Dead in the Water (Gemini: A Black Dog Series Book 1) (6 page)

BOOK: Dead in the Water (Gemini: A Black Dog Series Book 1)
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She wasn’t the only one entitled to her secrets. “Guess I slipped through the cracks.”

Never in a million years would the conclave have come looking for me. Even if they had, they would have had trouble locating Aunt Dot’s traveling caravan because of the layers of concealment spells she wove around our mobile homes. Gemini were restless souls. Always on the move, always looking ahead to the next thing. Content to leave the past in the past. We enjoyed our own company and preferred our own kind. Untrusting of outsiders, and that went double for those wearing badges. No. The conclave never would have found me if I hadn’t wanted to be found.

Aunt Dot had given me an earful when I got my acceptance letter. She saw my attending the academy as penance and still felt like I had turned myself in to the authorities for the crime I hadn’t committed as a child. She wasn’t wrong. Someone ought to pay for Lori’s death. Why not me, the last person to see her alive?

“Guess so.” The overhead lights fascinated her for a second while she gathered her thoughts. “Though I suppose we all end up where we’re meant to be.” Her gaze cut to me. “Fate and all that jazz.”

“Sure,” I said, though I wasn’t sure I agreed with her. Fate and I weren’t on speaking terms. An anemic bell tinkled, and a woman with a long brown ponytail entered the diner. The smile proved she wasn’t Mrs. Rebec, but her arrival was a sobering reminder of the scene we had left behind. “Do you think Harlow will be safe tonight?”

Thierry’s head lifted, and she stared through the large windows positioned across the front of the diner. “We have a guy watching the hotel tonight just in case the widow gets any ideas.”

“Good.” I rubbed my arms. “She didn’t deserve this.”

“I hope it serves as a wakeup call for her. A good man died at the sinks because your friend couldn’t do her job.” Her lips pinched together. “We’re lucky Jasper was the only one we lost. Talk to Harlow. Convince her that her limitations need to be documented. A consultant who can’t do the job she’s hired to do won’t have much of a career once her clients catch wind of her record. This is the kind of black mark that never fades.”

The impulse to dispute Harlow was a friend while wearing her bracelet caused the words to stick in my throat. The girl was out of her depth, there we agreed, but how likely was a teenager to accept advice from someone she barely knew?

All of the marshals, even Thierry, were so eager to settle the blame on Harlow’s shoulders that they didn’t seem to grasp how hypocritical it was for them to cast blame. “There might not have been a black mark at all if she had gotten help when it first became obvious she needed it.”

“That’s part of the problem.” Her forehead puckered. “She shouldn’t have needed help.”

I scoffed, about to call bull. Harlow had been one girl pitted against a monster.

“Hear me out.” Thierry splayed her fingers in a peacekeeping gesture. “Merfolk rule the deep. They hold dominion over other aquatic creatures. A mermaid should have had that kraken eating out of the palm of her hand. Or at least been able to corral it until we cleared the scene. But Harlow went in search of the local mermaid pod and instead roused the beast into a killing frenzy.” She lowered her hands. “She seems like a nice kid, but…” Her exhale sent a straw wrapper skittering. “I’ve already filed a report. I can’t, in good conscience, allow her to be assigned to another case until she’s more forthcoming about her background and her limitations.”

A burst of rock music pelted the air, too loud to be coming from outside the privacy spell. My phone’s ringtone was much more sedate. That must be Thierry’s. “Do you need to get that?”

“Nah.” A smile split her cheeks when she read the caller ID. “It’s Shaw, but he can wait.”

“If something’s come up at work…” Food or no food, I was ready to ditch the pretense and call it a night.

“We’re off the clock in half an hour.” She tapped the cell’s screen. “If I pick up, then he’ll stick me with being in charge of bringing home dinner, but I know better than to answer him this late in our shift.”

“Home,” I echoed.

“We’re mated.” A mischievous glint lit her eyes as she muted her phone. “We’ve been living together for a whole glorious week.”

Of all the things she had told me tonight, this one took the cake. “You
mated
Shaw?”

“Yep.” She pocketed her phone and pulled out a slim wallet. “For better or worse, he’s all mine.”

That explained a lot and nothing at all. Incubi mated? For how long? To what end? Thierry must be a bold woman to trust an incubus with her heart. I got the feeling if he ever strayed, she would light him up like the Fourth of July. Maybe that made him the bold one.

After tossing a few bills on the table for a tip, she glanced up at me. “Will you be leaving tomorrow?”

“I should have been gone today. There’s nothing left for me to do here.” Harlow ought to get going too. Tonight’s confrontation wouldn’t have happened if she had gone home on schedule. “Have the boy’s parents been located?”

“No.” She flagged down the waitress and signaled for the check. “Not yet. He’s not local. We ruled out that possibility. He could be a runaway, but with a mouth full of metal, I doubt it. Braces require a lot of maintenance, and his were pristine.” She paid the tab despite my protests. “We’ll find his family. Don’t worry about that.” She slid out of the booth. “Come on. I’ll walk you back.”

We hit the hotel lobby in time to hear the screams.

Chapter 6

S
pine-covered rats
poured like spilled marbles across the tile floor, and I hopped an instinctive step back until I spotted Harlow struggling in their midst. Nails clacking, they scurried toward the exit Thierry and I moved to block. Their pointy shoulders were packed so tightly they formed a living carpet, and Harlow flailed her arms and legs as she rode them Aladdin-style across the lobby. Every time she managed to get a hand or foot on the floor, one of them bit her wrists or stabbed her ankles until she recoiled and the procession continued. The overnight clerk quivered on top of her desk shrieking and doing some terrified variation of the
gotta pee
dance. That accounted for the screams.

“Cam,” Harlow squeaked, catching sight of me. “Thank the gods. Get these things off me. Their spines effing hurt.”

“Hold on.” Thierry slung an arm out in front of my chest. “Let me think.”

The incessant screaming made my back teeth ache. “What are those things?”

“They’re hedgies—hedgehogs.” She glanced at me and lowered her arm. “Or they would be if they weren’t fae. These little guys are igel, and they’re usually harmless.”

“Can we hurry this up?” Harlow kicked at one gnawing on the heel of her shoe. “I feel like shish kebab over here.”

“Why are they fixated on Harlow?” Not a one of the creatures had given us a second glance except maybe to wonder how to skitter past without sacrificing their cargo.

A sigh puffed out Thierry’s cheeks. “Jasper Rebec was an igel.”

“So this could be his family.” Sent to fetch the one his widow blamed for his death.

“Yeah.” She patted her pockets. “I don’t want to hurt them. Grief makes us all lose our heads.”

“Can you hurry this up?” Harlow asked with a yelp as a spine pierced her palm.

“Looks like you could use some help,” an earthy voice rumbled.

A man leaned against the far wall with a toothpick stuck to his bottom lip. I hadn’t noticed him at first, what with the rodent infestation, but I sure saw him now. Cord Graeson had followed me—
us
—to Texas. I would have recognized the scowl even if I hadn’t noticed the black ink forest sprouting from his wrists to spread up his forearms.

“We appreciate the offer,” Thierry drawled, “but looks can be deceiving.”

His casual lean, his serene expression, set me on edge. He had been more honest gripped by his anger and grief. This cool-headed Graeson seemed dangerous, like he was a spring wound too tight, ready to burst into motion at the least provocation.

“How long have you been standing there?” A purse of his lips confessed nothing, and I stepped around Thierry, approaching him with caution. “Were you going to let them roll away with her?”

Eyes the color of walnuts striated by the green of summer grasses shifted onto Harlow. “No.” The reluctance in the word didn’t convince me.

A buzzing noise spooked the hedgies, who curled into balls with a hiccup of sound. Thierry leapt into action, pulling a black stick—a marker?—from her pocket and drawing a circle around the stunned hedgies. “Harlow.” Thierry clasped forearms with her when she glanced up, and then hauled her to her feet. “Get out of the circle. Don’t smudge the line.” Harlow stepped over the black line and backed to my side. Thierry spoke a Word, and an invisible barrier rose, penning the hedgies. She pocketed the marker and dusted her hands. “Easy-peasy. I’ll call a cleanup crew.”

Harlow pulled a slim phone from the rear pocket of her shorts. Her cell’s vibrations must have been what startled the hedgies. Her mouth pinched at the corners when the screen illuminated. “I have to return this call.” She crossed the lobby, pushed a button and started pacing. “Magistrate Vause.” Her knees locked and complexion paled. “Y-yes, ma’am.” Her head swung toward me. “Camille is right here.” She extended the phone, careful not to let our fingers brush. “It’s for you.”

I held the phone to my right ear and then covered my left to better hear over the protesting hedgies. “Ellis speaking.”

“Why aren’t you answering your phone?”

Short and to the point is our Seelie Magistrate.

“I went out for coffee.” I braced against the snap in her voice. “I forgot my phone.”

“I’ve heard of twenty-four-hour coffee shops,” she mused in a frosty tone. “Here I thought it referenced their hours, not the number of hours customers are lost once crossing their threshold.”

The explanation she hinted at wanting but wouldn’t ask for outright caused the conversation to peter out into an awkward quiet. Her silent demand for an explanation had me digging in my heels. The conclave didn’t own me. I was an employee who performed services for pay, not an indentured servant who had to snap to attention and report on command.

“We have a survivor,” Vause announced in a cool, clear voice.

“Are you certain she escaped Charybdis?” I pressed the speaker tighter against my ear. “The victim in Wink was just a boy in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wasn’t one of ours.”

“The certainty is yours to determine. I wouldn’t dream of doing your job for you.” A prim response. “You will have to visit the girl and get the answers we both require.”

Residual imprints faded fast on a living person. As they recovered, the resurgence of their own magic wiped away any foreign signatures. “How reliable is she?”

“The girl is ten. Elizabeth McKenna.” Leather creaked on her end. “I want you to talk to her.”

“Sure.” My heart pounded faster. “Where?”

“The incident occurred in Falco, Alabama. We’ll need a diver. Bring Harlow with you.” Metal groaned as though she were reclining in a desk chair. “And, Camille? When I say I want you to speak with her, I mean I want Lori.”

Lori
.

Harlow’s phone slid through my limp fingers. Only her quick reflexes kept it from clattering on the tiles. She ended the call with Vause. I didn’t have the stomach left for pleasantries.

Graeson straightened, arms hanging loose as if ready to catch me should my knees buckle. “What’s happened?”

Head light as a balloon ready to float off my shoulders, I shut my eyes and let the pain wash over me. Nothing could dam the swell of hurt, and I wasn’t fool enough to try. Better to weather the surge now than fight to keep my head above water later.

“Cam?”

“Pack a bag.” I opened my eyes, held Harlow’s wary gaze. “We leave in a half hour.”

A sharp nod, a hardening of her jaw, and she dashed toward the elevators.

I should have called out, asked her to hold the door for me so I could join her, but instead I nodded to Thierry—deep in conversation about the logistics of humane igel removal—and exited the building. Beneath a heavy moon, I stood as a speck on the sidewalk of no significance to the celestial bodies twinkling above me and found my center. The glitter of stars was proof the dark blanket of my grief did not encompass the world, and I could not allow it to envelope me.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

The unwelcome interruption growled over my shoulder splintered the moment of clarity almost within my reach. “I should pack my things.”

“Are you ignoring me because I’m a warg?” A hint of bitterness. “Would you speak to me as an equal if I were fae?”

“My issue is not your species,” I said, voice weary. “You’re too close to the case to act rationally.”

“Do you have any siblings?” He wielded the question like a blade. “All I had was Marie.” The sentiment cut deep. “Survive a loss of that magnitude and then we can talk about acting rationally.”

Too late to conceal my flinch, I smoothed the gesture into a shrug. “This isn’t about me.”

Head cocked to one side, nostrils widening, Graeson cataloged a piece of me I hadn’t meant to share with him. Old hurts roiled in me. I must stink of emotion to such a sensitive nose as his.

“You might as well tell me why the magistrate called,” he coaxed, his voice a dark promise. “I had the resources to locate you once. I can again.” Gold eclipsed his irises. “Marie was my sister. She died on Chandler pack land. As her brother, as beta, I have a right to this hunt.”

My tongue pressed against the back of my front teeth. As much as I might wish otherwise, he had as much right to hunt Charybdis as I did, maybe more. His earlier stab in the dark had drawn heart’s blood. Had Marie been my sister, I would be in his place. No question. It was instinct to punish those who harmed what we loved. For Graeson, that meant Charybdis. In my case, the only person to blame was me.

“There’s a girl.” My throat scraped raw. “A witness.”

“Where?” His hand dipped into his pocket, emerging with a ring of keys looped around his forefinger.

I bit the inside of my cheek and made a decision. “How did you get here?”

“I drove that gray SUV by the portico.” He showed me the fob with a familiar rental agency logo affixed to its surface. “Why?”

“Great.” I hustled past, the time for dawdling over. “Then you have plenty of room for Harlow.”

Putting the two of them in the same car meant I could keep an eye on both. It was a win/win that promised Graeson only the access I decided to allow him and Harlow protection should the igel mount another effort against her.

His fist clenched. “What about your car?”

“All they had available was a subcompact.” It was cute as a button, but tight even for a quick trip to the airport once you factored in two women and two sets of luggage. “You can drive Harlow, and I’ll meet you both at the airport. We can travel the rest of the way together.”

A thoughtful pause while Graeson no doubt weighed the compromise I offered against the effort it would require to uncover the same information from one of his resources. “All right. You have a deal.”

“Great.” I hesitated, glanced back at him. “Are you waiting down here?”

“Unless you’re inviting me up.” He tossed his keys, caught them.

“I won’t be long.” I resumed walking. “Wait here, save yourself the trip.”

“Make it quick.” A glint in his eye. “Or I might make you the same offer.”

The subtle warning nudged me up to my room where I collected my belongings and packed with less care than usual. I was wrapping my laptop cord when Harlow breezed in ten minutes later with her bags in hand. While performing one last sweep of the bed and floor, I explained our travel arrangements.

Ushering her into the hall ahead of me, I hesitated with my hand on the doorknob.

“Ready?” she prompted.

To resurrect my dead twin sister for the purpose of conducting an interview? “Yeah. Sure.”

Not at all.

BOOK: Dead in the Water (Gemini: A Black Dog Series Book 1)
11.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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