Authors: Tiffany Allee
Tags: #paranormal romance, #demon, #incubus, #succubus, #banshee, #killer, #detective, #stalker, #crime, #tiffany allee, #files from the otherworlder enforcement agency, #urban fantasy, #chicago
“Besides,” Aidan said, “I wouldn’t say it was a total waste. Hell, it was worth it for me to watch you knock that guy down a peg.”
Claude laughed, and then got in his car and waved. The roar of his engine interrupted the otherwise relatively silent day. Only the sound of cicadas filled the silence when he got far enough away that I was able to hear anything but his car again.
“I’ve got to go,” I told Aidan. “I’ll see you later, okay?”
He nodded, but his eyes followed me as I jumped into my SUV. I glanced at my cell phone while I pulled on the seat belt, which kept my eyes firmly away from the sexy man I really wanted to stare at. No missed calls. Giving the vampire’s opulent lair one last fearful glance, I headed back down the long driveway.
sat surrounded by mature trees and a sprawling lawn in an older neighborhood full of large lots that offered ample privacy. It was a small home, painted a medium blue with white shutters that were never closed. Bright daisies had overtaken the area between the house and yard. Only the concrete steps leading to the front door hadn’t been overwhelmed by the aggressive, cheerful flower.
The tightly locked front door barred my entry. I banged on it a few times before peering through the window, pushing down my panic. It just wasn’t like her to go so long without contacting me—or at least Vasquez. But her house looked like it was in order. No bloody handprints on the wall, no knocked over knick knacks, no furniture pushed from its normal spot on the floor. I took a deep breath, told myself there was no real reason to worry, and headed to the back. The knob was also locked. I knocked twice. No answer. I took my driver’s license out of my wallet.
As a cop, Amanda knew to keep deadbolts on all of her doors. But she’d just moved into this house and she hadn’t had time to add them to the older home. Slipping the license between the door and the frame, I jiggled it and pushed. A few seconds later it popped open, revealing Amanda’s tidy kitchen. Like her locks, it also needed some updating, but it oozed charm, with checkerboard tile flooring and white cabinets. No dishwasher, but like me, she lived alone so the dishes weren’t too much of a burden.
She’d given a housewarming party the week after she’d moved in. A crazy organizer, she’d unpacked every box, hung every picture, before the party. It was a cop party. Nearly everyone Amanda knew was a cop. She didn’t have any family to speak of, so we were the only ones she invited. Entertainment had been limited to the Bears game on her small television, and visiting with other guests and the hostess. But she’d supplied us with a lot of beer and food, which was enough to keep a bunch of cops and their families happy.
I stepped through the kitchen into her formal dining room. I secretly thought this was the reason Amanda bought the house. Spacious enough to hold the antique table her mother left her when she passed, it was a room meant to be used by a large family. Despite her normally dismissive attitude on the subject, Amanda dreamed of having a big family someday, a secret she’d confided in me one night after too many drinks.
Two place settings sat on the dining room table, with one plate practically licked clean and the other with small chunks of mashed potatoes and a couple of green beans still on it. Wine glasses—both empty—sat behind the plates. Two candles with blackened wicks sat on the middle of the table. The food looked like it had been there since the night before: crusty, but with no sign of mold.
Sudden pressure on my chest suffocated me and perspiration covered my face. Amanda was meticulous with everything in her life. She would never leave dirty dishes lying around. I wiped a sweaty palm on my jeans and moved slowly toward her bedroom.
I almost turned and walked away when the subtle smell touched my nose. Calling in backup wouldn’t make me less of a cop. I was only human—well, mostly. But if she weren’t behind the door, I’d never live it down. I tried to tell myself that the scent came from the dirty dishes in the dining room. Although every cell in my body screamed my worst nightmare waited for me, I couldn’t turn away. I didn’t want to remember her how I would almost certainly find her behind that door. I needed to remember her for her dry sense of humor, her tireless devotion to duty, her loyalty to her friends and fellow cops, and her willingness to befriend a half-assed member of a species so dangerous they couldn’t live among normal humans.
I twisted the doorknob, pulling out my gun as the door creaked open.
Amanda lay on her bed, eyes clouded and wide-open, head hanging off the foot of the bed so she stared at the door. Her limp hair streamed down, almost touching the carpet. Lipstick still colored her mouth, and mascara smudged under her eyes. Gritting my teeth and swallowing a scream, I turned from her and went to call it in.
My partner was dead.
t felt the urge
to scream so badly in a very long time. Not because any vision of death struck me, but because I’d just seen my worst nightmare. I wanted to yell and curse and scream because it hurt so much. Only the thought of how pissed Amanda would be if I broke the windows in her new house prevented me from wailing my heart out. So instead of howling, I sat on a chair next to the door in her bedroom and waited for everyone to arrive. I didn’t touch her. The cloudiness in her still-open eyes kept me from an inane hope she might still be alive. She would be cold. I didn’t want to remember my friend as cold.
By the time the crews of emergency personnel circulated through and my boss arrived, I had regained some semblance of control. Lieutenant Vasquez stared down at me, blocking my view of Amanda. His eyes were tight, and his mouth formed a grim line.
“Let’s go talk in the kitchen.” His tone brooked no argument, and he headed out of the bedroom without waiting for me to get up.
I rose from the chair, feeling my legs protest. My backside was numb and I vaguely wondered how long I’d been sitting. I glanced one last time at Amanda, and then walked out to her kitchen.
The lieutenant stood, arms crossed, next to the sink. A frown creased his face. It was as close to upset as his expression ever got.
I pulled one of the chairs from her small breakfast table and sat down heavily. The grief that had pressed on my chest was gone, and the realization that one of the only people I’d thought of as a friend was now dead remained distant. I was numb. On some level, I realized my numbness was due to shock, but my mind shied from studying my emotions too closely.
“I hadn’t been able to get ahold of her since Monday night, at the Rebecca Anderson murder scene. She left me a voice mail with some instructions, said she was going to be out of touch for a bit. When you told me you hadn’t heard from her either…” I waited for the rebuke, for him to say I should have said something this morning, not come over here by myself.
“Go on,” he said.
“House was locked tight. I broke in the back door. She hadn’t had time to install a dead bolt.”
“You get any other info yet on the earlier victims, the ones outside our jurisdiction?”
“No. I haven’t gotten them from my OWEA contact.” Belatedly I remembered promising Aidan I wouldn’t mention the OWEA’s involvement to anyone. Oh, well—not like I could keep that to myself now anyway. A dead cop upped the stakes for Lieutenant Vasquez. Amanda’s death changed everything for me.
“Yeah, not…officially, though.”
A flicker of emotion flashed across his face. Annoyance, maybe. But before I could identify it, the expression disappeared. “What’s the agent’s name?”
“Byrne. Aidan Byrne.”
He jotted the name down on a small pad of paper. “Anything else I need to know?”
“I’ve told you everything, Lieutenant.”
“Good.” He nodded, and then hesitated before he said, “Can you get yourself home? I could tell a uniform to—”
“Home? I’m not going home.” The numbness abruptly disappeared and a burning hole ate at the middle of my chest. I could either cry in front of my lieutenant or be pissed off at him. Given the choice, I’ll always go with angry over sad.
“Of course you’re going home. Your partner was murdered for Christ’s sake.” He crossed his arms and looked down at me like I was slightly daft.
“Screw that! I just needed a…breather. I’m fine. I’m helping. No way in hell am I going home.” I glared at him and he stared back at me, irritation plain on his face.
“You’re no longer on this case, Mac. You’re going home.”
“Shut it! I understand how you feel right now, but this isn’t a discussion. You’ll go home under your own power, or I will have someone escort you. Is that clear?” His eyelid twitched. Lieutenant Vasquez did not run a democracy, and his officers arguing with him when he’d made up his mind was one of the few things that pissed him off.
I opened my mouth to protest, and then snapped it shut. Squabbling with the lieutenant wouldn’t get me anywhere. “Fine,” I said, keeping my voice even. “But I’d appreciate it if you’d keep me informed.”
That’s the least you can do, jerk.
He gave me a quick nod and pointed at the door, his message clear.
The door clicked shut behind me and I was proud of myself for not slamming it. I was a freaking professional.
The burning ember at the end of a cigarette caught my eye. I met Mason Sanderson’s hard gaze with one of my own. The night hid his features, but I recognized him even in the low light. The Internal Affairs cop didn’t say anything.
Even though Mason stood outside of the building, leaning against a tall, old tree, I had the uneasy feeling that he had heard my exchange with Vasquez. I didn’t need Internal Affairs on my ass, so I held my tongue. A couple of seconds into our staring contest, he nodded at me, his expression solemn. I nodded back, unable to speak, and headed for my car.
I probably hadn’t convinced the lieutenant I was going to follow his orders to a T, at least not for long, but he almost certainly figured he’d cowed me for the short-term. I smiled. He didn’t know me that well.
What he didn’t know couldn’t hurt me.
I considered heading to my
dad’s house instead of home. It would take over an hour—he lived in a town so far out it could hardly be called a suburb. The drive would be worth it to get a big bear hug from him and the reassurance that everything was going to be okay. But along with the reassurances, I’d have to deal with the subtle hints that this wasn’t the best line of work for me to be in, and the less-than-subtle statements from my stepmother to that effect. I loved them, and they were great parents, but they couldn’t accept the fact I was a cop. Neither of them liked that my job put me in danger, or that my freak squad status constantly reminded them I wasn’t entirely human. Both of them were human, and while it wasn’t a fact they held against me consciously, I knew it lingered in the back of their minds.
The numbness returned by the time I turned into my neighborhood. The world felt surreal. Lights were too bright, colors bled dry of their brilliance. Pulling into my driveway, I smashed my foot on the brakes to avoid hitting the Jeep already parked there. As my car jarred to a stop, I heard a crunch. I jammed down on the clutch, and threw my Rav4 into reverse and backed up enough to check the damage.
I slammed the car door and walked up between the cars. A small dent bent my bumper in. The Jeep had a single scratch. A light shone from inside my house, stealing some of the night away and casting long shadows in the driveway. Eyes narrowing, I stomped up to the front porch. I swung the door open, cringing as it hit the wall with a loud thump. If that left a mark on my wall, I was going to be doubly pissed.
I strode through the living room into the dining room. Sure enough, he was there. Feet on my table, the same romance novel he had been perusing before in his hand, cup of coffee steaming on the table in front of him. How did he find where I hid the pile of books? Did he go through my coat closet?
He looked up from my novel, dark blue eyes crinkling at the edges, a hint of a smile on his handsome face. Suddenly, I was glad to see him. Yelling at Aidan sounded infinitely more appealing than crying my eyes out.
“You owe me a bumper.” I tossed my files on the table and headed for the kitchen. No way was I asking about the book. Was he actually reading it? Grabbing a cup out of the cabinet, I poured the coffee and struggled to keep my voice even. “We have a new victim.”
“You’re sure it’s the same killer?”
I walked into the dining room and sat down at the table, in front of where I’d thrown the files. I took a sip of my coffee before I spoke, considering how much to tell him. Since I was officially off the case and he might be my only chance of getting in on the latest information, I decided to spill.
“Yes. Same M.O.” I hesitated, and then forced out the rest between gritted teeth. “Vic was my partner, Amanda Franklin.” I concentrated very hard on my coffee cup. If I glimpsed pity in his eyes, I’d go over the edge into either tears or a fit of rage. Neither would help me find her killer.
Silence filled the air for a long moment. Finally he said, “We’re going to get this asshole, Kiera. We’ll get him and nail him to the wall.”
I risked a glance up from my coffee cup. No pity adorned his face, but the half smile he always wore was gone. His calm expression belied a hardness in his eyes that I hadn’t seen in him before. For a split second they looked almost inhuman, but then the crazy edge disappeared and only the cold rage remained.
It suddenly struck me that Aidan Byrne might be more than just a pretty face.
“I’ve been tossed from the investigation.”
His hint of a smile reappeared. “And I’m technically not on this case at all. Sounds like we make quite the pair.”
Investigating a case I was emotionally involved in with a man who was more than attractive sounded like a bad idea. Unfortunately, it was my best shot at finding Amanda’s killer—maybe my only shot now that I’d pissed off Lieutenant Vasquez.
“Fine. We’ll work together on this one. But that doesn’t make us friends, and it doesn’t mean I trust you as far as I can throw you.” I leaned across the table and gave him my best cop face. “And no funny business.”
His grin turned into a full-on smile, revealing a set of sparkling white, perfect teeth. “Oh, I can keep my hands to myself if you can.”
I snapped my mouth shut when I realized I was gaping at him while he disappeared into the kitchen with his coffee cup. When he reappeared in the dining room, I’d managed to put my blank face back on.
When you’re without a good comeback, ignore, ignore, ignore. “So we’re looking for an incubus. Possibly a succubus impersonating one, but I think that’s less likely.”
“Incubi have been extinct for over one hundred years.”
“I’m aware of that. But, it’s the only explanation that works. Not only does it fit, it fits like a freaking puzzle piece.”
“Except for the fact that not only are they extinct, they’ve also never been known for killing their food.”
“Killers come in all shapes and sizes, Aidan. There’s nothing about incubi that I’ve ever heard of that prevents them from killing. Our sensitive confirmed at least one of our victims was drained of her psychic energy. The method fits, the sex fits, the fact they all died without a struggle fits. It all fits.”
“And you don’t think it’s more likely to be a succubus because?” he asked, his voice annoyingly calm and reasonable.
“Call it a gut instinct. Call it experience. Call it statistics. How many sex crime–related female serial killers have we seen in the last few decades?”
“Okay. Let’s say it is an incubus. Why would he bother to kill his victims when he could feed on them—probably forever—without them complaining about it?”
“Using otherworlder powers to influence a person to do something is a felony. It’s treated just like forcing someone with a gun.” Why was I lecturing another cop on the justice system? I couldn’t help myself. “That, on top of feeding from them, would net this guy some serious jail time.”
“Yes, but the chances of women actually filing a complaint are almost nil…if incubi are like their succubi cousins, that is.”
He was right. From what we knew of them, incubi were just as welcome by women as their cousins were welcome by men, which may have led to their extinction. Jealous husbands and all. A forced seduction charge didn’t fit, especially for the victims who didn’t have a significant other to complain about their change in behavior.
As he waited for my retort, I studied the man across from me. He was dressed casually, wearing a T-shirt and jeans. I could make out the muscles under his shirt. I imagined it would burst at the seams if he flexed. Not likely, but it was a conveniently distracting thought. My gaze made its way up to his face, where a small smile brought me out of my pondering. I frowned at him and he grinned more widely. Bastard knew exactly how attractive he was.
“Okay, then how about a motivation not directly incubi related?” Heat flooded my cheeks. If he said anything about my blushing, I would shoot him. “Maybe, like your garden-variety serial killer, he just enjoys killing people. Gets off on it. Might be he’s a nutcase who just happens to be an incubus.”
“Perhaps. But if that’s true, how do we find him?”
“You any good at tracking spells?”
“I’m not a witch,” he said.
“Just checking.” I resisted the urge to stick my tongue out at him. “Guess we’re going to have to rely on good old-fashioned police work.”
“Considering the OWEA isn’t officially working on the case, and you’ve been booted from it, how do you plan to do that?”
I winked at him, feeling silly the instant I did it. Forcing my embarrassment down I said, “I have my ways.” Then, to fully cover my discomfort, I went on the offensive. “What kind of otherworlder are you, anyway?”
He frowned. “You just toss social propriety to the wind, don’t you?” He thought about it for a second, and then said, “I’m a sex god. That’s my special power.”
Heat crept up into my cheeks again and I fled, walking quickly to the kitchen with a muttered excuse that I needed more coffee. It had been a rude question, and he had every right to deflect, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have the right to know. He might not tell me, but I’d figure it out. Aidan Byrne was hiding something.
I let the matter drop and we discussed the case until I could barely keep my eyes open. Then I pushed him out my door, ignoring his sexy grin and suggestion that he should stay to keep me company. After I moved my car from where it blocked his, I watched his Jeep disappear into the night, and I almost wished I’d taken him up on his offer. A night of fun, distracting sex might be just what the doctor ordered. It had been a long time, after all. A wave of loneliness hit me when I thought about how long since I’d had sex, let alone anything remotely approaching a real relationship.
Pushing thoughts of Aidan aside, I tried to force away the overwhelming desire to be held that had plagued me since I’d seen Amanda’s body, and I hugged my pillow and cried.