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New York City, July, 1927
Ross Kavanagh contemplated the half-empty bottle of whiskey and wondered how much more it would take to get him stinking drunk.
It wasn't the first time, and it wouldn't be the last. He'd never been a drinker before they threw him off the force. There hadn't seemed to be much point; even a man only one-quarter werewolf had a hard time becoming inebriated. And he'd been content with the world.
Content. Until everything had been taken away from him, he hadn't really thought about what the word meant. He'd given up on anything beyond that a long time ago. It was enough to have the work, the company of the guys in the homicide squad, the knowledge that he'd kept a few criminals off the streets for one more day.
Now that was gone. And it wasn't coming back.
He lifted the bottle and took another swig. The whiskey was bitter on his tongue. He finished the rest of the bottle without taking a breath and set it with exaggerated care down on the scarred coffee table.
Maybe he should put on a clean shirt and find himself another couple of bottles. Ed Bower kept every kind of liquor hidden behind his counter, available for anyone who knew what to ask for. Sure, Ed Bower was breaking the law. But what did the law matter now?
What did anything matter?
Ross scraped his hand across his unshaven face and got up from the sofa. He walked all too steadily into the bathroom and stared into the spotted mirror. His face looked ten years older than it had two weeks ago. Deep hollows crouched beneath his eyes, and his hair had gone gray at the temples. He wondered if Ma and Pa would even recognize him if he went home to Arizona.
But he wasn't going home. That would mean he was licked, and he wasn't that far gone.
Maybe tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow he would sober up and start looking for the guy who'd made a mockery of his life. The bum who had gotten away with murder.
Ross sagged over the sink, studying the brown stains in the cracked bowl. Clean up. Get dressed. Think about living again, even though no cop in the city would give him the time of day and the mobsters he'd fought for twelve years would laugh in his face.
Someone knocked on the door, pulling Ross out of his dark thoughts. Who the hell can that be? he thought. It wasn't like he had a lot of civilian friends. As far as he knew, Griffin and Allie were still in Europe. They were the only ones he could imagine showing up at his apartment in the middle of the day.
Maybe it's the chief coming to give me my job back. Maybe they found the guy.
He laughed at his own delusions. The person at the door knocked again. Kavanagh swallowed a stubborn surge of hope, threw on his shirt and went to the door.
The man on the landing was a stranger, his precisely cut suit perfectly pressed and his shoes polished to a high sheen. His face was chiseled and handsome; his hands were manicured and free of calluses. Ross sized him up in a second.
Money, Ross thought. Education. Maybe one of Griffin's friends, though there was something about the guy's face that set off alarm bells in Ross's mind.
"Mr. Kavanagh?" the man said in a very proper upper-class English accent.
Ross met the man's cool gaze. "That's me," he said.
"My name is Ethan Warbrick." He didn't offer his hand but looked over Ross's shoulder as if he expected to be invited in. "I have a matter of some importance to discuss with you, Mr. Kavanagh."
"What is it?"
"Something I would prefer not to discuss in the doorway."
Ross stepped back, letting Warbrick into the apartment. The Englishman glanced around, his upper lip twitching. Ross didn't offer him a seat.
"Okay," Ross said, leaning casually against the nearest wall as if he didn't give a damn. "What's this about?"
Warbrick gave the room another once-over and seemed to decide he would rather continue standing. "I will come right to the point, Mr. Kavanagh. I've come to see you on behalf of a certain party in England with whom you were briefly acquainted during the War. She has asked me to locate you and warn you about a visit you may presently be receiving."
The Englishman's statement took a moment to penetrate, but when it did, Ross couldn't believe it meant what he thought it did.
She. England. The War. Put those words together and they meant only one thing: Gillian Maitland. The girl he'd believed himself in love with twelve years ago. The one who'd left him standing on a London kerb feeling as if somebody had shot him through the heart.
"Sorry," Ross said, returning to the door. "Not interested."
"Perhaps you ought to hear what I have to say, Mr. Kavanagh."
"Make it fast."
"To put it simply, Mrs. Delvaux, whom you once knew as Gillian Maitland, expects her son to be arriving in New York at any moment."
Ross turned his back on the Englishman. He'd been right.
"What does her son have to do with me?" he asked.
"He believes you to be his father."
The floor dropped out from under Ross's feet. "What did you say?"
"Young Tobias is under the mistaken impression that you are his father. He stowed away on a ship bound for America, and every indication suggests that he is on his way to you."
It took a good minute, but the world finally stopped spinning. Ross made his way to the sofa and sat down, resenting the empty bottle on the table before him. "How old is he?" he asked hoarsely.
"Eleven years. Mrs. Delvaux has asked me to intercept him and send him home."
Ross jumped up again, unable to banish the pain in his chest. "Is he my son?"
Warbrick hesitated just an instant too long. "Mrs. Delvaux married a Belgian gentleman shortly after her return from her volunteer work in London. Tobias was born nine months later."
Gillian, married. To "a Belgian gentleman"gentleman being the key word. And Ross was willing to bet he was a full-blooded werewolf. Just like Gillian.
Warbrick wasn't a werewolf. Not that Ross could always be sure the way some shifters could, but he had a pretty good knack for figuring out what made people tick.
Even so, if Gillian knew the guy well enough to send him after her son, odds were that he knew about the existence of loups-garous and knew that Gillian was one of them. He wouldn't be the first human to be privy to that information. Not by a long shot.
And if he knew about werewolves, he ought to know how dangerous it was to tangle with one. Even a part-blood like Ross.
"How do you know Jill?" he said, deliberately using the nickname he'd given her in London.
"Not that it is any of your business, Mr. Kavanagh, but Mrs. Delvaux and I are neighbors and old friends."
"Where is Mr. Delvaux?" Ross asked abruptly.
"He died in the War, shortly after their marriage."
Ross released his breath. Gillian was a widow. She'd never remarried. He didn't know what that meant. He shouldn't care. He didn't.
But there was one thing he did care about. He spun on his foot and strode toward Warbrick, stopping only when he had a fistful of the Englishman's lapel in his grip.
"He is my son, isn't he?"
To his credit, Warbrick didn't flinch. His face remained deceptively calm, but Ross wasn't fooled. This guy was no fighter.
"I'll find out one way or another," Ross said. "So you might as well tell me now and save us both a lot of trouble."
Ross could see Warbrick weighing the chances of his getting out of the apartment with his pretty face intact. He made the right decision.
"Yes," he said. "Kindly release me."
Ross let him go. Warbrick smoothed his jacket.
"The fact that Tobias is your son is of no consequence," he said. "He doesn't know you. He wasn't even aware of your existence until a fortnight ago."
"How did he find out?"
"It was entirely an accident, I assure you."
"And he decided to come to New York all by himself?"
"He is a precocious child, but he is still a child. You can have no possible interest in a boy you have never seen."
Ross stepped back, cursing the booze for muddling his thoughts. Warbrick was right, wasn't he? Maybe the kid was bright, but he was Ross's son in name only.
Gillian had made sure of that. She could have written, sent a telegram. She hadn't bothered. Instead, she'd married this Delvaux guy and passed the boy off as his.
Ross knew how easy it would be to let his anger get out of control. "Let me get this straight," he said. "Mrs. Delvaux asked you to run me down and make sure I hand over the kid as soon as he turns up."
"That is correct."
"How is he supposed to find me?"
"The same way I located you. He knows that you worked for the New York City police."
Worked. Past tense. "He learned all this by accident?"
"It hardly matters, Mr. Kavanagh. You will be doing Mrs. Delvaux a great service, and she is sensible of that. We are prepared to offer you a substantial sum of money for your cooperation."
Sure. Buy the dumb American off. Neat, convenient, painless.
"Why didn't she come herself?" he asked. "If she's so worried about the kid
"Since she knows that I have been resident in New York for nearly a year," Warbrick said, "it was hardly necessary for her to come in person." He withdrew a piece of paper from his jacket pocket. "I have been authorized to present you with this check for one thousand dollars as soon as the child is safely in my custody. Even if I am able to locate him first, you will receive it as consideration for your"
"I beg your pardon?"
"You heard me." He grabbed the Englishman's shoulder and propelled him toward the door. "You can tell Mrs. Delvaux that I don't need her money."
The heels of Warbrick's shoes scraped on the landing. "You are making a serious mistake," he said, anger rising in his voice. "If necessary, I will enlist the police to"
"You do that." Ross pushed Warbrick toward the stairs. "Don't trip on your way down."
He listened until he heard the door in the lobby snap shut. His hands had begun to shake. He went back into his apartment, closed the door and leaned against it, waiting for the fury to pass.
For eleven years he'd had a son he didn' t know about. For eleven years Gillian hadn't bothered to contact himuntil she needed something from the American chump who'd been stupid enough to fall for a lady of wealth and privilege and pure werewolf blood.
He was still a chump, letting her get to him this way. He had to start thinking rationally again. Think about what he would do if the boy did show up. It wasn't as if he had anything to say to the kid.
Maybe Warbrick would find him before he got this far. That would solve everybody's problems.
Then you can go back to drinking again. Forget about the kid, forget about Mrs. Delvaux, forget about the job.
There were just too damned many things to forget.
He went into the bathroom, turned on the faucet in the bathtub and stuck his head under the stream of cold water. When his mind was clear, he shed his clothes and scrubbed himself from head to foot. He got out his razor and shaved the stubble from his chin. He was just taking his last clean shirt and trousers from the closet when the telephone rang. He let it ring a dozen times before he picked up the receiver.
Ross knew the voice well. Art Bowen had been one of the last of his fellow cops to stand by him when everyone else had left him hanging in the wind. But finally even Bowen had decided that it wasn't worth jeopardizing his career to associate with a suspected murderer.
"Hello, Art," Ross said. "How are you?"
There was a beat of uncomfortable silence. "Listen, Ross. You need to get down to the station right away."
Ross's fingers went numb. They found the real killer. They know I'm innocent. It's over.
"There's someone here looking for you," Art continued. "He claims he's from England."
The floor began to heave again. "Who?" he croaked. "His name is Tobias Delvaux. He says he's your son."
Ethan hailed a taxi and gave terse instructions to the cabbie, promising a generous tip for a quick ride back to his hotel.
As unbelievable as it seemed, Kavanagh had gotten the better of him. Considering the ex-policeman's circumstances, Ethan hadn't been prepared for his hostility, let alone his refusal of the check. The man had lost everything, including his means of support, and he was clearly not in a position to refuse financial assistance.
But he hadand far worse, he'd presumed to treat Ethan as if he were a commoner.
Of course, he had made a mistake in allowing Kavanagh to know that Toby was his son. He had been too eager to observe the American's expression when he realized that Gillian had concealed the boy's presence all these years, that she hadn't had the slightest desire to renew their relationship.
He had received some satisfaction in that, at least. Kavanagh's pretense at indifference had been spoiled by the anger he had unsuccessfully attempted to conceal.
But was the anger merely at Gillian's deception? Or was there something more behind it? Something that would make Kavanagh far more of a problem than Ethan had anticipated?
He had no intention of taking a chance. When the cab pulled up in front of his hotel, he already knew what he must do.
Bianchi's secretary was polite and apologetic when she informed Ethan that the boss was on holiday. When Ethan pressed, she provided him with the mobster's location, though she carefully reminded him that the boss didn't like to be disturbed when he was fishing in the Catskills.
Ethan dismissed her warnings. He'd become quite wealthy as a result of skilled investments in American industry and less "legitimate" pursuits, and he'd contributed generously to Bianchi's defense the last time the boss had been under investigation.
Bianchi owed him, and what he wanted wasn't much of an inconvenience for a man of the boss's power and influence. Ethan knew that there was some risk in leaving town at this juncture, but he had a number of hired men watching for Toby, including several in the police department.
And if something were to happen to the boy
why, even that tragedy could be turned to his advantage.
Ethan rang the concierge to arrange for a car and began to pack.