Authors: Ashley Meira
“Sergei Koskov in the observatory with the candlestick,” I said.
“This is a lounge,” Elise said as she walked toward me.
“It’s a lounge on the observation deck.”
“I doubt a candlestick was used,” she said good naturedly. “Perhaps a knife or blade of some sort to incapacitate him. Maybe a gun, though I found no casings. The smell of gunpowder is absent as well.”
“I didn’t hear a gunshot on the phone.” I walked around the room. Aside from the remains, which were still here for some obscene reason, the area was pristine. Clean and classy, a staple Manhattan lounge. “No magic?”
A body shaped ash pile was spread out in front of the wall to ceiling windows, but it didn’t reveal much. That’s what was so frustrating about investigating vampiric deaths, and why I was more than happy to leave that crap to the king and his people; so much information was lost with the destruction of the body. Damn it, now I felt bad. Sergei had been a person, too, not just some corpse I couldn’t figure out. This job was hard sometimes, it could drown a person in so much death they forgot the value of a single life.
“Nothing in the air,” she said. “I collected some samples, though I doubt they will be useful. I’ll also need to inform Monsieur Castinus.”
Marcus. I needed to speak to him, too. If only Flavius’ words about the night I was ambushed would go away. Marcus wouldn’t really have sold me out. Of course not. We were friends…ish. I counted on him. Despite knowing better than to trust a politician, especially a vampire, I did. I trusted him and…
Hearing he could have betrayed me hurt, tearing at my heartstrings in a way I didn’t think possible.
I knelt by Sergei’s remains, trying to shake my melancholy. “I think he knew his attacker. Or recognized him, at least.”
“You can tell that from his ashes?”
“Ash reading is an art.” Resorting to sarcasm during times of inner turmoil was my other secret power. “We were on the phone, remember? Anyway, are you going to see Marcus now?”
“I was going to call him.”
“You sure Flavius isn’t tapping your phone?”
“He likely is. And now yours, too, I imagine. I was going to use a communication mirror.”
I tapped a finger against the pocket holding Noah’s mirror; it was safer than a phone number, I guess. “I need to start using those more. They take a while to make, but they’re way cheaper than an iPhone.”
“Harder to track, too.” Elise walked back to the door. “Is there a message you’d like me to pass on to Monsieur Castinus?”
I shook my head, nibbling at my lower lip. “Um, Elise?”
She turned to me, her hand on the doorknob.
“Before this job, did Marcus ever mention me to you?”
“Certainly,” she said as we made our way to the elevator. “I was his new magical advisor and you are the hunter assigned to Manhattan.”
“What are we going to do about Sergei’s body? Er, ashes.”
Elise pulled her phone out, and with finesse I wouldn’t expect from a woman of her…century, fired off a short text. “I’ve alerted the king. He can send a cleaner.”
“You have his private number?”
“His secretary’s.” She pursed her lips. “Regardless, the matter will be handled.”
I groaned as the elevator stopped on yet another floor. “No one is even getting on, it’s just stopping. What the hell?”
Elise nodded and we lapsed back into, joy of joys, another fucking elevator silence. Well, screw that, I’ve had enough of those tonight.
“Did he say anything else?”
“Perhaps if you asked a more direct question, I could help you.”
A car honked and the cold air whipped our hair around as we stepped outside, making our way to the line of people waiting at the taxi stand. The lights in the building across from us were dark save for one lonely little square on the upper right-hand side, a shadow hunching over what appeared to be a desk scribbled furiously at whatever he was working on. Save for the chattering guests waiting for a car, the area was quiet, which was strange for a number reasons.
“New York, near the red light district, and it’s like a ghost town.” My breath came out as thick clouds in front of me and I blew them away, chuckling when they hit Elise – it was funny to see such a high-strung person wrinkle their nose like a child.
“Three high profile deaths in as many nights,” she said, “I wouldn’t much enjoy trolling the streets, either. Though I’m sure things are livelier in the party district proper.”
“I suppose.” The line meandered forward like molasses as I tried to find an eloquent way of asking her if Marcus screwed me over. “So, about Marcus…” Christ, when did I become such a wimp? Oh, right: birth.
“That is not direct enough. I must say, I’m surprised; you don’t usually have a problem running your– speaking.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “I know for a fact you could’ve stopped before you had to correct yourself.”
“That is true.”
“A few months ago he gave me information about someone I was looking for.”
“That Lucas fellow?”
“No, this was before I met Lucas.” I ran a hand through my hair, wincing as I hit a knot. “Basically, the information led me straight into an ambush that put me out of commission. That’s why I haven’t been in town these past few months.”
“And you think Monsieur Castinus led you there intentionally?”
“I don’t think anything.”
“Your usual state, then.”
“Ha, ha, ha,” I deadpanned. “Look, it’s just…Flavius said something to me. He said he overheard a conversation Marcus had over the phone shortly after passing me the info and it was…incriminating. I mean, I know Flavius is ten kinds of bitch, but…”
This time, Elise didn’t finish my sentence. “To my knowledge, Monsieur Castinus bears you no ill will. Flavius, however, has a great deal to gain by keeping you away from his former mentor.”
“A great deal?”
The corners of her lips quirked up. “A deal.”
Alex woke up to a weight on his hips and me grinning like a creep in his face.
I pecked him on the lips. “Morning, sleepy dead.”
“Is it morning?” he asked with a sleepy moan. His hair was ruffled and his normally bright blue eyes were clouded with sleep. He was perfect. And he was mine. As impossible as it seems, I must’ve been a saint in a previous life to deserve him.
I kissed him again. “It’s almost midnight, so…”
He pulled me flat against him. I took a deep breath, enjoying the smell of my soap mixed with the refreshing scent unique to Alex, like fresh rain and springtime over a layer of something purely masculine. His hands roamed over my body languidly, sleepily, before settling on my butt.
“It has been a very long night,” I said into his shoulder. “I don’t think I can get an erection right now.”
“Have you even tried?”
I snorted, then nipped at his chin. “Did you sleep well? I wanted to move you to the bed, but I’ve got the upper body strength of a wet noodle.”
“You just didn’t want to share a bed with me,” he teased.
“Hit it and quit it, that’s my motto. Are you hungry? I’ll call for pizza.”
“We have food,” he said. “I’ll cook something. Have you eaten yet?”
“Tacos from the 7-11 nearby.”
“How are you not fat?”
“Jerk! Get your hands off my ass.” I pouted, then let out a cry of outrage as he actually removed them. “I was kidding. Keep groping.”
He pulled me in for a deep kiss that ended with a comical smack before getting off the couch. “I think we still have bacon.”
“That’s not what a healing body needs, or so I’ve been told.” I wrapped his blanket around my shoulders and shuffled over to the counter, frowning at the empty bottle. “Can you get me another bottle, please? I don’t care which – as long as it’s booze.”
With a sigh, he pulled out a bottle of Jack and set it in front of me with a deafening clunk. “Do you want a glass?”
“Why set up gatekeepers?” I criss-crossed my legs on the stool and opened the bottle. “I can’t remember if we’ve ever shared a drink.”
“You drink enough for the both of us.” He tensed as the words left him, shoulders set as if waiting for a violent rebuttal.
He wouldn’t get one. Saying I haven’t been overdoing it on the alcohol lately would have turned the blood in Noah’s little glass bowl to sludge. Was I going to stop, though? I mean, I should. I think. Wouldn’t my body heal the damage alcohol did? This was the whole “get my brain splattered” debate again – it’s possible it wouldn’t kill me, but did I want to test it out? Alex was bustling around the kitchen and the smell of bacon had my stomach roaring like a damn lion. If I asked him, he would tell me it was a good idea to cut back on the drinking. So, I didn’t ask him. I took a swig, wrinkled my nose at the taste, let it burn down my throat, and stared at the bottle with the smallest inkling of fear.
“I love you,” I said to his muscled back. “Feels like I haven’t said that in a while.”
He leaned across the counter and cupped the back of my head, pressing his lips against mine. When he pulled back, the look on his face was filled with so much love – or an emotion I sincerely hoped was love – I wanted to cry. “I love you, too.”
Darting his eyes to the bottle in my hand, he bit his lip, took a deep breath, and buried his face in my shoulder. He was warm and soft and oh so
. I kissed his temple, threading my fingers through his hair. Unlike me, he didn’t have a single tangle. He just woke up, too. Un-fucking-fair.
I always thought of myself as the modern woman – independent, ambitious, all that stuff. I thought I didn’t need anything but the renown, power, and satisfaction that came with succeeding in my line of work. I never wanted a dedicated relationship – never wanted to fall in love, run into the sunset, get married, and have kids. I’ve seen so many people hurt, most of the time because their emotional attachments got in the way. So many families – including mine – were destroyed, broken apart, because of this lifestyle. It wasn’t worth it. I couldn’t understand why hunters made the decision to settle down.
I was still a “modern woman.” Being in love didn’t change that. But now, all I wanted to do was quit – to stay home with Alex and just
. Happily. With him. And Rowan. Every family needs a cat.
“I miss my mom.” The words just came out, her image flashing in my mind. “I need to find her. I can’t stop until I do.”
Alex pulled back and stroked my cheek. “Stop what?”
“Everything,” I said, too embarrassed to admit what I’d been thinking. “I think I found a lead. A man. Er, vampire. Noah.”
“He has information on your mother?”
“He seems to. He looks like her, like Lucas – he even had the same talisman.”
“What?” Alex’s brows knitted together and he pulled me to him. “Are you okay? Did he do anything to you?”
“No. Yes. No. Damn it, I should’ve gone back to see him after parting with Elise. Why didn’t I–”
“Morgan,” he said firmly, gripping my shoulders, “what happened?”
With a sigh, I recounted the day’s events, watching Alex’s frown deepen with each word. “Welcome back, Grumpy Cat.”
I pulled the mirror out of my pocket and placed it on the counter between us. It was small and fit easily into the palm of my hand, its delicate appearance making me worry I might shatter it if I squeezed too tight. Symbols had been magically carved into its silver back – they would glow a pale blue when someone called me but were otherwise unimportant.
Alex looked at the mirror like it was about to bite him. “He gave that to you?”
“They still make those?”
“No.” I rolled my eyes. “Witch Inc. discontinued them two hundred years ago.”
He pulled away and crossed his arms.
“Seriously, do you practice being that surly?” I poked at his cheek, hoping to illicit some sort of reaction. Not even a twitch. Yeah, he definitely practiced. “Mages used mirrors all the time, but as you can imagine, they were pretty fragile and kept breaking in combat. When cell phones came out – those big blocky ones, not these new paper-y ones – it was just easier to use those. Nowadays it’s a matter of preference. Or laziness. Plus, the enchantments get more complicated when you connect your mirror to more than one person’s. Does that make sense?”
“As much as magic does.”
“You’re a medium.”
“That’s different. It’s inherent.”
“Okay,” he nodded, grinning. “Fair point. So, can you use it to call him?”
“I can once he activates it, which he should have done upon creation, but why would people start making things easy for me now?”
“Can you activate it?”
“Only the person who created it can.”
“Let’s go visit him,” he said.
are not going anywhere. Bed rest, remember?”
“Oh, come on,” he scoffed, looking like the perfect impudent teenage heartthrob. I wonder if thinking that makes me a pedophile? And how did he manage to look so much younger than me? “I can handle a trip downtown.”
“Maybe. However, I refuse to test that theory.” I took my phone out and called the hotel, ignoring Alex’s protests. “No. You sit down and eat a vegetable.”