Deadly Desire
Page 27

 Keri Arthur

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Chapter Nine
"I thought you were going to bring in the teenager with the birthmark to stop her being used," I said, voice sharp.
"We did. And we tracked down the five vamps who I know like body imperfections. This isn't one of them. I think it was a last-minute deal."
Or an outpouring of anger that the sorcerer's plans had been frustrated.
"So how much worse than decapitation and body parts being hacked away can it be?" I said, half wishing I'd stayed in bed and not answered the phone.
"Lots, from what Cole is saying. He's there now. I want you to head over and see if you can feel anything."
"I haven't felt any souls up to now, so why do you think I'd feel one at this murder?"
"Because this time, they killed the woman who was with him. She was human, and she just might be confused enough about her death to still be there."
"We don't know that both women are involved in the vamp killings. You'd think Cole would have found some evidence of wheelchair use in at least one of the murder scenes by now."
"Not if she was using her crow form."
"The worst a crow could do is peck someone to death."
"When we're talking about sorcerers, anything is possible."
I guess that was true. "It'll take me fifteen minutes to get ready."
"I want you there by four," he said, and hung up.
I glanced at my watch. He'd given me a whole twenty-five minutes. How generous of him. I downed my coffee then headed for the bathroom.
Although I got ready in record time, it still took me thirty-five minutes to get through the city traffic to Brighton.
Cole glanced around as I walked into the third-floor apartment, then made a show of looking at his watch. "You're late."
"Bite me," I muttered, in no mood for frivolities right now. The metallic tang of blood was thick in the air, but it was the reek of magic that turned my stomach. It was so strong my skin crawled against the sensation. "So who did they kill this time?"
"Our vamp is one Jason Burke. He's got a reputation as a philanderer, and has only just moved down here from Queensland. Apparently things were getting a little heated up there for him." Cole paused and smiled. "From what I heard, there were several husbands armed with sharpened sticks coming after him."
I didn't smile. I didn't have the energy. "Where are the victims?"
"In the bedroom."
Which was where the other victims had been caught, even if they hadn't all been killed there. At least there was one constant. "What time were they killed?"
"Approximately eleven last night."
Jessica had been in the club giving me the evil eye at that time, so she couldn't have been involved, no matter what Jack might think. "Any reason why Jack would say that these murders are worse than before?"
Cole snorted. "Because they are. They look as if they've been torn apart by dogs, although the tear marks don't actually match any dogs that I know of."
"Not even hellhounds?"
"Haven't had a whole lot of experience with them, but it seems to me they don't actually leave pieces. They consume it all."
"They seem to. And the woman who controls the hellhounds was at the club at the time of the murders."
"Doesn't mean she couldn't have sent her beasties here."
"Or that the other sorceress couldn't have raised her own little beasties."
"True." Cole's gaze was still on me, still intent. Although he couldn't see the injuries I'd received last night, I had an odd sense he knew about them anyway. A suspicion he confirmed by asking, "Are you okay?"
"Had a brush with said beasties last night. They're now ash blowing on the wind." I gave him a lopsided smile. "But I actually think it's the late-night working. Its done me in more than the hellhounds' efforts. I'll be glad when this job is over."
"Yeah, irregular working hours can be a bitch." He waved a hand toward the bedroom. "Dobbs and Dusty are in there at the moment. That's not going to interfere with your psychic radar, is it?"
I shook my head and grabbed a pair of plastic shoe covers from the little box on the table. I'd need them if this murder was as bad as everyone was saying. "Do we know who the other victim is yet?"
"Denita Lowe," Cole said, carefully picking up a hair and placing it into a plastic bag. "A forty-six-year-old woman with a hubby and two kids."
So Burke had continued his philandering ways despite his trouble up in Queensland. "The husband been told yet?"
Cole shook his head. "I think Jack is waiting until we find enough of her to get an official ID."
I frowned. "If you haven't got enough, how do you know who she is?"
"Purse over by the door."
"Oh." Of course. I turned and headed for the bedroom. There was no use delaying it any longer. Besides, I had to report to the club in an hour.
The intense sensation of vile magic hit the minute I walked into the room. It was stronger here than at the previous murder scenes, but maybe that was because the crime was fresher, too. But there was another scent that mingled with the feel of magic-the faint whiff of roses.
Hanna Mein's scent, not Jessica's.
The room itself was a mess. It might once have been painted a very pale blue, but you'd hardly know it. Blood had been smeared from one end of the room to the other, and larger chunks of flesh and bone dribbled off just about everything-the beds, the lamps, the ceiling lights, even the painting frames. It was in such a state that it was hard tell which bit was male and which was female.
Bile rose and goose bumps prickled my skin. I might be a guardian, but scenes of gore and guts like this were not something I was used to yet. And I hope I never did get used to them. Hoped I would never be blase about useless, wanton destruction of life.
I rubbed my arms, half wishing I'd grabbed my coat out of the car, then stopped as power began to caress the air and an odd tingle raced across my skin.
There was a soul here.
I looked around the room, but for several minutes saw nothing remotely "otherworldly." Yet the ever-sharpening tingle of energy told me something waited.
Then a faint wisp of white appeared in the far corner of the room. It was little more than a curl of smoke, barely visible in the sharp sunlight pouring through the window. Certainly it was nothing that could be defined as ghostlike, and could easily have been mistaken for a puff of dust from the nearby chair Dobbs was moving.
But it wasn't.
And the power that spun all around me, as well as the growing chill in the air, only confirmed it.
Tentatively, I reached out with my thoughts and asked, What happened to you?
Not so long ago, my ability to sense and hear souls had developed to where I could now converse with them telepathically-although not all souls seemed to have the strength to talk. Those that did seemed to be drawing additional strength from me, often leaving me feeling drained. Cole, who'd seen it happen a number of times now, thought it was dangerous-that the souls might just end up drawing me into the lands of death if I wasn't very careful. Jack and the magi weren't so sure that was possible.
I didn't know who was right, but I wasn't about to take any more risks than necessary. Death was one thing. Lingering on the plane of death-or wherever else it was that souls who were killed before their time went-was not on my agenda for the moment. Or any moment, actually.
The soul didn't answer, although the energy in the air was increasing. Frowning, I tried again. What happened to you?
Death happened, came the reply, the voice feminine but as strong and as powerful as the energy that spun around me. What do you wish to know?
I frowned. Unlike most of them, this soul wasn't confused by what had happened, nor did she seem particularly angry. Which was odd, given her fate. And the energy that crawled all around me seemed to be more than just the energy of the dead-though how that could be possible, I didn't know.
I need to know what you saw. I want to stop this killer before she kills someone else.
The soul didn't answer immediately. I waited, watching the wisp of smoke, wondering what went on in the mind of the newly dead. She seemed calmer, more accepting, than any of the other souls I'd come across, but I had a suspicion that appearances were deceiving.
I do not have the time to tell you all that I saw, the soul said eventually, for even now, my final journey calls.
Then tell me what you can.
It is easier if I show you. The wisp of smoke moved, drifting out from its corner, and the chill in the air increased until I was shivering with it.
How do you plan to show me? But even as I asked the question, I pretty much knew the answer. And I wasn't entirely sure I wanted anything to do with it-even if the cost was not getting a much-needed lead on our killers.
She wanted to merge with me.
It will not be painful, the soul said. Just... different. Exhausting.
You can't know that.
Yes, she said, her voice softer than before, suggesting her strength was fading even if the energy that pulsed all around me was still diamond bright. I can. I did it many times when I was alive.
She was drifting closer and closer, and I had to resist the temptation to step back.
You were a clairvoyant? I asked, surprised. How come you didn't see this coming?
I communed with the dead, like you, she said. I was able to become one with them, to see and remember what they remembered. My own future was not something they-or I-could have ever predicted.
If they had, would she have avoided the vampire? Or would she have accepted her fate because it was meant to be? I very much suspected the latter answer was the correct one.
And then she was on me, in me, filling me with the cold of the afterworld, chilling me down to the bone, to my very soul. Then there was nothing but images and sensory details-details that flashed by almost too fast. A man's face, soft in the aftermath of lovemaking. The sensation of evil rising, combined with the fleeting scent of rose. The spurt of fear as a sphere of darkness formed at the end of the bed, and the face of a woman, her body merging into the blackness. Dust, thrown by pale hands, scattering across the bed, settling in a choking cloud. The woman stepped forward, revealing dark hair and green eyes that shone bright with power. Power that flashed from her fingertips-lightning bright and razor sharp. Power that tore, without thought, without care, through flesh and bone alike. The world became one of pain, nothing but pain, until the relief of death...
That is all, the witch said, her voice broken and fading away. Catch her. Stop her.
I didn't answer. Couldn't answer. My energy was as drained as the soul's, and as she faded away, so did I.
When I came to, I was lying on one of the leather sofas in the living room. Cole was close to my left side, a bloodied cloth in one hand and a take-out cup of coffee in the other.
"What the hell happened?" he said the minute he saw I was awake.
"Lack of caffeine in my system," I muttered, sitting up somewhat gingerly and reaching for the coffee. I took a sip, felt strength and heat begin to flow through my body, and sighed contentedly before squinting at the cloth he was holding. "Why are you holding a wet cloth?"
"Because you collapsed into a puddle of body bits, and I didn't think you'd appreciate it being left on you."
My stomach turned at the thought, though at least it explained why my jeans were clinging to my legs. I resisted the urge to strip them off and gave Cole a wan smile. "Thanks for that."
He nodded. "So what happened?"
"The soul sort of merged with me."
"Yeah, surprised the hell out of me, too." I grimaced. "I saw everything she saw. Felt everything she'd felt." I shuddered at the memory. "Hanna Mein did this."
"Then we can take her out," Cole said.
"Except that we have no hard evidence." I might know that Hanna had killed this couple-and probably the other vampires-but knowing and actually proving it enough to justify a kill was another matter entirely. Hanna Mein might be a sorceresses, but she was also listed as human, and there was a whole different set of rules for humans. Even humans gone bad.
Now had it been Jessica who'd done this, it would have been kill first, ask questions later. She was a shifter, so all bets were off when it came to her crimes. It might not be right or fair, but it was still the humans who made the rules in this world, and there was nothing the rest of us could do about it until the status quo changed in government.
"Proving suspicions may not matter in this case. Not when one of the victims was a close friends of Jack's."
"These women have been killing vamps in other states, possibly for a very long time. I don't think either will be easy kills. They will have taken precautions of one kind or another."
He grunted then pushed to his feet. "Are you feeling better?"
"Well enough that you can stop baby-sitting and get back to your job."
"Good." But he said it with a smile in his blue eyes.
I swung my feet onto the floor and sat up. Weakness washed through me and, for a moment, the room spun. Being infused by the dead had taken more out of me than I'd thought.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Cole asked, standing back but looking ready to catch me should it be needed.
"I'm fine. Really." I glanced at my watch and saw that it was after five. "I'm going to be late for my new job if I don't get a move on."
And I couldn't not go there, even if Jessica now suspected me. We needed concrete evidence before we could move against the two women, and to get that, I needed to be near them. And at least if she was watching, and worrying, about me, she wasn't out there sending zombies after innocent kids. I doubted she'd try anything in the club. There were too many possible witnesses.