Toilets are down the hall and to the left," he said, without a pause or a blink that would have given anything away to unseen watchers. Not that I thought there were any, but you never could be too careful. "You got twenty minutes, then someone will be back for you."
He nodded and headed back toward the stairs. I stepped inside the room and closed the door. After stripping off the robe and dropping both it and the stolen pass on top of the small stool sitting in the corner, I had a shower to rinse off the honey-smelling oil, then quickly dried off and put the robe back on. Once the music and spa jets were on, and the lights off, I headed out the door.
The corridor was empty, save for a robed woman down the far end. She paid me no heed as I strode toward her, and soon disappeared into one of the rooms. Spa jets went on as I passed by her door, an indication that she was safely occupied for the next twenty minutes. I paused at the end of the hall, looking left and right.
The right-hand corridor led out into the building's main foyer and the lifts. Not the way I wanted to go. Besides, the exit doors were locked and alarmed.
The toilets were to the left, as the kid had said, and beyond them a double glass door that said "Staff Only" - an invitation for the curious to investigate.
I looked over my shoulder, just to ensure the kid or someone else wasn't headed my way, then walked over to the card reader. I peered in through the glass, looking for cameras, then swiped the card. The reader beeped, the light flicked to green, and the door buzzed. I opened it up and slipped inside.
The big room was empty and silent. There were four doors leading off it, one of them open, revealing what looked to be a well-appointed staff lounge. Not the type of room that would hold many secrets - not the kind I was after, anyway.
I walked across to the first closed door. Opening it cautiously revealed a small corridor and several offices that were obviously occupied, given the feminine chatter coming from them. I moved on to door number two. Nothing but a large storeroom. Door number three was keycard locked.
I swiped the kid's card through the slot, but the little light stubbornly remained red. Obviously, Raj didn't have clearance for this area.
I stepped back and studied the doorframe, looking for alarms and wondering if I should risk breaking open the door. As I did, a bell rang.
Adrenaline surged and, for half a moment, I was certain I'd been sprung. My damn heart seemed to lodge somewhere in my throat, beating a million miles an hour.
I stepped back, ready to flee to cover, then realized the ringing was actually a phone. Amusement at my own jumpiness swept through me, but it didn't last long. Because when the phone stopped ringing, footsteps became audible.
They were approaching from behind the locked door.
Someone was coming out.
This time I did turn and run - but just to the nearest hidey-hole, which happened to be the storeroom. But I left the door open enough to peer through.
The locked door opened, and a big, blond man dressed in black stepped out. He had a coiled black whip in one hand, and a twisted bit of material in the other. I stepped back into the shadows as he approached, but didn't close the door, figuring a moving door would catch his eye more than a partially opened one.
He didn't stop, just strolled past and into the office area. I glanced back at the door that had been locked, saw that it was still closing, and ran like hell toward it, squashing my breasts against my body with my hands so they didn't brush the door as I slipped through the vanishing gap.
The door closed with a soft click that seemed to echo ominously. A long, dark corridor lay before me. Other than the soft sound of my own breathing, nothing seemed to stir. The air was still, hinting at age and mustiness and something else, something I couldn't quite place.
Something that had chills running down my spine.
I rubbed my arms, and wished I had something warmer than a robe on. Cold had never been a friend of mine, though right now I could pretty safely say the goose bumps flitting across my flesh were due to fear more than the chill.
I wrapped the shadows around me, just in case someone came out into the corridor unexpectedly, then padded down the hallway, following the scent I couldn't name.
Other scents soon joined it. Sweat. Blood. The hint of jasmine. Unless there were two ladies wearing the exact same scent, then Jan Tait was close by.
Doors loomed in the darkness. Four in total, two on the left, two on the right. I sniffed the air, trying to catch the direction of the jasmine scent. It seemed to be coming from the first door on the right, but it was hard to tell because that unknown scent almost overwhelmed everything else. And that scent was coming from the second door on the left.
It was, I thought, a little bit of desperation, a lot of death, and a mix of male and female. The death scent reminded me a little of Gautier, but even then, it wasn't quite the same.
And with the mix of scents came odd mewling sounds.
Another shiver crawled across my skin. I reached for the door handle to my right. There was no way in hell I was tempted to investigate that other room or the scent emanating from it, because it just felt wrong. I might be a werewolf, I might often tread where only fools usually dared, but I wasn't a complete idiot. Not when I was alone and without back up, anyway.
I carefully opened the door and peered inside. The room was in complete darkness, and the only sound to be heard was the soft panting of breath. Jan Tait - or whoever it actually was - was alone in the room.
I slipped inside and closed the door, then switched to infrared. And discovered what looked like a medieval torture room. There were racks with rough wooden wheels and thick ropes, chains attached to cuffs dangling from the ceiling, a huge wooden wheel straddling a deep water trough, and rough ropes attached to wall rings.
It was from one of these that a woman dangled. Her toes barely even touched the floor, meaning her shoulders and arms had to be taking the brunt of her weight.
The pain of it had to be killing her. But as my gaze slid down, I realized the shoulders weren't even half of it. She was naked, her light brown hair tied neatly into a ponytail and a cloth, knotted at the back of her head, covering her eyes. The loose ends of the cloth trailed down her back, touching flesh that was bloody and raw. In truth, it didn't actually resemble skin anymore, but freshly shredded meat. Her breath was shuddery gasps, and yet the cause wasn't fear or pain, despite the mess her back was in, but rather arousal. It stung the air, as thick and as heavy as the scent of her blood. This woman, whoever she was, was getting off on the mess they were making of her.
I shuddered at the thought, and walked forward. The carpet gave way to tiles that were icy against bare toes, and the sound of my steps whispered across the silence.
The woman shifted her feet, so that her weight rested more heavily on her arms. The moan that escaped was a sound filled with pleasure. "More," she whispered. "I need it... "
I stopped behind her and studied the cuts. The welt marks evident through the raw mess indicated the whip I'd seen the man carrying earlier was more than likely the weapon used here. Which just might mean he was due to come back.
Meaning, if I was going to question this woman - or at least read her mind and grab the answers I wanted - I'd have to hurry. I lowered my shields, and slid swiftly into the woman's thoughts.
Bad mistake.
Her mind was all pain and thick arousal, and the moon heat surged to life in response. Sweat broke out across my skin, and for several seconds, it was all I could do not to spin around, go find the nearest male, and fuck him senseless.
I wrenched free of the woman's thoughts and took a deep, shuddery breath. Okay, so I'd have to get answers the old-fashioned way.
"Jan? Why are you doing this?"
"I need. I pay."
I raised my eyebrows. So the Hunter's Club did provide more than just gym and massage services. Interesting. "What do you pay, Jan?"
She twisted on the ropes, her wrists so raw blood dribbled down her left arm, heading for her shoulder. "Gold pass. Top of the tree. Please. No more teasing. Finish it."
There was a desperation in her voice that had the chills galloping, rather than merely stepping, across my flesh. She wanted what they were doing to her. Wanted it, needed it. I rubbed my arms, and said, "I'm not here to finish it."
She moaned and yet, oddly enough, her desire rose, sharp and tantalizing in the still air. I wrinkled my nose against the scent, not because it was horrible or anything, but because my blood was beginning to pound through my veins again, stirred to life by the seductive smell. I might not be attracted to the same sex, but the scent of desire was enough to set hormones raging when the moon heat was closing in.
"Tell me how people find out about the gold pass."
"Hellion Club," she gasped. "They realized I needed more."
Needed to be brutalized, obviously. Needed to be cut into pieces and left hung up to suffer. Like she was just another slab of meat fresh from the slaughterhouse.
Another shudder ran through me. I might be sexually adventurous, but even I had my limits, and this was way, way past anything I could ever imagine wanting. And I couldn't help feeling sorry for her - though I'm sure my sympathy would be the last thing she'd want.
She obviously enjoyed what they were doing to her, so who was I to turn up my nose at another's wants or needs? Hell, that was the very reaction I'd spent most of my life righting.
"Who from the Hellion Club recommended you come here, Ian?"
"Maisie, the owner. She saw my need. Said she understood it."
"And why did she recommended this club? Aren't there others?"
"She said, her brother specializes."
Her brother. Another link in the chain, or just a coincidence? As I opened my mouth to ask another question, footsteps echoed in the hall outside. I waited, barely daring to breathe, hoping those steps would keep going right on by.
They didn't.
As the door began to open, I sprinted across to the huge wheel and slid in behind the cover of the water trough.
The man who came in was the man I'd seen carrying the whip earlier. But behind him was Jin. He must have taken a shower since I'd last seen him, because he looked fresh, and no longer smelled of sweat and sex and jasmine. Or maybe it just seemed that way because the tall whip carrier's scent was all blood and sweat and musky man, and it was powerful enough to overwhelm any lesser scents.
The two of them stopped just behind the woman. Jin raised a hand and casually slapped the woman's beaten buttocks.
She moaned, as if in pain, and yet the scent of desire sharpened tenfold.
"What do you want, Jan?" Jin slapped her again, harder this time. As the woman whimpered, he breathed deep, as if sucking in the sound.
A chill went through me. He'd done the same thing when he'd broken the bones of the baby vamp who'd attacked us, too.
Maybe he was some sort of energy vampire, as Quinn had suggested. But if that were the case, why was I still reading him as human? He couldn't be both - it just wasn't possible. Once you'd stepped over the threshold of life to undeath, you read as a vamp, regardless of what you'd been in life.
"More," Jan said, twisting agitatedly against the ropes holding her, unable to see but obviously trying to.
"I legally cannot give you more, Jan."
"But I paid," she panted. "Please - "
It was desperate, that sound, and it made me shiver. Because it was all too easy to imagine that sound coming out of my mouth. With the full moon rising, it was totally possible for me to get that desperate. I'd been there before, thanks to Talon and his insane determination to get me with child any damn way he could, and I knew from that experience I would do anything - take any amount of punishment - to get what the moon and my body demanded.
And if I kept fucking Jin, that just might be where I ended up. He liked pain - could possibly even feed on it - and a werewolf was capable of taking a whole lot more in the way of punishment than a mere human.
I bit my lip, and decided, right there and then, to get the hell out of this place as soon as possible. I might want to catch the people responsible for sacrificing the women, but there were still limits to what I would do for the Directorate's cause.
The sound of flesh slapping against flesh, and the moan that followed it, had another tremor running across my skin. Jan might want what they were doing to her, might have paid big money for it, but all I wanted to do was get up and smack them all.
Then go find Kellen, who was into common old everyday sex, and fuck his brains out.
"Are you willing to pay more for your needs, Jan?" Jin asked. "Are you willing to go all the way?"
All the way? Something about that phrase had warning lights flashing. I mean, how much more could any human - male or female - take?
Obviously, a whole lot more if the sudden surge of desire and desperation coming from Jan was any indication. "Yes, yes," she said.
Jin glanced at the big man beside him and smiled. It was a cold, pleased thing, and sent ice slithering through my soul. There was nothing remotely human in that smile. Nothing even resembling humanity.
"We have another candidate, Marcus."
"We do." The big man's voice was a rich rumble that should have been sexy, but only sent more chills skittering across my skin. "I shall inform the boss."
"Good." Jin glanced at the woman. "Finish her off then take her to the recovery room. I better go check our other patrons."
"The women in rooms two and three bleed sweetly."
Jin snorted. "But the woman in two gives no pain. No fear, and only a little desperation."
"She is lesbian, is she not? Could we use that?"
"She's bisexual, so no. Death intends to keep trying, but I think she'll become another meal for him. I don't believe she can provide what we need." He slapped the other man on the shoulder. "Don't forget to get the papers typed up for Jan once she regains consciousness."
"Will do."
Jin left. Marcus casually unfurled his whip and snapped it across the silence. I jumped. Jan merely moaned, the sound one of anticipation.
"Tell me what you want, Jan."
"Finish it. Hard."
"Tell me," he said, voice almost lost under another snap of the whip.
"Beat me," she whimpered. "Just beat me."
"As the man said, I can't do that. Not yet."
She made a gargled sound full of despair. He breathed deep, as if sucking it in. Just like Jin had appeared to be sucking in her pain.
God, was Jan the only human in this room?
"Please," she said again.
Marcus coiled the whip back up, then ran the handle end down the torn flesh of her back. "You want it fin-ished, I want your desperation. I want to feel your torment." He reached up with one hand to grab the rope tying her left arm to the ring. "You will give me that, Jan."
Her arm flopped free. He grabbed it before it could fall to her side, then spun her around, shoved her back roughly against the wall, and tied her back up.
Then he fucked her, using the thick whip handle rather than his body. All the while, the big man breathed deep, his body shuddering in pleasure as she twisted, screamed, and, eventually, came. Then she collapsed against the ropes and blacked out.
Marcus leaned forward and kissed her lips, as tenderly as any lover, then carefully undid her ropes and carried her out. I stayed where I was, battling the mix of rage, disgust, and desire sweeping through me, trying to control the twin urges of finding someone to beat senseless and finding a man to fuck the hell out of.
Right now, neither were exactly practical.
I blew out a breath then stood, knowing I had get back to the spa before someone came looking for me. I padded across the room and carefully opened the door. The corridor still lay in shadowed darkness, but it was far from silent. Screams and grunts were now coming from the room that held the odd scent - which was room two, I noted, suddenly seeing the small number on the door.
Who was the man referred to as death in that room? Was it Gautier, or someone else? It didn't smell like Gautier - not exactly - and besides, Gautier didn't do sex. And whatever else was happening in that room, sex was definitely involved.
I shuddered and got the hell out of there.
As I opened the door at the end of the corridor, a door down near the torture rooms opened. I scooted out the door as fast as I could, but not fast enough.
"Hey - "
I didn't hang around to hear what else was shouted, just ran. I hit the buzzer to open the glass doors, waited impatiently for them to open, then pushed through and ran for the spa.
Once there, I stripped off, slid the pass out of sight behind the stool, then dove into the spa. As the warm water began to take the chill from my skin, I ducked under the bubbles, wetting my hair and feeling the heat caress my face.
In the hall outside, doors opened and closed.
Someone was checking who was and wasn't around.
I leaned back and closed my eyes. A few minutes later, my door opened and Jin's thick scent filled the room. I opened one eye and looked up at him. "Twenty minutes isn't up yet, is it?" I groped for my watch, which had slid toward the little stool. It was then I noticed a little bit of the pass-card's lanyard sticking out from behind one of the stool legs.
Shit. If he took one more step, he'd be able to see it.
I grabbed my watch, then rose. I didn't step from the spa, though, just let the droplets stream down my water-warmed body. His gaze followed them, as I thought it would. Whatever else he was, he still wore the shape of a man, and all men looked when presented with nakedness. But I pressed a wet hand against his chest, just to ensure he didn't move.
"According to my watch, I still have eleven minutes left." Which was a huge shock. I mean, with all that I'd seen and done, I would have sworn at least twenty minutes had slipped by. "Are you trying to cheat me?"
He grabbed my hand, squeezing it harder than necessary. I winced. He smiled. "It can hardly be cheating when you're getting it for free."
I arched an eyebrow, and kept my voice low. Sultry. "And here I was thinking I was going to be paying for it all later."
He chuckled, then pulled me forward, the unexpected force of it making me slip. He caught me, his arms sliding around my body, the strength of his grip brutal.
"What games do you play, little one?" He dragged me up, out of the water, his voice was a dark whisper against my ear.
"No games." My breath little more than a pant of air, but the cause wasn't excitement. He was holding me so damn tight it was a struggle to breathe.
"You had better not be. I do not like being made a fool of."
"I'm not trying - "
"Then why were you in a restricted area?"
Shit, shit, shit. I raised my gaze to his, saw nothing but coldness in those alien depths. Whether he'd truly seen me, or merely fished, I couldn't honestly say. I'd been moving with vampire speed - most people wouldn't have seen more than a white blur.
But Jin wasn't most people.
I tossed a mental coin to decide between a lie and the truth, then said, "I went to the toilet. I didn't know it was restrict - "
He swung me around and flung me back against the wall. Hard. Pain flared briefly, reverberating through my body, and I had to resist the fierce desire to knock him back onto his ass.
"Hey, I don't mind rough sex, but that's enough of tha - "
"Or what?" he cut in. He wrapped a hand around my neck and pressed against my carotid artery lightly. Fear swirled through me. I saw him taste it. Saw his eyes gleam in sudden pleasure. "You'll leave?" He barked a laugh. "You need what I offer, little one."
"No - "
He shook me, making my teeth rattle and cut off the words. "Yes. Shall I prove it?"
Before I could say anything, his mouth swooped to mine. It was a harsh and unrelenting kiss, a demand that briefly walked the edge of violence, then well and truly dipped over when his teeth caught my lip and bit down hard.
It hurt badly, but desire flared all the same. I couldn't help what I was, couldn't help that danger drew me like a moth to flame, and perhaps that was just as well. Because Jin was taking the lust for danger for the lust for pain, and in this situation, that was a good mistake. One that might just keep me alive.
He chuckled softly, and stepped away. I tried to ignore the throbbing ache in my lip, as well as the one lower down, and said, "You take me for granted."
"Because you want it. Because you get off on it." He flicked a puckered nipple casually. "You will wait, for as long as I want you to wait, simply because you hunger for what only I can give."
Arrogant bastard. But I kept the thought inside and simply looked at him as he continued, "But unfortunately, I have other duties to tend to before I get to satisfying your desires."
He turned and walked out. I listened to his footsteps, the sound of doors opening and closing, the soft questions and answers.
He wasn't so sure it was me after all.
Thank God.
And his actions here just now had given me the perfect excuse to run. I'd already accused him of taking me for granted. Given his arrogance, it would be perfectly logical for me to now walk out.
Which was more than worth the price of a bitten lip.
I had a shower to wash the scent of chlorine and Jin off me, then toweled myself dry and put the robe back on. After peering out the door and testing the air to ensure Jin's scent had well and truly faded, I headed back up the stairs to the changing room.
Once dressed, I walked around to the reception area.
"All finished?" the blonde said brightly, as I handed back the locker key.
"Yes. And when Jin comes looking for me, please tell him I do not appreciate being taken for granted." I slipped into her mind as I said it, handing in the stolen keycard and making her believe a guest had found it near the stairs.
"Of course," she said, without skipping a beat. And if the amusement in her eyes was anything to go by, she'd absolutely delight in making such comments to Jin.
I nodded my thanks, but on turning away, caught sight of her computer. Would a receptionist have membership lists on her computer? She'd have to, wouldn't she?
I slipped into her mind again, making her do a search through the database. And discovered that Jan Tait wasn't the only woman who had signed up for a gold pass.
Karen Herbert, the latest victim of the serial killer, had too.
And so had every other victim.