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I was running late. My coat crackled as I took the stairs two at a time, arms pumping, ratty old messenger bag grating at my shoulder and bumping against my hipeach tap a reminder of time ticking down. Visions swam through my mind of a white rabbit in a waistcoat, hopping frantically, his big feet bloodied, his monocle cracked. I was never late.
I shoved through the door to the fourteenth floor of the PetroTech Building at a dead run, grabbing the wall to whip into a turn, then cursed as I almost collided with a big blond man in a leather coat.
"Take it easy," he said, raising something toward my face. Reflexively I slapped it away, then rolled my eyes when it slid across the polished tile. It was a plain brown envelope secured with a red string, totally normal for an office building. The man crouched to pick it up, his eyes still on me, and I shivered despite the fact that I was sweating.
"Sorry," I said, gulping air. "In a hurry."
"So I see." The man picked the envelope up and extended it toward me. "Don't forget this." As if I'd dropped it rather than knocked it out of his hand. I blinked rapidly as pressure built behind my eyes, and my heart found another gear as I did the math. Cold flash plus insidious attempt to influence equaled not human.
"If you knew who this delivery was for," I said, backing away, "you wouldn't be hustling me. Rule number one for surviving your undeath in Alaska is that you don't steal from the Master." I slipped through the glass door announcing the law firm of Deglio, Caravel and Aronofsky in frosted script and came to a hard-breathing, red-faced stop in front of a sleek receptionist with drawn-on eyebrows.
"Delivery. For Mr. Deglio." I looked out the window behind her at the drab view of Cook Inlet, even more dismal in the evening gloom. I had a plan to trade Anchorage and its muddy banks for the sandy beaches of Hawaii. I just needed a little more money, then I could finally be rid of the cold and the dark. The muffled ding of the elevator sounded out in the hall. I refocused on my reflection in the glass and the wavering space behind me. It was empty. My wannabe interceptor had disappeared.
"You may leave it with me." The receptionist's expression soured as she looked me over.
"Sorry." I pulled the clipboard out of my bag and tapped it with authority. "The order says it goes in his hands only." I glanced at my watch. Six fifty-two. When I'd met the pilot at the small plane airport, he'd told me that delivery before 7:00 p.m. was imperative.
The receptionist painted on a thin veneer of patience and opened her mouth to put me in my place. Screw this. I'd broken a couple of traffic laws to get here in twelve minutes. I wasn't about to let an anorexic clerk cheat me out of my bonus.
I turned on my heel and stalked down the hall, ignoring her stage-whispered protests. I'd delivered to Deglio a few times before and knew the layout of the office. He wasn't the sort to come out and greet a courier.
I knocked before I opened the door. Not because I'm polite, or even all that professional, but because I knew what probably waited inside the large corner office. Even though they would know I was there, it was good sense not to burst into a room full of vampires. One of them might take it as an excuse to exercise their fangs.