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"That's impossible." I stepped closer and waved a hand through the space of the passenger seat. It met with no resistance. No invisible beings sitting there, then.
"Apparently not, because the car is empty." He opened the back door and felt inside. His hand, like mine, found no resistance.
He slammed the door shut and the sound echoed across the windswept night. He didn't say anything, just stood there, his hands on his hips as he studied the nearby buildings and shadows. After a moment, he walked over to the limo.
While he talked to the driver, I grabbed my vid-phone and dialed the Directorate. Jack would undoubtedly still be at the warehouse, but Salliane, the vamp who'd taken my place as a guardian liaison and Jack's main assistant, was on duty.
"Sal, it's Riley Jenson," I said, when her dusky features came online. "I need you to do me a favor."
"That depends." Her husky voice was reserved, as it usually was whenever she was talking to me. "On whether you can be bothered using my real name or not."
I rolled my eyes. Vampires - even the ones that washed - could be fucking annoying at times. But as far as battles of wills went, this was one I was willing to cede. Though what her damn problem with me was I had no idea. And Jack was no help - he kept insisting I was imagining things.
Which was just more evidence to support my theory that he was in lust with his caramel-haired liaison.
"Salliane, I need you to do me a favor."
The glint in her brown eyes was evident, even down the phone line. She liked the fact I'd backed away. Enjoy the moment, cow, because it sure as hell won't be happening again.
"I need a plate traced." I gave her the details.
"This guardian business?"
"I'll check with Jack."
Not just a cow, but a bitch as well. "Fine. Just trace the plate."
I did, my gaze moving to Quinn, watching as he turned to study a small alley to the right of the limo.
Sal came back online. "It's registered to a Karen Herbert."
"You want to do a background check on her for me?"
"You sure this is Directorate business?"
"Yes," I said, even as I was thinking, Just do it, bitch. But I wisely held my tongue.
"I'll see what I can find and give you a call back."
I hung up and called Jack immediately, but got switched to voice mail. Maybe the cow had him on speed dial. I left a message telling him why I'd asked for the trace and the background check, then hung up and walked across to Quinn. "The car belongs to a Karen Herbert. She's not a disgruntled ex-girlfriend, is she?"
"Never heard of her."
Didn't think the answer was going to be that easy. I glanced at the alley he was continuing to study. Something scratched at my senses - a presence that was there, and yet not. Which didn't exactly make sense. I frowned and looked at Quinn again. "So who wants to kill you now?"
He smiled at that. "I'm a very successful, often ruthless businessman, and a vampire besides. Those two alone give me more enemies than most."
"It would be helpful if you could narrow the field a little."
He glanced at me, eyes again obsidian stone, in which there was no life, no warmth. He suspected someone, that much was obvious. But he wasn't about to tell me, and I had to wonder why. He might have a trunk-load of secrets that he chose to keep, but this shouldn't have been one of them. I had the right to know, simply because I was now involved.
But all he said was, "Something hides in that alley."
It drew my attention away from him again, as he'd undoubtedly intended. My senses crawled outward, and the sensation of being watched by something indefinable increased, until my stomach flip-flopped in reaction. "What is it?"
My voice was a whisper, and he answered in kind. "A presence I haven't felt in centuries."
I raised an eyebrow. "What sort of presence?"
He shook his head. "Wait here."
I caught his arm, halting him as he stepped away. "You can't go in there alone."
"I must. He will not speak if you are with me."
He touched my face briefly, his fingers so warm against my suddenly chilled skin. "Just trust me, and stay here."
I did trust him. I was just afraid for him, and besides, two was always better than one when in a fight - a fact I knew too well after a childhood of misadventures.
I crossed my arms and watched as he walked into the alleyway. The shadows wrapped around him as gently as a lover, whisking him from sight. He wasn't even visible through infrared. And it took every ounce of will I had to remain near the car, to wait as he'd asked. To trust that he knew what he was doing.
Which he did, of course. You didn't get to be over twelve hundred years old without gaining more than a little common sense. Not to mention some usable fighting skills.
After a while, the wind died down again and the night grew colder. Within minutes of that, it began to rain - not as hard as before, but rain was rain.
I shivered and rubbed my arms, torn between the need to charge into the alley and see what was taking so long and the desire to get into the limo and out of the weather. I'd just about decided on the former when Quinn walked out of the alley.
He was whole and unhurt, and relief swept through me But it only lasted a second, because his anger hit me, the force of it a tidal wave that crashed over my defenses and left me struggling for air.
"Quinn," I somehow managed to gasp.
The wave of emotion stopped immediately. "Sorry."
I took a deep breath, blew it out slowly. My limbs were shaking and weak, as if I'd been winded by several hard blows In many respects, that's exactly what had happened - only the blows were empathic rather than physical.
Odd that it only ever seemed to happen with this vampire.
His voice was distant, his gaze, though it was on me, vacant - as if he wasn't actually seeing me or our surroundings, but something else altogether. Something internal.
"What do you mean, nothing much? Who was in the alley? What did he want?"
"Nothing that concerns you."
I crossed my arms and glared at him "So we're back to that old bullshit, are we?"
He blinked at that, and life came back into his dark gaze. "This is a different type of bullshit, believe me."
"I'd love to Quinn, but it seems that any time I ask a hard question - like, where were you born or what the hell was in that alley - you revert to the same old song. Well, it's not good enough. Not if you want to be something more than just another fuck."
His gaze hardened. "There are some things I cannot explain. And there are promises made long again that bind me - much as I might not want them to."
"I am forbidden to speak to you about who was in that alley, and what I now must do."
"Why? I thought the only people who could order you to do anything were vamps older than you. And whatever it was in that alley, it wasn't a vampire." Or anything else that I recognized.
"No." He hesitated, stepping forward and reaching for me with one hand.
I jerked away from his touch and stepped back. "I've only ever asked one thing of you - the truth. And it seems to me you are as unwilling as ever to give me that."
"This is not my story to tell." His soft voice was as angry as I'd ever heard it. "Nor have I the time to stand here and argue. I must go."
"Then let's go."
"Not you. Me. You can take the other car - "
"Like hell I will!"
He sighed. "Riley, please. I don't want to force you to do what is sensible."
"What is sensible is for you to explain what the hell is going on!"
He hesitated, then said, "Those things in the car were not human."
"Well, I gathered that. Humans don't up and disappear into thin air."
"They weren't nonhuman, either."
"Then what the hell were they?" I mean, what else was there when it came to humanoid entities?
I blinked, not sure I heard him right. "What?"
"Demons. Creatures from the vaults of hell itself." He paused. "These particular demons were low-class demons - good for following and harassing, but not much good for killing anything more than humans. I'm actually surprised they were sent after me at all."
I stared at him, wondering if whoever it was in the alley had hit him over the head and loosened a brain cell or two. "Demons don't exist."
"As angels don't exist?" He snorted softly. "You have lived a sheltered life, indeed."
I stepped forward and touched his arm. "I think you'd better sit - "
He shook my touch off irritably. "I'm not crazy. Demons are creatures of mist and malevolence, and if two are lose in this city, we need to know who summoned them, and why."
"So let's get our asses into the car and start investigating."
"I will. You will be going home."
"I believe we have been through this already. The answer is still no."
He stared at me for several seconds, and a chill ran over my skin. There was suddenly something very old, very deadly, and decidedly unhuman - in a way that went far beyond being a vampire - in his eyes. Something I'd never seen before.
"Don't make me force you, Riley."
I opened my mouth to refute the statement then closed it again. What was the use of saying no way, when it was more than probable he could force me? We'd shared blood once, and if there was one thing I was certain about, it was the fact that it would have had more consequences than he'd actually mentioned. And I really didn't want to know if it was possible for him to make me obey him completely or not.
Because once I knew for sure, that would be the end of us. I couldn't be with a man who could - would - use psychic force against me in a relationship.
"Fine." I waved a hand irritably at the car. "Piss off and don't bother coming back for a while."
"Riley, please, just trust me that I have no choice in this." He reached for me again, and again I stepped away.
"Don't," I said. "Because right now, I'm angry with you and I may say something we both regret. Just go."
Without a backward glance.
I, however, swore like an old sea dog as I watched the limousine's taillights disappear into the night. Part of me hadn't actually believed he'd go.
One of these days, that stupid, romantic part of me was going to learn not to get her hopes up. Either that, or I was going to have to stop saying things if I didn't actually mean them.
I stomped a foot, then spun around and glared at the alley. I still couldn't see or feel anything in that shadowed, misty darkness - and yet, something was there. Something that teased the outer reaches of my senses, like an itch I couldn't quite scratch. I needed to investigate. Whatever it was Quinn had seen and spoken to was still in there. And while he might have believed whatever it was wouldn't speak to me, could I actually trust he'd been truthful in that?
What if it was just another ploy to keep me in the dark?
What if it was a ploy to keep me safe?
I shivered and rubbed my arms again I was getting soaked by the softly falling rain, but at least my sweater was wool The majority of me was warm, even if wet.
But it wasn't the rain or the wetness that caused the shiver. It was the thought of facing whatever was in that alley.
Because it was definitely waiting for something or someone.
And considering I was the only something or someone in the near vicinity, that meant, by default, it was probably waiting for me.
I lightly chewed on my bottom lip, contemplating my options, then forced my feet forward Fortune favored the brave - and the very foolish The latter classification had fit me often enough in the past and probably would here, as well. But it didn't matter, because I just had to find out what - or who - Quinn had been talking to.
The closer I got to that alley, the colder I became. It wasn't the night, nor was it the fact that I was soaked. This particular coldness came from deep inside, from the place where the very essence of my wolf soul rested, and it flooded outward, making my steps more and more reluctant.
Whatever hid in the darkness, the wolf feared it. And if that instinctive part of me did, then I certainly should.
As I neared the alley's entrance, mist began to gather in the darkness, stretching ethereal fingers in my direction. Without thought, I stepped back. Quickly, and in fear - though of what, I have no idea.
The mist hesitated, then began to recoil.
I drew in a deep breath and blew it out slowly. This was no way to get answers. I had to meet the mist, had to go on.
I licked my lips, wondering why the hell I was so afraid of something as harmless as mist, and stepped forward. Again the ethereal fingers formed and reached for me. This time, I ignored them and kept on moving. Their touch was almost exploratory and yet, at the same time, pressing, as if they intended to halt me gently. I'd expected the mist to be cold and clammy and, in some ways, it was. And yet it burned against my skin, like the sting of lemon juice against a cut. And the farther I tried to go into the alley, the fiercer that sting got.
It was that, more than fear, that stopped me.
And still my senses could feel nothing, see nothing. There was just that itch, telling me it was there, that it was watching.
"What are you?"
My voice came out croaky, and the mist in front of me stirred gently.
No answer came from the darkness of the alleyway beyond the mist. I tried again. "I know you're there. I can feel your presence."
The little wolf has courage.
The voice was male, and came from everywhere and yet nowhere. It hung on the misty air and yet reverberated through my mind. Was gentle, and yet, at the same time, harsh.
Weird, to say the least.
"The little wolf is scared shitless, but she also wants answers." I could see no harm in admitting the truth in this instance. Besides, something told me anything else could be dangerous.
Amusement rolled across the night, in much the same manner as the words had.
I can see why he likes you.
"Quinn? Oh yeah, he just loves ordering me around, and trying to make me do things I don't want to do."
We were protectors born, little wolf, and that instinct is hard to shake.
I raised an eyebrow. "Meaning Quinn is somehow connected to you? In more than an employer-employee mode, that is?"
That is a question I am not free to answer.
Because you do not ask the right person.
"Well, it's next to useless to ask Quinn. He never tells me anything."
Vampires live a long time, and there is fun to be had in taking time to unravel the mystery.
"Sorry, but patience has never been a virtue of mine."
Again the amusement swam around me, but this time it was accompanied by an odd sense of approval. Why was anyone's guess.
"Okay, so if my first question was the wrong one, will you then tell me who you are?" What, who, where - the basic questions of interrogation, as defined by the Directorate. Of course, they rarely asked so politely.
The presence seemed to consider my question for an extremely long time. Or maybe wariness and fear just made it seem that way.
I am a high priest of the Aedh.
"I've never heard of them."
I am not surprised. Few of this time would know us.
This time? As in, this century? Or longer? Something in the way he said it suggested the latter rather than the former. "And you came here to talk to Quinn?"
That is for him to explain if he wishes.
"He says he was ordered not to explain."
Given the Aedh died long ago, that rule no longer binds. Unless he wishes it.
Why I was surprised by that I had no idea. After all, Quinn had a long habit of keeping his secrets - and using fair means or foul to avoid answering questions about his past. "How could this Aedh of yours have died out if you're a high priest of it?"
Again the amusement swirled, this time tinged with sadness. I am all that is left.
"Then what is Quinn's connection to you and the Aedh?"
He once trained to be one of us.
Quinn had once trained to be a priest? The mere thought made me smile - and yet, it certainly explained his somewhat old-fashioned views when it came to sex. "And you were his priest teacher?"
No, I was not.
"Then what's your connection to him?"
Once again, that is for him to explain. The presence paused. Do not get too curious in this matter, little wolf. You may find you do not like the answers.
Not liking answers hadn't ever stopped me from asking the questions. And I had an odd feeling that he knew that - and that he was deliberately trying to provoke me into action I might later regret. "Did you tell him about the things in the car? Order him to hunt down the person who summoned them?"
I inform. I can no longer order.
So why was Quinn so angry? Why did he seem to think he'd been ordered? "And were the things in the car really demons, as he said?"
I take it from your tone you do not believe in demons?
He laughed, and it was suddenly such a creepy sound I backed up a step before I realized what I was doing and stopped. Up until that moment, I'd felt no real malevolence from whatever it was hiding in the mist, but right then it seemed like I was teetering on the precipice of an endless pit. And that he was behind me, ready to push.
You will believe in demons by the end of all this, little wolf And you will learn that not all demons are creatures of myth or magic, but rather of flesh and blood.
And with that, he and the mist were gone.
As quickly and as suddenly as the things in the car.
With the mist and the presence gone, awareness of the night and the weather returned full force. The rain was falling harder, meaning I was soaked to the skin and shivering like a newborn pup. Though I wasn't entirely sure the shivering was a result of the cold.
I scrubbed a hand across my face to wipe the rain away - uselessly, as it turned out - then turned around and splashed my way back to Karen Herbert's car.
Thankfully, the keys were still in it. Maybe demons couldn't carry them in wraith form - who knew? Certainly not me. Hell, I still wasn't sure what to think when it came to that revelation.
I climbed in, started the car up, and turned the heater on full blast. But I didn't go anywhere because I wasn't entirely sure where to go. Part of me wanted to go home, get warm, and consume the coffee and chocolate I'd been anticipating earlier.
But the other half of my soul hungered for pleasures far more carnal. The full moon was near and the moon heat was rising. Quinn might be happy playing his games, but I wasn't about to sit around waiting to discover the point of it all. I had base needs, just like he did.
So why I was not roaring off to one of the werewolf clubs right now?
Damned if I knew - except for the fact that I wanted him tonight, not some random encounter with a stranger.
Which was probably the whole point of his "let's frustrate Riley" mode of operation. He wanted me to want him, and only him.
Which meant he was aiming for exclusive, even though he knew well enough that exclusive wasn't something I wanted with a vampire. Particularly seeing he could never fulfill the one desire that had been mine for as long as I could remember.
Kids. A family of my own.
I thumped the wheel in frustration, torn between wanting him and not wanting to want him. Between needing to ease the ache and wanting to undertake the journey with him even if the destination wasn't where I wanted to go.
In the end, the ornery part of me won out. Whatever I might or might not desire, there was one thing I could never change. I was a werewolf and sex was part of our nature, part of my soul. Whatever else happened in my life, that was the one thing I could never change.
The one thing I didn't want to change.
But even so, I didn't immediately head to the clubs. Quinn might be the one I wanted right now, but he wasn't the only man in my life. And if I didn't want to play with strangers - which I didn't - then I had only one other option.
So I picked up the phone and rang Kellen.
"Sinclair speaking." His voice was gruff, and edged with a tiredness that had my eyebrows raising. I knew he'd been working hard of late, trying to get his freight business fully moved down to Melbourne so he and I could spend more time together, but right now, he sounded like he hadn't slept in days.
"Kellen? It's me."
"Riley?" he said, and the tiredness in his voice was suddenly overrun by a warmth that had my heart doing odd little flip-flops. I might want Quinn more than could ever be good for me, but there was no denying my growing connection with this wolf. It might not have the same strength as the connection that Quinn and I shared, but we'd also had a whole lot less time together.
Something, I thought in sudden annoyance, Quinn had been doing his best to ensure. Something I done very little to fight, despite earlier intentions to see them both equally.
Which was odd, really.
"I didn't expect to hear from you for a few more days," he continued softly. "Thought you'd be out with O'Conor."
The way he said Quinn's name spoke volumes, but then, they'd been less than chummy long before I'd come on the scene.
"He's got business to attend to. I thought I'd give you a call instead." Which sounded like he was second choice, and I guess in some ways, that was nothing but the truth. Even if Kellen was more of a possibility when it came to fulfilling my dreams than Quinn could ever be.
He didn't say anything for a moment, but I could almost taste the annoyance he was undoubtedly trying to control. Kellen liked being second about as much as Quinn did.
"I'm not up to going to the clubs tonight," he said. "I've been working for the last forty-eight hours, and the movers have only just left. The place is a mess and I need to get my office in working order for tomorrow."
He'd bought an old five story hotel in Spencer Street - just several doors down from the Southern Cross railway station - a few months ago, and had been busy renovating ever since. The last time I'd been there - which was only two weeks ago - the four office floors had been completed, but the fifth floor living quarters were nothing short of a mess. But if he was finally moving in, then he must have finished them.
"I wasn't suggesting a club. I thought I might buy some wine and pay you a visit."
Again he paused. "Will you stay the night?"
"On whether you intend to worship my body as it deserves to be worshipped."
He laughed, a low throaty sound that had my blood racing. "I did promise that last time, didn't I?"
"Right before you fell to asleep."
"Riley, we had ten hours together."
"And you couldn't manage eleven?" I teased lightly. "Your stamina is sorely lacking, wolf."
"Well, I doubt I could even manage ten hours in my current state, but I do promise suitable body worship and good sex. Will that do?"
"Nicely." I glanced at my watch. "I'll be there in twenty minutes."
I did. I pulled up in front of the grimy bluestone building in precisely seventeen minutes, and stopped my borrowed car right behind his gleaming new Mercedes. It was a four-door rather than a two-door - he apparently preferred the room in the back. It was room we'd put to good use on several mind-blowing occasions.
Anticipation shimmered across my skin as I climbed out of the car, a heat not even the chilly night air could temper. I walked up the steps, pressed the buzzer, then glanced at the security camera.
"Come straight up," he said, as the front door buzzed open.
I walked through and headed for the waiting lift, then went up. When the lift stopped and the doors swished open, I walked across the secure area, but before I could press the buzzer, the metal security door opened and Kellen stood there.
He was a lean and muscular brown wolf, though he was more chocolate in coloring than the muddy tones so often seen in the brown packs. His face was sharpish but handsome, his eyes the most delicious shade of gold-flecked green. Right now, those eyes were filled with a hunger that ripped across my senses and made my blood boil.
I stopped and raised a hand to his whisker-covered face, even though all I wanted to do was inhale the thick spicy scent of him, let it fill my lungs and soul as he wrapped his arms around my body and claimed me thoroughly.
"You look a mess," I said softly.
"That's because I am a mess " He caught my hand and drew it down to his lips, kissing it lightly. "You think you can deal with that?"
"Messy is a very sexy look for you."
"I'm glad you think that," he said, stepping backward and drawing me through the door He slammed it shut, then drew me into his arms. His body was warm and hard against mine, his gaze fierce.
"I have so needed to do this," he added, then his mouth was on mine, plundering, our tongues tangling, tasting, urgent and hungry.
It was a kiss that had my heart racing and body aching. A kiss that made my soul shiver and stir. A kiss that had the urgency rising, until I couldn't think, couldn't breathe. Could only want.
And I did want.
He pushed me backward until I hit the wall, then his hands were on me, his fingers scorching my flesh as he stripped off my clothes. I tore off his shirt, unbuttoned his pants. We touched, caressed, and teased each other, until the already raging desire reached boiling point. And then he was lifting me, filling me, liquefying me, and his thick groan of pleasure was a sound I echoed. He began to move, and there was nothing gentle about it. His body plundered as his lips had plundered, and the rich ache grew, becoming a kaleidoscope of sensations that washed through every corner of my mind. Then the shuddering took hold and I gasped, grabbing his shoulders, wrapping my legs around his waist and pushing him deeper still. Pleasure grew again as he thrust and thrust and thrust, until a rapturous, mind-blowing orgasm hit us both and sent us sliding into blissful satisfaction.
When the tremors finally eased, he laughed softly and rested his forehead against mine. "So much for taking time to worship your body and seduce you senseless."
I laughed, resettled myself on the ground, then ran a hand down his hot, scratchy cheek. "We have the rest of the night - are you trying to tell me you can't manage a bit of worship and senseless seduction in all that time?"
His grin was all cheeky, dangerous charm. The sort of charm that could melt a girl's heart and have her panties off in a second. Not that I had panties to worry about right now.
"It's a tough task," he said softly. "But I think I'm up for it."
I skimmed my gaze down his body then gave him a saucy smile. "I do believe you are."
"Then let's not waste a moment." He grabbed my hand and tugged me across the box-filled living room and toward his bedroom.
He certainly didn't waste another moment.
And boy, did he worship.
A shrill ringing dragged me from the depths of sleep. I Hopped an arm out from under the covers and groped blindly for my cell phone. I found it on the fifth attempt and dragged it back under the covers. Kellen slid his arm around my waist, pulling me closer to the warmth of his body.
I snuggled back against him, flicked the receive on the cell, and said, "Uh?"
"Gee, I absolutely love the level of conversation I get from you when you've just woken."
And I absolutely hated the fact Rhoan could be so damn cheerful when he'd just woken. It wasn't decent - not before several cups of coffee, anyway.
"If you rang me to say that, I'm going to tell Liander what you did last night then step back and watch the fireworks. "
"You are such a bitch."
"I'm a wolf and I'm female. Being a bitch comes with the territory. What's your excuse?"
"Living with a bitch."
I snorted softly. "What do you want, wiseass?"
"What time are you supposed to report to work?"
"Oh, crap." I was obviously late, otherwise Rhoan wouldn't be asking the question. I flicked the covers off my head and cast a bleary eye the clock's way. Nine-fourteen.
Yep, I was late.
"Jack wants to know how soon we can expect your presence."
"I'm at Kellen's." Which wasn't that far away from the Directorate, so at least I didn't have to battle too much traffic. "But I have to shower and dress, so give me half an hour."
"Don't be any later. He's in a mood."
Oh great. That meant something hadn't gone well and it didn't matter if that something was in his private life - though I actually wasn't sure if he had a private life - or his work life. We'd be made to pay. "I'll be there."
I hung up.
"Work?" Kellen asked.
"Yeah. They want me in ASAP."
"You want the usual coffee before you go?"
I twisted around and kissed him. "That would be fantastic."
His green eyes sparkled in the early morning light, doing all sorts of things to my hormones.
"Fantastic would be you staying in bed with me," he said.
"I know." He slapped my rear lightly. "Go have your shower. I'll handle breakfast."
I went. After showering and dressing in record time - which made twice in twenty-four hours I'd achieved this miracle - I had a quick cup of coffee and some toast, shared a more leisurely kiss good-bye with Kellen, then headed down to my borrowed car.
I got there only a few minutes over my half-hour deadline. But by the time I parked, went through all the scans and security checks and then headed down to sub-level three and the old conference room that had become the daytime division's temporary headquarters, another ten minutes had slipped by. Jack swung around as I entered, green eyes as stormy as I'd ever seen them. Yep, the shit had hit the fan somewhere along the line last night. Hell, being late was pretty much a common occurrence where I was concerned. It had never bothered him before and I doubt it was the cause of his anger now.
Even so, I opened my mouth to apologize, but didn't even get a chance to say the words before he was in my face and roaring.
"What the hell were you doing last night?"
"Having some of the best sex of my life." I paused a beat, then added dryly, "You obviously weren't."
I here was a muffled snort from behind us. Rhoan. I didn't react, just met Jack's bloodshot, green-eyed stare with a calm I certainly wasn't feeling. I hadn't seen him in full rant mode often, but I had seen him. And if there was one thing I'd learned after nearly eight years of being a liaison and his personal assistant, it was that it was better to use humor to diffuse the situation than to fire back. Which is what my instincts were clamoring to do.
"No, I wasn't," he said. "I was being harassed by my PA because someone was using Directorate resources without permission."
Ah, so I'd been right. The caramel cow had been in his ear. "Boss, if you'd just fuck the woman and get it over with, I'm sure all our lives would be a whole lot easier."
He blinked, and as quickly as that, the anger rolled away. He laughed, a short, sharp sound that only hinted at the tension I could still feel in him. "You might be right there."
"When it comes to sex advice, always listen to a werewolf. We don't have many hang-ups to cloud our judgment."
He studied me a moment longer, then stepped away. I beat a hasty retreat across the almost empty room. Rhoan and I were still the only official members of the daytime guardian squad. Kade was supposed to have been transferred from the military by now, but the endless rounds of paperwork were currently holding things up. Iktar, the featureless spirit lizard who'd played a part in bringing down Davern's cloning and crossbreeding empire, was currently undergoing training and wouldn't officially become a guardian for another ten months. Berna had refused Jack's "offer" and gone home. And then there was Dia and Liander, who were on the books as "consultants" rather than guardians.
I perched on the edge of my brother's desk and asked, "How's the little girl?"
"Died last night in intensive. They haven't found her parents, yet, either."
Anger swirled through me, along with a sense of guilt. We'd tried our hardest to save her, but it had all been for naught. And Gautier was still out there, ready and willing to take more innocent lives. I rubbed a hand across gritty-feeling eyes, and asked, "Has the missing person's register been consulted?"
"Yep," Rhoan said. "No dice there."
"The cops are well able to handle that situation," Jack interrupted, voice holding an impatient edge. "What about we concentrate on our own work for a change?"
I looked at him. "So, what were you saying about resources being used without permission?"
Play innocent until all facts were on the table was my motto. Hell, I had no idea what he'd been told. Knowing Sal, it wouldn't have been just the truth, but rather an embellishment that would make her look good and me bad. Why she felt this necessary I have no idea - it wasn't like I was a threat to her ambitions of bedding Jack. I liked him as a person and a boss, but as a sexual partner? Never.
He poured himself a coffee from the dispensing machine and downed it in one gulp. If he'd been doing that for the last few hours, it could go a long way to explain It is wired state.
"Why were you using Directorate sources to trace a car?" he asked.
"Because the car was tailing Quinn and myself. It's downstairs, in the parking lot, by the way. And I did leave a message about it on your phone."
"Ah," Rhoan said, "so that explains the satisfied smile on your face as you waltzed in a minute ago."
I glanced at him. "No, it doesn't."
"Why not, when you were with him?"
"Because I wasn't with him for very long."
"Then who were you with?"
"I told you this morning - Kellen. He decided a good body worshipping was in order last night, and I ended up staying at his place - a fact you would have known if you'd actually been home yourself."
I wasn't entirely sure whether that comment was aimed at my the worshipping comment or the barb, but I decided to go with the former. "Hey, you've got a man more than willing to worship your bod. You're just too chicken to go see him."
"Children, please try and concentrate on the matter at hand rather than your conquests of the night before."
I tried to restrain my grin and look dutifully interested in the topic at hand. Judging by the look Jack threw my way, I wasn't very successful.
"Quinn has more than enough resources of his own to trace cars," Jack continued. "Hell, he could probably get the information quicker than we could. You can't just use the Directorate as your own personal information center."
"Why not? I've been doing it for seven years as your PA." I paused, then added, probably unwisely, "Did Sal do the background check on the owner?"
"Yeah, but there's nothing out of the ordinary."
"Has the owner been contacted about the car? Reported it stolen?"
"No. And she's not answering the phone. We'll follow it up this morning." He ran a hand across his bald head. "So tell me, what the hell were you up to last night?"
"We were being followed, as I said. We arranged a little trap in a side street to smoke them out, but when we got to the car, there was no one inside it."
"So they escaped before you got there?"
"No one escaped from the car. No door was opened. They just vanished."
He frowned. "That's not possible."
"Well, maybe it is for a human or nonhuman, but these things were apparently low-rank demons."
"Demons?" Jack raised his eyebrows. "And just what led you to this conclusion?"
"Quinn told me."
"Quinn told you they were demons?" Rhoan's voice was edged with disbelief. "Why on earth would he do that?"
"Because he believed it to be true." I looked back to Jack. "What do you know of a mob called the Aedh?"
He frowned. "The name rings a bell, but that's about it. Why?"
"Because Quinn met with someone who claimed to be a high priest of Aedh. He sent Quinn off to uncover who was raising the demons."
Jack's frown deepened. "Quinn's not the type to be ordered around."
"Tell me about it." Hell, I'd tried ordering him about numerous times, and the damned man just wouldn't do as asked. Mind you, not doing what I asked had often led to great amounts of pleasure, so I was hardly in a position to bitch. "So, I guess my next question is, are demons really real?"
"And if they are, why are they loose in Melbourne and following Quinn?" Rhoan added.
Jack blew out a breath and began to pace the length of the room. Which wasn't a whole lot of steps, as the room was one of the Directorate's smaller conference rooms and had been designed to hold a maximum of twelve around a table. When Kade and Iktar and their desks were installed, it was going to be cozy. Not that I minded getting cozy with Kade. But Iktar - I repressed a shudder.
"Demons do exist," Jack said, "but it usually takes a mage extremely strong in the art of blood magic to conjure one. I've never heard of any mage being able to conjure two or more."
"Blood magic?" I raised an eyebrow. "You mean it's not something they made up in fiction?"
"No. Blood magic is an extremely old form of magic that uses the blood of the conjurer to boost the power of the spell. But I haven't heard of anyone doing it for years." He swung around, his craggy face deep in thought. "You know, if we do have a mage loose in the city, we need to find out why."
"Particularly with Quinn involved - "
"Quinn is more than able to take care of himself," Jack cut in. "And whether or not there is a mage loose, it is not your problem. You two need to concentrate on catching the person behind the ritual murders."
Being the multitalented person that I was, I pretty much figured I could do both. And I would, if only because I'd be damned if I'd let Quinn escape without explaining why he was obligated to go after the person raising the so-called demons. But I wisely kept quiet about my intentions - having Jack explode again wasn't something I was planning to see anytime soon.
"Why can't the two be connected? I mean, if a mage needs blood to raise these beasties, then wouldn't it make more sense to use sacrifices rather than their own blood?"
"It is more powerful for a mage to use his own blood rather than a sacrifice. It's a matter of risk ratio, from what I understand."
"The more blood used, the greater the risk, and the greater the power gifted," Rhoan commented. "Makes sense."
"It may make sense but that still doesn't mean the people being sliced open aren't some part of the mage's effort to raise demons."
"No, it doesn't, but I doubt it," Jack replied. "I've seen ritual blood magic, and these murders just don't have the same feel."
Meaning we had three kooks running loose in the city? Great. Just what Rhoan and I needed with the moon heat rising. Not that we were the Directorate's only guardians, but we were the only ones currently capable of moving around in daylight.
"Okay, so they're not connected. But are we any closer to the source behind the murders?"
Jack grimaced. "Not really."
I raised my eyebrows and said, teasingly, "So sexual frustration isn't the only reason for the temper overload earlier?"
He had the grace to look uncomfortable. Which was why I liked him - he acted more like regular folk than a vampire. Mostly, anyway. "Well, I'm sure it had a bit to do with it. And being nagged by my PA is never pleasant."
"And now you appreciate my do-the-work-fast-gotta-get-out-of-here attitude, don't you?"
"Yeah. Though I have to say her scenery is better."
I grinned. "She's hot for you, boss. I have no idea why you're holding back if you're so attracted."
"Mixing work with pleasure is never a good idea."
"Then she's going to keep doing what she must to keep her voice and her body in your mind."
"Meaning the tops will get more revealing?" Rhoan piped up. "Cool."
I picked up a pen and flicked it at him. "You bat for the other side, remember?"
"Never stopped me from admiring a well-stacked frame."
I looked back at Jack. "So, besides Sal breaking your balls over me putting in an unapproved search request, what else went wrong?"
"Everything." He blew out a breath and grabbed another coffee from the dispenser. "We've had a report of another body. Rhoan, I want you to check it out."
Jack grabbed two files from the top of the coffee dispenser and tossed one of them to Rhoan. "This one has been found up near the Ford factory in Campbellfield."
Rhoan frowned. "Near? The rest of the bodies have been found in abandoned factories, not near fully functioning ones."
"I know, but we have to check it out."
"What about sending cops in?"
"If this is one of ours, I don't want them fouling the area. Peri Knowles will be waiting upstairs and will accompany you. Because this death is apparently very fresh, she might be able to sense some residual magic and give us more a clue as to the people behind these murders."
Peri? I glanced at my brother and he shrugged. Obviously, it was a new name to him, too. Rhoan slapped the folder against his thigh as he rose. "I'll report in as soon as I get there."
He walked out. Jack handed me the second file.
"I want you to go chat with this man."
The man's name was Bob Dunleavy, and a quick flick through the file's paperwork and photos revealed a petty criminal who'd scored numerous jail terms that had never curbed his thieving ways. "He doesn't seem the sharpest knife in the drawer," I commented. "So why am I going to talk to him?"
"Because Dunleavy has, over the years, provided some good information in exchange for lighter sentences. He rang yesterday evening to say he desperately needed some help and that he'd trade some information he'd picked up from his girlfriend. Information about our current case."
"So if he called yesterday, why are you only acting on it now?"
"Because I didn't have any free staff until now. And if that free staff doesn't get her butt off the desk and get it moving, I'll give it a good kick-start."
"You're such a charmer when you're sexually frustrated," I said dryly, then waved the folder in the air. "To go chat to Dunleavy, I need a car."
"You dented the last one."
"Not my fault."
"The owner of the other car is disagreeing with that assessment."
Well, he would. The idiot didn't have insurance, so he'd have to pay for the mess his car was in himself if he couldn't shift the blame to me. "It'll take me at least an hour on public transport to get to Springvale."
"I know, which is why I've asked Salliane to allocate you another car. Just try not to dent it. Or write it off."
I refrained from pointing out that I didn't actually write off the last one, and jumped off the desk. "I'll report back in once I talk to Dunleavy."
"Do that. Alex is working on the young vamp, so we might yet find out what Gautier is really up to."
I frowned. "The baby vamp is dead. How the hell can she work on someone who is dead?"
"He's a vampire. Unless you fry us with sunlight, basic brain functions - including the ability to regenerate - can survive for many hours. Some of the older, stronger ones can even survive having their neck broken. Which means there may be enough consciousness left to read."
A thought that was entirely too creepy. But I didn't exactly break the young vamp's neck, I severed it. I would have thought that to be an entirely different prospect. "I thought breaking a vamp's neck was the second surest way to kill them?"
"It is, except for the very old. If the old ones are in a safe enough position, they will eventually regenerate. The young and very young simply take longer to truly die."
"So someone as old as Quinn could regenerate?"
"No. Director Hunter could. Quinn would probably be on the cusp of the required age, so surviving would be a fifty-fifty proposition."
The longer I worked with vampires, the more I learned about them. And the more secretive the bastards seemed. "So what other juicy little tidbits are you vamps hiding from the rest of us?"
"Not a whole lot, I assure you."
"Yeah, believing the sincerity behind that statement."
Jack glanced at his watch rather than replying. I took the hint and quickly headed out to collect the car keys from the caramel cow.
Bob Dunleavy lived in a small house - or town house, as the estate agents liked to call them - a couple of house blocks down from the Springvale police station. Maybe the boys in blue wanted to keep an eye on him. Or maybe Dunleavy figured that he'd fly under their radar by living so close. Though if his record was anything to go by, it hadn't worked so far.
Smiling slightly, I rested my arms on the steering wheel and studied the town houses opposite, not only checking tor indications that Dunleavy was home but also looking for hints about the man himself.
If his house was anything to go by, Dunleavy was a slob. Which pretty much explained his lengthy record - a neat thief was often harder to catch than a messy one.
This section of Springvale was an old, established area and the house blocks around here were large enough to have three smaller houses built on them. Most of the old houses in this street had already been torn down to make way for their smaller cousins, and the "for sale" signs dominating the front yards of the remaining two suggested it wouldn't be long before the whole street was shared residential.
Dunleavy's town house was the rear one - the one closest to the back fence and the railway lines behind it. It was clearly visible from the road thanks to the fact it sat front-on to the driveway rather than side-on, like the other two. Dunleavy's neighbors had to hate that fact. While their little places were neat and tidy, his was anything but. Talk about bringing the tone of the neighborhood down.
Two of his front windows had been smashed, the holes covered by soggy-looking cardboard that was held in place by long strips of black tape. Scraggy-looking curtains hung sadly from either side of these windows, and were yellowed with age and slashed in places. The other windows were covered by taped-up newspaper. The front door was a mess of peeling paintwork and holes, and even the brickwork looked worse for wear - almost as if it had the dust of eons coating its surface.
I couldn't see anyone moving around inside, even though there'd been bursts of movement evident in the other two town houses. But that didn't mean anything. Dunleavy did most of his work at night, so he was probably asleep right now.
I grabbed my coat and climbed out of the car. The wind hit, pulling at my hair and slapping my skin with its iciness. I shivered my way into the coat and heartily cursed the winter weather. Though at least it wasn't raining yet.
After locking the car, I shoved my hands into my pockets and made my way across the road. A curtain covering a window in the first town house moved, and a face briefly peered through the glass. An older woman, her features pinched and harsh looking. I gave her a smile of acknowledgment and she quickly dropped the curtain back in place.
Maybe the reason Dunleavy had been caught so often wasn't so much a product of his carelessness, but rather his nosy neighbor.
I continued on past the second town house. The eleven o'clock news was blasting out from either a radio or TV inside, and the smell or burnt toast hit the air. I drew it in, savoring the sharp aroma even as my stomach rumbled a reminder it had only had toast for breakfast, and made a mental note to grab a burger on my way back to the Directorate.
There was a small van parked out the front of Dunleavy's garage. A quick look through the windows revealed piles of newspapers, discarded take-out containers and, stacked neatly in a plastic box attached to the van's side, several duffle bags. Dunleavy's tools of trade, no doubt. I climbed the crumbling concrete steps and raised a hand to knock on the door. Only to freeze as a familiar smell spun around me.
Blood. Thick, ripe, and very, very fresh.
And with it came the scent of death and excrement - smells I knew entirely too well.
Dunleavy - or someone else - was dead inside the house.
And Gautier had been here.