Under Suspicionby Hannah Jayne
She's the new head of the Underworld Detection Agency's strangest division. What a nightmare. . .
Being a human immune to magic helped Sophie Lawson get promoted. It's also made her a major, very reluctant player in a game that stretches beyond even the Underworld. Having handsome buttoned-down Englishman Will as her new guardian is one tempting blessing,
She's the new head of the Underworld Detection Agency's strangest division. What a nightmare. . .
Being a human immune to magic helped Sophie Lawson get promoted. It's also made her a major, very reluctant player in a game that stretches beyond even the Underworld. Having handsome buttoned-down Englishman Will as her new guardian is one tempting blessing, especially since sexy fallen angel Alex is mysteriously MIA lately. But as a frightening number of demons start disappearing around the city, Sophie suspects that an Armageddon-level prophecy is about to become everyone's nightmare. And her investigation is testing her braveryand Will's unexpected vulnerabilityin ways neither could predict. Now Sophie and Will are fast running out of time as an unstoppable evil prepares to lay waste to demons and humans alike. . .
Praise for Hannah Jayne's Under Attack
"This urban fantasy tale smartly balances riveting action with wonderful light touches. . .New readers and returning fans will find it entirely accessible and enjoyable." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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UNDER SUSPICIONThe Underworld Detection Agency Chronicles
By HANNAH JAYNE
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Hannah Schwartz
All right reserved.
Chapter OneYou'd think by the time a guy had gained immortality, he'd tire of copying his butt on the office copy machine.
I was pulling out the third paper jam of the morning—and tossing fistfuls of copies of a weird combination of butt cheek and hoof—when Nina poked her head in, scanning the room, and asked, "Is she gone?"
I flopped backward and blew a few strands of my hair (done up in Clairol's Red Hot) out of my eye. "Who?"
Nina shimmied into the copy room and straightened her vintage boat-necked Balenciaga dress. She had paired this little number with black-and-purple lace tights and those peekaboo booties that make me look like a poor lumberjack while it made supermodels (and vampires) look amazingly chic.
I guess living through two world wars and umpteen clothing revolutions would pique your fashion sense.
"What do you mean, who? Mrs. Henderson. This dress"—Nina did an elegant twirl—"is not only vintage, it's irreplaceable. I wore it when I nabbed a bite of John Lennon." Nina batted her lashes and grinned, her small fangs pressing against her red lips.
I cocked an eyebrow and Nina blew out an exasperated sigh.
"Fine. It was Ringo. So, is she gone?"
Mrs. Henderson—the Underworld Detection Agency's busybody dragon and all-around most obnoxious client—and Nina have a bit of a history together. It's one that most often leaves Nina naked and hairless, with Mrs. Henderson hiccupping smoke rings and not-so-genuine apologies.
I looked down at my watch. "Oh my gosh, I'm totally late. Thanks for reminding me."
I thrust the last of the hoof-and-butt Xeroxes into Nina's hands and headed to my desk—hopping over the burnt-hole remains of a wizard, who had blown himself up, and looking away from Lorraine, UDA's resident witch and finance whiz. She tried to stop me by waving in front of my face a folder full of invoices, but I was able to dodge her, thanks in part to the seminar that HR held on "Respecting Your Coworker's Personal Space."
I flopped into my ergonomically questionable chair and blew out a deep, comforting breath, then laced my fingers over Mrs. Henderson's files. In addition to being a fire-breathing, St. John Knit–wearing dragon, Mrs. Henderson was a divorcée hell-bent on squeezing her cheating ex-husband for every last dime. As our agency detected all supernatural movement within our region, Mrs. Henderson dropped in monthly for updates and especially liked it when we were prepared for her with Mr. H's paycheck stubs and warm, fuzzy stories about his current financial woes.
Fifteen minutes later, Mr. H's statements were still undisturbed in my file folder, and Mrs. Henderson was nowhere to be found.
I buzzed the reception desk and Kale answered—I could hear the murmur of the iBud she kept continually tucked in her left ear. "Reception," she said, "what can I do you for?"
"Hey, Kale, it's Sophie. Did Mrs. Henderson call in? She's almost twenty minutes late for her appointment."
I heard Kale muss some papers on the other end of the phone and then the snap of her gum. "No, nothing. Are you sure she was scheduled today?"
"Positive. It's the fifteenth."
"Ooh, alimony pickup day. She's usually a half hour early."
"That's what I was thinking. I'll try and ring her house."
I rapped my fingers on my desk, suddenly impatient. "Yes?"
"Um," Kale started to stutter and drift off, and I could almost see her biting her lower lip, curling the telephone cord around her finger.
"What about Vlad?" I asked.
Vlad was Nina's nephew—and he was a current UDA employee, leader of the San Francisco chapter of the Vampire Empowerment and Restoration Movement (VERM for short, and for annoying Vlad incessantly), and a permanent fixture on Nina's and my couch. He had the bright eyes, video game fetish, and disdain for folding clothes that most sixteen-year-olds had.
Except that he was 112.
"Do you know if he is seeing anyone?"
Kale had been in love with Vlad since he first blew into the city—moody, restless, and dressed like Count Chocula. The Vampire Empowerment and Restoration Movement required that its adherents stick to the "classic" dress code of the fearsome vampires of yesteryear (more Bela Lugosi, less Edward Cullen) and also preached a staunch code against vampire/nonvampire mixing. That left Kale—a Gestalt witch of the green order—to pine relentlessly and call me on numerous occasions to ask about Vlad's dating status.
"No, Kale, I don't think so."
She let out a loud whoosh of relief. "That's what his Facebook status said. I just wanted to make sure. Bye, Sophie!"
The hangup sounded in my ear as I pulled up Mrs. Henderson's phone number. I was in the middle of dialing when Nina stalked in, slamming the door behind her. "So what did the big lizard have to say today? She needs more money for crickets?"
I hung up the phone and rubbed my temples. "She's a dragon, not a lizard, and she still hasn't shown up. That's not like her."
Nina whipped out a nail file and gave her perfectly manicured nails the once-over. "Maybe she lit herself on fire. One can only hope. "She snorted, her smile lingering. "I want to go shopping. What do you think? Boutique in the Haight or mainstream on Market?"
I frowned. "I'm kind of worried about Mrs. Henderson."
"So send her an edible arrangement. Don't they have one with staked mice or something? Anyway, boutique or mainstream? I need your financial prowess to point me in the right retail direction."
I pulled out my calendar and flipped back a few pages. "Last week I had two missed appointments."
Nina pouted. "Are you doubting your popularity at UDA now? You know everyone here adores you and we don't even consider your ... issue."
I felt a blush rise to my cheeks.
My "issue" was my breath. Not that it was bad (at least I don't think it is); it is that I have some. The Underworld Detection Agency not only caters to the demon community—providing transfer papers, tracking paranormal activity in the city, detecting demon activity, and protecting from demonic or human threats—it is also staffed by demons.
Except for me.
Which is why there is currently a bologna and cheese sandwich wedged between two blood bags in the office fridge and why there is a constant CAUTION: WET FLOOR sign in front of the hobgoblin receiving line (hobgoblins are constantly slobbering demons and seem to have better traction than I do).
I rolled my eyes. "I know no one cares about me being human. I've been working here forever. It's the appointments. No cancellations, no phone calls, nothing. I called the last two for follow-ups and couldn't reach anyone."
Nina shrugged. "Who cares?"
"Where do you think they're going? It's not like there is another company out there protecting demons."
"Like a demon Walmart undercutting our fees?"
I crossed my arms in front of my chest. "Yes, Nina, I'm really worried that we're losing business to Walmart."
"Bring it up with Dixon."
I gnawed my bottom lip. "I guess I could. We do have an all-staff meeting at four."
Nina's coal black eyes went wide. "I had totally forgotten about that."
"Cuts into your shopping time?"
"No." She clapped a hand to her forehead and started a rigorous massage. "Do you know how awkward that's going to be? Me and him in the same room together after what happened!"
I leaned forward. "What happened?"
"Ohmigod, you and I live together, Soph! Have you not paid any attention? Me and Dixon?" she enunciated. "The whole dating thing? It totally didn't end well."
"Oh, right. That's probably because it was all in your head. Nina, he's our boss. It's expected that he'd call you. And asking you to collate his copies means just that. The man needs staples."
Nina narrowed her eyes. "Oh, and I suppose you're going to tell me that him asking me to boot up his hard drive was completely innocent, too!"
Nina leaned over to gather her coat and enormously gaudy Betsey Johnson bag. "So you never told me. Shopping on Market or Haight?"
"I don't know. Both. I can't make a decision."
Nina raised an eyebrow and grinned salaciously. "Ain't that the truth?"
I pursed my lips and straightened the already-straight selection of Post-it notes and general office tchotchkes on my desk. "Bite me."
Nina dumped herself into my office chair again and lolled back. She kicked her Via Spiga booties up on my desk, crossing her ankles. "Hey, I'm not judging. If I had two hot otherworldly creatures ready to duke it out to save my afterlife"—and here she splayed a single pale hand against her chest—"I'd do my damndest to keep them both around, too."
She swung out the nail file again. "So about that shopping trip ..."
I gathered a few files from my cabinet. "Give me a half hour and I promise to be your couture mule all the way through San Francisco. Deal?"
Nina cocked her head, her long, newly colored sunshine-blond hair swishing to her elbow. "Deal."
I poked my head into the outer office, where I used to sit (back in the Pete Sampson–werewolf-boss days), and mustered up my most harmless human smile for the vampire sitting at the front desk. He was heavily interested in whatever Cosmo had to say, but I saw his nostril twitch. When I sucked in a breath, he stiffened.
I am pretty well used to living a vampire-filled life, but having coworkers who could smell me at fifty paces is still a little unnerving.
Eldridge Hale raised his perfectly manicured eyebrows—mine looked like mating caterpillars most often—followed by icy silvery eyes.
I waggled my files. "Dixon in? I need to talk to him."
Eldridge flicked a page of his magazine, effectively letting me know he was bored. "He's busy. You'll have plenty of time to talk to him at the staff meeting."
I straightened, clenching my jaw. "I need to talk to him now. It's official UDA business."
"Send her in, Eldridge!" Dixon Andrade's voice was spun silk even as he called from his inner office. His hearing was 100 percent killer vamp, as was his olfactory skill, which meant he got a whiff of my Lady Speed Stick as I nearly jumped out of my pants. Disembodied voices never cease to creep me out.
Though it's been over a year, I found that walking into Dixon Andrade's office still pricked a little pang of sadness in my heart and gave me a small shudder of fear. I don't think I'll ever be able to walk into this part of the UDA again and not think of Pete Sampson, not think of the day I walked in and found my desk smashed to smithereens and his office—including the steel wrist and ankle cuffs used to hold him through full-moon nights—destroyed. The worst thing about that night was that Sampson was missing, blood was spilling in the streets, and Sampson—my Sampson, who had given me my first job, took me under his wing, and brought me more morning donuts than my pants could stand—was the chief suspect.
Now Dixon was lounging behind a desk the size of a Hummer, dressed, as usual, in a top-notch Italian suit that hugged every inch of his six-foot-plus frame. He looked formidable with his dark hair slicked back, his eyebrows pinched in a cautionary scowl. And that was before he showed his fangs.
"Dixon, hi. Thanks for seeing me." I flopped down in his visitor's chair and slid Mrs. Henderson's file across the desk. "Mrs. Henderson didn't show up for her appointment today, and neither did two other regulars over the last week. No answers when I call, no cancellations, nothing."
Dixon's dark brows rose, his eyes catching on something over my left shoulder. I turned and sighed.
If Dixon was San Francisco chic, Vlad LaShay had all the chicness of Castle Drac, circa 1850. His black pants were a heavy wool blend, his red damask vest was resplendent, and his frilly white ascot made him look like a dork.
"Nice ascot," I said.
"Are we making the announcement first, sir?" Vlad asked, effectively ignoring me.
My ears perked. "Announcement?"
Dixon and Vlad shared a look; my head ping-ponged between them.
Finally Dixon shrugged; his broad shoulders nipped his ears. "She'll find out soon enough. Ms. Lawson, Vlad is the Underworld Detection Agency's new head of operations."
Dixon grinned and Vlad beamed.
I wasn't sure what caught me more off guard, the sight of Vlad smiling like someone who wasn't perennially sixteen and mad at the world, or the fact that Vlad, with his face full of smooth planes and soft hints of baby fat, was going to be my manager.
I scratched my head. "Come again?"
"Vlad will be replacing Mr. Turnbow. Mr. Rosenthal will be shifting from support staff to finance, and Eldridge"—Dixon gestured to the blond vamp outside–"will be the new head of internal organization."
"What happened to Mr. Turnbow? And the former head of operations?"
Dixon shrugged dismissively. "It was time for them to move on. We had a cake on Friday."
Leave it to me to miss the one day that management sprang for cake over blood bags.
"Something wrong, Ms. Lawson?"
"No," I said, swinging my head, "not at all. Congratulations, Vlad. This is a really great step for you."
"So you said something about some missed appointments?"
"You know," I answered, snatching the file from Dixon's desk, "it's really not that big a deal."
Exiting, I shut the door to Dixon's office and Eldridge looked up at me from behind his magazine, one eyebrow quirked, lip turned up and slightly parted to show off the scissor-fine edge of a fang.
"See you around, Sophie," he said.
I hopped in the elevator and mashed the UP button. My heart was thudding underneath my Nina-approved button-down blouse; pricks of sweat were breaking out all over.
"Come on, come on," I whispered to the metal box as it lurched its way up—we're thirty-six floors down—to the outer world. There was a jaunty ding and the doors split open to sunshine streaming through the front vestibule of the San Francisco Police Department. The squawk and buzz of department radios and telephones littered the air. That was when I smashed—chest to cardboard box—into Alex Grace.
"Hey, Lawson." Alex grabbed my arms to steady me and I wanted to crawl back against him—sans the box—and sink into those arms.
"Oh, hey, Alex. Sorry, I guess I'm just a little bit distracted."
I blinked, then looked up into those cobalt blue eyes of his. Oh yes, I was definitely distracted.
Alex Grace was heavenly. His milk-chocolate dark hair curled in run-your-fingers-through-it waves, which licked the tops of his completely kissable ears. Those searing eyes were framed by to-die-for lashes. His cheeks were tinged pink, and his lips were pressed into his trademark half smile, which was all at once genuine and cocky, with just a hint of sex appeal. A man like this was otherworldly.
And Alex had the two tiny scars just below his shoulder blades to prove it.
Alex was an earthbound angel. Fallen, if you want to be technical. But he lacked the certain technicality that made other fallen angels so annoying: He didn't want to kill me. Most of the time.
I tried to tear my eyes away from his beautiful, full lips—lips that I distinctly remembered kissing—and focused hard on my rogue clients; but even though we had decided to be "just friends," almost six months ago, there was still a sizzling something between me and Alex. Call it forbidden love or my addiction to Harlequin novels, but Alex Grace was not an easy man to get over.
After all, he was an angel.
"Oh, this?" Alex shifted the box and I rolled up on my tiptoes and lifted the lid.
Excerpted from UNDER SUSPICION by HANNAH JAYNE Copyright © 2012 by Hannah Schwartz . Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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