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She gasped, then immediately covered her mouth against the sound. Vamps supposedly had super hearing, and that was Duncan out there! Even worse, that Miguel guy was with him.
“Shit,” she mouthed silently and backed away from the door. Were they coming here? Well, of course they were. Where else would they be going? She’d backed nearly to the kitchen when the doorbell rang, and she froze. Should she answer it? Maybe if she was very quiet, they’d think she wasn’t home and leave.
But what if he has news about Lacey?she thought frantically, her tired brain finally clicking back into some semblance of reason. That had to be it. Why else would they be here?
She started toward the door, then glanced down at herself and froze once again. She was wearing a bathrobe! A purple, fuzzy bathrobe. And no underwear. Ah, hell, no bra, and Emma did not have the kind of bustline that could go braless without being obvious about it.
She blew out an exasperated breath.
“Emma?” Duncan’s cool-water voice called her name, tinged with a little bit of worry.
He was worried? About her? That was nice, wasn’t it?
Yeah, but, Emma, you aren’t wearing any panties!
Right, right.Underwear first, then handsome vampires.
“Emma, I know you’re there. Open the door.”
He knew she was here? How’d he know that?
“Um, just a minute,” she called out. She raced past the door, slowing long enough to flip the locks and yank the door open as she went by. “Y’all come on in. I’ll be right back.”
Before she’d gone halfway up the stairs, her house was full of vampires and one of them was standing in front of her, blocking her way. Her eyes widened in shock and her heart kicked in her chest. He’d moved so fast, and she hadn’t sensed a thing, nothing more than a faint breeze passing her on the stairs. Her startled gaze took in his features in the dim light, and she frowned. It was Miguel. The growler. She backed down a step away from him.
“Where are you going, Ms. Duquet?” he asked.
“It’s all right, Miguel,” Duncan said from somewhere behind her.
Miguel didn’t move, and Emma’s frown deepened. She refused to hold her robe closed like some sort of maiden aunt, so she stuffed her hands in her pockets and turned to face Duncan. The door was partly open, and she shivered in the cold air.
“I was going to put some clothes on,” she explained slowly, as if they were too dense to understand such a simple concept.
Duncan’s gaze made a leisurely journey from her UGG-covered feet to the fuzzy bathrobe, hesitated a breath too long over her braless chest, and continued to what she knew was her pissed-off expression. But instead of showing even a hint of remorse, the bastard smiled. As if he found the entire situation amusing. Again. Emma was getting very tired of being the source of his entertainment.
Her eyes narrowed, but Duncan’s smile only grew wider.
“It’s all right, Miguel,” he said again. “Let her by.”
“Well, thank you very much,” she said, letting the saccharine sweetness of her Southern upbringing flavor the words.
Duncan’s eyes widened in appreciation, and Emma felt like snarling. That wasn’t the reaction she’d been going for.
Determined to retain the little dignity she had left, she started up the stairs again. The growler got out of her way, but he only moved closer to the wall, so she had to squeeze past his bulk. Why were these vampires all so big, anyway? Drinking nothing but blood, you’d think they’d be skin and bones, pale and starved looking. Not these guys. Every one of them—and there were more than just Duncan and Miguel in her house, though she hadn’t bothered to count—was awfully healthy looking. Maybe they dined on bloody steak every night? She frowned, thinking about where that steak might come from. What sort of animal.
Don’t be ridiculous, Emma. She reined in her vivid imagination, stormed into her bedroom, closed the door with exquisite care, and began pulling on clothes.
* * *
Duncan watched Emma Duquet’s shapely bottom sway beneath the ridiculous purple bathrobe as she hurried up the stairs, edging past Miguel as if she feared he’d leap upon her at any moment. She disappeared into a room on the second floor without so much as a glance backwards, shutting the door with a firm click. Her footsteps clunked overhead in the ungainly boots before a pair of solid thumps told him the boots had been kicked off. He imagined the robe falling away next. She’d been naked under that robe. That much had been obvious, to him at least. Miguel had seemed to fear she was rushing upstairs to arm herself, but Duncan knew she’d simply wanted to get dressed. Too bad. He’d rather liked her the way she was.
Duncan strolled farther into the house, grateful when Louis finally closed the door, shutting out the cold air. He’d have to invest in a few heavy winter coats if this went on much longer. When did spring come to these parts anyway? It had been too long since he’d lived anywhere with a real winter. He couldn’t remember exactly how long they lasted this far south along the Eastern seaboard. Not that Washington, D.C. was considered part of the South anymore. It was south of the Mason-Dixon line, but there were too many Yankees living here today.
He smiled, remembering the long, hot summers of the true South. His youth had been spent toiling the fields beneath the burning Tennessee sun. There’d been no long, lazy school vacations for him. No school, for that matter.
A door opened upstairs, and Duncan backed up several feet until he could see Emma emerge onto the landing above him.
“Good evening, Emma,” he said, trying to pretend he hadn’t seen her wearing that fluffy purple monstrosity of a robe.
She narrowed those violet eyes at him, as if judging his sincerity, and apparently decided he passed muster. “Good evening, Duncan,” she said finally. “What’s up?”
“Are we going to have this entire conversation with you standing up there?”
She blew out a flustered breath. “No, of course not.”
She descended the stairs quickly, wearing the same clunky boots, but with a pair of jeans, a hooded sweatshirt, and, regrettably, a bra, as well. Although, he contemplated, perhaps it was a pretty bra, something lacy and feminine. He liked pretty bras. He liked taking them off pretty women . . . like Emma.
“Can I get you something to drink?” Emma asked politely. She switched on a pair of floor lamps, one at either end of an old overstuffed couch. A battered coffee table sat in front of the couch, both pieces looking as if their better days were long behind them.
“No, thank you. We can’t stay.”
Emma stopped halfway to the kitchen. She turned to study him nervously, her hands twisting the ties of her sweatshirt. “Did you . . . find something?”
“Nothing specific about Lacey yet, although we are making headway in retracing Victor’s activities. He hosted a lot of parties, many of them in homes he owned out of town. It seems likely Lacey attended one of those parties, given what she told you. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely the other attendees will volunteer any useful information.”
“You’re talking about people from the Hill,” she said somewhat bitterly.
Duncan nodded. “And probably some others. The usual Washington assortment. You said Lacey worked for a lobbying firm?”
“She still does.”
“Of course,” he said, accepting her correction. There was always a possibility, however slim, that Emma’s friend Lacey was still alive. He understood her need to hold on to whatever hope there was.
“There must have been other women at the parties,” Emma said. “They might be willing to talk to you. Or to me.”
Duncan nodded. “Victor had several favorites among his women. He kept track of who was invited when, but there were no names. We have photos, which is how I know Lacey was among them, but these women were not in the public eye. Even with photographs, locating them is difficult. If you wish to help, you could go through the files for us and see if you recognize anyone.”
“Absolutely,” Emma said eagerly. “Did you bring them with you?”
“Ah. I’m afraid we’re heading out of town this evening. I wasn’t certain you’d be home. We’re still checking out Victor’s—”
“You’re going to one of those party houses, you mean?”
“Take me with you.”
Duncan regarded Emma silently. He wasn’t used to being interrupted at every turn. Not many would have dared, not even in his years as Raphael’s lieutenant, and he was somewhat surprised to discover just how much it irritated him. Emma, however, seemed blissfully unaware of both her transgression and his irritation.
“Well?” she demanded impatiently.
Duncan wasn’t looking at Miguel, but he could feel his lieutenant’s anger at Emma’s rudeness, and it was like a fire burning hotter by the moment. As Duncan’s child and his lieutenant, Miguel was instinctively protective not only of Duncan’s person, but of his dignity.
“If I might finish,” Duncan said gently.
Emma’s pupils flared, her emotions signaling outrage and embarrassment in equal measure to his empathic senses. She blew out a calming breath, visibly trying to relax, and gestured for him to continue. Duncan almost grinned, his earlier irritation banished by the obvious effort it took her to remain silent.
“I told you we would look into Lacey’s disappearance,” he began, “and—”
He stopped. Emma had opened her mouth to interrupt him once again. Her mouth snapped closed.
“And I promised,” Duncan continued, his gaze daring her to say a word, “that I would get back to you in few days. This is me getting back to you. We are making progress, but we have found nothing concrete. If you give us a call tomorrow evening, we’ll arrange a time for you to come by and look at the photographs.”
Emma stared back at him silently, as if waiting to be sure he had nothing more to say, then said in a rush, “Can I go with you tonight?”