Page 27

 D.B. Reynolds

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Louis came up to her and must have seen the doubt in her expression, because he said, “It’s temporary until we get the new room outfitted downstairs.”
Emma forced herself to smile. “As long as it all works, that’s what matters,” she said.
“Oh, it works,” Louis assured her. “They may not look like much, but—” A chorus of growls greeted this assessment and he laughed. “But they’re some of the best operators in the world. Between us, there isn’t a code we can’t crack, or a system we can’t hack.”
Emma chuckled at both his lame rhyme and his enthusiasm. It was contagious, and she found her own eagerness growing. Finally, she was doing something positive. Taking care of Lacey, arranging her funeral and laying her body to rest . . . that had been absolutely necessary, and it was a duty Emma had lovingly fulfilled. But it had done nothing to see that justice was served on those who’d killed her. Tonight, at last, Emma would begin the most solemn duty of all, and that was finding whoever was responsible and making them pay.
Of course, the first steps down that road involved sitting at a computer and doing some basic research. Emma took the photos Louis had grabbed from the videos and cropped them onto a single page, with the idea of deleting them one by one until there were none left. An hour later, she’d managed to identify only two of the women, and those were only because she’d met them at a birthday party for Lacey last year. Even then, she had only their first names and no idea where they worked or lived. But the rest of them . . . She shook her head. There had to be a better way to do this.
She pushed back from the computer and took a long drink of water from the bottle Louis had dropped on her desk sometime ago. She squinted thoughtfully at the pictures. There were tens of thousands of young, professional women living or working in Washington, D.C. Too many. So she had to narrow it down somehow. First question, how did Victor meet these women? From what Duncan and the others had said about the dead vampire lord and his habits, she deduced he’d had limited social interaction with humans. He’d gone to the occasional fundraiser, but he’d attended only those social gatherings where scoring an invitation was a coup of sorts. He had given parties of his own, but it appeared he’d only invited legislators and lobbyists. None of the usual society doyennes were ever invited, no Hollywood stars, or even the big name media types.
Emma frowned. So maybe most of the women were drawn from that same pool. Not legislators themselves, and not lobbyists, either. But their secretaries and assistants, young women eager for a chance to mingle with power. Women like Lacey.
Emma sat up straight. That was it! And she had a much better way of identifying them if she was right.
“I’ll be right back,” she said to no one in particular, and rushed down the hall to the room where she’d left her things, including her purse and laptop. Hurrying into the frilly bedroom, she dropped to her knees and dragged her enormous purse from under the chair where she’d shoved it earlier. She pulled out her computer and opened the lid, waiting impatiently while it woke up and searched for the house’s Wi-Fi connection. It asked for a password, and she swore in frustration. She should have thought of that.
She shoved her purse out of the way again and had gathered her legs beneath her to stand when someone tapped lightly on the door and pushed it open.
She looked up at the sound of Duncan’s voice, her smile freezing as he stepped into view. She could only stare. Sweaty, bare-chested Duncan was gone, and in his place . . . she sighed with pleasure. Emma loved a man in a tux, but Duncan in a tux took her breath away. Lacey would have known which designer was responsible; Emma only knew that Duncan should have graced the pages of the most exclusive fashion magazine. He had a body made for formalwear, with broad shoulders and narrow hips, and the tux was tailored to emphasize that perfection. It was simple and black, with narrow, notched lapels and a hint of white cuff. His long, blond hair had been pulled tightly away from his face, so that his hair looked almost short from the front.
“Emma?” he repeated, holding a hand down to her.
She sighed and tucked the computer under her arm, holding her other hand up so he could pull her to her feet. This was really too much. It was as if the Fates had figured out the perfect man and said, “Here, Emma, he’s all yours.” Except he wasn’t. He was a powerful vampire and probably had all sorts of beautiful women vying for his attention. She stifled the irrational surge of jealousy that thought evoked, and managed to meet his gaze with a mischievous grin.
“You look very lovely this evening, Duncan,” she said, emphasizing her own accent and letting him know he wasn’t the only one who knew proper cotillion-speak.
His brown eyes crinkled in amusement. “Why, thank you, Miz Duquet. You’re very kind.”
She pursed her lips thoughtfully. “But, obviously, you’re not helping out in the research department tonight.”
“No, I’m afraid not. Although honestly, I’d rather be doing that. Unfortunately, I’ve a fundraiser to attend. Black tie,” he added, gesturing dismissively at his tux. “It was on Victor’s calendar, but they’ll be getting me instead. I confess I’m hoping to meet someone useful to our current investigation.”
Emma sobered immediately. “You need to be careful, then. Is Miguel going with you?”
His eyes warmed briefly with humor. “Miguel and Ari both. I’ll be quite safe. I’m more worried about you. By now, the men who killed Lacey will know her body was found. The story you put out, that she died in an auto accident has most likely put them off until now. But after tonight, they’ll know for certain that Victor is gone, and they’ll get nervous again. Especially if there’s any hint that you’re checking into Lacey’s activities before her death.”
“No one knows I’m even here, much less what I’m doing. I told them at the office that I had some things to take care of. They’ll assume it has to do with Lacey’s death, but nothing unusual.”
Duncan tipped his head in acknowledgment, but said, “Still, I’d feel better if you weren’t all alone in your house. We’ve plenty of room here, you know, and no one would bother you.”
Emma hoped Duncan truly couldn’t read her thoughts right about then, because she wouldn’t mind at all if he bothered her. His expression changed, becoming suddenly more intent, and Emma blushed, convinced that, once again, he did know what she was thinking. He touched his fingers to the heat of her flushed cheek and leaned a little bit closer.
“I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you, Emmaline,” he murmured, and brushed his lips against hers in a soft, too fleeting kiss.
Emma stared up at him. “Why do you call me that?” she whispered.
“Because it’s your name and I like it. It’s old-fashioned.”
“You’re the only one who uses it.”
“Good.” He kissed her again, longer this time, but not nearly long enough. “We’ll talk later.”
And just like that he was gone. Emma stared after him in frustration. When he did stuff like that, she was sure he wanted her, just like she’d been sure in the gym when the heat sizzling between them had all but burned her skin. But then he’d step back or get called away, or who knew what else, and he’d disappear, leaving her hot and bothered and wondering.
Or maybe she was putting too much into what was for him nothing more than a mild flirtation. Maybe he wasn’t looking for anything more than a few hours of sexual gratification. Several hot, sweaty, satisfying hours.
Emma laughed quietly. Yeah, she could go for that. But then she sighed, knowing herself too well. What she felt for Duncan was more than simple lust. Maybe not a lifetime commitment, not yet anyway, and maybe not ever, but it was more than what a few hours of sweaty sex would satisfy. Of course, that didn’t mean she’d turn down the opportunity if he offered. Especially since she had a feeling they’d be the best few hours of her life.
She shook herself out of the fantasies flashing across her brain and hurried back to the computer room. She couldn’t do anything about Duncan and his damnable appeal, but she could definitely make a difference in identifying some of the people on Victor’s list. She gripped her laptop more securely. She wasn’t a computer hacker like Louis and the other vampires, but she was a compulsive collector of information. And the information on her computer might be exactly what they needed.
* * *
Duncan climbed the aged brick stairs of the private home where Senator Max Grafton was holding a fundraiser. Strictly speaking, of course, it wasn’t the senator holding the fundraiser, but one of his supporters. Someone wealthy enough to afford this Georgetown townhouse which made up for its tiny lot by climbing four stories above street level. Miguel walked beside him, and Ari would remain with the SUV. He’d ignored the valet service, but he probably wasn’t the only one. This kind of affair drew nothing but wealthy guests, people who could help the senator get reelected by writing a check and/or coaxing others to join them. Duncan also knew from personal experience that, despite official protestations to the contrary, money talked. If you donated enough money to the right politician, you bought that politician’s ear and often his vote as well. It had been that way for as long as some humans had been raised into positions of power, and it always would be.
A discreetly colored awning had been stretched above the stoop in front of the townhouse, and two security types were stationed on the small square landing to screen guests. Their glances skated over Duncan, but lingered on Miguel who made no bones about what he was—a highly trained and motivated bodyguard. He was also armed, but that, too wasn’t unusual. At a gathering like this there would be other private security, and they would all be armed. They couldn’t do their job otherwise. The men guarding the door didn’t know it, but Miguel could probably have done his job just as well without the gun. For that matter, Duncan could do Miguel’s job. Until a few days ago, a great part of his job had been to protect Raphael. But that was before he’d become a vampire lord himself, and now his world had forever changed. He was not yet certain if he preferred it this way, but it was too late for regrets.