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Authors: Ravyn Wilde

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BOOK: Let Them Eat Cake
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Mon dieu! Oh God, ohgodohgod
. She was going to be sick. She’d seen plenty of dead bodies before. Been responsible for several of them herself. She had no problem with death if it came from natural causes or as punishment for severe crimes. But both men and immortals could do horrible things to each other without reason or for personal gain. However, this fell beyond even her experience.

The poor soul in front of her had been turned inside out, and most of its body parts appeared to have been consumed. Unrecognizable as a living, breathing human being, it now looked like a mass of flesh and broken bones. One of the bones stuck straight up and Maria looked at it for a moment in confusion. Something was…oh, yuck. The bones appeared hollow, as if the marrow had been sucked right out of them.

Ugh! What could do this? Who could do this? In over two centuries of life, she’d never seen anything so horrific.

She would expect the area to look like a blood bath. She stood right next to the body, and the ground from wall to wall was paved. With her preternatural senses she would see even small traces of blood. Smell it. So…where was the blood? Oh, jeez. Somehow the lack of any body fluids made this whole thing seem even worse. She didn’t want to examine the psychology of her thoughts. As if her own need for red corpuscles made her in some way responsible for this atrocity. She started looking around, trying to sort out the scene in her mind. At first glance, she detected the lack of blood and internal organs…saw only a few pieces of muscle tissue with a small stack of sucked-out bones. Damn!

Then she noticed strands of hair, and hands missing their fingertips. It looked like someone had taken a bite from each one. The hair was long and blonde, the hands were petite and adorned with a couple of cheap silver rings. A woman.

Maria forced herself to look closer. Smooth hands. A young woman. It didn’t take long for the realization to dawn that she couldn’t fight this depravity alone. She wouldn’t take the chance of letting whatever did this get away because she didn’t have the skills or the know-how to track a criminal. She could and would help…she didn’t even consider walking away from this battle. She knew with the certainty of all her years this wasn’t a kill-once-and-move-on sort of creature. She would somehow kill it once they figured out what had done this, but she was
so
out of her area of expertise when it came to tracking something that didn’t leave a scent trail.

Give her a rabid werewolf or rogue vampire or human killer any day, and she could handle them with one arm tied behind her back. You just found its smell and then tracked it by scent to contain or kill it. But whatever did this hadn’t left behind a whiff in the alley other than the aroma of death. She didn’t have any idea which way the—what? Creature? Worked for now—had gone. Or where it came from. She needed help. This would require aid from both preternatural sources as well as some human assistance. If nothing else, her Council needed to be warned.


Brian
,” she called along her mental path to her human helper.

“What’s up, oh mistress of the night?”

“I need you and Matthew to call a code one Council meeting for tomorrow night. Make it for 9:00. The later hour will give the vamps time to feed. Make sure you include the human list, and try to verify that everyone gets the message either by email receipt or by talking to him or her if they don’t respond electronically. Clear the theater room at Sins of the Flesh if it’s booked. I also need you to see if you can’t get a hunter to—”


Slow down, sweetheart. Are you okay? Are you safe?
” Brian frantically cut her off.

“Yeah. I should be. I think it’s gone. It should be gone.”

“You are not making me feel all warm and fuzzy, Maria. Use those creepy vampire senses and make sure you are safe. Then tell me where you are and I’ll bring you an arsenal and Matt and I will back you up.”

Maria took a moment to scan the area. Nothing. No evil presence, no lurking menaces. She felt sure she would sense the same malevolent aura she’d experienced earlier if it was out there.
I hope.
She did detect a couple of humans out for a stroll, and worked to set psychic guards on the alley to keep intruders out. She did not need to deal with mass hysteria at this point. Not in her job description.

“Maria. Where’d you go? You are scaring me, sugar.”

“I’m here. I’m okay. The coast is clear and I just made sure all the little blood donors stayed away.”

“Okay, humor. Better. Where are you so I can come get you?”
he demanded
.

“You are not leaving the house tonight. Where is Matthew?”
she asked, frightened for her friends.

“Right beside me, putting a backpack of toys together in case you need them. I don’t know why we have tons of these death packs in the house if you leave without taking one. It sort of defeats the purpose.”

“You’re right and I promise you can nag me later. For right now I want you to stay home. I don’t know what the hell is going on, and until I do I want you two locked up and safe. If you feel strange or hear anything out of the ordinary, I want you to call out to me without trying to check it out yourself. Do not wait. Do you understand me, Brian? No Rambo-esque moves tonight.”

“Honey, I don’t do butch. I’ll call you if I need you. Now, what else can I do for you to get you home soon?”

“I don’t remember where I stopped in my list of demands.”
Maria could
feel
Brian’s concern and near panic for her safety.

“You asked me to contact a hunter.”

“Yes, call Charlotte. She’ll take your word when you tell her I need one without talking to her myself. Tell her I’ll get in touch with her soon, but we definitely need a hunter now. And call Bill, the Chief of Police. Tell him it is very important he meet me at the coffee shop on Third and Main. Tell him he needs to bring his gun and a camera…maybe a backup gun for me. The threat seems to be gone for now, but I don’t want to be here without a weapon if it comes back. Tell him I believe the problem will end up not being human, but I really need his help.”

“You are going to freak him out, Maria. You’re freaking
me
out. You never need help. Let me bring—”

“No. I can’t, Brian. I can’t let you or Matthew put your lives in danger by coming out to meet me. Just stay put, I’ll be fine.”

 

Brian turned away from the phone and looked at Matthew. “Bill will meet her. He said it would take him about forty-five minutes to get to the coffee house. Did you send the email?”

Matt grinned up at him, knowledge and devilment obvious in his green eyes. “Broadcast message sent with acknowledgement request. I also used the new caller gadget you set up to call the home phones and cell phones of those who either don’t do email or don’t do it often enough to be of use. Great idea you came up with, sweets.” His lover was a genius. Brian’s device would call everyone and give each person a digital message about the meeting and then record their answers, so they just had to call back the ones who couldn’t figure out how to “press one for yes” in response to Maria’s summons. “Now what? We leave her alone with one human man to face whatever scared the shit out of her enough to ask for help?”

Brian looked at him, noting Matt’s eyes were wide in false shock, and snorted. “Hell no. Leather up, bad boy, we can at least take the death pack to the coffee shop. I need a latte anyway. Did you put her stakes and little Uzi machine gun thingy in the pack?”

“Both of those, along with her throwy stars and a couple of wicked-looking knives. You know she is going to be royally pissed at us?” Matt asked.

“Yep. But then, she does royally pissed so well. We’ll take the tank. Our Hummer is built for nights like this.” Brian moved with resolute intent in the direction of the door. No one would be allowed to harm Maria without he and Matt having something to say about it.

Maria’s human servants charging to her rescue
, he thought with glee.
Whether she wants us to or not.

Chapter Two

 

Maria sat in a secluded alcove in the empty coffee shop, with her hands wrapped tight and strained around the cappuccino mug, needing its warmth. As a centuries-old vamp, she could drink sips of any liquid, but right now she was more interested in the heat leaching into her ice-cold hands. She’d left the body in the alley, protected with her vampire powers so everything would stay the way she left it. No one would wander in and freak over the murder.
No. Any freaking will come from me.
And soon she would be sharing her nervous breakdown with Bill.

Right now she needed Bill. Needed his solid and stoic presence. Because the woman murdered in that alley happened to be human, he would need to see the corpse and be prepared if more human bodies showed up and she couldn’t stop whatever killed in such a horrible manner—soon. If someone else found remains like those she’d discovered tonight, or if humans started disappearing in large numbers, then the police would be trying to follow leads and could end up like the woman in the alley. Hopefully Bill could minimize some of the risks to the human population.

William “Bad Boy Bill” Peterson happened to be one of the few humans she trusted. She remembered the night she met him forty-some-odd years ago. She’d been out trolling for blood in one of the sleazier parts of town when she saw a drug lord she recognized chasing a patrol cop into an alley. Knowing the outcome couldn’t be good, she followed. The little piss-ant drug-king-wannabe pulled out a gun before the cop could say, “Halt or I’ll shoot.” Maria inserted her body between Bill and the bullets at the last second. She chuckled softly as she remembered the look of astonishment on his face when she took a slew of bullets meant for him, stood up, and with vampire practicality and healing ability, pushed the slugs from her body without spilling a drop of blood.

After the druggy ran screaming into the night, Bill fainted on her. Then when she revived him, she decided not to wipe his memory of her existence. A friendship of sorts developed between them. They met often and discussed keeping their city safe. She and Bill tracked down a few human lowlifes together when the body count got out of hand, and she kept him apprised of the paranormal emergencies in their city.

Over the years he’d helped her with some of her “unfortunate incidences” and she’d taught him how to defend himself against rogue vampires and rampaging werewolves. And in the process, he discovered not all monsters needed to be feared. He was one of three humans allowed to serve on her Sentinel Council. Doctors made up the other two. One a doctor for the dead—a coroner for the times she needed help figuring out what killed one of her own. The second, an emergency doctor with a little clinic in his basement. Sometimes even immortals needed help healing.

She didn’t expect Bill to stop the creature. She wanted to warn him and use his somewhat uncanny perception of a crime scene. Time after time he would look at a scene and give an accurate guess to identify the height, weight and sexual persuasion of the perp while she saw nothing. He was that good.

She heard the little chime over the coffee shop door as it rang, announcing new customers, and she looked up in anticipation. Bill filled the doorway. She watched as he headed for her, concern and caring in his eyes. Looking at him, she reminded herself he had to be pushing seventy. Bad Boy Bill had definitely aged into just Bill—maybe this hadn’t been such a great idea. He still possessed the body of a brick shithouse, but his hair had turned gray and he moved a little slower than when she’d first met him. His eyes radiated intelligence and the constant stress of being responsible for the lives of others. She knew his quick mind remained intact.

“Maria, are you alright?” he asked, as he came to stand over her.

“I’m fine, Bill. Thank you for coming to meet me.”

“You never really ask for help, always just sort of let me participate, and now you have me worried.”

“Well, join the club. And I hate to tell you but I think it’s only going to get worse,” she mumbled sadly, as she rested her head on her hands.

Bill blew out a deep breath and then turned, motioning to the man standing behind him. “Somehow I knew this would be bad,” he said to Maria. “I want you to meet someone. I am getting too old to run down alleyways with you and slay demons.”

“I never took you demon hunting with me, Bill,” she stated softly with all seriousness, wondering whom he would want her to meet at a time like this.

“Smart mouth. I don’t even know if there are demons,” he replied just as quietly, evidently wanting to keep this part of the conversation strictly between the two of them.

Maria just raised her eyebrows at him. He shook his head. “Maybe I don’t want to know. Like I said, I’m too old for this shit!”

Bill stepped aside to let the other man approach the table. At first glance, she drew in a sharp breath. Before her stood one very scary-looking human. His eyes held deep pain and sadness. Those eyes said clearly the man had seen the worst humanity offered, and if he couldn’t kill it, he hurt it bad. Those dark, dangerous blue eyes somehow held both the promise of pain and the guarantee the man behind them could make you squeal in pleasure. And the eyes were only a very small part of an incredibly intriguing package. “
Oh mon beau, puis-je vous enmener maintenant sous mes draps
?” She’d always been a sucker for very bad boys.

Without cracking a smile the man replied in a husky, serious voice, “
Donnez moi un petit moment et je serai peut-etre partant pur cela
.” Loose translation in English—“Give me a minute and I’ll take you up on your offer.”

The man spoke French.

Which meant she’d said, “Oh, my beautiful man, can I slide you right now between the sheets of my bed?” out loud. Maria groaned.
Could tonight get any worse?

“I don’t speak French, so I have no idea what you two just said. Maria, I would like you to meet my son, Justin. Justin, this is Maria.”

Oh, yeah. Going downhill fast. “Your son?”

At his father’s introduction, Justin moved to shake Maria’s hand. “It is nice to meet you, Maria,” he said with a wicked grin.

“I didn’t fill him in on our, um, relationship. But I know you need someone to take my place. I’m getting older, Maria. I can’t keep up with you, and obviously you still need a working contact. My son served in the military, in Spec Ops of some kind he won’t talk about, but he should be able to handle whatever you throw at him. Justin can fill you in on his investigative skills. He is fully trained in specialized techniques if you should need them. I am happy to say he just moved back to town and I hired him to head up our Unique Crimes task force. You know—difficult, nasty, unexplained cases. You should be able to help him as well,” Bill stated.

Justin had just started to touch her hand with his when he withdrew it at the mention of his father’s relationship with her. Oh, good Lord. Like she fucked his father!

She raised her eyes to his. “Your father and I have a relationship that does not now, nor has it ever, included getting naked. Relax.” She turned to address Bill. “Does he know what I am? Or about the others?”

She tried very hard to ignore Justin. He loomed over her, all testosterone and supreme male threat. She could think of better ways to put all those urges to use, and reminded herself to exert some control. Letting her libido rule wouldn’t catch a killer.

She could appreciate the mass of muscle he hadn’t built in a gym, and she wondered how his messy, shoulder-length blond hair got its curl. She decided it must be natural. This man would not spend time under a hair dryer. He screamed alpha male with every breath he took. She even started to wonder how his hair would feel under her hands.
Oh, baby, would I love to play with that hair.
Again, she reminded herself to exercise restraint.

Easier said than done. He was older, experienced. Somewhere in his early forties, she guessed. She wanted to sample the danger and menace oozing from his pores. See if she couldn’t take his mind off the pain she saw in those eyes. The man moved with a sexy confidence, with self-possession and power. She could believe nothing got by him. Those dark blue eyes would see and catalogue everything. Including what turned a woman on.
So not the time to be thinking about jumping his bones and making him sweat.

 

Although he kept a straight face, Justin reeled as if he’d been prodded with an electric shock stick. He never reacted to women this way. Yes, the woman before him was gorgeous. A small, fragile body frame with skin like pale cream. He couldn’t see freckles or a mark of any kind on her soft flesh. Incredible. Her eyes seemed to glow a misty shade of gray-blue. Black as deep night, her hair fell past her shoulders in a shiny, sleek mass. Her face could only be described as regal. Definite cheekbones, cute pointy nose and a high forehead with perfect, arched dark eyebrows, the result blended together to make him feel as if he’d met
somebody
. Somebody who’d been born and bred to be waited on hand and foot—not the kind of woman who normally turned him on. So why did he promise himself the opportunity to see her curvaceous body naked and writhing underneath him? Soon.

She stood briefly when she rose to shake his hand, and he caught a glimpse of tight, black leather pants that made him want to get a look at her butt. She wore a black cotton T-shirt with a deep vee at the neck. The woman looked like she carried full handfuls of boobs on her chest. And the attraction didn’t stop with the temptation of her curves. If it had, he could have ignored it.

The steel in her backbone and the strength in her grip forced him to look for more. And he found it in her eyes. He captured her gaze and held it. Saw an old soul buried deep. Saw someone he wanted to get to know better. He hoped those eyes didn’t see his body’s reaction to her slight touch. Thank God his dad hadn’t seen her naked, because he sure as hell planned to.

“He doesn’t know. I figured we’d tell him together and he would just have to live through some of it to believe. I know it took me a while after the initial shock wore off to really understand the implications,” Bill said, as the men took a seat in front of her.

Justin watched Maria check him out. Watched the heat flare in her eyes as he waited silently for them to clue him in. He let only a hint of the questions he had show in his eyes. He saw her get sidetracked as she looked at his mouth. Her tongue darted out to dampen the top of her very sexy pink lip. Evidently she liked his dark blond mustache and neatly trimmed goatee. Good. He planned on using them to tease every sensitive spot on her body. He watched her struggle with her attraction as she seemed to physically pull back.

Maria motioned for the two of them to order. She waited for a few moments while the waiter brought their coffees, appearing to Justin as if she were deep in thought. When she started talking he found out he was right.

“I am not sure this is the best time to train someone new, Bill. What I saw tonight is something beyond even my experience. And it scares the crap out of me. But you are right about one thing. I have a bad feeling my strength and abilities won’t be enough. I definitely don’t want you on the streets with me this time. I don’t want you or even junior here tracking…whatever. I just need help at the site. I’ll take it from there.”

“The site.” It wasn’t a question but an affirmation of sorts from his father.

“You know,” Justin drawled, figuring it time to get them to talk
to
him instead of around him. “I might have more input here if I knew what the hell you both are talking about. So far I’ve learned you’ve never seen my dad naked, and you think something bad happened you can’t handle alone. Which I have to say doesn’t surprise me given your small stature. Yet you don’t want any real assistance, and there are others involved. You also have some sort of a crime scene. Correct so far?” He stopped for a moment, waiting while Maria nodded in confirmation, and then added, “And there is something you think I should know about you.”

Before Maria could open her mouth to comment, the bell above the door jingled like crazy. He watched her glance over and then do a double-take. She looked shocked, upset. At her frown, he turned to follow her gaze.

Justin started to stand and block the two leather-clad men rushing in Maria’s direction, but stopped when his father put his hand on his arm in restraint. “Relax,” Bill murmured quietly. “They’re hers.”

Hers?
Justin raised his eyebrows.
I don’t think so
, he thought, as he turned to watch the two men closely as they pounced on Maria.

The tall blond slid to a stop in front of Maria and pulled her to her feet, hugging her tightly. “You’re okay. I don’t see any blood or gaping wounds.” He pushed her back and spun her around. “No rips in the clothing, no partially healed gashes. Good. We got here in time.”

Maria glared at him, then turned her gaze to the man with black hair. “I told you both to stay home. What are you doing here?”

BOOK: Let Them Eat Cake
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