Read Lover Beware Online

Authors: Christine Feehan,Eileen Wilks

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #United States, #Romantic Suspense, #Mystery & Suspense, #Romance, #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Contemporary, #Suspense

Lover Beware

BOOK: Lover Beware
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Only Human

EILEEN  WILKS

 

 

Chapter 1

HE DIDN'T HAVE much face left. Lily stood back far enough to keep the tips of her new black heels out of the pool of blood that was dry at the edges, still gummy near the body. Mist hung in the warm air, spinning halos around the street lamps and police spotlights, turning her skin clammy. The smell of blood was thick in her nostrils.

The first victim, the one whose body she'd seen four days ago, hadn't had his face ripped off the way this one had. Just his throat.

Flashes went off nearby in a crisp one-two as the police photographer recorded the scene. "Hey, Yu," the man behind the camera lens called.

She grimaced. O'Brien was good at his work, but he never tired of a joke, no matter how stale. If they both lived to be a hundred and ran into each other in the nursing home, the first thing he'd say to her would be, "Hey, Yu!"

That is, assuming she kept her maiden name for the next seventy-two years. Considering the giddy whirl she laughingly called a social life, that seemed possible. "Yeah, Irish?"

"Looks like you had a hot date tonight."

"No, me and my dog always dress for dinner. He looks great in a tux."

O'Brien snorted and moved to get another angle. Lily tuned him out along with the rest of the crowd—the curious behind the chain-link fence, the uniforms, the lab boys and girls waiting with their tweezers and baggies and fingerprint gear.

They'd arrived almost as fast as she had, which said something about how nervous the brass was. That a crowd had assembled in this neighborhood said something about everyone else's nerves. Spilled blood often drew people the way spilled sugar draws flies, but not in this area. Here, people assumed that curiosity came with a price tag. They knew what a drive-by sounded like, and the look of a drug deal going down.

The victim lay on his back on the dirty pavement. There was a Big Gulp cup, smashed flat, by his feet, a section of newspaper under his butt, and a broken beer bottle by his foot. Defensive wounds on the right arm, she noted. Something had torn right through his jacket. There was blood on that hand, but she didn't see any wounds.

His other hand lay about ten feet from the body, up against the pole to the swing set.

A playground. Someone had ripped this guy's throat out in a playground, for God's sake. There was a hard ache in Lily's own throat, a tightness across her shoulders. She'd seen death often enough since she was promoted to Homicide. Her stomach no longer turned over, but the regret, the sorrow over the waste, never went away.

She crouched, careful of the way her dress rode up on her thighs, and studied the focus of all the activity.

He'd been young. Not young enough to have enjoyed those swings anytime recently, though. Twenty or less, she guessed, maybe five-foot-ten, weight around one-eighty. Weight-lifter's shoulders and arms, powerful thighs. He'd been strong, perhaps cocky in his strength—used to fighting, probably used to winning.

Strength hadn't done him much good tonight.

Whatever had torn out his throat and made a mess of his face had left the eye and cheekbone on the right side intact. One startled brown eye stared up at nothing from smooth young skin the color of the wicker chair in her living room.

He was wearing a red T-shirt, black hightops, black cargo pants, and a black jacket.

Gang colors. Not that she thought this was a gang killing. The bloody paw prints leading away from the body were a pretty good clue about that.

A pair of size eleven shoes, black and dusty, moved up beside her. They were connected to long, skinny legs encased in uniform trousers. "Careful, Detective. Don't want to get your pretty dress dirty."

Lily sighed. Officer Larry Phillips was half of the patrol unit that had been first on the scene. She hadn't run across him before—the San Diego PD was too big for her to know many beat cops. A few minutes spent taking his report had given her a pretty clear picture, though. He was pushing fifty, still on the streets and sour about it. She was female, twenty-eight, and already a detective.

In other words, he didn't like her. "This is your turf, Officer. You know him?"

"He's one of the Devils."

"Yeah, I got that much." She stood and glanced up at him. Way up—he was a long, stringy man, well over six feet. Of course, Lily had to look up to meet almost anyone's eyes. She'd persuaded herself that didn't irritate her anymore. "You think you could look at his face instead of his clothes and see if you can ID him?"

"Why? This wasn't a gang killing." He had a toothpick in his mouth. She found herself staring at it, waiting for it to drop, wondering if it was glued to his lip. "Not even murder, really."

Three years ago a case like this would have been handled by the X-Squad. Now it went to Homicide. "The courts say otherwise."

He snorted. The toothpick didn't budge. "Yeah, and we know how smart those bleeding heart judges are. According to them, we're supposed to treat the beasts like they were human. That mess at your feet proves what a great idea that is."

"I've seen uglier things done by men to other men. And to women. And I still need an ID."

Another cop joined them, this one young, short, with shiny black hair and a greenish cast to his complexion—Phillips's

partner, the other half of the responding unit. "I, uh, I think it's Carlos Fuentes."

Phillips raised one scornful eyebrow. "You basing that ID on his shoes? Not much else to go on."

"It looks like him around the eyes. I mean the eye. And the build is right. Fuentes is supposed to be good with his knife," he added. "Fast."

"Was he left-handed?" Lily asked.

"No. No, I'm sure he was right-handed. That fits—it's his right arm with the defensive wounds. If he were attacked by a dog—"

"Dog?" Phillips was incredulous. "You think a dog did this?"

"It could have been," Rodriguez insisted. "You always tell me not to jump to conclusions. Well, until they run the tests we won't know that this was done by a—by—"

"A lupus," Phillips drawled. "That's what we're supposed to call them now, right?"

"It could have been a rabid dog. Or one trained to attack. Maybe Fuentes was meeting someone, making some kind of deal. When it went sour the other guy sicced the dog on him."

Phillips made a disgusted sound.

She flicked a glance his way. Phillips wasn't much of a partner if he wouldn't take the time to educate the kid. Lily looked back at the younger officer. "Where's Fuentes's knife?"

"I don't..." His voice trailed off as he looked around. "He must not have had time to draw it."

"Right. Now look at the body, and think. You said he was good with a blade, and fast. He's right-handed, so when some animal comes at him out of the darkness, he uses his left arm for defense. Like this." She flung up her own arm. "He reaches for his knife at the same time. And the beast didn't pay any attention to the defensive arm. It knew he was reaching for a weapon. Went for his right hand, bit it off, and spat it out. Dogs don't do that."

His throat worked as he stared at the corpse. "If—if it had been trained to go for the right arm ..."

"It bit the hand off," she repeated patiently. "And flung it away. You can't train an animal to do that. What's more, Fuentes looks like he could have bench-pressed three-fifty or better, but he couldn't even slow the beast down."

"Where do you get that?"

"Observation. Aside from the blood and the body, you can't tell there's been any kind of fight here. The beast hit him quick and hard. He might not even have had time to know his hand was gone. He had good instincts, though. He tried to pull his head down, protect his neck. That's when he lost some of his face. Then it ripped out his throat."

The rookie was looking sick. Maybe she'd pushed reality on him a little too firmly.

"Now, now. You're not supposed to say 'it,' " Phillips said with heavy sarcasm. "We have to say 'he' now, treat 'em like people. Full rights under the law."

"I know the law." She turned away and frowned. A van from one of the TV stations had pulled up. Dammit. "I need you two to join the uniforms at the entrance. I don't want any media ghouls messing up my crime scene."

"Sure thing, Detective." Phillips gave her a mocking grin; turned, then paused and took the toothpick out of his mouth. When he met her eyes the mockery and anger had faded from his, leaving them dead serious. "A word of advice from someone who put in some time on the X-Squad. Call them whatever you like, but don't mistake the lupi for human. They don't think like we do, and they're damned hard to hurt. They're faster and they're stronger, and they like the way we taste."

"This one doesn't seem to have done much tasting."

He shrugged. "Something interrupted him, maybe. Don't forget that they're only legally human when they're on two legs. You run into one when it's four-footed, don't arrest it. Shoot it." He flicked the toothpick to the ground. "And aim for the brain."

 

 

Chapter 2

LILY'S EYES WERE gritty and hot the next morning when she made her way through the mass of desks in the bullpen. It had been two in the morning when she'd returned to her little apartment onFlower Street.

The lab crew had put in an even longer night, though. The preliminary report was waiting on her desk. She settled into the battered chair that was just beginning to adapt its lumps to her own bottom, took a sip of her coffee, and skimmed it quickly.

It held one surprise. For some reason they were holding off on the complete autopsy "pending official notice." Her eyebrows went up. What did that mean? Otherwise it was pretty much what she'd expected. No blood other than the victim's, no tissue. A few hairs. At least they'd been able to establish that the attacker had been one of the Blood, though.

Science depended on things happening a certain way without fail. Water boiled at 100°C at sea level, no matter who did the boiling. Mix potassium nitrate, sulfur, and charcoal together in the right proportions and you ended up with gunpowder every time, no random batches of gold dust or baking soda to confuse matters.

But magic was capricious. Individual. The cells and body fluids of those of the Blood—inherently magical beings— didn't perform the same way every time they were tested. Which made it possible sometimes to identify the traces magic left in its wake, but played hell with lab results.

Still, the lab tech had been able to determine that the blood in the wounds had been contaminated by magic, probably by some body fluid from one of the Blood. Saliva, obviously, but the tests couldn't confirm that.

The report did list some negatives. Lily snorted when she read them. No one with a functioning brain would have suspected a brownie anyway, and gnomes were timid and extremely rare. Gremlins could be nasty, but there hadn't been a gremlin outbreak in southernCaliforniain years. Besides, they were way too small. The damage she'd seen last night hadn't been inflicted by a gremlin pack.

What the lab work couldn't tell them, the other physical evidence did. Lily knew very well which species they were dealing with—one of the lupi.

Werewolf.

She sat back with a sigh, turning back to the first page to give the report a more thorough reading. The man at the desk next to hers tilted his head back and howled.

"Cute,Brunswick," she said without looking up from the report. "Very lifelike. You been tested?"

The woman at the desk behindBrunswicksnorted. "Him? You've got to be kidding. Lupi are supposed to be virile, charismatic, sexy as hell—"

"Hey, I'm sexy! Just ask my wife."

“They're also tomcats."

"Can't call a wolf a cat."

"Don't nitpick. You know what I mean—they'll stick it anywhere, anytime, to anyone who'll let 'em. You want me to ask your wife if that's true, too, studmuffin?"

Two of the nearest men laughed.Brunswickwas protesting his innocence when Lily's phone rang. "Homicide. Detective Yu speaking."

"You're wanted in the chiefs office."

It was Captain Foster. She knew it was him—yet her first reaction was that this was a prank. It had to be. A lowly detective with only two years on Homicide was not summoned

to the office of the chief of police. "Chief Delgado, sir?"

"How many chiefs do we have?" he snapped. Which was a bit unfair—there was only one chief of police, but there were several deputy chiefs. "He wants you there right away."

The line went dead. Lily gave the phone in her hand one incredulous glance, then set it down and stood.

The chief's office was, naturally, on the top floor. There was no point in speculating about why he wanted her, she thought as she punched the button for the elevator. And proceeded to do it anyway.

For once the elevator arrived immediately. She stepped on, brooding over what the summons might mean. It had to be something to do with last night's homicide.

Maybe Delgado wanted her for a press conference. The media were in a feeding frenzy. But Delgado usually handled that sort of thing himself when it was a major case. He might ask her captain to participate, but it was unlikely he'd want her.

BOOK: Lover Beware
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