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"Three," he said.
I hesitated. Jack wouldn't approve an expense report, so this money was coming out of my own pocket. In the scheme of things it wasn't much, but I had a brother who liked to overspend and it was often me who picked up the slack to ensure we had food in the cupboard and coffee on the table. "Two-fifty."
"You guardians are well paid. You can afford more than that."
"Did I mention I have a serious coffee habit?"
He grinned. "Two seventy-five."
"You drive a hard bargain."
"Totally." He held out his hand. "We got a deal?"
"Deal." I clasped and shook it. The kid had a good grip for a scrawny human. "If you can you get Joe here this afternoon."
He grinned. "I'll get him here by five."
Meaning Joe probably wasn't working the streets, but hiding out nearby. This kid was a shark. "You got a name?"
He hesitated. "Mike."
I lightly linked to his mind, quickly skimming the surface. I saw no lie in his thoughts, about either his name or anything else he'd said.
"Well, Mike, I'll be back at five, then."
I nodded to the two kids behind him, then walked out. Once in the car, I checked the computer for any messages then leaned back in the seat, wondering what to do. Cole wouldn't have finished his report on Armel's murder yet, and I didn't want to go back to the office. Quinn had business meetings all day, so he was off the list as well. Even my friend Dia wasn't around. She'd gone up to Queensland for a month-long vacation.
I blew out a breath and started up the car. With nowhere else to go, I headed home to grab some lunch.
Liander was sitting in the living room when I arrived, newspaper in hand and his feet crossed on the table. The sun streaming in through the windows made his silver hair gleam like ice, and his normally pale skin took on an almost golden glow.
He finally looked healthy. For a while there, he'd been looking frailer than a ghost, and moving like an old man. Though I guess almost getting gutted would do that to you.
"Some people have a good life," I said, throwing my bag on the table before heading into the kitchen to turn on the kettle and investigate the fridge.
"Some people hate the confinement the doctors are forcing on them," he said dryly. "There's leftover lasagna in the fridge if you want to zap that for lunch."
"Sounds like a plan," I said, pulling out the tray. "How much longer do you have to rest?"
"Until the soreness goes away."
I shoved two slices of lasagna into the microwave, then leaned against the door frame and frowned at him. "I thought it had."
He suddenly looked sheepish and made a show of looking at the paper again. "Well, it did, but then Rhoan and I got a little overadventurous, and I think it strained things."
I snorted softly. "No sympathy from me, then. You want a coffee?"
"As long as you're not going to tell me to get it myself."
"I'm not that mean." I made two coffees and carted them across to the coffee table, then went back to grab the lasagna. I handed Liander his, then plonked down on the other sofa.
"So how's the love life?" he said, after several mouthfuls.
I grinned. "A hell of a lot safer than yours, from the sound of it."
"No problems on the Quinn front?"
"He's being quite the gentlemen."
Liander snorted. "That'll change once you start acting like a proper wolf again."
I gave him an exasperated look. "I am acting like a proper wolf."
"Have you gone back to the clubs? Taken other partners yet?"
"You know I haven't. I'm happy as I am, Liander, and Quinn and I do share something special."
"He's not a wolf, my girl. And your wolf soul will always hunger for its mate, no matter how happy you might be with Quinn."
"You're not telling me something I don't know. I'm just not ready to venture fully out of the cave yet."
"You know, if I ever meet Kellen again, he's going to get a very large piece of my mind."
"Don't you dare. He was doing what was right for us both."
He snorted softly. I ignored him and continued to eat the lasagna. One of the many good things about Liander coming to live with us was the fact that the quality of the meals we were getting had improved-mainly because he could cook and Rhoan and I couldn't.
I took a sip of coffee to wash it down, then said, "I had something of a close call yesterday, actually."
"Oh?" He raised a gray eyebrow, amusement teasing the corners of his silvery eyes. "Do tell."
"You remember Kye? The bodyguard Patrin employed?"
"The one Rhoan reckons was more than just a wolf?"
"Yeah. Turns out he's a bounty hunter, and he sort of saved my butt."
"Well, it is a cute butt."
I grinned. "Maybe so, but I doubt that's the reason he saved it."
"So, you got hot and heavy with him as a thank-you?"
"Not intentionally." Liander's eyebrows rose again, so I added, "I blame the moon heat and the fact that he smelled so good." He kissed damn good, too, but that was beside the point.
"So why didn't it go any further?"
"It's hard to concentrate on loving when there are a couple of hellhounds wanting to tear you to pieces."
"I guess." He took a mouthful of food, then added, "You intending to see him again?"
"No. I don't really like him, and I certainly don't trust him."
"Hey, I didn't like Rhoan when I first met him, either."
"I thought you got hot and heavy on the first date."
"Nope. I thought he had a great body, but a shitty attitude. I still thought that when we had sex a few days later. Of course, attitude or not, he was the one. And he has mellowed, thankfully."
"He's never going to be the perfect man." Even I knew that, and I loved my brother to death.
He waved a hand in agreement. "All I'm saying is you should never write anyone off just because you don't instantly fall in love. Or lust."
I snorted. "Trust me, I don't expect to-although lust is always handy." Especially if you had to spend the rest of your life with him. I took another mouthful, then added, "Besides, if I meet Kye again, I'm going to have to arrest him, because it means he's still investigating a case I've warned him off."
"Well, that probably would put a dampener on things," he said, his voice wry.
I finished the last of the lasagna and picked up my coffee with a sigh. "I'm so glad you came to live with us."
He grinned. "I think you two are getting the better end of the deal. Do you know how badly you both cook?"
"Absolutely. That's why you and Rhoan are never going to be able to set up house alone. I'd starve on my own." I rose as my cell phone rang, and walked across to grab it out of my purse. "Hello?"
"Riley? Jack," he said, unnecessarily. "We've got another vampire dead. One Garrison Bovel."
I swore softly. "Not someone else you know, I hope?"
"Not personally, no, though I've seen him around the various bars a few times." He sounded bone-tired. "He was the head of an accounting firm that handled the taxes for many of the dead. It could mean trouble if they got into his records."
"Has his office been raided?"
"Not as far as we know, but we've contacted his partners and told them to check."
"Why would anyone want to rob an accountant?"
"Because he's been a record keeper for three hundred years, and has amassed quite a fortune."
God, he had to have loved his job to have done it for that damn long.
"I'll send you the address," Jack continued. "Mel and her team are already there."
"Has Cole's report for Armel's murder come through yet?"
"He's still working on it, but he believes there were magical influences."
I raised my eyebrows. "In the robbery or the murder?"
"Hard to say. Head over to Bovel's straight away. We need to nip this in the bud quick, before the vamp community gets antsy."
And that wouldn't be good for anyone. "Will do."
"Trouble?" Liander asked as I hung up.
"Another dead vamp. Tell Rhoan I probably won't be home for dinner."
I grabbed my bag and headed back out. The address had come through on the car's onboard computer and I drove over to Brighton in record time. The beachside suburb was the local "it" spot for all those who were more than mere millionaires and, because of this, had its fair share of older vamps. After all, any vamp over a certain age had time enough to amass more money than most humans.
Which didn't mean they were good targets. Most vamps protected their fortunes fiercely, and the wise robber went elsewhere. Especially if he didn't love the thought of becoming a vampire's next meal.
I pulled into the victim's driveway. The house was another of those modern ones that always looked like a big white concrete box-and it still surprised me that vampires chose to live in these places. I would have thought something dark and gothic would be more their style. But then, vampires these days were all about breaking expectations.
A dark van with Directorate plates sat in the tree-lined parking lot and the front door was open, A stick-like figure hovered near the door, dusting for prints. It had to be Janny. Mel's other team member-Marshall-was a portly soul.
I grabbed my ID as I walked up the grandly arched steps and showed it to the mobile recording unit that had been set up in the doorway to record all movement in and out of the house. There'd be others inside.
"Afternoon, Riley," Janny said without looking up. Her voice was surprisingly mellow and rich, though I don't know why I always expected it to be otherwise. Something to do with her insectlike looks, I think.
I stopped and studied the doorknob she was dusting. No obvious prints. "How bad is it, Janny?"
She shrugged. "I've seen worse."
So had I, but that never made it any easier. "Same method of disposal as the first killing?"
"Seems to be. Mel's inside if you want a fuller report. You'll find her upstairs."
"Thanks." I stepped past her carefully and headed for the stairs. The air inside was alive with the flavors of the house-the delicate aroma of rose mixed with the deeper resonance of vampire. Underneath that, the metallic tang of blood. I couldn't smell the wrongness that had been in Armel's. Not on this floor, anyway. I climbed the stairs.
Mel poked her head out of a doorway, brown hair shining in the sunlight streaming in through the windows at the far end. "You want to check the bedroom on the right for me? There's a scent in there I can't define, and I'm wondering if it's the same as the one you found in Armel's."
I nodded and headed in. The interior of Garrison's matched the exterior, and his bedroom reflected this. The white walls held little in the way of adornment and the bed-with its deep red comforter and matching pillows-was the only splash of color in the room. Even the carpet was white-a bad color for a vampire to have in a place where he fed, I would have thought. Even the smallest of splashes would have been noticeable. The red bed, at least, made sense.
I studied the scents of the room, searching for the one I'd found in Armel's. That powerful sense of wrongness was there, but fading fast. Another hour or two, and there'd be nothing more unusual in this room than the scent of sex and the musty aroma that spoke of vampire. A vampire who washed, I thought, thinking of the kid's comment with amusement.
I walked up into the other room. This was a library rather than a study, as Armel's had been, but it still had a safe. Mel was dusting it for prints.
My gaze fell on a chrome and glass side table and I noticed the dust gathered there. And it wasn't the powder Mel was using-this stuff was coarser, and reminded me of the dust I'd blown off Armel's wallet. I glanced back at Mel. "You taken a sample of this?"
She looked across to see what I was pointing at, then nodded. "Don't know what it is, though I don't think it's regular house dust."
"It looks similar to some dust I saw at Armel's."
"Then we'll add it to the priority list."
I finally let my gaze move to the body. Garrison, or what remained of him, sat in a plush leather chair next to the side table, a book slumped across his chest and the remains of a glass underneath the fingers of his right hand. Wine stained the carpet, its color almost as rich as the bloody pool that had formed under what remained of his legs.
"Where's his head and the end of his legs?" I asked, suddenly realizing what was missing.
"Your guess is as good as mine at this point," she said, catlike green eyes bright in the semishadows. "But there's a couple of rather large Dobermans in the backyard, and the window behind you is open."
I looked at the window, then back at her. "You haven't checked whether the missing bits are out there?"
She smiled grimly. "We have two bird shifters and a cat shifter on this team. Sorry, tackling dogs is off all of our to-do lists. But you could always try."
I could, but if those dogs were out there were guarding the remains of their master, I wasn't going to interrupt them. The only reason a vamp would have a couple of Dobermans would be for protection, and I rather suspected these two would be trained to tackle most nonhumans. I also doubted that one lone werewolf would faze them, even if that werewolf had alpha tendencies and could back down most canines.