Deadly Desire
Page 13

 Keri Arthur

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I avoided another blow, then drew back my fist and hit her hard. Not enough to truly hurt her, but enough to knock her out.
When her body went limp, I blew out a breath and studied the shadows out of which she'd come. A small trapdoor led down into deeper darkness-and it was here that the aroma of decay was coming from.
Just to make sure she couldn't get up to any more mischief while I was investigating, I grabbed a shirt from the nearby washing basket and tore it into thick strips-lots and lots of strips that would be hard to tear as a whole-using those to tie both her hands and feet. Then I stepped over her trussed body and ducked through the trapdoor, walking cautiously down the short flight of stairs.
It was a small cellar area. Shelving lined one wall, stacked with dusty wine bottles, many of which looked older than me. In the middle of the room sat a small table and several chairs, and on this, wineglasses and a tub of old corks. In the far corner was a bed, and on this lay the zombie.
I walked across. He was dressed, his clothes freshly ironed and smelling a whole lot cleaner than he did. His skin had a waxy, marblelike appearance, and his veins were so close to the surface I could trace them with my fingertips. Not that I actually wanted to.
I stepped closer and studied his hands. There were more obvious signs of his death here. His fingertips were black, and the rot was spreading down his remaining fingers, threads of darkness that suggested to anyone paying attention that things were not what they seemed when it came to this wolf.
That and his eyes. There was no life in the filmy blue of his eyes. No understanding, no intelligence. Just a blank emptiness as he stared up at the ceiling.
I hesitated, then carefully reached out telepathically. Nothing but emptiness and the shadows of death.
I shuddered and dug my phone out of my pocket to call the Directorate. "Sal?" I said when her face came online. "I found our zombie. You want to get some of the magi out here? They might be able to trace back the magic used to raise him or something." And give him a proper ending, rather than the beheading I'd have to do if I took care of him. And I didn't think his parents would appreciate that. "Roughly how long will it be before someone gets here?"
"Give us half an hour."
"Thanks, Sal."
She hung up. I shoved my phone away and looked around as noise vibrated above me.
"Fucking hell," Habbsheen shouted. "What have you done to my wife?"
"Nothing, Mr. Habbsheen," I said, not bothering to raise my voice. He'd hear me no matter where he was in the house. "She's merely knocked out. Although technically, I should arrest her ass for trying to kill a guardian."
And if I wanted to get really technical, I could have just killed her. She was interfering in Directorate business-had actually tried to bash me over the head with an axe-and given she wasn't human, the law didn't give her the same sort of protection and rights that humans got. Sad, but true. But Jack preferred an arrest over a kill in these sorts of situations, and I sure as hell wasn't about to argue.
Although there were some in the Directorate who did.
Habbsheen's face appeared in the hatchway, and a second later he was hustled down the stairs by Kye. Who, although a bit rumpled, looked more like a man who'd gone for a quiet stroll rather than having gone several rounds with a wolf determined to protect his own at whatever cost.
"So you found him," Kye said, voice flat and showing no sign of the effort it must have been taking to keep Habbsheen under control. His gaze went from me to the zombie and back again, and something deep inside trembled at the intensity so obvious in those amber depths. "You can't get anything from him?"
"He has no brain, Kye. No thoughts or memories or impulses that are his own. He's just rotting flesh surviving on magic and other people's blood."
"That's not true-" Habbensheen began, then stopped as Kye shook him hard enough to rattle his teeth.
"I thought maybe the witch might have left some sort of telepathic link with which you could trace her," Kye said. "She has to have some sort of link, after all, to control his actions."
"True, but if she's not currently connected to him I can't trace her." She wasn't connected at the moment, and I had no intentions of trying to delve deeper into the mush that was the remainder of this body's mind. I glanced at Habbsheen. "When did you realize your son had been pulled from the grave?"
"Only last night, when he walked in the door." He hesitated, looking at the body on the bed. "He was naked, and confused, and he didn't really say anything."
Meaning the witch had made him dump his undoubtedly blood-splattered clothes before he'd gotten here. "I would have thought a son two weeks buried would have caused a serious amount of panic."
Or did the witch know these people well enough to be sure that the mother would never turn away the son, supposedly dead or not?
He hesitated. "My wife was too happy to see him to even remember that we buried him not long ago. He's our only child you see." His gaze met mine. "She was determined that no one was going to take him away from her again."
Meaning that, deep down, she probably knew the truth. "Mr. Habbsheen, you surely must be able to smell the rot. You can certainly see it if you look at his fingertips and toes."
He didn't say anything. Ultimately, he knew the truth, too.
"Let him go, Kye."
Kye raised an eyebrow, but did as I asked. Habbsheen slumped down on a nearby chair and rubbed his hands across his eyes. "It's going to kill her to lose him again."
It was on the tip of my tongue to say there was no "again" about it, because the thing laying on the bed wasn't their son, but what was the point? "Did your son make any new contacts in the days before his death? Were there any problems or incidents that you can remember him mentioning?"
Habbsheen shook his head. "Nothing. Rob was an easy going kid, well liked by everyone."
"And there were no strangers at his funeral? Someone who seemed out of place?"
He hesitated. "I didn't know a lot of his friends and work colleagues, and many of them were there."
"Where did he work?"
"Coles. He was a shelf stocker."
"I very much doubt our witch is working for Coles stocking shelves," Kye said, amusement lacing his tone.
I met his gaze with a smile. "Probably not. But it still makes me wonder if these are random raisings, or if she has a pattern." I hesitated, and glanced at Habbsheen. "Where was he buried?"
The other zombie had been taken from a cemetery as well, although I wasn't sure it was Fawkner. Maybe there was no pattern except that they were fresh burials. Maybe the witch was simply going to whatever cemetery gave her the best options. "And there was a notice in the paper?"
He nodded. "If what you're saying is true..." He paused, glancing at his son's remains then swallowing heavily. "Who would do this to us? Why chose our son? He didn't do anything to anyone. We didn't do anything to anyone."
"Whoever is raising these people doesn't seem to have any particular reason for doing so." At least, not one that he'd like to hear. It was bad enough having a son raised from the grave. Knowing that he'd been raised solely to murder other people would be an absolute kicker.
"Then Rob's not the first... zombie?... you've found?"
"No, Mr. Habbsheen, he's not. But we're hoping he'll be the last."
"Good." He looked at the body of his son. "What happens to him now, then?"
"I've called in the Directorate magi, Mr. Habbsheen. They'll be here soon, and hopefully they'll be able to undo whatever has been done to your son's body, so he can be reburied in peace."
"And my wife?"
"If she causes no more problems, I won't press charges."
"So I can untie her? She won't cause any more problems, I assure you."
"She may not, Mr. Habbsheen, but for the moment I think we'll leave her tied. You can seat her more comfortably though, if that's any help." I glanced at Kye. "It might be a good time for you to leave."
"Are you sure you're going to be okay here with the two of them?"
I glanced at Habbsheen. The man had slumped shoulders and a defeated look about him. Of course, it could be all an act, but I doubted it. Still...
"As I said, the Directorate crew will be here shortly, and unless Mr. Habbsheen wants to see his wife arrested, or worse, he will make sure she causes no more problems."
Habbsheen's shoulders slumped a little more. Kye's gaze met mine briefly, then he nodded and turned, making his way up the stairs.
I followed him to the front door.
"You really need to keep your nose out of Directorate business." I grabbed the door as he flung it open, preventing it swinging back against the plaster.
He stopped and gave me the sort of smile that would surely melt the panties off most regular females. As it was, it damn near scorched mine.
"We both know that's not going to happen. Not until I catch my target." He raised a hand and gently cupped the left side of my face, his touch so light and yet somehow so erotic. "You'll have to arrest me to stop me, Riley."
The heat of him washed over me, caressing my skin, my senses. He hadn't even moved, yet suddenly he seemed so much closer.
I licked my lips and tried to ignore the unsteady racing of my heart. The way every breath seemed filled with the musty, all-male scent of him. "I will do it, Kye. Have no doubt of that."
"I have no doubt you'll try," he said softly, and then he kissed me.
Not like before. Not heatedly, not desperately, but gently, sweetly. As if we were two sweethearts kissing for the very first time, unsure of our emotions and each other.
And it was good.
And wrong.
And I didn't care.
I just wanted the sweetness to go on and on and on. Desire rose, but it was no instant burn despite the nearness of the full moon, rather a gentle flame as pure as the kiss.
When we finally broke apart, neither of us said anything. We simply stared into each other's eyes, looking for God knows what, our breath mingling and our lips still so tantalizingly close.
Then he smiled, and it, too, was a sweet thing. "I do not think we should explore what lay beyond that kiss."
"No," I agreed softly. I didn't need another attraction in my life. Didn't need him in my life. Not in any way, shape, or form.
Damn it, I didn't even really like the man, so why the hell was I even kissing him in the first place?
His fingers slid down my neck, then he slowly let his hand drop. "Till next we meet," he said softly, and walked away.
"If we meet again, your ass will be history," I muttered, watching said ass walk down the path. The man moved with a fluid grace that in some ways reminded me of a vampire. A dangerous vampire.
Only he was all wolf.
And if I wasn't very careful, a whole lot of trouble.
Once he'd climbed into his car and driven away, I turned and moved back to the cellar to keep an eye on the zombie and his parents.
Mrs. Habbsheen was sitting up against the washing machine, her hands and feet still tied. Her husband sat beside her, talking to her softly, obviously trying to calm her. It wasn't working, if the hateful, angry look she cast my way was anything to go by.
"Keep those bindings tight," I warned, and stepped over the pair of them to grab the axe. I wasn't about to leave it embedded in the wall, just in case she got lose. I took it out to the car and dropped it in the trunk. As I walked back toward the house, a Directorate car pulled up behind mine and three women piled out. I knew two by sight and one by name, having helped all three magi restrain a vengeful spirit.
"Marg," I said, shaking the older woman's fragile-looking hand. "Sorry to drag you out like this, but I need to know if there's any way to trace the magic that raised the zombie back to its owner."
"So Sal said." She waved me forward. "We won't know until we feel the magic, but I very much doubt we'll be able to trace it. The best we can probably do is block it and let the poor boy go back to his eternal rest."
"That would be better than nothing." And certainly better than the option I would have used.
We single-filed through the house and down into the cellar. Mrs. Habbsheen hurled abuse our way as we passed, but her husband managed to restrain her more violent tendencies.
"What's wrong with her?" Marg asked, her gaze on the body laying on the bed.
"Refuses to believe that her son didn't come back to her, that it's a shell with no thought and no feelings."
Marg snorted. "She'd believe soon enough once bits of him start rotting and dropping off. Most magic can only contain the decomposition of flesh for a limited amount of time, you know."
"And how long would that be?"
She shrugged as she squatted beside the bed. "Couple of days, depending on the strength of the sorcerer."
"Is there magic that can contain them longer than that?"
"Yes, but it takes very powerful-and very dark-blood magic to do it. More so than what you'd use raising fresh bodies."
Great. So I was dealing with not only yet another nut, but an extremely powerful one at that.
I leaned a shoulder against the wall, crossing my arms and watching as she ran a hand down the zombie's body. There was barely an inch between her hand and the zombie's cold flesh, but it was filled with a greenish glow that had a decidedly unhealthy look about it.