Kiss of the Vampireby Cynthia Garner
Warriors of the Rift
Once a generation, the rift between the paranormal world and the human world opens, allowing supernatural entities to cross. Vampire, demon, or shapeshifter, they can save the world-or send it spiraling into chaos.
Half-demon, half-human, Nix de la Fuente is accepted by neither and mistrusted by both. Determined to prove she/em>… See more details below
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Warriors of the Rift
Once a generation, the rift between the paranormal world and the human world opens, allowing supernatural entities to cross. Vampire, demon, or shapeshifter, they can save the world-or send it spiraling into chaos.
Half-demon, half-human, Nix de la Fuente is accepted by neither and mistrusted by both. Determined to prove she's more human than not, she devotes herself to solving crimes between the world's mortals and its most unsavory undead. But her latest case brings her face to face with the one vampire she could never resist . . .
Called in to investigate a string of violent murders, special agent Tobias Caine isn't interested in rekindling his relationship with Nix. Yet one look and the vampire knows his need for her is as strong as ever. Once, their all-consuming passion nearly cost Nix her fragile hold on her humanity. Now, as their hunger for one another intensifies, exposing them to an unimaginable danger, it could cost them both their lives.
Garner introduces her intriguing new Warriors of the Rift series. Garner provides both a cool premise and interesting characters. One to watch!"RT Book Reviews on KISS OF THE VAMPIRE"
Cynthia Garner's new series is unforgettable!"Larissa Ione, New York Times bestselling author of Immortal Rider on KISS OF THE VAMPIRE"
THREE STARS! This is Cynthia Garner's debut novel and the author shows great promise. Various characters in the story have complex, yet compelling, backgrounds that kept the story intriguing to me as I read. As for the ending, AWESOME! I wondered if something similar to it would happen, but did not really expect it. I closed the cover of this book while wishing that the second title was available for me to dive immediately into."http://www.huntressreviews.com/ on KISS OF THE VAMPIRE
A deliciously dark and scorchingly sexy treat for fans of paranormal romances."Chicago Tribune on KISS OF THE VAMPIRE"
The first Warriors of the Rift romantic urban fantasy is a refreshing look at the origin of vampires, werewolves and other myths. Fast-paced, the romantic and police procedural subplots deftly balance a strong storyline that starts off with an Arizona newspaper editorial condoning the killing of a vampire and never slows down as Cynthia Garner provides a fascinating take on the supernatural."
Harriet Klausner on KISS OF THE VAMPIRE
An inventive spin on supernatural mythos draws readers into this fast-paced paranormal series launch...Garner (a pen name for Sherrill Quinn) shows promise with great characters, constant action, and steamy sex."Publishers Weekly on KISS OF THE VAMPIRE
With interesting back stories and even more interesting futures ahead Garner keeps the readers wanting more. Tobias and Nix's relationship is passion filled with hot love making and even hotter story lines. I will eagerly be awaiting the next addition in this new series."Goodreads on KISS OF THE VAMPIRE"
KISS OF THE VAMPIRE is an amazing debut with a fresh spin on how paranormal beings came to earth. Ms. Garner's world is peppered with strong fascinating character who come alive between the pages."FreshFiction.com on KISS OF THE VAMPIRE"
4 STARS! I cannot wait for this series (Warriors of the Rift) to continue. Garner seamlessly combines paranormal romance and romantic suspense that has you on the edge of your seat."anoveladdiction on KISS OF THE VAMPIRE"
I can't wait to see what Ms. Garner has coming up next!"www.nightowlreviews.com on KISS OF THE VAMPIRE"
Makes for a thrilling and exciting read. Just remember to keep the light on."www.SfSite.com
Read an Excerpt
Kiss of the Vampire
By Garner, Cynthia
ForeverCopyright © 2012 Garner, Cynthia
All right reserved.
Arizona Daily News, February 13, 2012
From the Editor
By Simon Tripp
In just under two years this planet will see another Influx of incorporeal beings. Most of them will be criminals, but some will be political dissidents or religious prisoners. The dimensional rift itself is caused by the return of the Moore-Creasy-Devon comet making its 73-year journey through the solar system. Beings from the other dimension have been using Earth as their own Botany Bay for millennia, and as of yet our scientists have been unable to find a way to stop it. These interdimensional marauders will stream through the rift like Vikings of old riding the rough waves of the sea to take possession of human bodies without any regard for those they displace. Or, more accurately, suppress.
We know little more about them now than we did when we first became aware that vampires and werewolves and all those other creatures of myth were, in fact, real. According to Dr. Nandi Wesley of NASA, an Extra-Dimensional (ED) takes possession of a human and the combination of their otherworldly essence with that of their host determines just what creature they become. How that happens still remains a mystery. No one in this world can explain on a genetic level what makes one a vampire, another a werewolf, still another a pixie, not even the renowned Dr. Wesley. As well, governments around the globe are as unprepared now as they were three years ago when word of this rift became public knowledge. Following the hysteria that caused families to turn on each other because they suspected their loved ones had become EDs, the United States passed a law that protects EDs from discrimination in housing, employment, and other aspects of life. The Preternatural Protection Act (PPA) also includes strict penalties for hate crimes directed toward EDs.
I’ve always pretty much been a live and let live sort of guy, but I’ll admit I’m troubled by this laissez-faire attitude we have toward the monsters in our midst. Just because they say they’ll police themselves doesn’t mean they will. It’s up to the everyday citizen to protect him- or herself, since our government won’t, because in less than twenty-four months we’ll have even more EDs to contend with, vampires being the worst of them.
Everyone knows these beings have been preying on humans for centuries. Just last month a woman was brutally attacked and died while her two small children looked on in terror. The vampire who was responsible has yet to be brought up on charges. More accurately, he or she has not been found. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that more often than not preternaturals literally get away with murder. Maybe some of these anti-preternatural groups that have sprung up over the last few years aren’t all wrong. Maybe, just maybe, the people who killed that vamp in Scottsdale yesterday had the right idea.
I’m not satisfied to leave things as they are. Are you?
Nix de la Fuente scowled at the editorial as she made her way from her car to the latest crime scene. She folded the newspaper and stuffed it into her oversized bag. It was garbage like this in the media that kept people stirred up. At least the guy hadn’t mentioned demons at all. She supposed she should be grateful for that. Thousands of years of propaganda foisted on humans by various religious establishments had definitely made demons out to be the bad guys. Some of that negative press wasn’t wrong. Okay, most of it was pretty accurate.
Since she was only half demon, though, she considered herself one of the good guys. Most of the time, anyway. And it was her somewhat unique heritage that had landed her the job as one of the liaisons between the region’s Council of Preternaturals and the local authorities. That hadn’t earned her many friends on her mother’s side of the family, because most demons wanted nothing to do with the council. They figured it was their right to live and kill others as they pleased. Her mother had been downright pissy about Nix taking a job with the council, but Nix didn’t see any reason to placate a mother who’d been mostly absent from her life, letting Nix’s paternal grandmother raise a child she’d resented and sometimes had even seemed to hate.
As Nix neared the crime scene, she paused outside the taped-off area and grabbed a pair of shoe covers to put over her boots. In between two tall saguaro cacti, she braced herself against the wall of the building and slipped on the covers. Flashing her ID at the uniformed Scottsdale police officer, she ducked under the yellow crime scene tape he held up for her. Taking care where she placed her feet, she walked several yards to where a corpse was covered with a black tarp. She pulled a pair of latex gloves out of her purse and with a sigh squatted down, slipped them on, then folded back the plastic sheeting.
Under the setting sun the blood appeared dark and dull on the victim’s face and streaked the once beautiful but now grimy blond hair. Vacant blue eyes, clouded over, still held a look of surprise in their depths. In death her fangs hadn’t retracted, the tips resting against her lower lip.
Nix’s heart gave a thump. She knew this victim. Amarinda Novellus. Nix would never have thought she would see her like this. She blew out a breath and lifted the tarp higher to see more of the body. What was once designer clothing hung in bloody tatters. The rib cage gaped open, some of the bones broken. Most of the victim’s internal organs were gone. One leg lay bent beneath her at an unnatural angle. Her right arm was at her side, palm down, while the left one was bent above her head. All of her fingers were gone; no doubt her attackers had removed them to hide the bits of flesh and blood Amarinda had gouged out of them with her nails. Deep slashes scored her forearms, her thighs. She hadn’t gone down easily.
There were any number of preternaturals with the capacity and the desire to do this sort of thing, but the suspects greatly decreased when victimology was taken into account. Vamps were strong. Really strong. And fast. Even alone, this one should have been able to defend herself against almost anything.
Except there’d obviously been no defense against whatever had done this to her. At this point it was difficult to tell whether she’d been gutted by claws or knives.
A pair of men’s scuffed brown shoes moved into Nix’s field of vision. She glanced up past a potbelly to the ruddy face of one of the assistant medical examiners. “George. How’re you doing?”
The porcine shifter scratched the side of his nose with a stubby finger. “Can’t complain. Wouldn’t do any good if I did.”
“Family all right?” she asked. “Your youngest just went off to college, right? How does she like it so far?”
A broad grin creased his face. “Family’s fine, and my baby’s lovin’ the college life. Worries me a little,” he muttered, his smile losing some of its brightness. Knees cracked as he squatted next to her. “Helluva thing,” he said with a slight gesture toward the body.
“Yeah.” Nix sighed. “What d’ya got?”
“Murder by person or persons unknown. Just like the one yesterday.” At her exasperated look he shrugged. “What do you want from me?” He gestured the length of the body. “She’s been cut open and disemboweled. The how of it I’ll know once I get her on the table. The why of it’s your job. I can tell you she fed within the last twenty-four hours. That’s determined by how soft and pink her skin is.” He reached out and lifted her upper lip. “See how red her gums are? That shows she’s fed recently, too.” He let her lip fall back into place. “’Course, it could be that she took a long draw from the bastards that did this to her. I can’t say for certain.” He paused, shaking his head, then blew out a sigh. “It’s a damned shame.” He stood with a groan and stretched his back. “The boys should be here shortly to collect her. I’ll let you know what I find out from the autopsy.”
Nix watched him amble off and then looked back down at Amarinda. As with the earlier victim, there weren’t any visual clues that she could see on the body, but maybe there was some scent left. Nix leaned forward slightly. Just as she started to draw a breath to focus on the various odors from the body, a spicy, woodsy scent tickled her nostrils. A man moved into her peripheral vision and hitched up his black slacks to hunker down beside her.
“Nice of you to come,” Detective Dante MacMillan murmured, shooting her a sidelong glance. Dante had been assigned to the Special Case Squad only a month ago. Even though it usually took her a while to warm up to people enough to call them friends, she and Dante had been on several cases together already and she knew he was a man of deep integrity and an abiding sense of justice. Plus he made her laugh. Nix wouldn’t hesitate to name him as a friend, even after such a short amount of time.
She grimaced. “I came as soon as I got the call.” Damned werebear dispatcher had a thing about demons, and he always waited until the very last minute to call her about a new case, making sure she strolled on to the scene later than everyone else. She’d probably hear about it from her bosses afterward.
“I’ve been here ten minutes. First officer on scene secured the site and started jotting down makes, models, and license plate numbers of cars on the street.” He clasped his hands between his knees. “I have uniforms doing a canvas of the area. So far no witnesses. At least none that want to tell us what they know.”
She looked down at the body. “I know her. Her name is Amarinda Novellus.”
“How do you know her?” Dante’s voice was hushed, his tone compassionate. Finding out that you knew a victim was never easy. It brought the violence of the murder all that closer to home.
“She was a friend.” Nix clenched her jaw against the pain of her loss. She and Amarinda had drifted apart over the last five years because being around the female vampire had dredged up too many memories Nix hadn’t wanted to deal with. Now she’d never have the chance to renew their friendship. Her emotions rose, her gut churning with demon fire as if the beast inside was trying to burn its way out.
Nix stared at what was left of her friend and pushed the guilt and grief aside. She had a job to do. Had to focus and get it done. She could grieve and wallow in regrets later. After she found Amarinda’s killer.
Dante glanced at the victim, his face drawn and taut. A heavy sigh left him. “The second dead ED in as many days. God, I thought humans could be vicious to one another, but what EDs can do to each other…” He gave a slight shake of his head and gestured toward the gaping rib cage. “I mean, an ED had to have done this kind of damage, right?”
“Could have been a pret.” Nix refused to call them EDs. It wasn’t that there was anything technically wrong with the term, “extra-dimensional” really was quite accurate. But most humans said it with such disdain in their voices that it had become an insult and wasn’t used by most preternaturals. She replaced the tarp and rose to her feet, removing her latex gloves and tugging the back of her short leather jacket down over the knife scabbard at the small of her back. She might possess more strength than an average human female, but it never hurt to have actual weapons at your disposal. Like a blade made of silver at her back and the Glock 9 mm at her waist.
Dante stood as well, towering over her. Of course, most men did, since her human DNA contributed to the fact that she was only five four in her stocking feet. Good thing she had on her three-inch-heel boots tonight. That way, at least, her eyes were level with his chin instead of his Adam’s apple. She met his gaze. “There don’t seem to be any bite marks that could make it a vampire kill, and I don’t see any bites or scratches or tufts of fur on Rinda that would suggest a shape-shifter. Until the coroner can take a closer look, we won’t know if the damage was done by humans with knives or prets with claws and teeth.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “You really think humans could’ve done this?” He gestured toward the covered body.
“Maybe.” The editorial she’d read just before she’d entered the taped-off scene came to mind. “Some of the anti-pret groups might have moved from rhetoric to rampage.” She shrugged. “I’ve met some pretty violent humans, especially on this job.”
“Yeah, me, too.” He paused. She could tell by the look on his face he was really hoping humans hadn’t been involved. Of course, if they weren’t, that would mean that both of them would no longer be involved on this case. If this incident were pret against pret, human authorities would back off and allow the preternatural council to resolve the issue. Dante added, “This didn’t happen here. Not enough blood.” He gestured around the site. Criminalists were busy doing their jobs, from those taking photographs and placing evidence in paper bags to the one at the edge of the scene making a video recording. “There should be spatter everywhere, but there’s only what’s on and under her body.”
Nix agreed. “This is definitely a dump site. She was killed somewhere else.” The killing hadn’t taken place that long ago, either. What blood was there was still fresh. One of the human techs walked by, the air disturbed by his movements wafting the rich smell of blood toward her. She could almost taste the coppery tang on the back of her tongue, making her stomach knot even more.
Demons didn’t ingest blood like vampires did, but the smell of the stuff still brought out a primal response. A dull throb set up in her forehead and she brought one hand up to rub under her bangs, willing her horn buds to stay hidden. The last thing she needed was to start showing her demon at a crime scene. None of her human colleagues except Dante knew she was anything but 100 percent bona fide human being. She planned to keep it that way. While most people had settled down fairly well after finding out that vampires, werewolves, and the various fairy folk were real, they were downright hostile about demons. She didn’t need the prejudices of the cops and the crowd gathered on the other side of the yellow tape hindering her work.
“George says based on rigor mortis she’s been dead about an hour. No more than two.” Dante rubbed his jaw. “He went into some mumbo jumbo about how it’s different with a vampire ’cause they’re technically already dead. My eyes glazed over after about the fifth time he said ‘Adenosine Triphosphate.’”
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 are 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. “Worked with Maldonado.”
“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.”
Dante scowled. “Offense taken.”
Nix pressed her lips together while the two men sized each other up. Even as alpha as he could be, Dante was one of the most easygoing guys she knew, yet she wouldn’t be surprised if Tobias managed to rub him the wrong way. When he wanted to be, Tobias could be a real charmer. Most of the time he didn’t bother to put forth the effort.
Tobias cocked an eyebrow but didn’t respond. With slow deliberateness, almost as if he were taking the time to say good-bye, he drew the tarp back over Amarinda’s face and stood. He shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans, drawing Nix’s gaze there. The material pulled taut across his groin, showing the outline of his cock. She jerked her gaze away and glanced at his face. Thankfully he hadn’t seemed to notice where she’d just been looking.
“There is something… It’s familiar, yet not. I don’t know what it is.” Frustration colored his voice, made the low tones tight and even raspier. “Who the hell did this?” His gaze caught Nix’s. “Humans? Or someone trying to make it look like humans?”
She didn’t have an answer. Not yet. “Since she wasn’t killed here, it’s hard to say. But the strongest scent is human, not pret.”
“That might be technically accurate,” Tobias murmured. He pressed his lips together and drew in another slow, deep breath. “That other smell. It smells like…demon.” All demons had an underlying scent of burned wood or paper that was undetectable to humans. From the scent you couldn’t tell one demon from another, but you could separate demons from other prets. Vamps and shape-shifters had no trouble picking it up. He looked at her, a hint of accusation in his eyes that immediately made her mad.
Not back in her life five minutes and already he was pointing fingers. She couldn’t help being part demon, damn it. “Not every unexplained murder has a demon behind it, you know.” She darted a glance around, making sure the police officers and assorted crime scene specialists weren’t within earshot, then looked back at Tobias in silent warning. He should know better than to bait her about her lineage in front of the cops.
Of course, he probably figured there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot she could, or would, do about it. And he’d be right. If he really did want to “out” her, he could. But she didn’t think that was what he was after.
“It’s not demons,” Nix muttered, glaring at him. So, yeah, she’d caught a whiff of the same scent, but it was too faint to mean anything. She was about to say more when activity from beyond the yellow crime scene tape caught her attention. Two tall, slender men in dark blue one-piece uniforms stood on either side of a gurney upon which lay a folded crimson body bag. Council-appointed corpse retrievers, though they generally called themselves body snatchers, were there to collect Amarinda’s body.
Tobias waved his hand at the cop at the perimeter. “Let them in.” Since the victim was a vampire, authority in this case fell to Tobias. He took a few steps back from the body, making room for the two men.
Nix stepped back, too, and watched in silence as they unfolded the body bag and stretched it on the ground next to Amarinda. They picked her up and placed her with great care in the open bag, then pulled the top portion over her, zipping it until she was completely covered.
It wasn’t until the men had wheeled the laden gurney to the other side of the yellow tape that Tobias, his gaze on the departing body of his friend, said, “There’s really not much else you can do, Nix. The crime scene techs will gather enough evidence so that equal measure can be tested by human forensics as well as turned over to the council for testing by our lab. You don’t need to stay.”
Tobias saw anger flare in Nix’s eyes. Before she could respond, he started to move away from her. She touched his arm to stop him. Just the weight of her slender hand on his sleeve sent a shockwave through him. Damn, but he’d missed her. He hadn’t allowed himself to think about how much until now. The only reason he was back in town was because Amarinda had needed him. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been within a hundred miles of here.
He stared down at Nix and resisted the urge to comb his fingers through her short black curls, slide his palm down her soft olive-complexioned cheek. Take those sexy courtesan lips with his own. Sympathy swirled in her dark eyes. That had been one of the first things that had struck him about her, those gorgeous brown eyes that so clearly communicated what she felt. He was humbled that she possessed such an amazing capability for empathy. No matter how much she might hate him now, she could still be sorry for his loss of a friend.
She dropped her hand and took a step back, going still like prey in the presence of a predator. Her small fists clenched at her sides and that stubborn chin of hers went up. Intelligence and good sense were qualities about her he admired. She knew better than to show fear in the face of his thin control. From the change in his vision he knew his pupils had expanded to obliterate his irises, and from the wary way she watched him he suspected the whites of his eyes had been taken over by crimson. His fangs were down and the bones in his face had hardened. Nix’s step back had been her humanity reacting to the changes in him. His race was a race of hunters, regardless of which dimension they were in, and she knew it.
When she’d stiffened to stand her ground, well, that was the demon in her taking up the challenge. And there was the danger, that attraction of pret to pret, regardless that most demons and vampires barely tolerated each other. That was why he’d left. For her. To make sure she didn’t lose her grip on everything that made her human.
Nix cleared her throat. To his surprise, instead of arguing that she should stay, she said, “I’m sorry. I know she was your friend.”
He appreciated her sympathy even as he held himself rigid against the urge to yank her into his arms. “She was your friend, too.”
Sadness and regret passed through her eyes, small specks of yellow mixing with the brown of her irises. Her emotions were cutting away at her ability to control her demon, but she didn’t seem to be in any danger of losing control. He was impressed. But it still didn’t change the fact that they’d been together all of five minutes and her demon had surfaced. Which meant he still had the ability to drive her insane and he couldn’t—wouldn’t—do that to her.
“Yes, she was. Once.” Nix paused then repeated, “I’m sorry.” Turning, she walked away.
Watching her ass sway as she moved away from him made him hard. He ground his jaw. His big head might know he was bad for her but his little head sure didn’t give a damn.
He watched her duck beneath the crime scene tape and his jeans pulled even tauter across his groin. She paused and pulled off the booties, dropping them into a box set aside specifically for used protective gear. She gave a small wave to MacMillan and called out, “See you later, Dante.”
The detective held up one finger, silently asking her to wait, and called out to Tobias, “When can we get together to compare notes?”
Tobias checked his watch and responded, “Why don’t we get together first thing in the morning? We can discuss it over coffee.”
“Coffee for you, maybe. Breakfast for me.” MacMillan murmured something to the tech next to him and then said to Tobias, “Seven a.m. at IHOP all right with you? Nix?”
Tobias gave a nod. He really didn’t care where they met.
“Oh, wait, that’s daytime hours…” MacMillan grimaced, then shook his head.
“Newly turned vampires are the only ones who can’t abide sunlight,” Tobias said, “but after twenty-five years or so it’s not a big problem. Sunglasses help.”
“Oh, never mind, then. There goes that whole ‘creatures of the night’ mystique thing you had going on, though,” Dante taunted.
Tobias caught the glance MacMillan sent his way before the detective asked Nix, “Can I talk to you for a minute? In private.” She smiled and they walked several yards down the street, well away from the crime scene. “Can he hear us from here?” MacMillan asked.
Yes, he can. Tobias scowled. What was so damned important that the cop had to talk to her alone?
The detective leaned toward Nix, one arm braced against the wall of the building they stood by. It was clear from his stance that he was interested in her. With a snarl Tobias turned back toward the crime scene. Nix’s private life was none of his business, not anymore. Resisting the urge to turn back to watch the two of them, he caught the attention of one of the techs and motioned him over. “What have you recovered so far?”
The man shook his head. “Not much of anything. This was a body dump, all right. She was killed some place else.” At Tobias’s grunt of impatience, he added, “We have blood and tissue samples, probably all the victim’s, but that’s it, man. There’s nothing else here.”
“Okay, thanks.” Tobias stood still, staring at the ground, at the blood staining the dirt. Rinda’s blood. She was his friend. Had always been a kindred spirit. It was a disconcerting thing, waking up in someone else’s body. But when you found someone who’d gone through the same thing, you right off the bat had something in common. Sometimes that translated to friendship or something more. She’d been like family to him.
Tension rode high down his neck and into the rest of his muscles. He rotated his shoulders, working out the kinks. Who would have done this? And why? He ground his jaw. She’d had something to talk to him about and he’d gotten back to town as quickly as possible, but he’d been too late. He’d failed her.
Tobias tightened his jaw even more. It wasn’t his first failure. He still hadn’t found the quarry he’d followed through the rift. But he would. As soon as he found Rinda’s killer, he’d get back on the bastard’s trail.
Tobias went over to the medical examiner’s van, taking off his booties and gloves and dropping them in the disposal box on the way. “Hang on a second there, boys,” he said before the body snatchers could close the back door of the van. “I need the autopsy report as soon as possible. When can I expect it?”
The lead tech, a werewolf, didn’t look up from his clipboard. “I’ll be assisting the doc with whatever’s left of the old gal. Report should be ready by tomorrow or next day at the latest.”
Son of a…With speed fueled by rage Tobias grabbed the man by the front of his coveralls. Lifting him off his feet, he slammed him into the door of the van, rocking the vehicle. The werewolf looked up from his clipboard, his startled gaze fixing on Tobias’s. Tobias snarled, “You treat her with respect or they’ll be picking what’s left of you up off the street. Understood?”
The werewolf’s throat moved with his hard swallow. “Yes, sir. I meant no disrespect.”
“Uh-huh.” Tobias let him down slowly. With his face just inches from the tech’s, he whispered, “Victims should not be victimized again by your indifference. Show a little compassion.”
The tech pressed his lips together and nodded. “Got it. Won’t happen again.”
Tobias smoothed the material where he’d bunched it, holding the werewolf’s gaze a moment longer, and then turned away. He stopped, his eye caught by Nix and MacMillan still talking. He wondered what the hell they could be talking about so long and then reminded himself it was none of his business. He was here to do a job, and once it was done he’d leave again. Get back to tracking down the man who’d assassinated the leader of Tobias’s people, the reason Tobias had come through the rift to begin with.
The only reason he had to keep going, now that he no longer had Nix.
“…and that’s how he and I met,” Nix finished. She looked back at the crime scene to see Tobias standing tall and strong. She was struck by the lonely picture he made. Surrounded by people and yet all alone. It was almost enough to make her want to go back to him, offer him companionship.
Almost. The pangs of hurt vibrating inside kept her feet planted right where they were.
Dante nodded. “Well, again, I’m sorry about your friend.”
“So…” He paused and looked at her. She could almost see the wheels turning inside his head. He said, “You seem to understand the different factions.”
She had a feeling that wasn’t what he’d originally meant to say. “Yeah,” she said slowly, wondering where this was going.
“How did you get involved with EDs? I mean, I’m in this because of my job. Special Case Squads were set up pretty quickly as soon as we humans realized EDs were real, and once I’d gotten the requisite amount of detective hours under my belt, I signed on for this quadrant. But you… How did you get mixed up in all this?”
“You mean what’s a nice girl like me etcetera, etcetera?” She raised her eyebrows, smiling a little when he shrugged and looked like a sheepish little boy. All he needed to do was scuff one foot back and forth and the picture would be complete.
“Yeah, I guess.” His stare sharpened, reminding her there really was nothing boyish about him at all. He was a tough cop. He used humor to deal with the horrible things he saw every day, but when it came down to it he was a hardened warrior. “There has to be more to it than that you’re part demon.”
She gave a short laugh. “No, no, that’s pretty much it. My demon half gives me certain…advantages over full-blooded humans. I can smell better, my sense of taste is stronger, and I’m physically stronger than a normal human woman. Or human man, for that matter.” She grimaced. “Of course, there are definite disadvantages, too.”
He didn’t take his gaze off her. “Like what? Seems to me being stronger than most others around you and having more acute senses would outweigh any disadvantages.”
“You don’t know what it’s like…” Nix shook her head. “You’ve never seen me go demon.”
He frowned. “I’ve seen your eyes go from brown to yellow. Which, by the way, they are a little right now and it’s kinda creepy. Just sayin’.”
She rolled those eyes. “That’s just the tip of the horn, my friend.”
Maybe it was because she was a little off her beat due to seeing Tobias again. Maybe it was because she had no problem trusting Dante with something so personal. Maybe it was because she was just so tired of always hiding part of herself. Whatever the reason, she looked him in the eyes and said, “I sprout horns. Literally.” At his look of surprise she qualified, “They’re really horn buds, but they pop up from under my skin just beneath my hairline. But that’s not the worst of it.”
Dante leaned closer, one shoulder against the wall, his entire stance one of protection as if to shield her from prying eyes. “What’s the worst of it?” His deep tones were hushed, eyes conveying concern and compassion.
Could she adequately describe the raging needs that came with being a demon? “Since it usually only happens when I’m angry or upset, those emotions are intensified. If I was angry before the demon came out, then afterward I’m enraged. I see everything with a tint of yellow. The only thing I can think about is violence. And sex,” she added as an afterthought. When his eyes widened slightly, she said, “It isn’t only men who think about sex a lot.”
“So, when you get mad you want to rip a guy’s head off or maybe do a little somethin’ else with his other head?” He waggled his brows.
She didn’t laugh. Dante didn’t understand exactly what could happen. “My mother is from a clan of demons that drain the life force from their mating partners. If they’re not careful they do it all at once and kill the man they’re having sex with. Sometimes that’s the way they want it, to orgasm while their mate is dying.” She pressed her lips together and looked down at the sidewalk. “That’s what my mom eventually did to my dad. I was just a baby, and she killed him.”
He gave a low whistle. “So your mom is a praying mantis of the demon world, eh?”
“Something like that.” It was why her grandmother had resented, even hated, Nix so much. After her mother had dumped her with the old woman to raise, Grandma had provided a roof over her head, food to eat, and clothing to wear, but not much love or acceptance. Nix had thought that was normal because she hadn’t gotten much love from her mother, either. Then her grandmother died, and, at sixteen, Nix became a ward of the state and was placed in a foster home. She’d never really fit in, and seeing firsthand what a loving relationship between parents and children was supposed to be like had been too much for her. She’d run, living on the streets, getting into trouble, learning how to survive.
She shook herself free of the past and said to Dante, “It’s her kind of demon—my kind of demon—that gave rise to stories about succubi and incubi.”
His eyes widened again. “Are all demons like that?”
Nix shook her head. “There are different clans with different…abilities. Some are assassins and have the requisite abilities to be damned good ones, some can induce fear and panic in others, some are empathic. It’s quite varied. But one thing all the clans share in common is that they’re considered the lowest of all preternaturals.” She tamped back the natural outrage she always felt whenever she thought of the way demons were looked upon by other prets. “As far as the rest of the pret community is concerned they’re bottom feeders.”
Continuing to talk about it dredged up old memories that brought anguished emotions rushing to the surface. Nix felt pain skittle below her hairline and brought up one hand to rub her forehead. She looked at Dante. “Anyway, the more I lose control of the demon the more I lose my humanity. There haven’t been that many, but most hybrids like me, children born of a pret and a human, go insane by their early twenties. It’s too much for their human brain to handle the violent and sometimes sexual demands of their inner preternatural. If I can keep the demon at bay I can keep my mind intact.” She crossed her fingers behind her back. Unwillingly she glanced past his shoulder and watched Tobias for a few seconds. God, she’d missed him. She’d loved him. Hated him. And now her emotions were so conflicted she wasn’t sure what she was feeling. Her head ached beneath her bangs, like a sinus headache only focused higher, and her eyes burned as the demon used her emotional upheaval to make itself known.
“And now your eyes are yellow rimmed with red.” He straightened. “Should I, ah, be concerned here?”
She dragged her gaze back to Dante. “It takes more than a few sad memories to make me go demon.” That control had been hard won and found largely through trial and error. If nothing else, Tobias’s leaving her had shown her how close she’d been to giving over to her demon. She patted Dante on the arm. “I’m okay. You don’t have to worry about me going demon on your ass, especially not in front of all our colleagues.” She took a few deep breaths to refocus her control and felt the burn leave her eyes. She knew Dante was aware of how she always fought to keep her demon under control. Now he knew why.
He lifted his chin in acknowledgment. “So…the factions?” he asked, bringing them back to his original question. He hooked his thumbs over his belt, his fingers framing the large cowboy belt buckle he always wore.
“They’re not factions per se, Dante. All preternaturals were corporeal, mostly humanoid beings in the other dimension. And, unfortunately, just about all of them were criminals.” She crossed her arms and leaned back against the wall of the building. She glanced at the scene behind him again and noticed that most of the technicians were starting to pack up their things. That spoke volumes to just how little evidence was at the scene. “Some were political prisoners, persecuted for their stand against the authorities on their various worlds, or were denounced as religious heretics. But most of them were undesirables.” She paused, waiting for Dante to process what she’d told him so far. At his nod, she went on. “Tobias is one of the few exceptions. He was kinda like a Secret Service agent and U.S. marshal rolled into one. He came through the rift chasing a criminal who’d assassinated their leader. The assassin was tried and found guilty and was supposed to be executed. But he bribed a few officials and escaped through the rift instead.”
Dante’s eyebrows went up. “I didn’t know that. I just assumed…” He turned to look at Tobias. “I figured he’d been a criminal like the others.” He looked at Nix. “Though I’ll admit, most of the EDs I’ve come into contact with have seemed law abiding for the most part.”
Nix watched Tobias, too. He was talking to one of the criminalists, most likely telling him how to do his job if the way he was pointing toward the scene was anything to go by. She brought her attention back to Dante and nodded. “Many of them see this as a second chance. Most of the worlds they come from don’t practice capital punishment, which is why when the rift was discovered it seemed like an ideal solution. I suppose once the initial outlay of capital for the technology was recouped, they actually save money. No housing prisoners in jails, giving them three squares and time in the library every day.”
“Yeah, the grand solution was to send their criminals to us.” He scowled and hunched his shoulders. “Out of sight, out of mind, right?”
“Well, to be fair, I don’t think they know exactly what’s on the other side. They probably think the incorporeal entities they send through the rift are just…I dunno. Floating around.” She made a vague gesture with one hand. “I’d hate to think they know that the people they exile are, as you say, squatting in other people’s bodies and they just keep right on sending them through anyway.”
“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t put it past ’em to do just that. As long as they get rid of their problems, why should they care what it does to people they don’t even know?” Dante leaned one shoulder against the wall and stared down at her. His dark eyes narrowed a bit. “This is really hard for me to get my head around, you know?”
“I understand.” She shifted her stance to face him. “If I hadn’t grown up around them I’m sure I wouldn’t be so matter-of-fact about it. I mean, when something that only existed in myths and legends is suddenly living right next door, it’s only natural to freak out a little.”
“A little?” He snorted. “People were dousing family members with gasoline and setting them on fire, trying to ‘kill the beast.’” His face hardened with the memories of those early days. “I had to start watching my back because of the witch hunts going on in the department. It’s settled down now, but I don’t think it would take much to make things flare up again. Especially the closer we get to the next Influx.”
“Well, maybe Congress will sign that funding bill.”
“Don’t hold your breath.” Dante scuffed one booted heel against the dirt. “Even if they do free up billions of dollars for research, no one that I’ve heard of has the remotest idea how to stop the rift from happening. We don’t have enough time. Or the right technology.” He paused and blew out a breath. “So, look, about what I didn’t want Tobias to overhear…” He jerked his head toward the vampire and looked at Nix. “I was wondering…that is, I was hoping we could go get a couple of drinks.” When she didn’t respond, he sighed and started to turn away. “Not a good idea, huh? I know you said early on that we should keep things strictly professional, and you’ve turned me down other times I’ve asked, but I’d hoped maybe you’d change your mind.” He glanced at her, disappointment reflected on his face. “Let’s just drop it.”
“Dante…” Nix would like to have drinks with Dante, but only as a friend. She didn’t want to send him mixed signals, though, so she shook her head in refusal even as the fleeting thought of using Dante to make Tobias jealous flitted through her mind. It would be a waste of time, because she knew Tobias wouldn’t care one way or another. After all, he’d been the one to leave her. Plus it would hardly be fair to Dante to use him like that. “I can’t,” she told Dante. “We’re friends. I don’t want to mess that up.”
He blew out a sigh. “I figured you’d tell me no again. Can’t blame a guy for trying though, right?”
She touched him briefly on the arm. “No, I can’t.” Not knowing what else to say, she glanced at her watch and murmured, “I have to make my report to the council.”
“Sure.” He gave an easy shrug and started back toward the crime scene. Nix fell into step beside him. As they walked, Dante said, “I’ve been thinking about trying out a new place. Well, new to me anyway. You ever been to the Devil’s Domain?”
“It’s only the hottest, trendiest place to hit town in the last twenty years.” She stared at him, grateful he’d so easily changed the subject, and seemed to not be bothered by her refusal to go out with him, but she was a little concerned about his choice of bars. “You do realize it’s owned by Maldonado, right? And that prets hang out there? A lot of them.” Most nights it was packed to capacity and looked like the United Nations of the fanged and furry.
“Oh, yeah, I know. I just…” Dante gave a lopsided grin. “Lately it seems the only time I see EDs is when they’re dead. Or killing someone. I guess I’d just rather see them in more normal circumstances.”
Nix slid a sidelong glance at him. While his attitude was commendable, he obviously still had a lot to learn about the preternatural community. Most of them had a bit of nasty worked into their DNA, which meant they could get really cranky really fast. Even cute, flirty little pixies could be deadly when riled or drunk. There was no such thing as “normal” when you were talking about prets.
Not sure she wanted to dispel his hopeful outlook, she still felt the need to warn him. “You’re not likely to see prets at their best when they’ve had a few too many drinks, you know.”
He grinned and patted his gun. “I can handle myself.”
Nix bit back a sigh. Dante was still so naive about prets. A vampire could stand motionless ten feet away and then be at his throat before he ever had time to draw his weapon. Werewolves and the cat shifters were almost as fast. The only consolation with Dante going to the Devil’s Domain was that security was high and the bouncers would protect humans as well as prets who might be under threat from someone else.
They stopped a few feet away from Tobias, who she knew had heard the last of their exchange. She waited for him to make some sarcastic remark, but, with his gaze on Dante, all he said was “One of your techs wants a word with you.” With a lift of his chin he motioned toward one of the men standing at the opposite side of the crime scene.
Dante glanced down at Nix. “I’ll see you in the morning.” He walked away to talk to the man in blue coveralls.
In the silence that remained, Nix shifted air from one cheek to another and then blurted, “He asked me out.” Some small measure of satisfaction filled her in imparting the information. She couldn’t help it. At least Tobias would know someone was interested in her even if he wasn’t.
“I didn’t ask.”
Nix stiffened at the complete unconcern and lack of interest in his voice. Hurt shafted through her again, then she got angry at herself. She shouldn’t care that he wasn’t bothered that Dante had asked her on a date. At least now she knew when he was tossing those damned pheromones her way he was only being a jerk. She propped her hands on her hips. “You’re a real piece of work, you know that? Just how long did you say you’ve been back in town?”
“Got in this morning. And since I was here, like I said, the council asked me to look into these murders.” He stared at the blood on the pavement where Amarinda’s body had lain. “I wouldn’t be back now, except she called me.” His voice was soft and full of regret.
Nix focused on his last statement. “She called you? About what?”
“She wouldn’t say.” His lips firmed. “All she told me was that she had something she wanted to talk to me about, but she didn’t want to do it over the phone.” His steely gaze cut back to Nix. “Guess now I’ll never know.”
“Unless it ends up being the reason she died.” Still fighting back outraged anger, Nix was proud of the noncommittal tone of her voice. Looking around the crime scene, she added, “I don’t care what you say, demons didn’t do this.”
He stared at her a moment, then gave an abrupt nod. “Tell you what. I won’t include it in my report, for now.” His eyes narrowed. “But you have to come back with solid evidence that rules them out, not just a gut feeling. Or I will have to let the council know.”
She blinked. Tobias Caine, the original Mr. By the Book, was actually going to let her skate on this one? Against her better judgment she found herself cutting him some slack. If he could relax his vigil on the rules, maybe he had changed a little in the years they’d been apart.
Tobias glanced at his watch. “Speaking of the council, I’m surprised we haven’t gotten a call yet.”
Nix’s phone rang. She pulled it out of her pocket and glanced at the number. “Yeah, speak of the devils,” she said.
“That’s them?” He seemed genuinely surprised.
She looked at him. “What did you do, page them when I wasn’t looking?” She wouldn’t put it past him.
“No.” He shoved his hands into his pockets. “It’s coincidence.”
“Uh-huh. Someone told me a long time ago that when you’re dealing with murder there’s no such thing as coincidence.” She shot him a pointed look.
“That hardly applies to a phone call,” he said, the look on his face showing he remembered that he’d been the one to tell her that.
She huffed out a sigh and answered the phone.
“They want you here, pronto,” one of the dispatchers told her.
Nix frowned at his abrupt tone. “I’m doing well, thanks for asking,” she replied. As he started to respond, she cut him off. “We’re just about finished up here—”
“They said now. Just you. Since the vic is a vamp, Caine’s lead on the case. He can finish up at the scene.”
There wasn’t any point in saying anything other than, “I’m on my way.” She disconnected the call and looked at Tobias. “They want me.”
The look that flashed through his eyes sent a shiver snaking down her spine. At one time that look had been much less fleeting and had been the start of hot, intense sex.
Nix drew in a breath and held it for a five count. The council was waiting and she’d better be on her way. To cover her reaction to the banked need in his eyes, she gave Tobias a mocking salute and turned toward her car, waving to Dante. As she drove away she glanced in her rearview mirror, watching the vampire standing so tall and straight, surrounded by activity yet so alone, the man who always managed to entice her inner demon to the surface.
The Council of Preternaturals, made up of thirteen representatives from most of the major groups of preternaturals, tried to keep peace among prets as well as between prets and humans. They were not always successful, especially recently with tensions rising because of the upcoming rift. There was always some uproar or another needing their attention. They were overworked and under a lot of stress, which made for some interesting and not-so-pleasant interactions. Whenever things rolled downhill, the liaisons were the ones to catch all the crap. At least that’s how Nix saw it.
She was kept waiting for almost two hours. Her emotions were already topsy-turvy, first from seeing Amarinda’s body and then Tobias at the crime scene, and this delay certainly hadn’t made her any more even-tempered. As it was, it probably wouldn’t take much more to make her go off. Standing at the end of the hallway, several yards away from the doors of the main chamber, she tried some deep breathing to stave off her nerves. It helped, but not a lot. Not as much as a tai chi workout would have, but she couldn’t just break into her routine outside the council chambers. She wouldn’t give them any reason to doubt her ability to do her job.
Once they finally did deign to see her, she was hard pressed to keep the irritation from shining through. But while most demons she knew would just as soon spoon someone’s brains out through their nose, she was determined to follow a more human path and kept a pleasant expression pasted on her face. No matter that her skull felt like it was about to split open, a sure sign that it wouldn’t take much for her horn buds, usually recessed in her forehead, to pop out. Then it was anyone’s guess as to what would happen. But she’d do her best to hold it together, because the people in this room were very powerful.
The room in which she stood was dimly lit. Roughly the size of a high school auditorium, it held a long semicircular mahogany table at the far end where the council members sat. There were a few chairs in front of the table, ostensibly for liaisons to use while making their reports, the wooden folding kind that were hell on the butt. Nix usually stayed on her feet mostly because of that, but also because the council was big on formality, and it seemed much too informal to sit in their presence.
When the full council met, thirteen people sat at the table. Which meant when she spoke before all the members, her nerves increased tenfold. Today, thankfully it was only a tribunal of three, though they were not always on her side. “We’ll know more after the autopsy, I’m sure,” she said as she wrapped up her report. She looked at the members of the tribunal and tried to gauge their reaction to this latest news. That they were disturbed was obvious, yet she could sense something else. Some other disquiet.
“Is there any significance to the fact that this victim is also a vampire, other than the obvious hate crime scenario?” Deoul Arias, a high elf and president of the council, leaned forward, elbows resting on the table top, chin resting on his fingertips. The flowing white sleeves of his formal council robe fell away from his forearms. His skin had the translucent quality that all older elves possessed, and he wore his long black hair loose except for two thin braids at either side of his face. His pale blue eyes seared Nix, skewering her into place like a bug pinned to a display board.
“We’re not quite sure yet.” She glanced at the other members of the tribunal—William Braithwaite, a vampire who’d come through the rift at the same time as Tobias, and Caladh MacLoch, a shape-shifting seal commonly called a selkie in his native Scotland. Even as she looked at him, he picked up a small spray bottle and spritzed his face with water. He had to keep his skin cool and wet or the resulting dryness made his skin crack in long, deep furrows that were excruciatingly painful. Knowing that Deoul waited for an answer, she moved her gaze back to him and added, “It’s really too early to tell.”
Deoul heaved a sigh laden with irritation and impatience. He folded his arms and narrowed his eyes. “Isn’t it your job, as a quadrant liaison to humankind, to know the answers to these questions and to show up at the crime scene on time?” His voice was cultured, holding disdain and the hint of an accent so ancient it spoke volumes about the kind of power he possessed.
Anger at his attitude, at his continued questioning of her abilities, because this certainly wasn’t the first time, rose within her. And, as usual, she tamped it down even as the patches of skin covering her horn buds started to itch. It wouldn’t do any good to lose her temper. She wondered if he did it on purpose, trying to teach her patience or some other fey nonsense. Or maybe he just liked pushing her buttons. Seeing the derision in his eyes, she decided he did it because he didn’t like her.
The feeling was mutual.
“I showed up within a reasonable time of when I got the call from dispatch.” Nix kept her voice steady and calm, and hopefully respectful enough to pass muster. Damn that werebear dispatcher. She knew he’d deliberately waited to call her, and now Deoul was taking it out on her hide. She drew a breath and went on to answer the first part of the derisive question. “It’s my job to find the answers to your questions. Which I will do as quickly as possible, I assure you.”
Deoul’s lips pursed, disappointment flashing across his face. He had wanted to get a rise out of her. Bastard. It made her doubly glad she hadn’t given him the satisfaction. If it killed her she’d hold on to her composure, just to spoil Deoul’s mood. Her grandma used to quote Scripture at her, obviously trying to subjugate the demon, and mostly Nix hadn’t listened. But one particular quote had stuck with her. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
Damn, she’d wished her grandmother had practiced what she’d preached with that particular passage. But for now Nix would reflect on those words as it related to Deoul. Heaping figurative coals of fire on his head might be just what she needed to maintain her control around him.
Excerpted from Kiss of the Vampire by Garner, Cynthia Copyright © 2012 by Garner, Cynthia. Excerpted by permission.
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