Secret Santa
Page 7

 Sierra Dean

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Reaching behind me, I grabbed for Holden’s hand without looking to see if he would take it. Cold fingers wove through mine, and for once I thought our temperatures might be the exact same. He gave me a reassuring squeeze, and it helped to know he was there, keeping me grounded to the world of the somewhat-living.
The song of sirens filled the night, coming closer.
“I need to call Mercedes,” I whispered, but the words got caught in a cold gust of air and were carried off unheard into the dark.
Chapter Seven
Holden and I were sitting side by side in an interrogation room, staring at the mirror facing us. I was grateful, not for the first time in my life, that vampires could cast a reflection. Otherwise we’d have some serious explaining to do.
I wasn’t too concerned about our situation. If we’d been in any real trouble, they wouldn’t have kept us together.
Holden had gone stone-still but was sitting close enough to me I could feel the rise and fall of his forced breaths. For my part, I was trying not to fidget. I wasn’t the biggest fan of small spaces.
The door next to the mirror opened, and Detective Nowakowski came in carrying a folder and a steaming Styrofoam cup of coffee. I waited for Mercedes to follow him, but he closed the door and took the seat across the table from us.
Tyler gave Holden a cold glare, and my vampire escort returned the favor by lifting the corners of his mouth in a telling smirk and putting his hand on my knee.
If the contact wasn’t so helpful in soothing my ragged nerves, I might have slapped him. As it was I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms defensively over my chest.
“Any word on who she was?” I asked, attempting to steer things towards a professional point of discussion.
“Her name was Ashley Parsons. She was sixteen and had just been crowned queen of the winter formal, so I’m told.” Tyler leaned back in the metal folding chair, its old frame creaking with the shift in weight. “Tell me something, Secret.”
There was a pause, so I filled it. “Something specific, or just anything that comes to mind?”
Tyler’s grip tightened on the pen in his hand, and he clenched his jaw.
“Tell me how it is that the same night we tell you about this case, you just happen to stumble across a fresh body on your block?”
“Good old-fashioned dumb luck, I guess.”
He clicked the end of his pen and wrote something in the folder he had with him. I doubted it was anything important. I also doubted it was my name with little hearts floating around it.
“Tyler,” I said, my tone serious. “We didn’t find the body. About a hundred high-school students and their teacher did.”
“I’m aware of that.”
Holden was busy doing his impression of a gorgeous chair, his hand still on my knee, but he hadn’t spoken yet. Given his history with Tyler, I was thoroughly impressed with how well-behaved he was being.
“Can I ask you something?”
He looked surprised but nodded.
“Why are we here?”
“Standard procedure.”
“No offense, Detective, but bullshit. The on-scene officer took our statements. We didn’t need to be here.” Being snippy wasn’t always the best idea when it came to the police, but at least I wasn’t so jumpy anymore.
Tyler set his pen down, then took a long sip from his coffee. Whoever had brewed it made a strong pot because the smell of burnt roast filled my nostrils. Every time I swallowed I wanted to ask for extra sugar.
I leaned back in my own chair and waited. If we were going to have a staring contest, I wanted to be comfortable.
He placed his coffee on the table and began to speak, but I couldn’t hear a word he said. At my side, Holden went tense, and it wasn’t long before I understood why. The aroma of coffee vanished, replaced by something darker and unmistakable.
It was the only scent that could overwhelm all else and drown out my other senses. My breath quivered, and I looked over to Holden. He was no longer pretending to breathe, and his expression was drawn and rigid with control. On my knee, his fingers were squeezing too hard. He was trying to fight back his fangs.
A hollow plop noise brought my attention back to Tyler, who was still speaking. The words came to an abrupt end when he caught my horrified expression and both of our gazes fixed on his coffee cup. Something thick and liquid fell into the cup, causing the black coffee to ripple.
Then came the sound of raindrops.
Only it wasn’t raining.
The table in front of us, once boring and beige, became dappled with spots of red. At first I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, until a drop of blood landed on Tyler’s white dress shirt, and then another. One hit his eyebrow and dripped into his eyelashes, causing him to blink spasmodically.
All three of us looked up to the ceiling at the same time.
The ceiling tiles were stained a red so dark it looked black, but only in a small area right above Tyler.
His whole shirt was splattered with blood. We stood from our chairs and stepped back in time to see the tiles sag and the ceiling burst like a festering wound. The table was littered with pieces of broken tile, but among those was the source of the blood.
A Christmas stocking, now empty, with a collection of body parts scattered around it. And among them was the worst thing I had ever seen in all my years of hunting vampires and killing pseudo-demonic monsters.
The red-headed curls and freckled skin looked especially gruesome given the waxy gray pallor of her complexion, but I knew right away who it was. The image of her decapitated head, still wearing a rhinestone tiara, would haunt me all my life.
When Holden and I emerged in the lobby, Desmond and Nolan were waiting for us. One look at my blood-spattered tank top and they both rose to their feet with apprehensive expressions clouding their faces. No one but me looked at Holden, but if my countenance was half as grim as his, I could appreciate why my boys were so worried.
Having given my second police statement of the day, I was more than ready to be home. And if the weariness in my bones was any indication, sunlight wasn’t far off. I needed to be in bed and away from the sun before it rose.
I was ready for this night to be over.
“Are you okay?” Desmond asked, obviously trying not to sound too anxious.
“It’s not mine.” I gestured to the bloodstains on my face and clothes.
He pulled me away from Holden and wrapped me in a protective embrace. Normally I might have resisted such a public display of affection, but as it was I was happy to be close to someone. I tucked my head against his chest and breathed in the comforting limey flavor of him. The coiled pressure inside of me unwound, and I relaxed almost instantly.
Desmond stroked my hair and held me closer. Holden hung back, and Nolan danced uneasily from foot to foot.
“What are you guys doing here?” I asked, only now realizing I hadn’t called either of them.
“You weren’t at home, so I called the office,” Desmond explained. “Nolan explained what you had him looking for, and when you didn’t answer your cell, I called Mercedes to find out if she knew where you were.”
Now I was going to have to explain to Cedes why I had multiple men claiming to be my boyfriend. That was going to go over swimmingly. For all the times she had demanded I find Mr. Right, I don’t think she expected me to find two at the same time.
Yet somehow it really didn’t seem to matter right now.
“She said you were here,” Nolan finished. “So we came to find out why they were keeping you.”
Desmond lifted my chin with one finger and stared at me.
“What happened?” His gaze darted down, looking at the blood. He was definitely misreading the situation, so I had to wonder what Mercedes had told him. I could tell from the look in his eyes he was convinced I was in trouble for something.
I wasn’t sure he was wrong.
“I didn’t come in like this.”
He ran a finger over the blood, and it came off still wet. His brows shot up with surprise.
“What happened?”
“That’s what I’d like to know.” Tyler emerged from the back room. He had changed into a clean shirt, but his face was still red from the clinging streaks of blood he hadn’t been able to clean off.
The detective looked at me surrounded by a collection of good-looking men, and the expression on his face made me push Desmond away so I was standing alone. I glared at Tyler defiantly, not in a mood to be judged right then.
“Detective Nowakowski.” Holden spoke for the first time. “I believe we’ve said all we have to say on this subject to your officers. Miss McQueen and I have been through our fair share of traumatic instances tonight, and I don’t think your suspicions of us have any foundation. If you know something, feel free to book us for it. But as we are guilty of nothing other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, we’d appreciate it if we could leave now.”
Mercedes had come in about halfway through Holden’s speech and moved to stand between Tyler and us. Tyler’s face had gone red, and I wish I knew why he was so hell-bent on proving me guilty of something. His suspicions went beyond lingering ego bruises. There was a darker element lurking under the surface, and judging by his flushed features and red-hot aura of anger, it was threatening to boil over.
“Of course you’re all free to leave,” Mercedes said before Tyler had a chance to speak. She shot him a look that said more than words could, and he remained silent.
Tyler went back up the stairs into the main workroom, and I nodded my thanks to Mercedes.
“Secret,” she said, stopping me. She came closer and whispered so the receptionist couldn’t hear. “I don’t know what happened in there, and I know you’re not responsible, but this isn’t human and it’s not normal. I need you on this. We can’t stop something that can place a body in the ceiling of a police station and vanish.”
“I know.”
“This is up to you now.”
Chapter Eight
Five days later I lay awake as dusk settled over the city, staring up at my ceiling and waiting for the world to cave in on me. The cracked plaster was as changeless as ever, but I was too on edge to look away. I kept expecting blood to start leaking from the cracks and little bits of body to come tumbling out.