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Creed Preston sat in the outer office of Messenger Investigations, amusing himself by watching the swirl and flow around him. Jude Messenger had been his friend for years, but only recently had he become comfortable enough to spend a lot of time in Jude's office, surrounded by mortals like Terri, Chloe and Garner.
It was a vampire thing. He and Jude had cemented a friendship that crossed the final barriers of territoriality that most of their kind felt, often to an extreme degree, when Jude had risked his life to eliminate the evil that had nearly killed Creed's great-granddaughter.
But spending much time in the company of mortals could still be painful, because they smelled so damned tempting. As the years passed, however, his self-control became easier, and over the past months since Jude had mated with a mortal, Terri, he'd learned he could enjoy their company and control his hunger well enough.
Terri was absent this evening. As an assistant medical examiner, she often had to go out at night to crime scenes. Chloe sat at her desk, wearing her signature punk-cum-stripper getup, her hair dyed black and worn in spikes. She topped the whole image off with enough black eye makeup to keep a cosmetics company in business, and bright red lipstick.
Across from her sat Garner, a gifted demon hunter of about twenty-five, blond and blue-eyed, and casually elegant in a scruffy sort of way. The two of them often argued like siblings.
Creed enjoyed listening to their spats. Once, long ago, he'd had children, and he'd been forced to watch from a distance as they grew old and died. When Chloe and Garner got going, he inevitably grinned and watched the show.
Jude, however, had no such background with kids, and had a great deal less patience.
"Will you two cut it out?" he called from his inner office. "I'm trying to think."
Both Chloe and Garner fell silent, but continued to shoot fiery looks at one another.
Sitting here, Creed felt more "normal" than he had since his change. Which was probably why he was spending more and more time in this office, as his own job allowed.
He put a hand over his mouth to hide a smile and continued to watch the dagger-staring contest. As usual, Garner wanted to plunge headlong into something dangerous without even grasping how dangerous it was, and Chloe displayed enough common sense to be twice her twenty-five years. And keeping quiet was obviously stressing their self-control.
Jude, his fellow vampire, appeared in the door of his office. As always, he was dressed in a perfectly tailored black silk shirt and slacks. Most vampires preferred black because it helped them blend with the shadows. Creed himself wore black slacks and a black turtleneck sweater. He didn't share Jude's taste for finer clothes.
Jude was slightly above average height, three inches shorter than Creed, and right now his eyes, golden from recent feeding, were not quite golden enough. He was irritated or disturbed.
Jude looked at Chloe and Garner. "Have you two concocted a plan for how we're going to deal with this?"
Neither answered him.
"I thought not," Jude said, sarcasm edging his tone. "All that arguing and no plan. Why doesn't that surprise me?"
"Because you know us," Chloe said with a toss of her head. "Look, boss, you ought to just let Garner go do what he wants. Then we won't have to deal with him anymore."
"Hey!" said Garner. "How do you know I'm not right?"
"Because you suggested it?" Chloe arched one brow. Garner glared.
"Enough," Jude said quietly. That one word quelled them both.
Jude looked at Creed. "I need to go keep an eye on Terri. You want to come?"
"Because of this thing?'''
Jude nodded. "She was a doorway last time. She might still be. I don't know."
Creed understood. Jude had offered to die permanently to save them all from the thing that had nearly killed Creed's great-granddaughter, that had attacked Terri, as well. He also understood that no matter how many cops surrounded Terri, none of them would be able to protect her from that kind of threat.
He rose. "Sure."
He didn't have to ask Jude how they would find her. Jude and Terri's relationship was more than a simple mating; it was a claiming. No matter where Terri went now, Jude would be able to find her. And if anything happened to Terri, Jude would probably tear the planet apart before he killed himself.
It was the way of vampires. And the reason most of them tried to avoid a claiming at all costs: inevitably, if something went wrong, death and destruction would result.
But apparently, to judge by the way Jude had claimed Terri despite all the warnings he'd given Creed about it over the years, claiming wasn't always a choice.
They left the car because they had no need for it. Jude carried the tools of his trade in the pockets of a long leather coat: crucifix, the ritual for exorcism and plenty of holy water. Creed felt a bit uncomfortable with that, but some of his perspectives were undergoing radical changes because of his association with Jude.
They slipped from shadow to shadow too fast for human eyes to see. The most any mortal could have noticed would have been the breeze of their passage.
The city was quieting down though, falling into its late slumber at last, so they didn't encounter many people.
Each one, though, had a particular, tempting aroma. It was, Creed sometimes thought wryly, like slipping through an aromatic deli but never tasting a single, delicious morsel. With time it got easier, though never easy.
He had vowed a long time ago never to become again that ravenous monster he'd been during the weeks and months after his change. If he ever felt weak, his conscience summoned up a whole banquet of ugly images to remind him of what he had done.
Though sometimes he wondered why he bothered. Humans were so good at doing themselves in, it often felt pointless for him to suppress his own urges, his own hunger.
Jude took them directly to the crime scene. His instincts had guided him to Terri as surely as a homing beacon. Together they mounted a nearby building and watched from the roof. Periodically, Jude lifted his head and sniffed the air to make sure there was nothing unusual about.
From above, both preternatural sight and preternatural hearing allowed Creed to know everything that was going on. Most of it was dull, detail work, and he hardly paid attention. He didn't really care about the ordinary details of an ordinary murder. Finally, bored, he tuned it out and looked up at the stars.
Despite the city lights, he could see thousands of them, if not millions, thanks to his vision. Sparkling in all the colors of the rainbow and more, they seemed to set the sky ablaze. He loved moonless nights because he could see so many more stars.
For him the night was not leached of color, but instead flooded with it. Things he had never been able to see as a human now filled his eyes with pleasure. Sounds and scents brought him stories of the night that he would never have noticed before.
No, it was not all bad.
He dragged his gaze from the heavens to look at
"Do you smell it?"
Creed drew the night into his lungs, smelling it and tasting it. He paused, then exhaled slowly. "There's something faint. Something off"
"It was here. Gone now, but it was here."
At once Creed's interest in the goings-on below him returned. He focused on the little hive of human activity, listening and watching.
"Do you think it caused this?" he asked Jude.
"I don't know. I'll find out more from Terri. For now though, it's enough to know it was here."
"And good reason to stick around Terri until she's home."
"Yeah. Thanks, Creed."
"I don't know how much good I'll be if needed." Then Creed paused. "So, okay, maybe you need to teach me how to deal with this stuff."
"It would be helpful."
Creed had never wanted to enter the world where Jude existed, fighting demons and other unseen threats. It had always seemed to him to be a dangerous path full of hidden pitfalls, and he was at heart still the Harvard professor he'd been before his own change. But after what had happened to his great-granddaughter, his opinion had rapidly shifted. Now he'd just offered to jump in with both feet.
Surprising himself, he grinned into the night. Apparently he'd made the decision without realizing it.
He drew another lungful of the night. The abnormal scent was already cataloged in a part of his brain that would never forget it. He would know it again the instant he encountered it anywhere. So he sniffed, checking for it, making sure it didn't strengthen. For now that was all he could do.
"It doesn't seem to be coming back," Jude remarked presently, as the team below them began to pack up, as the body was loaded into a morgue van. "Why don't you run back to the office, or home if you prefer. I'll just follow Terri to the morgue to make sure it's not in the vicinity. Then I'll get back to the office."
"What if you find it? I should come, too."
Jude smiled without humor. "I don't want to challenge it tonight unless I have no choice. I'm just keeping an eye out."
"Call me if you need me." Then Creed straightened and blended away into the night like a shadow.
Being a vampire did have its advantages.