Authors: Cynthia Garner
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction / Romance - Paranormal, #Paranormal, #Fiction
Nix shot him a look of commiseration. The assistant ME was a verbose little shape-shifter who loved the sound of his own voice. Especially when he was able to trot out long, complicated words. She was amazed he hadn’t gone into more detail with her, but maybe he figured he’d already given the information to Dante, so why bother? “So once we have a suspect list we’ll want to check alibis between the hours of two thirty and five thirty, just to be sure.”
Dante nodded. “Hey, can you…” He looked around and lowered his voice. “Can you smell anything?”
Dante was always discreet, and Nix was forever grateful. She took a deep breath and held it, pushing past the scent of blood for other odors. The sounds around her faded as she focused on her olfactory sense. There was a light smell of vamp, some lingering aroma of shape-shifter, but nothing recent enough to support or discount their involvement. There was something else there, though, a smoky odor lingering just beneath everything else, something… like demon.
Nix stilled. Why in the hell would demons have attacked a lone vampire? As far as she knew there had been no blood feuds called. And most demons wouldn’t dare strike out on their own without sanction from their leader. Of course, there was always a possibility that a few had gone rogue and were having fun like in the old days, ganging up on a vampire who’d been foolish enough to venture out on his or her own—but she didn’t think that was what was going on. The scent of demon would be a lot stronger if that were the case.
She drew another breath. While her sense of smell was better than a full-blooded human’s, it wasn’t as good as a full-blooded demon’s. And nowhere near as good as a vamp’s or any of the shape-shifters. But even she could tell there was something wrong here. The demon scent was too faint. If actual demons had been here, the odor would be much stronger. Maybe it was residual from earlier in the day. But still, it troubled her. It wasn’t enough to definitely say demons were involved, but it was too much to rule them out.
“The strongest smell is of humans,” she murmured. “I’m no bloodhound, though, and I can’t tell older scents from the current ones,” she added with a glance at the technicians working the scene. She kept her voice low. “All of the pret scents are so faint, my first assumption is that the attackers were human. It’s just too difficult to sort out all the other smells.” Plus if vamps fed on humans just prior to the attack, they’d have an overriding odor of human on them. She said as much to Dante.
His low sigh drew her attention back to him. His eyes looked tired and soul weary, like most of the other human cops she knew. Poor guy. He looked a little pale, the lines around his mouth testament to the strain he was under and the confusion he was trying to sort through.
“What is it?” she asked.
He scrubbed the back of his neck with a big hand. “It’s just… all this.” He drew a deep breath. “Here we were, going along for thousands of years thinking we were at the top of the food chain. We gave names to things we didn’t understand, like vampires or werewolves or goblins. And then to find out we weren’t kings of all we surveyed, that these things were real, just not in the way we’d imagined them.”
“What do you mean?” Nix crossed her arms and stared at him.
“Vampires aren’t vampires, shape-shifters aren’t shape-shifters. They’re all just a bunch of interdimensional squatters.”
She grinned. His metaphor was accurate. “Technically they
vampires. They have fangs. They don’t eat, they drink blood.”
“But they’re not reanimated corpses like in the legends. That’s what I mean.” When she started to correct him, Dante waved her off. “Okay, okay, I realize that the entities that turn into what we call vampires can only take over dying or newly dead bodies, so I suppose that makes them reanimated corpses. But… you know what I mean.” Frustration colored his deep voice. He gestured toward Amarinda. “She’s not human. Not really. She’s an alien possessing a human body. And in just under two years even more entities will come through the rift and nobody knows how to stop them.”
“It’s not like it’s going to be the end of the world,” Nix said slowly. She wasn’t sure how she felt about the next Influx. She was part demon, so the fact that more prets were going to come through the rift didn’t frighten her. If anything, she felt a little sad for all the humans who were going to be possessed by strangers, completely unable to do anything to prevent or avoid it. Thousands of families would become dysfunctional overnight. “We’ll adapt.” She hoped that was true.
“Yeah, I suppose.” He took a few steps away from the body and began moving around the crime scene, following in the footsteps the criminalists had already taken.
Nix pulled a small but powerful flashlight out of her purse and followed him, looking closely at the ground, at the adobe walls of the nearby building. Except for the body, there didn’t seem to be any other evidence of a crime, which supported their conclusion that Amarinda had been dumped here.
“Something this brutal tells me it was personal.” Dante circled back toward the body. “You just don’t do this kind of damage to someone you don’t know.”
“You don’t think so? Remember, if it was prets that killed her…” Nix gave a quick shrug. At his questioning glance, she reminded him, “Werewolves eat people. And the internal organs are the yummiest.”
“Oh, hell.” He grimaced. “I really didn’t need to be reminded of that. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing stuff like this.” He hooked his thumbs in his belt, fingers framing the large silver buckle. “I wonder what’s keeping Knox?”
“I don’t know.” Nix looked around the crime scene for any sight of the quadrant vampire liaison. It was unusual that he wasn’t here yet. She stared down at the tarp, her heart beating like bongo drums in her chest. Amarinda was the second vamp to be killed, and Knox was late. What if… She drew in a breath and held it, trying to calm her fears. She hoped he was all right.
Dante gazed toward the edge of the scene where the techs were beginning to pack up their cases. “Hey, Marks!” When the man looked up from the computer tablet he was jotting notes on, Dante asked, “Did you get word to the council dispatch that the vic is a vamp?”
The man nodded.
Dante glanced at Nix. “Then they should’ve called him by now.” He brought up his wrist to look at his watch. “Wonder what’s keeping him.” He dropped his hand, hooking his thumb over his belt again. “So, what can you tell me about your friend here?” He gave a quick nod toward Amarinda’s tarp-covered body.
Nix wet her lips. She realized she was thirsty and reached into her bag for a bottle of water. She usually carried at least one bottle with her because in the low humidity of the desert it was easy to become dehydrated. “She came through the rift somewhere around 330 BC, give or take. There are vamps older than her, but not many.” Being immortal, like a vampire, didn’t mean you couldn’t be killed. It just meant it took a lot to do it, especially the older a vampire was. “She works…” Nix broke off and swallowed, surprised at how much this hurt. She twisted off the cap of the bottle and took a swig of water, using the few seconds to recap and replace the bottle to get her emotions under control. “
“The quadrant’s vamp leader?” Dante gave a low whistle. “Someone must have a death wish, to take out one of Byron Maldonado’s people.”
“They may not have known. Or cared,” Nix said.
“Who didn’t know or care about what?” The raspy bass voice with a flavor of South Carolina came from behind her.
That deep voice stopped her heart. She turned, and when she saw Tobias Caine duck under the crime scene tape her stomach lurched. He was pulling on latex gloves as he walked. His thick black hair was in its usual rakish mess with a few strands falling over his forehead. He straightened and loped toward them with an easy long-legged stride that belied his underlying intensity.
Five years. It had been five years since he’d walked out on her. Five years since he’d thrown away her love.
It was like a dagger to the heart, seeing him again. He looked the same as ever, tall, lean, handsome as sin. His gray shirt matched his eyes and his leather coat fell to midthigh, drawing attention to those long legs encased in dark blue denim. He looked damned fine. His presence revved up her pulse and that made her mad. There should have been some sort of sign that he’d suffered as much as she had, the bastard.
Nix stiffened her legs, telling herself it wasn’t seeing him again that made her weak in the knees. There was no denying that lust surged through her body in tune to her quickened heartbeat. It didn’t seem to matter he wasn’t hers anymore.
Some people used meth. Others drank themselves into a stupor. Her drug of choice was Tobias Caine. And it seemed that even after five years of sobriety, she was still as addicted as ever. Her eyes began to burn, signaling the rise of her demon. Tobias had always had that effect on her, as if his darkness called to her own. When they’d been in the middle of making love it hadn’t been a problem, it had even enhanced the experience. But now, while she was on the job… She gritted her teeth and forced the demon back.
Dante shifted, his right hand sliding over to unsnap the safety strap on his gun holster. He let his hand rest on the butt of his weapon. She could see how tense he was, his shoulders taut, hand ready to draw his pistol.
Nix didn’t blame him. She was tempted to draw her gun, too, but for an entirely different reason. Battling back the urge to tear into Tobias, she asked him, “What’re you doing here?”
His hard, stormy gaze locked on hers. “Nix. It’s good to see you.”
She ignored the throb between her thighs as her body reacted to his voice and those damned pheromones that spilled from him. Vampires had the ability to influence the behavior of others through these pheromones, excreted colorless chemicals that human senses were too dull to detect but pret senses could identify just fine. Some vamps were better at using them than others. Tobias was one of the best she’d seen. Or, more accurately, felt. “I asked you a question,” she stated with a glare.
Tobias reached into the inner pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out a wallet. He flipped it open and showed ID that looked suspiciously like hers—that of a council liaison. “I’m your vampire liaison.”
“You’re not my anything.” She folded her arms over her breasts. “What happened to Knox?”
Tobias shrugged. “He’s been temporarily reassigned.”
“Mr. Caine.” Nix heard Dante’s hard swallow but his voice held steady as he said, “I’m Detective MacMillan.”
“No need for formality. Call me Tobias.” Tobias reached out and the two men shook hands in greeting. Tobias tucked his ID away. “It’s Dante, right?” Upon receiving a nod of affirmation from Dante, Tobias looked at Nix again.
As he took a step forward, she raised a hand to ward him off before he thought to come any closer. The pheromones still rolled off him in a steady stream, making it hard to breathe through the sensual fog they created. She ground her teeth to keep from leaping into his arms. Or baring her throat. Or both. “You need to ramp it down, Caine,” she muttered.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” he returned blandly.
She glanced at Dante. His hand rested once again on the butt of his gun but he didn’t seem to be overly affected by the pheromones. While it was true he wouldn’t sense them, he would still be influenced by them if that was what Tobias wanted. Since he wasn’t, that meant Tobias was deliberately directing them her way. Her human DNA made her more susceptible to the effects than a full-blooded demon would be, and he knew it.
“Caine!” she bit out, taking a step backward, putting more distance between them and ignoring the confused look Dante sent her way. “Just what the hell are you doing here? Since when are you a council liaison? And why was Knox reassigned?”
Tobias gave her a cocky grin, making her heart flutter in unwanted longing, though his stare remained as penetrating as ever. “I arrived in town early this morning. As soon as word of this came to the council, they asked me to be a special liaison because of my background and the spate of murders that’s happened recently.”
She scowled and ignored, for the moment, the fact that they’d be working together. “Since when are two deaths a ‘spate’?”
“Since today.” His gaze snagged on the body. “Let me take a look at the victim.”
Oh, crap. Amarinda and Tobias went way back. She was the one who had introduced Tobias and Nix. When he had left town, Nix had gone out of her way to avoid Amarinda after that, effectively ending their relationship. Something she would never be able to fix.
As he started forward, she put her hand on his arm. “Tobias…” There was no easy way to say it. “It’s Rinda.”
Tobias’s face became drawn and the spill of vamp pheromones increased, though now they vibrated with building rage and sorrow. “Damn it.” He breathed out a sigh and crouched beside the body. He folded back the tarp to reveal her face.
Nix noticed a slight tremble in those long fingers and couldn’t deny the sympathy she felt for him. Despite his meeting Amarinda more than a hundred years ago, the two had managed to maintain a close friendship. Before he’d left Scottsdale, they’d both worked for Maldonado—Tobias as one of Maldonado’s enforcers and Rinda as a kind of jill-of-all-trades. Nix had never really been sure exactly what the female vampire’s job had been.
Nix moved to the other side of the body so she could see Tobias’s face better. His expression was controlled, placid even, but she could detect the stirrings of rage in the way his pupils dilated until there was only the smallest circle of gray rimming them.
She pushed aside the feelings Tobias’s reappearance in her life engendered and focused on the job. She could get through anything if she just kept things on an impersonal level.
Just forget you know what he tastes like, how his skin feels against yours, how full you feel when he’s deep inside you
. She tried to ignore the eager thump her clit gave and drew in a steadying breath. “Can you smell anything?”
He closed his eyes and inhaled. After a few seconds he grimaced and opened his eyes. “There’s a little bit of shape-shifter and some vamp other than Rinda’s scent. That could be odors here at the scene and not necessarily on her body. And then, there’s you.” The look he gave her suggested he could sense her physical reaction to his presence, probably even smell the involuntary stirring of arousal within her. “But there’s something more, something beyond this overpowering odor of all these humans.” He glanced at Dante with a mumbled, “No offense.”