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The moment Jace Jericho stepped into Boneyard's staff room, he knew there was trouble.
The entire crime scene unit was assembled. Lyra, their young witch, sat on the sofa, her petite frame rigid with nerves. The chief, Caine, leaned against the corner as if unaffected, his new wife Eve next to him, not quite pulling off the same impassive look. Her hand rested on his forearm in a sure sign of support and affection.
Jace still had a difficult time accepting that his best vampire friend had married a human. But it was obvious that Eve made Caine deliriously happy, so he didn't protest. At least, not out loud.
Kellen, the firearms expert, Gwen, the lab tech and Dr. Givon Silvanus, the medical examiner, sat at the long wood table. Even the baron himself, Laal Bask, was present. He stood in the center of the room, trying to command the attention of the others. As usual, everyone on the team ignored him.
When Jace entered, Caine acknowledged him with a nod. "Thanks for coming in on your night off."
Jace shrugged. "It didn't sound like I had a choice."
Settling in beside Lyra on the sofa, Jace glanced around the room. Everyone looked nervous, especially Eve. She kept her eyes on Caine; Jace could see the tension in her face and in the way she twisted her hands in her lap. Something major was going on and it had to be human-related.
Jace prayed they hadn't found another human body in Necropolis.
Caine moved to the center of the room to stand beside Laal. The baron took that as his cue to start talking.
"First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for coming in. I know some did so on their days off." He tipped his head to acknowledge everyone.
Caine cleared his throat. "Let's just cut to the chase, Laal. We're wasting time." Caine glanced around the room meeting everyone's gaze. "There has been another murder."
Lyra shivered beside Jace. He glanced over at her and saw a look of knowing in her big brown eyes. Her hand was on the silver pentagram amulet at her neck and she was rubbing her thumb over it. For comfort or concentration, he couldn't be sure. Had she had a vision? Was she having one now? Sometimes she knew things before the rest of them did. As powerful as his wolf senses were, Jace's abilities were no match to Lyra's.
"This one is very similar to Lillian Crawford's murder." Caine met Jace's gaze and kept it. He knew the vampire was trying to read his emotions. Trying to figure out if he was thinking about the last case. It had been horrific for everyone involved.
Caine continued, "The body was found in an abandoned house in San Antonio."
There was a collective gasp across the room. Even the devil-may-care vampire, Kellen, had a look of alarm on his tattooed face. No small thing, considering he usually didn't give a rat's butt about much.
"Who called it in, Chief?" Jace asked.
"Captain Morales phoned Eve." Caine glanced at his wife and gave her a small smile. "As a courtesy, he's asked us to come in and investigate."
"You and Eve?"
Caine shook his head and looked right at Jace. "All investigators are going in. You, me, Eve and Lyra. The rest of the team will be on standby in case we need them to process information."
A sense of dread washed over Jace. "Do you really think that's necessary? I'm sure they don't need all of us there."
"It is necessary." Lifting his gaze, Caine glanced around the room. "If this murder is like the others, we'll need everyone's help. So, be on alert."
"When are we leaving?" Lyra asked.
"Right away. The crime scene's getting cold. So grab your kits and your gear. We'll meet in the garage in a half hour."
Everyone got to their feet and began to file out of the room.
"Remember to be on your best behavior out there." The baron clapped his hands together and smiled. "Your behavior is a direct reflection of this lab."
Everyone ignored him and exited the room, Caine and Eve the last to leave.
Jace remained seated. He wasn't going anywhere. It had been over fifteen years since he'd been in any human city. He wasn't going to one now.
When Caine reached the door, he glanced at Jace. Pressing a kiss to the top of Eve's head, he said, "Grab my kit. I'll meet you in the garage."
Flicking her eyes to Jace and then back to Caine, she nodded and left.
Sighing, Jace leaned back against the sofa. He knew what was coming even before Caine opened his mouth. "I'm not going. You don't need everyone there."
Caine stood in front of Jace with his hands in his pockets. The vampire's casual stance was deceiving. Jace knew that under Caine's spit and polish beat the heart of a formidable predator. Not someone a person would want on their bad side. Jace knew this was going to lead to a disagreement. They butted heads on a weekly basis.
"It isn't up for discussion, Jace. The whole team goes." Standing, Jace brushed past Caine to pace the room. He had a hard time staying still for more than ten minutes at a time. It was even harder with the moon calling to him. It was close to a full moon and Jace should've been out running through the woods instead of being at work. That the lab was underground and didn't have any windows was a small blessing. At least he didn't have to see his pale mistress begging for him to come play with her.
"Who's going to run the lab?"
"Monty can handle it. He's not a complete incompetent ass."
Jace arched his brow. Everyone knew that the day supervisor was an incompetent ass.
Caine shrugged. "Okay, he is, but he can handle it while we're gone. Jace, there isn't an argument you can give me that's going to change my position on the matter."
"I can't do it, Chief. Not after all I went through. I can't be around them."
"We've all suffered in the past."
Jace stopped pacing and glared at him. Caine put up his hand in defense. "Yes, some more than others. But you have to get over it, Jace. It's history."
"Not to me." Jace opened his mouth to protest further, but Caine kept talking. The vampire had a remarkably effective habit of doing that. "You need to get over yourself and do the job. It's as simple as that." Taking his hands out of his pockets, Caine moved to the door. "I'll see you in the garage in a half hour."
Anger surged through Jace as he continued to pace. He hated being ordered to do anything. Especially something like this. He couldn't ignore what had happened and he couldn't forget.
Over the past few months, he'd been able to warm up to Eve, despite her being human. They weren't best buddies and never would be, but he could sit down with her and have a conversation. Sometimes even philosophical ones that he quite enjoyed. Of course, he would never openly admit that to anyone.
When she arrived in Necropolis to work the Crawford murder a few months ago, Jace had thought she was as useless as the rest of the human population. To his surprise, she turned out to be a good investigator and a good person. If Caine loved her, there had to be something remarkable about her. He figured she was an anomaly.
One human was tolerable, but an entire city? There was no way Jace could handle it. The plethora of smells and sounds alone would drive him mad. Sometimes his lycanthropy was a curse.
Caine cleared his throat. Jace had completely forgotten that he was still there. "You're the best investigator I have, Jace. I need you with me on this." Without another word, he left. by the lab. The first year had been touch and with Caine and the others on the team. He hadn't been if he would ever be able to work well with others. shifted forms so many times in moments of anger for a while everyone called him Wolf Jericho.
It had been Caine who had helped him with self-control. The baron had wanted to fire him the first time he'd shifted and pinned one of the lab techs to the wall, but Caine had insisted on giving Jace another chance. And another. And another. He claimed that, being a lycan, Jace had a natural gift for crime-scene work.
Jace could still remember his first case. The evidence he had found at the scene and processed in the lab had put a two-time rapist behind bars. It had been a rush to know that the work he did was the reason the police were able to get the violent criminal off the streets and into a prison.
After a year, Jace, as well as the rest of the staff, realized the chief had been right. He was very good at his job. Crime detection became his life. He breathed, ate and slept the job. He couldn't think of anything else he wanted to do. He still got a rush with every new case.
Except there was no thrilling rush with this case, only fear and hostility.
He didn't want to admit it to Caine, but he was afraid to go into San Antonio. What if they found out about him? About his gift of shape-shifting? What if this time, they didn't let him live in Necropolis with the others, but put him back into the freak show where he grew up? Jace knew he'd never survive something like that again.
Lyra shuffled into the staff room, rustling Jace from his maudlin thoughts. She regarded him with her generous eyes; her head was titled to the side like it often was when she looked at him.
Once he had asked her why she looked at him that way. She told him it was because his aura was so explosive and colorful, it was interesting to watch it swirl around his head like a rainbow tornado.
"I've come to fetch you," she told him, a little smile at her pretty mouth.
He smirked. "I was wondering who he'd send."
"Caine knows that you can't say no to me." She grinned.
"Are you okay with going?"
"I don't mind humans." She shrugged. "I'm enlightened, and hold no prejudices."
"Hey, I'm not prejudiced," Jace argued.
"Yeah, right." She smirked. "Are you coming? Or am I going to have to tell everyone in the lab that you're too chicken to go into the city?"
"Jeez, I'm coming." Jace pushed off the table and followed Lyra out of the room.
As they walked down the drab hallway to the elevators, Lyra glanced up at the ceiling in front of her. She nodded.
Jace knew she was having a silent conversation with her dead grandmother. It had been peculiar at first to watch the little witch converse with thin air, but Jace had gotten used to it. Especially after the time he scoffed at Lyra's ability to talk to the dead and an icy wind had nearly ripped his jacket off his body. And that night he suffered from very vivid nightmares of being chased around by zombies.
He never doubted her again after that. "Is your gran saying something about me?"
Lyra glanced over her shoulder at him and shook her head. But he saw her shoulders stiffen then relax. And he saw the flicker of fear cross her face.
He tensed. "What did she say?"
"Nothing. She's just making small talk," she said. Her scent subtly changed.
She was lying. But he wasn't positive he wanted to know why.