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A Novel of the Order
By Nina Croft, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Nina Croft
All rights reserved.
Two weeks later
"You do understand how serious this is, don't you, Ms. Connolly?"
Faith was trying her best not to, but that probably wasn't what the doctor wanted to hear.
"It's Detective Connolly, actually. And does it make a difference?" she asked. "I mean whether I take it seriously or not. Will that improve my chances?"
He pursed his lips as though he wasn't pleased with the question. "Probably not, though there is some evidence that excessive excitement and extreme emotions can exacerbate the condition."
"Well, I promise not to get excited." That shouldn't be too hard. "How long before you get the results?"
"A couple of weeks, maybe less. I'll hurry them through."
She didn't like the sound of that. "You think you'll have to operate?"
"At this point, I'm not sure we can operate. The test results will show us more."
"And if you can't?"
He shrugged. "Wait until we have the results. In the meantime, I'll give you a prescription for some painkillers for the headaches, but if you get anything else — blurred vision, dizzy spells — I want you to come right back."
She nodded. Right now, all she wanted was to escape the confines of the hospital.
As she came out of the main entrance and into the open air, she realized the doctor was right. She wasn't taking this seriously. She was in denial. But a goddamn stroke? At thirty-two. Who had a stroke at thirty-two?
A brain aneurysm, they'd called it. A weakness in the blood vessels inside her skull. But worse, they believed that the minor attack she'd had was merely a precursor to something bigger. She had a time bomb in her brain, waiting to go off.
The tests she'd had today weren't so much to see what was wrong, but to see what they could do about it. If anything.
She tried to make herself think about dying. But it didn't seem real. All she could do was concentrate on living right now. Try and put it out of her mind and focus on solving her case.
Six weeks ago, the body of a young girl had been found abandoned on the embankment by the river. She'd been exsanguinated, drained of blood to the point of death. Puncture wounds in her throat, wrists, and thighs had made them speculate that it was some sort of cult death or vampire wannabes. Her team had been interviewing every weirdo in the city.
A little while later, a second girl, fifteen-year-old Jessica Thomas, had gone missing. She'd been found alive, but with the same wounds and totally traumatized.
Ryan had located Jessica, and Faith still had no clue how he'd done it. But there had been a woman with him that night Ryan hadn't introduced to any of the team.
After her ordeal, Jessica had given an initial statement but now refused to say any more unless they took her to the mystery woman. Faith would love to, but unfortunately, she had no idea of her identity.
She had seen nothing of Ryan since he'd left. He'd taken her to the hospital the night she'd blacked out and been there when she woke, but she hadn't seen him in the two weeks since. It was as though he'd cut his old life away and that hurt.
And pissed her off.
She'd believed they were friends as well as partners. And she'd been toying with the idea of forcing the issue. Going to see him, though she wasn't sure where. He'd moved out of his old apartment without leaving a forwarding address. That only left his new place of work, CR International.
She glanced up and came to an abrupt halt. A man stood before her, tall and lean and dressed as a priest. The latter nipped at her already frayed temper. Brought up as a Catholic until the age of twelve, she hated priests.
"What?" she snapped making no effort to hide her impatience.
"We'd like to talk to you for a moment, if you have the time."
He nodded to a black SUV parked by the curb. The windows were tinted and she couldn't see inside, but as she stared, the driver's door opened and a second man climbed down.
Her eyes narrowed as she studied him. Not tall, probably about the same as her five ten, but lean and he moved with the grace of a fighter. Ex-army? When he turned to face her, she realized he was older than she'd first thought. In his late fifties maybe, but still fit.
He strolled toward them, his gaze running over her, and she reckoned he wasn't missing anything.
"This is Colonel Grant," the priest said. "And I'm Father O'Brien."
The colonel stepped up close and held out his hand. For a moment, she stared at it, and then she put her own in his. His grip was cool and firm.
Something occurred to her as she tugged free. "How did you know where to find me?" She hadn't told anyone at work about the appointment. Her colleagues were unaware of her illness — there was some advantage to the blackout having taken place on Ryan's last night on the job — he'd failed to report it. And she wanted it to stay that way. Otherwise, she'd find herself tied to a desk job until she got the all clear — if she got the all clear. No way was that happening while she had a murder to solve.
The colonel shrugged. "We work for the government, Detective Connolly. We have access to their databases. Your appointment came up, and we thought it would be a good time to catch you before you return to work."
"Isn't that an invasion of privacy?"
He shrugged again. "We believe some situations override the privacy of the individual."
"Are you antiterrorist?" She glanced at him sharply. They were the only people she knew who had those sorts of powers. Could her case be involved with terrorism in some way? She was unable to see a connection, but at this point, she was willing to take any leads.
"In a way. But not exactly in the sense you mean."
"Let's all be as cryptic as shit," she muttered. "Why don't you guys get to the point? What is it you want? Because I'm presuming you want something."
"At the moment, to talk to you. We thought it might be best to make our first approach away from the office."
First approach? Sounded like they were going to make this a regular thing. She glanced at the priest — not if she had any say in the matter. On the other hand, she couldn't deny a certain amount of curiosity. She spotted a coffee shop across the street from where they stood. "You can buy me a coffee, and I'll give you ten minutes."
The colonel followed her gaze. "We were thinking of somewhere a little more private."
"You can talk quietly. And I need coffee."
She'd been told no food and drink before the tests. Now she was feeling the distinct absence of caffeine in her system. But it wasn't only that. Something about these guys put her on edge, despite one of them being a priest. In fact, if it wasn't for the dog collar, she would never have placed him as a religious type. More likely another soldier. He had that alertness and way of moving. No way did she want to go anywhere alone with them until she knew who they were and what they wanted.
In the café, they found a booth along the back wall, which afforded them a little privacy. It was self-service and Faith sat herself on the padded seat opposite Father O'Brien while the colonel went to get the coffee. Neither of them spoke and Faith played with the sachets of sugar while she waited. She tried to ignore the way he studied her with his dark eyes as though he could see into her soul. Except she didn't have a soul to see into.
The uncomfortable silence was only broken by the colonel's return. He carried a tray, with not only drinks but also a toasted-cheese-and-bacon sandwich. Her favorite. A shudder of unease ran through her. Maybe coincidence — but she didn't believe in coincidences.
"Do you know everything?" she asked.
"Not everything." The colonel flashed her a slight smile. "We're hoping you can fill in some of the blanks."
She took a sip of coffee and a bite of the sandwich and sighed. "Okay. So shoot."
But it was the priest who spoke first. "I believe you're a Catholic, Detective?"
The question took her by surprise. Though maybe it shouldn't have considering the man asking. "I was born a Catholic, but no, I'm not a Catholic now."
"Perhaps, we'll leave the religious aspect out of this for the moment," the colonel said, the smile still playing across his lips. He was a handsome man in a stern older-guy sort of way. "We work for a division of the government that concerns itself with things of a ... less than normal nature."
Shit, she knew where this was going. Swallowing her coffee, she put down the mug and placed her hands flat on the table, ready to push herself up.
"Don't go without hearing us out on this, detective. At least afford us that."
Faith sighed but relaxed her muscles. "Look," she said. "If you've had me investigated, you must know what I think of all that crap."
He considered her for a minute. "So how is your current case coming along?"
She pursed her lips at the change of subject, then realized it wasn't a change at all. Just more of the same. "If you're going to tell me that Julie was murdered by ghosties or ghoulies, you'll have to get in line. I've heard it all before, and I'm not buying it. She was killed by some weird fucker who'd had his brain twisted by all the crap on the TV."
"Like your mother?"
Shock hit her in the gut, and she gritted her teeth while she forced her emotions back under control. But of course they would know about her mother. They knew her goddamn favorite food.
The colonel didn't wait for an answer, which was just as well because he wasn't getting one. "Not ghosties and ghoulies, Detective. But vampires. And what if I told you we have evidence?"
The word "vampires" seemed to hang in the air, and a flash of primordial fear shivered through her. But before it could take hold, a wall rose up in her mind, familiar, calming, and her panic receded. "I'd say show me this evidence, but it had better be good."
"It's good and we will, but not here."
"Are you going to get to the point anytime soon?"
He gave her a tight smile. "Over the last few years we've been investigating a man. We've found it impossible to get anything on him —"
"Why do you think there's anything to get?"
"That's where our evidence comes in, and if you agree to work with us, you'll be shown everything. Anyway, as I said we've been investigating Christian Roth —"
"Stop there," she interrupted. Now she was getting a glimmer of where this was coming from and where it was going. And she didn't like it. Not one little bit.
"You know, I thought this was something to do with my mother. But I'm guessing that's merely an added bonus and you don't give a fuck about a twenty-year-old unsolved murder. Or even the one that happened six weeks ago. You want me because I'm your in to Ryan."
"It's not that simple. We're looking at the bigger picture. We hope to make sure that murders like these never happen again."
"So are you saying Christian Roth murdered my mother?"
"Not necessarily. But we believe he might be implicated."
"So he's a vampire?" She snorted. "Yeah, of course he is. Christian Roth, billionaire businessman and vampire. You're crazy."
"How did your partner find Jessica Thomas?"
The question came from Father O'Brien. She frowned. "He's a good detective?"
"Oh, we believe it was more than that. We keep an eye on these things and we think he had help. You were present that night. Tell me — was there a woman with him? A woman you didn't know, though maybe you'd seen her before. A woman who is now working for CR International along with your former partner?"
The woman Jessica wanted to talk to.
"Who is she?" Faith asked.
Father O'Brien answered. "Witch."
"Oh, please," she muttered. "Next you'll be saying that Ryan is Harry Potter in disguise or something. Anyway, she so didn't look like a witch." She'd looked sweet in fact, sweet and sort of wholesome.
"What do you expect, warts and a pointy hat? Evil is all around us, Detective. We cannot ignore that, and it is our duty to fight it wherever we can."
He was beginning to sound a little fanatical and his eyes gleamed. The colonel whispered a word to him and he settled back in his seat but drummed his long, bony fingers on the table.
"The woman's name is Rosamund Fairfax. And actually, we don't think your partner is anything other than what he seems," the colonel said. "But we do believe he has gotten mixed up in things beyond his comprehension and is very possibly in danger."
"Yeah, and I'm the only one who can help him. I think Ryan is big enough and ugly enough to take care of himself. And I'm not working against him, so I suggest you find yourself another stooge."
No way would she believe Ryan was into anything dodgy. He was one of the good guys, always would be.
The colonel pursed his lips and shrugged. "I'd like you to think about what we've said." He pulled a card out of his pocket and handed it to her. "Call me when you're ready to see that evidence."
He rose to his feet, as did Father O'Brien. "May the Lord be with you and may he open your eyes to the truth."
Faith bit back the urge to tell him to piss off. She watched as they walked out the door unable to stifle the feeling that that wasn't the last she would see of them. The thought made her uncomfortable. She dismissed their talk of evidence. She doubted they would have anything that could make a dent in her firm conviction that the supernatural world was a load of bullshit. There was no such thing as vampires or witches, only individuals who couldn't deal with the fact that people could be more evil than any monster they could invent. As for God and the devil — more crap.
She rubbed her forehead. At least the meeting had taken her mind off the bomb in her brain. But something told her that her time was running out. If she wanted to solve this case, she'd better get a move on. She also wanted to talk to Ryan, warn him about what was going on. He'd been a great detective and given nearly twenty years to the force. He didn't deserve to be under suspicion now, and she wanted to give him a heads-up.
And she reckoned she had a way to do both, warn Ryan and get a handle on her case. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and punched in a number.
"Jessica, it's Detective Connolly. I think I've found your mystery woman."
* * *
"Are you done yet?" Asmodai made no attempt to keep the impatience from his voice. Probably not wise considering whom he was dealing with, but Lucifer's expression showed nothing but amusement.
"This is so good," he murmured as he glanced up from where he was bent over the table, working on the talisman.
"It is?" Asmodai's question came out as a snarl and Luc's lips twitched. Great.
"Yeah. Asmodai, the big bad demon, Prince of Darkness, brought to his knees by an itty-bitty girl."
"Tara is my daughter, and I'm not on my knees."
"Maybe not yet, but I could put you there any time I like."
"Piss off." Unfortunately, though, it was true; he'd put himself under Luc's power by asking for this favor. But his daughter was in danger. Raphael had been spotted, and rumor had it that there were Avenging Angels on the loose, and while they weren't specifically after Tara, she could be harmed in the cross fire. He needed to get her what protection he could, regardless of the price. All the same, his fingers trembled with the need to rub the demon's sigil wrapped around his upper arm — the mark of his debt, which would remain until that debt was paid. Hopefully, soon and not too painfully.
Finally, Luc straightened, the talisman dangling from one long finger — a black, heart-shaped crystal on a white-gold chain. Asmodai stepped forward to take it, and a shiver of magic ran through him as Luc laid the jewel on his palm. He closed his fist around it.
"So you think this will make a difference?" Luc asked. "That your daughter will forgive you in exchange for such a trivial thing."
"She's half fae," Luc continued. "They're vindictive bastards."
"She's also half demon."
"Yeah, right, and of course we're known for our forgiving natures." The tone was definitely sarcastic. "Isn't that what got you into this? Trying to get your revenge on Christian Roth?"
Christian Roth was his daughter's husband. But that was a recent occurrence. Twenty-three years ago, during the last demon war, he'd been head of The Order of the Shadow Accords, the organization set up over a thousand years ago to police the supernatural world and ensure the demons and fae didn't destroy humanity with their perpetual wars.
Excerpted from Bittersweet Darkness by Nina Croft, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2014 Nina Croft. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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