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By Angela McCallister, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Angela McCallister
All rights reserved.
If Alice Capshaw's morning got any worse, she'd need to invest in more life insurance. Pulling at the only work-appropriate boot she could find, she hopped down the darkened hallway toward the living room. The mate to it had to be around there somewhere. A protruding lip of carpet at the entry caught her toe, and her knees hit the floor. The impact hammered her kneecaps, the ancient, thinning carpet doing little to cushion them.
"Why, why, why?" Alice rolled onto her rear to assess the damage. Her knees were only skinned, but the leggings were toast. With a curse, she kicked off her boot and peeled off the offending garment. No time to dig out another pair. She wanted so dearly to call in sick, but she'd used her sick leave.
No matter what she tried, she overslept. Three highly obnoxious alarms didn't do the trick to wake her. Her stress-induced depression was officially bleeding into her professional life.
Pushing to her feet, she felt something at her fingertips and peeked under the edge of the battered couch.
Of course her other boot would be under there in a completely different room from its mate. That made total sense. After slipping it on, she limped to the hall closet for her purse and lightweight, wool peacoat, slinging them on as she sailed out the door.
Navigating the stairs of her dilapidated apartment building was a near disaster. Her feet moved too fast for the rest of her. Tumbling the rest of the way was a strong possibility, but bare contact with the floor would require tetanus shots so she kept a death grip on the rail. By the time she reached the lobby, her lungs heaved like a set of bellows and burned as if the fire were inside them. Maybe she should take Piper up on the invite to Zumba on Wednesdays. No doubt she needed to get out more and could apparently use the exercise.
Dread tightened into a lead ball in her stomach as she rushed to the Vampire Liaison Office. Over two hours late and the morning was nearly gone. If she lost this job, it would crush her. Her work was the only thing keeping her above the cusp of poverty. Even with her renters, she'd lose her double-mortgaged childhood home for sure, not to mention her ratty apartment.
In the VLO elevator, she focused on deep breathing to fight off her rising panic. Maybe a life of crime would suit her well if she left the building minus her job. At least she'd look great in a catsuit. That image was immediately followed by how she'd look in bright orange and behind bars. Not so great. And then who would be there to take care of Zach?
A muffler on her racing thoughts would be nice. Waking with a headache and a completely numb scalp had to be a bad sign. Any second, the dizzy spells would start in. She weaved around the plain cubicles on the floor, avoiding eye contact with the few people not at their stations. When she made it to her desk in the open space at the far end of the room, a note from Val requesting her presence waited for her.
Unlike Human Resources, her boss had never made an issue of her tardiness. Alice had often worked evenings and on-call to facilitate the fact the VLO dealt with legal issues, regulations, and enforcement regarding vampire society, the Immortalis. But maybe she'd pushed Val too many times with her lack of punctuality.
This was it. Zach would get booted from his private facility. Where would he go? Ah, there's the dizziness. Alice leaned against the edge of her desk until it passed. Blinds blocked her view into Val's office so she had no sneak peek as she approached.
Hands shaking, she pressed the door handle and entered. Her boss glanced up through her fall of long, blond hair, and Alice smiled at her, though it was impossible to gauge Val's mood. This would be a great time to become a missing person.
Just pretend it's okay. Nothing happened. It's a normal day, and you're not suffering the early birthing pains of an anxiety attack.
"So, how's the bloodsucking business going?" she asked with a cheer that belied her state of mind.
Val pushed aside a massive stack of files that dwarfed her petite frame and motioned for Alice to take a seat. No smile. No greeting. Okay, definitely not a good sign. As she perched on the wide leather seat in front of the desk, she peered out the picture window overlooking downtown Seattle. Buildings obstructed the view, but it didn't matter. The scenery wasn't on her mind.
"Late again?" Val asked.
Alice had known this would happen eventually. Her heart rate climbed, and she clamped her fingers over the edge of her seat like a vise. "It was a terrible morning. The worst luck. If a black cat had crossed my path, it would've died."
Val laughed hard enough to double over in her chair, and a frisson of relief eased along Alice's nerves. "I'll be sure to stay away from wherever you're walking."
Her bated breath whooshed out. "You scared the crap out of me. I thought you were handing me a pink slip."
"No, no, no." Val glowered indignantly. "Like I would do that to you. Is that why you went white as a sheet?"
"I'm always white as a sheet." Sinking into her chair, Alice pushed back the dark hair obstructing her view. "Then why the grim face?"
Val tapped her pen rapidly against the desktop. "I'm nervous."
"And now I'm scared for real. What's going on? You've got a long time before Kade's inducting you into vampiredom. It's too early to get nervous about that." She'd been sure Val would never falter in her loathing of vampires, but then her boss had met Kade, the only vampire who could break through that animosity. They'd fallen fast and hard for each other while hunting down some crazed, murdering vampires, and she decided to transform into one of the Immortalis. The woman had lost her damned mind to go to that length for a man.
"I have a huge favor to ask, and you're not going to like it."
"You haven't even asked, and I already don't like it." Alice shifted forward again, her nerves lighting up at Val's reticence. "What's so bad?"
"I'm taking an extended leave of absence. No one knows my job better than you. I'd like you to step in while I'm gone. It'll be a long absence."
"You can't leave." Alice was sure her chin would have rug burn, as big a surprise as this was. Val was the most driven VLO agent Alice had ever encountered.
"I have to."
"Why? Are they booting you out already? They can't do that. You're not a vampire yet."
Val hesitated, but then the tension eased from her posture. "I'm three months pregnant."
"Seriously?" Alice jumped from her seat and squeezed Val's hand. "Congratulations. Wow. Who's the father?"
With a wide smile, she batted Alice's hand away. "Ha-ha. Very funny. Anyway, with the tensions between the two Immortalis castes, security's a huge problem. I'm going into sort of a lockdown-slash-paradise where I'll be fawned over by a crass, perverted vampire with a sweet side I have to dig around to find."
"Does this mean Kade's moving you to Glacier?" Alice barely registered Val's assent while she processed what was happening. Kade's estate in the wilds of Glacier was hours and hours from Seattle. That meant she would basically manage VLO operations alone.
Being a liaison and enforcement chief to the vampire's dual-caste culture was difficult enough, but the strife between Dominorum and Legio vampires would be the least of her problems. That wasn't what gave her goose bumps at the prospect of stepping in as Vice Director of the VLO.
"Before you answer, let me give you the details." She talked quickly, as if a break in speech might give Alice a chance to shoot down the offer. Which was exactly what she'd planned to do. "It's only temporary, and I've squared away all the issues I could before I leave. New agreements between the VLO and Immortalis are set up. Audits have been done on the application procedures for vampire transformation. It should be calm and peaceful as usual."
Alice opened her mouth to respond, but Val cut her off again.
"There's a fat raise."
"A raise?" Her attention perked. Well, that changed things.
"Yes. You're pay goes up to $102,000 per year. And Alice, it'll be about a year." She pressed her hands together tightly, a sure indication of her nerves. "And you get to pick your own executive assistant."
"My own mini-me?" Alice bit into her lip. This could stave away all her financial problems. She could catch up with her mortgages, and her worries about Zach's care could be postponed. The pay raise was more than $40,000 over what she made.
On the flip side, it would mean working with law-enforcement officers, the most myopic, crooked pack of swaggering cocks ever spawned. Not that Val wasn't an agent, but she didn't feel like one to Alice. Val had respect for the law and didn't get hung up on her own power.
"I'm not qualified. I don't have a degree."
"Don't need one," Val said. "Trust me. I considered that, but you've worked here longer than I have and know my duties inside and out. You're the one who fills in when I'm on leave. You know every agency I collaborate with. It's not like my criminal justice degree has come into use here. It's been on-the-job training, most of it from you. Come on, Alice. I need you."
"You know I hate —"
"Yes, I know. I promise you won't have to deal with law enforcement much at all. Mostly by e-mail or phone or videoconference, when you must. You can do this. You're the only one I trust to do this for me."
"What if I run into trouble?"
"Ever heard of a phone?" Val's wry smile knocked her over the edge of her inner debate. She didn't have much choice. It was a huge opportunity to dig out of the money pit she'd sunken into. Zach's care cost nearly ninety grand, the total climbing every year. If she hadn't received money from her parent's trust for some of it, she might have knocked over a bank long ago.
On the down side, apart from a small amount of contact with the VLO's own SWAT, Alice hadn't done much beyond long-distance correspondence with the other enforcement agencies. Val's absence would change that. There were inane meetings to attend, joint conferences, investigations. It wasn't like she was afraid of cops. She just hated them from top to bottom, all of them. For such a glittery pay raise, though, she'd learn to wear mouth guards.
"All right. Where do I sign?" God, she couldn't believe she was desperate enough for this.
Val happy danced in her seat. "Yes!"
"You're being ridiculous."
"See? No one else here would have the guts to tell me that. You won't regret this."
She tucked her hair behind her ear again. "Honey, regret is where I live."
A few pages of paperwork slid in front of her. "Just some forms," Val said.
"Well you came prepared."
Her boss didn't miss a beat. "Yep. So who's going to be your mini-me?"
"Oh, that's easy. Can I get Piper?"
"Sure. I'll take care of that on the way out. She works in Admin, right? You're not just choosing her for moral support, are you?"
Val laughed as she rose from her chair and grabbed her jacket. For the first time, Alice noted the jeans and sweatshirt her boss wore in place of her usual business casual attire.
"Wait. You're leaving now?"
"Uh-huh. I have to go, but call me if you need anything."
"What good would that do? You'll just screen your calls."
She waved as she backed out of the office, no doubt making a hasty escape before Alice changed her mind. Now that she had a chance to look around, she noticed Val's personal items, pictures and such, were all cleared out. That little Tinker Bell had been too damn sure she would agree to this arrangement. Well, her boss hadn't been wrong.
She flipped through the top files in the stack Val had left. Vampire transformation applications. They'd all been processed. With the agreements between humans and Immortalis in place, she wouldn't have to manually process any herself. At least Val left breathing room to adjust to the new position. She relaxed into the cozy seat behind the desk when the phone rang, and she answered out of sheer habit.
"VLO. Valerie Craig's office." Oops. That would take conscious effort to correct. It was her office for a while.
"Hey, Alice. It's Gunner. I've got a murder vic, a freshly turned, brand spankin' new vampire. Tell Val to get her ass down here with her investigators. The scene's secure."
Alice's panic bubbled back up. She'd met Gunner, a Washington State policeman, but a cop was a cop, and he never seemed to be in a good humor. "Uhm. Actually, Val's taking a leave of absence. I'm her replacement."
"Oh." He only paused a moment. "Then you get your ass down here. And you'd better be quick about it before the Legion gets their fangs into the case."
In a state of numbness, Alice took down the address before hanging up. Someone had put a curse on her. In all the time she'd worked for the VLO, the string of human murders a few months ago had been the only trouble to pop up. Why'd this happen the day Val left?
The enforcement part of the job had always been close to nil, considering how rarely crime involving Immortalis was committed. Normally, she could leave it to the detectives, but as Val's case had demonstrated, a crime of murder magnitude required a hands-on approach from the Vice Director. Her. She knew all the steps in directing an investigation, even indoctrinated two Vice Directors into the job, but there was no avoiding the facts. If the victim wasn't a rogue, she was expected to deal directly with the Immortalis. More specifically, the Legion Trackers. Maybe Guns had the right idea, and she could put them off. At least until she left the crime scene.
After calling out the CSI team, she reached for her coat and purse while a chilly foreboding crept into her. Accepting this position may have been the worst decision of her life, and she wasn't altogether sure the fat pay would be worth it.
If day one was any indication, this was going to be a long damned year in hell.CHAPTER 2
Ian's blood boiled. Ignorant humans. He resisted the urge to throw them around like bowling pins. They had no business being at the scene of a vampire's murder. It shouldn't have taken all damned day before the Legion Trackers learned of the situation from Seattle Police Department's scanner. Even the VLO hadn't bothered calling in the Legion.
Pushing past the sentries outside, he shoved through the door of the abandoned house. The windows had been boarded up to guard against squatters. Little good that had done. Old clothing and filthy blankets littered the carpet in the living room. There were a few needles and a limp condom. Nice. Even homeless junkies got more play than he did. He'd never imagined they'd give a second thought to using protection. Then again, it could have been a mode of transporting illegal substances.
Most of the commotion came from the kitchen area. When he ducked his head in, he confirmed the kitchen was the crime scene. The filthy dump had been dusted, and a photographer was packing up. A couple of officers and the medical examiner were bagging the body of a surprisingly young newly turned.
"Stop what you're doing. Who gave you authority to remove evidence?"
They continued working the vampire into the body bag and barely spared Ian a once-over, much less a response. With rage hot enough to scald, he rammed one of the officers against the island behind the body. The man grunted but lacked the strength to fight a vampire's might.
"I suggest you answer me."
"That would be me, Tracker. And I suggest you keep your hands off the other LEOs." A woman's voice lined with iron addressed him.
With reluctance, Ian released the other officer and rose to face the woman possessing a complete contempt for procedure in regard to vampires. Her frosty gray eyes matched the iron in her words. They were enough to put a chill to his anger. She was nearly a foot shorter than him, the top of her head reaching his shoulders, but her willowy, gently curved shape made her seem taller. Her crossed arms betrayed her agitation, though he couldn't see it in her placid expression.
Excerpted from Bad Cop by Angela McCallister, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2013 Angela McCallister. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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