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Bad Blood

Bound by Blood Book One

Finley Scott



Copyright 2017 Finley Scott

Akansa Press, LLC

Smashwords Edition





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Chapter One

I wish I could say I was surprised when my phone rang at 2:30 in the morning. I bit back a curse, and wondered for the thousandth time why I couldn’t have a normal job, but I knew the answer. Dad had been an Enforcer, so there was a family tradition to keep up. I didn’t exactly have a normal upbringing, and I wasn’t qualified to do much else. If the call didn’t shock me, the number on the screen did. Micha. Dad’s old partner, a part-time Enforcer, and the only known angel to ever leave Heaven on his own terms. The last time I saw Micha was the day we buried Dad. He called occasionally, though. Micha always claimed he needed advice on taking down a troll, goblin, or the other assorted odd fairy tale Creatures that Humans stopped believing in when they were eight years old, but I always felt he was checking up on me, the orphan. And as always, his timing sucked.

“Don’t you ever call at a respectable hour?” I grumbled. “Say about noon?”

“I wish I could, sweetie.” His voice held a trace of old English, a remnant of the 1400s when he first drew human breath, when he had a falling out with God over His refusal to end the plague and decided to live out eternity on Earth. I kept waiting on the day he would change his mind and go home, but Micha is stubborn. Dad always said Micha will live on Earth until it goes up in a fiery ball of flame. “But duty calls when it calls.” Micha’s voice dropped to just above a rasp. “I think there’s a nest of your specialty here.” He never uttered the word vampire if he could help it. In Micha’s mind, to name something was to give it power. It was one of his many quirks that I found endearing and maddening by turns.

I sat upright and shook off the last vestige of sleep. Being a rogue psy vampire was one of the last sure-fire ways for a Creature to get a death sentence. They’re the worst, the deadliest, the most ruthless, worse than any blood vamp. They worm their way into your social circle, your life, your heart. Then, when they’ve gotten their hooks in you, the draining starts.

I shoved the blanket to the floor and yawned loudly, thinking with longing of a large cup of strong black coffee. I was up for the day. Vampires tended to be territorial, and while they sometimes banded together with a leader for protection or group hunting, it was much more common to find a solitary vampire patrolling a block in a major city somewhere.

“What makes you think you’re dealing with a nest?” City names flew through my brain. Micha moved around quite a bit. “Where are you right now anyway?”

“Memphis.” Damn it. In all the world, why did he have to settle in my hometown? “Before you get your words flowing, I’ll have you know I’m not here by choice. I was in New Orleans, but there were a few Enforcers in town that I didn’t care for.” Micha and vampires had a long history of animosity, but if vamps had it in for Micha, they had good company with Enforcers. They didn’t like or trust him. They didn’t really like or trust me, either, if it comes right down to it. I broke a cardinal rule when I kept in contact with Micha. Dad was assigned Micha as a partner when there was a little trouble with demons, but they bonded and Dad stuck with him when the Enforcer Council would have reassigned him. The Council thought when Dad died, I would come to heel, and turn my back on a being that was neither Creature nor Human, and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the Enforcer Council. They were wrong. “There have been suicides lately, a lot of them, and they just brought a new one to the morgue.”

“Define a lot.” It wasn’t necessarily unusual to have a spike in suicides, especially in a city. Memphis wasn’t New York, but it had enough of a population that a few deaths here and there would go unnoticed.

“Four in the last three months.” Seriously? I bit back an oath and tried to hide my irritation at being roused over such a piddling number.

“That’s not that many. And it doesn’t sound like a nest.” I fell back onto my pillow with a thud, ready to hang up and try to catch a few more hours sleep before the sun came streaking through my curtains. “A nest would take down twice that many, and that would just be a snack.”

“You haven’t heard all of it.” Micha paused for effect. He loved theatrics. “They all go to the same high school.”

Micha was right. Four suicides can be usually written off. But four inside of one high school meant the Humans-- the clueless darlings-- were eventually going to notice something was up. Psy vamp victims usually die of sudden heart attacks, or strokes, or cancer, or anything that can take advantage of a weakened psyche. Those that don’t succumb to disease usually end up taking their own life. And no one ever traces it back to a vamp. Like I said, they’re the worst, and almost impossible to identify. It can be hard to tell the difference between a vamp and a Human sociopath. But that’s where I come in. I can spot them, and what’s more, I can catch them. Kill them, too, if it comes down to it, and it almost always does when a rogue vampire is backed into a corner. The Enforcer Council frowns on Creature deaths, but self-defense is self-defense.

The more principled psy vamps, if there was such a thing, usually steered clear of adolescents. The energy was incredibly potent, so it was a favorite of most vamps; Creatures in general were attracted to Human teenagers. But the energy was too unpredictable. Even if they fed on a teenager, it was usually a one-time thing. Most vamps didn’t even bother because the energy was so volatile, and they were much more susceptible to death if a vamp fed on them for an extended period. Once a vampire got a taste of youth, they found it hard to stop. But four in three months? That was a lot for just one vamp. So, either one was out of control or there was a group.

“Well, it could be just one, a strong one maybe...” But I didn’t believe it, and neither did Micha. “We need to get someone down there to take care of it.”

“That’s why I called you, Kerrigan.” He spoke slowly, as though talking to a favorite pet or daffy old aunt. “You’re the someone who has to take care of this.”

I did a lot in the course of my job. Lost sleep, took bites from a troll (I still have the scar), and was once lost in a fairy circle for an hour. That was a year of my life I would never get back. But I wasn’t going back to Memphis. I left five years before, when I got my badge, and hadn’t looked back. Technically it was still my territory, but it was quiet, and most other Enforcers would pick up any case for me if something came up. “Good one. I’m not coming. Call Stone. He’s in St. Louis. He can get down there pretty quick.”

“I already tried Stone. He’s working on a Human case. He can’t make it.” The Arch Murders. It was all over the news. Had troll fingerprints all over it. Stone double timed as an Enforcer and a Human cop. He had a reputation in the Human world for having an almost supernatural knack for catching bad guys. Of course he did. He was a Seer. Naturally he would be too busy.

“What about Niri?”

“Hung up on me when I called.” Amusement crept into his voice. No one would confirm it, but I suspected Niri and Micha were once an item. It was hard to tell. Micha kept his personal life so quiet that he could be celibate for all I knew.f

“Carlos?” Carlos was my boss- the head Enforcer. He made sure shit got done and toes didn’t get stepped on.

“He said to tell you Memphis was your territory and to get your ass down here and take care of it.” That meant Carlos didn’t really take the threat seriously. If Carlos felt like there was a major attack, he would have sent reinforcements. Since Dad died, I was the last of our family line. Carlos tried hard to make sure I lived long enough to reproduce. Micha’s amusement finally gave way to a soft chuckle. “He has enough on his plate worrying about the killings in St. Louis.” The humor slid from his voice, and his tone softened. “I know you don’t want to come, but there’s no one else. I tried. I really did.” I hated the pity I heard in his words.

“Fine,” My voice was sharper than I intended. It wasn’t Micha’s fault. “I’ll be there by noon.”

*****

I stepped out of the cab into the sauna that is Memphis in June. As hard as I tried to stay away, I missed Memphis. I missed the sounds of blues floating in the air, the smell of barbecue and fried food wafting out of small dives. I missed the view of the Mississippi, and even the humidity that clung to you like a lover. Big Whiskey’s Grill stood on a corner a few blocks off Beale, just past the tourist hot spots. It wasn’t listed in any city guide, but any Creature passing through stopped in. It was the place to see and be seen, and it was neutral ground. More than one Creature feud had been settled within the safe confines of its walls. Its weathered gray brick facade and faded green awning contrasted with the spit-shined buildings on either side and kept most of the Humans away.

The “grill” implied that food could be had, and maybe once you could have grabbed a burger, but now all you were likely to find behind it’s smoke-stained plate glass windows was alcohol and Creatures. The city council had been trying to shut the place down for years, but Whiskey was skilled at political persuasion- and when that failed, he had witch blood in his veins that could do some heavy convincing. “Kerrigan Callahan! You gonna stand out there all day or you gonna come in and have a drink?” Big Whiskey’s voice boomed from the darkened door way. I couldn’t help but break into a smile. “I’m coming.”

The inside looked just as it did in my memories. Dim and cool, no matter how hot the Memphis sun burned. The smell of cheap liquor, cigarette smoke, and the faint musk of unwashed troll hung in the air. The floor was hardwood, but any gleam was long gone, scraped away by thousands of feet and gouged by chairs and mismatched table legs. Not the classiest place, but Dad brought me here when I was accepted into Enforcer training. He was so proud I followed in his footsteps.

“The prodigal daughter has returned,” Whiskey crooned. His grizzled hair stood on end and his walnut skin was more heavily lined than I remembered, but his eyes were still bright green, full of life and humor and intelligence. “I heard you were coming home.”

Home. The word sat uneasily in my mind. Memphis stopped being home for me the day Dad died. I wasn’t sure I even had a home anymore. “Not for long. How did you know I was coming?”

“Good news travels fast.”

I glanced around the bar, saw the hostile glances and leers thrown my way. “I’m not sure everyone thinks it’s good news.”

He shrugged. “Well, that can’t be helped. There will always be people who aren’t overly fond of Enforcers. Creatures don’t take kindly to having their freedom threatened.”

Understandable, but if they followed the rules, they had nothing to fear from me. “Well, I don’t take kindly to Creatures exposing us all to the Humans.” The words had more heat than I intended.

“You have always been full of fire, but direct that heat to whatever is killing those girls.” Whiskey dropped a glass on the counter and filled it with an amber liquid. “On the house. To celebrate your homecoming.”

I waved the drink away. “I wish I could, but I can’t drink when I’m on the job.”

He gave me a smirk and left the glass in front of me. “It doesn’t stop your friend.”

“What friend?” My job took up most of my time, with precious little left over for friendships or any other relationships, for that matter.

Instead of answering, his eyes strayed over my shoulder toward the door. For a second, all I could see was a slender form thrown into sharp silhouette by the early afternoon glare. The figure sauntered into the bar. Micha. For someone who was supposed to blend in, he was doing a hell of a job standing out.

“What have you done to yourself?” My eyes traveled from his black leather boots, up his long legs clad in tight black denim. Over his torso was a loose, sleeveless black tee promoting a band I never heard of. The only things not black were his hazel eyes and the shock of fluorescent red hair falling over his forehead. It was quite a change from the button-downed young professional he had been when working with Dad. Only his unlined face looked the same. “You’re supposed to be inconspicuous.”

“I am,” he drawled. “Half the town dresses like this. I would draw more attention in a suit and tie.” I couldn’t say he was wrong. For all that Micha had walked the planet for over 600 years, he didn’t look a day over 25. Young Humans were known to dress colorfully, but every eye in the place was on Micha. All the females, and most of the males, eyed him with ill-disguised interest.

Some Creatures were sexy. Micha was sex. Sex poured into tight jeans and set loose on unsuspecting hearts. No matter what he wore, Micha would turn heads, but now, with his choice of clothes and hair, he seemed to be reveling in it. The fact that he never seemed to be interested in entanglements just deepened the appeal. Creatures loved a challenge as much as Humans. Micha turned his eyes on me, cataloging the changes in my appearance the way I had his. “You’re looking beautiful these days,” he complimented.

It was a lie. I looked like shit. My hair hadn’t been washed in two days. Dark circles shadowed my eyes, and in my haste to catch the plane to Memphis, I hadn’t bothered with make-up. His eyes narrowed. “Don’t do that.”

“Do what?” I never knew whether Micha could read minds or if, after six centuries on earth, he was just exceptionally good at reading people. He was secretive about his gifts.

“Sell yourself short.”

I broke my own rule and took a swallow of the whiskey in front of me. It scorched my throat and stung my eyes. I sounded like an asthmatic as I struggled for air. Not exactly Whiskey’s best stuff, but hell, at least it was free. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I croaked.

“Yes, you do. I gave you a compliment, and you immediately started finding the problems with it, taking an inventory of your faults. If I say you’re looking lovely, you’re looking lovely. I don’t bullshit people. Life’s too short.” That was rich coming from a 600-year-old angel.

I ignored his remark. Micha always had a way of getting under my skin. I remembered the day Dad came home from his field office, livid because he was assigned a partner. Dad worked solo, always had. He was ranting about being assigned a partner who wasn’t even Creature when Micha showed up at the door. Micha was polite, respectful, and so beautiful it hurt to look at him. Dad eventually came around, and my eighteen-year-old self was absolutely smitten. No matter how hard I tried to hide it, Dad guessed. “He’s not for you, Kerrigan, not with you applying for the Enforcer Academy. You can’t afford to get serious about anyone right now, and Micha is a distraction.” Dad was right then, and the words still rang true. No matter how hot Micha looked in his tight jeans, I couldn’t afford to get distracted. I needed my wits about me. Best if I kept my distance. I changed the subject to something I was more comfortable discussing. “Tell me about these suicides. Why do you think they’re vamps?”

Micha raised a single finger, flagging down Whiskey with a simple gesture. Whiskey was no respecter of persons, so the fact that Micha could summon him so easily showed Whiskey’s deep respect. It was an impressive feat. “I’ll have a whiskey and Coke, and don’t bring me that cheap shit you gave her.” A small smile on his beautifully shaped lips dulled the sharpness out of his words. He jerked his head in my direction. “And bring her something decent to drink, too.” He was silent until Whiskey slid his drink down the bar. His long fingers caressed the glass. He stared into the depths like a scryer reading the future. Micha’s voice was low, reflective when he spoke.

“The first one was 17. Beautiful girl. It was all over the news because she was so beautiful.” He looked up from his glass. “Have you ever noticed how much more attention death gets if they were beautiful? If she’d been a dark-haired emo kid with cut marks up her arms no one would have batted an eye. But she was blond and fair and had he world by the tail. Then she just spiraled down. They said she was depressed for a while, her grades dropped a little, then she was just gone.” His eyes were dark and unfocused, maybe seeing the girl’s face in his mind’s eyes. Even when he worked with my father, death- whether Human or Creature- always seemed to impact Micha more than was usual.

It was sad, but death happened every day. “Doesn’t necessarily mean it was a vamp.”

“That’s what I thought, too. I saw her face on the screen, gave her a moment’s sadness, then went about my business. Then there was another one the next month, then another a few weeks later. The news was starting to pick up on it. Called it an epidemic. The prevailing ‘wisdom’,” he imbued the word with all the sarcasm it deserved, “at the school was that these were copycats. Then came the fourth one, and school just let out for the summer, so it came as an extra shock. The police think they’re dealing with a suicide pact.”

“But you think otherwise.” I wanted it to just be a fatal case of teenage melodrama, and until Micha could convince me otherwise, that’s what it would be.

“I know otherwise.” He took a swallow of his drink, savored it before letting it slide down his throat. “I have sources.”

Micha always had sources, and he would never give them up. Micha moved between Humans and Creatures with an effortlessness that I, having been born and raised a witch, would never master. Between his smile and his swagger, he could uncover information faster than anyone I knew, and he guarded his sources as jealously as a lover. “You know, you haven’t asked me the most pressing question, Kerrigan.”

“And what would that be?” Although I knew.

“You haven’t wondered why I’m here? Why I came back to Memphis? I have just as many bad memories here as you do.” Micha and Memphis had a long history. Micha moved around a lot, and I knew in the decades before he partnered with Dad he spent at least one extended period in Memphis. I didn’t know the story behind his travels. Dad would never say, and I assumed it had something to do with Micha’s disdain for vampires. He would hang around a city if the vamp population was under control but once they acted out or grouped up Micha was on his way out. More than one Enforcer had cast aspersions on his courage. He finished his drink in one swallow and jerked his head at Whiskey. “One more. Hold the Coke this time.”

“Enlighten me.”

“There were rumors.” He looked over his shoulder, checking for open ears. “There were rumors of some kind of attack long before the first girl ended up dead.” It took a moment for his words to penetrate, but once they did, shock and horror filled my mind. If rumors reached Micha before the first death, this meant the attacks were planned and not the work of an out of control Creature.

“But that’s,” I whispered, “that’s impossible.” Attacking Humans, especially so many in such a short period of time, was a sure-fire way to get an Enforcer on your trail. And it didn’t explain why Micha showed up anyway. Technically, he wasn’t an Enforcer, not anymore. After Dad died, the fight went out of him. He lived on the fringe, flitting between the Creature and Human society, helping out on minor cases if he was needed, but mostly keeping to himself. “And that doesn’t explain why--”

“Why I showed up?” Micha interrupted. “I was called back to active duty.” He chuckled softly. “Technically it was a request, but we both know a request is just a polite order. I called the Enforcement Council to report what I heard. They asked me to come to Memphis, keep an eye out.”

To say I was confused would be an understatement. The Enforcement Council never seemed to be big fans of Micha in the first place. Why would they recruit Micha when Memphis was my territory? “You lost me.”

“They don’t trust me. They don’t trust my sources. They weren’t about to call you back home just on my say so. But me? They don’t mind inconveniencing me.” He finished his drink, but waved away Whiskey when he approached with a fresh glass. “You’re only here because people have died.”

It took a minute for the implication of his words to penetrate my brain, but when it did, my blood boiled. If the Enforcement Council had listened to Micha in the first place the deaths could have been prevented. “You could have said no. You’re not Creature. You’re outside the Enforcement Council’s jurisdiction.”

“True, but if it kept you from having to come home, it was worth it. I know you never wanted to see this place again. Besides, there was a relationship in New Orleans that got a little too,” he smirked, “physically intense. I needed a tactful way to break it off. Being summoned by the Council was as good as an excuse as any.”

My teenage crush suddenly reared its head, and I could almost feel my eyes turn green with jealousy. If Micha was ever involved with anyone in Memphis, he was discreet. I had almost believed my fantasy that he was solitary. The thought of him with someone else was hard to swallow. “I thought you were celibate.” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. My filter was porous sometimes. It as a ridiculous thing to say. Just because I never saw him with anyone didn’t mean no one was there. He was an angel, not a monk.

“I never have to wonder what you think, Kerrigan.” He smiled “That’s one of the million reasons I like you.”

I let the compliment go unmentioned, but it warmed me from the inside out. I only hoped it didn’t show on my face. “I didn’t mean that the way it came out. It’s just, I’ve never seen you with anyone. You never mentioned anyone.” I stumbled over my words, trying to act casual, but Micha wasn’t fooled.

He gave me an exaggerated wink. “To correct your ill-mannered assumption, no I’m not celibate. Sex is one of the few things worth leaving Heaven for. If not for that moment of closeness, that illusion that I belong, I would go back to Heaven with my tail between my legs.”

I wanted to act shocked, but part of me felt, oddly enough, a little foolish. Micha was sexy. He probably had his pick of women and men, too. “I thought you looked a little thinner,” I teased.

His smile widened. “It’s great cardio.” He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and stuck one in his mouth without asking if I minded. “You shouldn’t smoke those things,” I said.

The match flared, briefly illuminating his face in the gloomy bar. His high cheekbones and full lips belonged on a cathedral wall, not sitting behind a scarred-up bar in Memphis. “What’s it gonna do?” He touched the flame to the tip of the cigarette and inhaled deeply before blowing out the smoke. “Kill me?”

Good point.

He dropped the spent match on the floor and crushed it with his heel. “I’m touched by your concern for my physical well-being though, which brings me back to our situation. Now that you’re here, I could leave.”

The thought of being in Memphis without Micha knocked the wind out of me. I knew Micha hated vampires. Rumor had it, he was afraid of them. So why not pick up stakes and leave the investigation to me? He switched locations every few years anyway, to hide his lack of again. “That would be your choice.”

“Then I choose to stay.” He traced the rim of his shot glass with his forefinger. I wanted to ask why, but before I could frame the question, Micha was already answering. “Penance, I guess. I’m trying to atone for my sins.” Coming from anyone else, the words would have been sarcastic, but I knew Micha, and I knew they were deadly serious.  

“So noble,” I smiled, hoping to lighten the mood. I wasn’t sure what Micha was attempting to atone for, but whatever the reason he decided to stay, I was glad he was by my side. It was hard for me to trust anyone, Human or Creature, but I trusted Micha. He held my father as life drained from his body, supported me through those first hellish years, trying to grieve my father’s death and make it through the Enforcer Academy.

“Don’t.” He shook his head. “Don’t trust anyone. Even me. Especially me.”

“I never do.” He quirked his eyebrow up, and I knew he could see through the lie. For once, he polite enough not to mention it.

“The morgue,” he said as he stubbed out his cigarette on the burn-stained bar.

The acrid smell of scorched wood stung my eyes. I hoped Hell had swallowed whoever had come up with that little tradition. “What about the morgue?” Sometimes talking with Micha gave me conversational whiplash.

“I have a friend that works at the morgue. Bruce. He’s Fae, or so he claims.”

“That’s an odd job for a Fae.” And an odd name. Fae’s were the artists, the poets, the rock stars. They were beautiful and delicate and had names like Morrigan and Twyll. They were the ones with the most contact with Humans. They drew the most attention, but oddly enough, blended in well.

“Isn’t it, though?” Micha grinned. “Wait until you see him. Not like any Fae you’ve ever seen. He processed all four of the bodies. The first one didn’t draw his attention too much, but by the time the last one rolled in, well, let’s just say he was on the lookout for signs. He could smell it on her. He said she was dead inside for days before her body finally gave out.”

Damn. I was hoping beyond hope that Micha was wrong, that this was just a bunch of built up teen angst. I still wasn’t convinced that that’s what we had, but all signs pointed to this being the work of a vampire. But was I looking at a nest, or one super-vamp? “So what do I do now?”

“Start at the source.”

*****

A chill ran up my spine at the sound of my boots echoing off the tile floors. Such a loud sound seemed disrespectful, almost sinister. I shuddered and tried to ward off the chill I felt. “Quit being such a wimp,” Micha snapped. “You act like you’ve never been in a morgue before.” For all that he sauntered down the hall like he owned the place, it wasn’t Micha’s nature to be impatient or snappish. I knew the air of death weighed on him, just like it weighed on me.

“I hate to break it to you, but I don’t usually hang out in places like this. How did you end up with a contact at the morgue anyway?”

“This way.” He nodded down a long hallway that grew progressively darker despite the industrial strength fluorescent lights. The darkness wasn’t so much an absence of light, but an absence of hope. Micha didn’t answer my question, but that was his way. If you asked him something he didn’t want to answer, he just skipped over it like you never asked it at all. The habit was exasperating, but better than a lie. It was the main reason I trusted him. He might not always answer me, but he never lied to me. That’s a rare trait in anyone, but especially the Creatures I spent most of my time with. “Bruce said they haven’t released her body yet. You need to see her.”

He was right, of course, but that didn’t mean I liked it. For an Enforcer, I was awfully squeamish about dead bodies, especially dead Humans. I had a soft spot for them. They were so vulnerable, and didn’t even realize it. And when they were dead? They most pitiful thing I could imagine.

“I was beginning to wonder if you dropped off the face of the planet.” The voice boomed off the green tile walls. Did they make medical-grade tile in any color other than puke green?

“I’ve been busy.” Micha shrugged and gave the large Creature leaning against the wall a smile so full of charm that the giant’s scowl slid from his face. “But I’m here now.”

A Creature that could only be Bruce laughed, the sound echoing in the small, windowless room. “Why can’t I ever stay mad at you?” He wrapped Micha in a hug and tried to plant a kiss on his lips. Micha turned his head so Bruce’s kiss landed on his cheek. Bruce’s disappointment was palpable. “Don’t stay away so long next time.” His eyes turned soft when they looked at Micha. The softness left Bruce’s face when he spotted me. “Who is this?” The Fae’s eyes traveled from the top of my head to the tips of my scuffed boots. He didn’t miss a detail, not my haphazard blond bun, the lack of lipstick, or the faded jeans with a hole worn in the knee. He obviously wasn’t impressed.

“This is Kerrigan.” I thought I heard a touch of pride as he rested his hand on the small of my back, “She’s the Enforcer I told you about. Kerrigan, this is Bruce.” It was only years of practice at concealing my emotions that allowed me to process Bruce’s appearance without showing my shock. Fae were the smallest of Creatures, delicate, almost beautiful in their fragility, even the men. But Bruce was every bit of 6’4” with shoulders as wide as a door. His forearms were covered with tribal tattoos, his hair close cropped and bleached platinum. His face held none of the softness I usually associated with Fae, but the disdain fell from his face when he heard my name. He wasn’t pure Fae. I wondered about his background. He probably spent most of his life trying to pass as full-blood Fae, trying to hide whatever blood he carried that made him so atypical.

“Oh.” His relief was evident as he said as he offered his hand. “I thought... never mind.” My hand was swallowed in his. His skin was soft and had the incredible warmth that marked the Fae. I was glad that he seemed to be on the right side of the law. Fae were tricky to deal with under the best of circumstances. I couldn’t imagine dealing with that cunning combined with Bruce’s sheer size. “Micha’s talked about you. I guess you’re here to see the poor thing.” He dropped my hand and walked over to the bank of silver drawers. His melodious voice was tinged with melancholy. “I’m sure Micha has filled you in. It’s just awful what’s happened to these girls.”

“So it’s all girls, then?” All girls could mean one vamp. Most vampires preferred one over the other, although if they were hungry, they weren’t terribly choosy.

“Yes. And they were all so pretty.” He opened the drawer and unzipped the cold plastic bag. I felt tears sting my eyes. I hated this, the tinge of blue under translucent skin, the white lips, the cold flesh. I should have left the vampires to the hard hearted while I chased drunk trolls. I hated death, but then again that’s what made me so good at my job. I was determined to stop it. Her hair was cotton blond, a soft, pale cloud around her face. Her skin was beautiful, even in death, with no adolescent acne to mar her perfection.

“Touch her,” Micha whispered in my ear. I shook my head. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to touch the chilled flesh. “Do it,” he encouraged. He took my hand and gently placed it on the tiny frame. She couldn’t have weighed more than 100 pounds. I closed my eyes as the room swam, and then I saw her, as she had been. She was dead, but her flesh still held the memories of her short life. In almost all the memories she was smiling, laughing even. Bright eyes, pink cheeks, the whole world on a string. Cheering at a football game, being crowned homecoming queen, kissing a handsome young man. Then a flash, a low test grade, crying herself to sleep, a panic attack. She quit the cheer squad. Her parent begging her to get help. Then a face. Dark eyes in a face so young and beautiful. There was a darkness around her. I grasped for more detail, reached out to grab the Creature, but touched nothing but the artificially cooled air of the morgue. Then just blackness. She was gone.

I yanked my hand away from the body and fell on my knees as my stomach turned out my dinner and cheap whiskey all over the clean floor. “Damn,” Bruce muttered. “I’m going to have to clean that up.”

“Shut up, Bruce,” Micha snapped. His hands were gentle as he rubbed my back, smoothed the loose tendrils of hair out of my face. “Are you okay?” No, I wasn’t okay. I was sick, shaky, and slightly mortified at the display of my weakness. Somehow Micha’s tenderness just made my embarrassment worse. “I’m fine,” I lied. I wretched again, but my stomach was empty. I shook as the spasms overtook me. “Don’t just stand there,” Micha snapped at Bruce. “Get her a bottle of water or something.”

Bruce’s earlier warmth disappeared at the sight of Micha’s hands on me. He gave me a suspicious look, but left me alone with Micha as his heavy footfalls faded down the hall. Micha’s hand cupped my chin. He tilted my face up and pierced me with his fierce gaze. “What did you see?” I shook my head, not wanting to relive it. “Damn it, Kerrigan. You were called here for a reason.” I knew that. Witch Enforcers were rare. Most witches kept to themselves, but not my family. The natural gifts made for great Enforcers, but we burned out early. “These girls need you. I need you. Don’t shut down on me. What was it?”

“Young, it’s young.” My voice was gravel, my throat burned by the vomit and the tears I was trying to hold in.

Micha snorted in annoyance. “I know she’s young, Kerrigan. I got that much on my own, thanks,” he teased. “What killed her?”

A welcome surge of anger coursed through me, sweeping away the fatigue that came with pulling memories from dead flesh. “Not her.” I jerked my chin out of his hand. “What killed her was young.”

“Are you sure?” The color slipped from his face, leaving Micha almost as pale as the girl on the slab. “Vamps all look young.”

“Do you think I’m too stupid to know the difference? She was young, so hungry- and she wasn’t alone.” I gulped, willing the air to push down the wave of nausea that threatened. “She’s not---” I couldn’t even bring myself to say it. It went against every law put in place to protect both the Creatures and the Humans. Violating it meant certain death- no reprieve, but I knew what I saw. “Experienced.”

“What do you mean she’s not experienced?” I quirked an eyebrow. Micha wasn’t stupid. He had to know what I was getting at. Slowly comprehension changed his features from confusion to horror. “Not experienced. So, a new vamp?”

I nodded, relieved that I didn’t have to say the words. A rogue vampire is a hell of a nightmare, but a new vamp brings it up to a whole other level. That means an elder has gone rogue, and he has a sidekick. Vamps and the rest of the Creatures had an uneasy truce, but it hinged on two rules: don’t make a spectacle of yourself, and don’t turn a new vamp. The rule was broken often, but usually by older vamps in need of a companion. As long as the new vampire was under control most Enforcers looked the other way. But this young one was on the loose and killing, and it was doing it at the command of an older vampire. That meant an open rebellion.

“I couldn’t find any water. I hope a Sprite’s okay.” Bruce wedged himself in between Micha and me. He was so massive that Micha’s face was hidden from view, but I could feel his amusement at Bruce’s show of jealousy. “I think the sugar will do you good anyway. You look so pale.” He glanced over his shoulder and locked eyes with Micha. “What did you two talk about?”

“I wish I could tell you,” Micha smiled, “But then I’d have to kill you.”

“Then your charming Enforcer friend would have to arrest you.” Charming, I’m sure that was exactly the word he would use to describe me, especially since I made a mess on the floor.

“I think I’m going to have bigger fish to fry,” I remarked wryly. The Sprite was bitingly cold, and so sweet that my teeth hurt, but Bruce was right. I did need the sugar. Using my vision was always so draining. Sensation was making its way through my limbs as the sugar entered my bloodstream. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized I was numb. “Thanks for the Sprite.”

“Do you know what you’re dealing with?” Bruce glanced at the body on the slab. For a second, he forgot his animosity.

I nodded, took another long pull of the Sprite the way an alcoholic downs his first beer of the day, and contemplated how much I could tell him. If there was a rogue on the loose, I may need access to the morgue more often than I really wanted. Bruce was someone I needed in my corner. “I’m fairly certain, but I need to do a little investigation. But please keep an eye out for anything unusual. I could really use your help.” I turned my eyes up to his and gave him what I hoped was a sincere smile. One thing I learned at the Enforcer Academy is Creatures were a lot more forthcoming if you acted like you really needed them. Micha caught my eye and gave me a quick wink.

“I would be glad to help you,” Bruce seemed genuinely pleased. Everyone wanted to catch the bad guys, but no one really wanted to be an Enforcer. Asking for help fed right into their fantasies. “If it can help get whatever is killing these girls off the street, I’m all for it.” For all his size and stern demeanor, I sensed that Bruce was a tender soul. I wondered how he got mixed up with Micha.

“Thank you so much.” I gestured to the mess in the floor. “I’m sorry about that. If you’ll get me a mop, I’ll clean it up.”

Bruce waved away my offer. “No, no, I completely understand. I’m sure it was sickening, what you saw. I’ll clean it up.” He pulled me to my feet. “I hate to be a rude host, but I’m afraid that I‘m going to have to ask you to go, though.” He glanced at the door as though expecting someone to walk in at any minute. “I have to get this cleaned up, and we have a body coming in. I can’t have the attendants see the mess. Technically speaking, I’m not supposed to have anyone in here.”

I tried to look disappointed, but honestly, of all the places I’ve been in my life, the morgue was not in my top ten favorites. I couldn’t get out fast enough.



Chapter Two


“He seemed nice,” I said as we ducked into Bernard’s BBQ. Micha gave a snort of laughter.

“He used to be. He was a lot of fun, too, but I think I’m going to have to disentangle myself from that situation.” He shook his head ruefully. “I’ve known him for years, but ever since I came back to Memphis he’s getting a little too possessive. I think he believes I came back for him. Just once I would like a friend that didn’t want to fuck me, you know?”

It was my turn to laugh. “I can’t say I’ve ever had that problem. He just likes you.” But Micha’s hand on the small of my back, guiding me to a booth in the back, felt as though he were putting his own stamp on me. I understood Bruce’s fascination. Part of me wanted to pull away. Over the course of my life, and especially since I went into the Enforcer Academy, I was protected, coddled, even. I graduated at the top of my class, and earned top scores in hand to hand combat, but that didn’t mean that Carlos was eager to let me have free reign. Part of me understood. After my Dad’s death in the line of duty, I could understand the urge to protect his only child, but that didn’t mean I didn’t chafe under the unwritten restrictions. I kept details of my cases secret until I filed my reports to keep Carlos from sending in reinforcements. I hadn’t been unofficially reprimanded a few times for my secrecy. I didn’t need the over-protectiveness from Micha. Still, his touch sent pleasant tingles up my spine. Eyes followed us as we made our way between the tables. I couldn’t help but notice the naked envy on the faces of most of the women and on some of the men’s, too. Doubtless many of the Humans would have changed places with me in a heartbeat.

“I think he likes me a little too much, though.” He smiled at the waitress who came to take our order. “Good evening, sweetie.” Micha fell into the Southern habit of addressing everyone as sweetie, honey, or sugar. “We’ll have two plates of my usual, and two of whatever beer is the coldest.”

“I don’t know why I even bother to bring these over,” she waved the menus in her hand. “Where you been keeping yourself, sugar? I missed you and that cute friend of yours.” She eyed me speculatively, trying to figure out where I fit in the picture.

“Just trying to keep out of trouble, you know me.”

She laughed at that, her smile bright in her dark face. “I sure do, and I know you ain’t outta trouble. I’ll be back with your beers.”

“Thanks so much for ordering my food.” Sarcasm dripped from the words. “I don’t know how I would ever have managed.”

“Don’t play the outraged feminist. It’s not a good look for you. I just ordered us the ribs and potato salad.”

“What if I’m a vegetarian?” If I was a vegetarian, I would have raised objections to Benard’s.

“Are you?” He arched an eyebrow. He knew damn well I wasn’t.

“No, but what if I was?”

“Then you could just go hungry, couldn’t you?” He paused as the waitress dropped our beers off at the table. “You could have just thanked me.”

“For being presumptuous? Are you this overbearing with Bruce?” I don’t know where the note of jealousy in my voice came from, but he heard it.

“Jealous, Kerrigan? I’m flattered.” He eyed me speculatively. “I wouldn’t expect that from you.” He took a long pull from his beer, and against my will, I was watched in fascination as he swallowed. I had to fight the urge to lean across the table and kiss the beer from his lips. What the hell? I had seen people make fools of themselves over Micha, but I wasn’t one of them. But I was always fascinated by him. I tried to hide it because I knew my father would never have approved. Somehow, I think Micha knew anyway. “We could make an arrangement.” His eyes twinkled. “But of course, the warnings would be the same as I give all my lovers. It’s temporary, so don’t get attached, and it’s not exclusive, so jealousy is a deal-breaker.”

“How romantic,” I said wryly. And the spell was broken. “You’re saying you never get seriously involved with someone?” It struck me as sad. “In all the years you’ve been wandering the earth, you’ve never been in love?”

His long fingers spun the bottle slowly. He sat it down, picked at the label. I half expected him to change the subject. Micha was private, keeping his thoughts hidden, but I obviously hit a nerve. “Twice,” he whispered. He cleared his throat. “Never again.” His eyes took on a haunted look. “One was human. Rebecca. 1426. I spent 12 glorious years with her before the whispers started. I don’t age, and people started to take notice.”

“She didn’t know?”

He shook his head. “Of course not. Superstition ruled lives, then. And what would I say? Even if I told her, she wouldn’t have believed me. Whispers of witchcraft started to circulate. I couldn’t take a chance that they would take her because of me, so I disappeared. I left for market to sell one of our pigs. I killed the pig, then left my bloody tunic in the woods. They thought I had been set upon my robbers. She remarried. Had kids. It was the right choice.” His mouth set in a grim line. “I made up my mind then that I wouldn’t let myself get attached to humans again. They’re too superstitious; their lives are too short.”

“But you said two. Who was the next?” It was obviously painful for Micha to talk about, but I pressed him anyway. He was always an enigma to me. Catching him this open was an opportunity that I didn’t intend to waste.

“He was so beautiful.” Micha’s voice was quietly mournful.

“He?” I asked in surprise. A thought hit me, the way Bruce’s face turned soft when he looked at Micha, his barely concealed animosity towards me. “Was it Bruce?”

“What is it with you and Bruce?” For a second the haunted look left his face, replaced with humor. “You’re really jealous.”

“You wish. Go on with your story.” He paused and his eyes went to the kitchen door. Within seconds, our waitress bustled through with our food and fresh beer. So he was slightly precog. I filed it away for future reference.

I wished the food didn’t look and smell so good, so I could turn my nose up at his choice, but it looked amazing, and smelled even better. My stomach seemed to roll over and beg. “More beer sweetie?” she asked and offered me a bottle. I was surprised to find mine empty. I shook my head. “Just a water please.” I needed to keep my head clear.

Micha frowned at me. “I hate to drink alone.” He sighed. “Bring me a Coke, then.”

“Well girl,” she drawled. “Look at you trying to have a good influence. Good luck to you.” She sashayed away chuckling under her breath.

Micha dug into his plate of ribs, pulling strips of meat away from the bone. He refused to meet my eyes. “You going to tell me about number two or not?” I don’t know why I was so curious. I told myself that if I was going to work with him, I needed to know him better, but truth is, for all that he was Dad’s partner, I never really knew much about him. He was an occasional presence, someone that would show up when Dad was working on a tough case, but he would never answer questions about him. “Micha’s story is his own to tell,” he always insisted. Now seemed like as good a time as any to get my questions answered.

“You’re very persistent.” He glanced up and gave me a bittersweet smile. “You must have gotten that from your Dad.” I wondered again about Micha’s partnership with my Dad, if they had been close. I would go months without seeing him at my house or at Dad’s field office, then he would just appear, hang around for a few weeks, then disappear again. He didn’t seem really broken up when Dad died, but the way his face would soften when he mentioned him made me wonder. A thought occurred to me.

“Oh my God! It wasn’t Dad was it?” Mom died when I was young, and I never, in all my years growing up, ever saw him romantically involved with anyone.

Micha’s laugh boomed across the restaurant. The other diners smiled, and a few even joined in the laughter. He had that kind of laugh, the kind that made you want to smile right along with him. “Not a chance,” he gasped when he regained his composure. “Your Dad was as straight as an arrow, and he never would have mixed business with pleasure. Besides, the only things he cared about in this world were you and the job, in that order. No love, it wasn’t your Dad.” He sighed heavily. I could see him mentally preparing himself to tell his story. “His name was Charles, but I always called him Charley. Charles was such a serious name for such a sweet, laughing soul.” His eyes grew unfocused, dreamy. I knew he could see the future. I wondered if he could see the past. “It was 1924. I met him in a jazz club where, for a certain price, you could actually get good gin.” He paused as the waitress dropped off our Cokes. “Liquor has always been a weakness of mine.” He raised his Coke bottle in tribute as she walked away. “Charley was singing. He was beautiful. His voice was high and clear, his skin the palest ivory this side of Heaven. I knew he was Creature, right from the start. At that point, I had decided I would never get emotionally involved with anyone. Have sex, maybe stay together for a while, then move on. I couldn’t expose anyone to the risk of being with me, not like I had my wife.”

Micha pushed away his plate. “But I hadn’t counted on Charley. One of the reasons I stay alone is that I can’t explain to Humans why I don’t age. After five or six years, I start getting questions, then I move on. Even being in a relationship with a Creature, even one long lived like the Fae, opened them up to questions because we all have to move in the Human world, whether we like it or not. Charley didn’t care. He wanted to be with me for however long I would allow. I stayed with him longer than I should have. Before I knew it, I was in love with Charley, so in love that the thought of being without him was like a slow death. I stayed in town for eight years. Then the looks started. We were careful, so careful.”

He closed his eyes, remembering. “You can’t know what it was like, trying to hide. Not just hide my nature, but hide our relationship. Homosexuality wasn’t well-tolerated then. I was opening him up to scrutiny and danger. Finally I told him I was leaving. He wanted to come with me. And I let him. I shouldn’t have. But he wasn’t Human; he knew what I was and he wanted me anyway. I had it all planned. As he aged, he could me my uncle, my dad, a family friend. We could skip from town to town, every few years. No one would know. And he was aging slowly, the way Fae’s so blessedly do. I thought I had at least a good 50 years with him, maybe more. I was...” he paused, searching for the word. “Happy. For the first time in my fleshly existence, I was truly happy.” A shadow passed over his beautiful face, and I felt as though the sun had gone behind a cloud.

“We weren’t careful enough. It was 1945, Christmas. The war was over, everyone was in good spirits. Then Balthazar showed up.” I couldn’t help the gasp that escaped from my lips. Balthazar was a vampire- and according to legend, one of the worst. Immeasurably old, unreasonably strong. Still roaming free. The Enforcers left Balthazar alone. If the underworld was a mob, Balthazar was the leader, but as long as he kept his head down and his nose clean, he was left alone. “Balthazar didn’t approve, and told us as much. He said we were making a spectacle of ourselves, taking a chance of exposing the Creatures. He tried to pull Charley away from me, but I put myself between them. And he laughed. He told Charley I didn’t have his best interests at heart. That if Creature society was exposed, I could always go back home, but that the Humans would destroy the Creatures.” Micha’s voice trailed off to no more than a whisper. The pain in his voice was tangible, as though it were a living, breathing entity that I could reach out and touch. “Charley didn’t care. He loved me. He told Balthazar that he would die rather than leave me.” Micha’s voice broke into a rasp. He paused, took a breath, then a drink of his Coke, found his voice. “And Balthazar made it happen. Right there in the alley behind our apartment. Balthazar ripped Charley’s throat open with his teeth. He bled out and died so fast I didn’t even get to say goodbye.” He was silent for a moment, then sniffled and wiped his eyes on his shoulder. “So no, my dear. I don’t do relationships.”

“Is that why you hate vamps so much?” For all that Micha was a mystery to me, I always remembered his strong dislike of vampires.

“No, I don’t hate vamps. Don’t hate anything, as a matter of fact. Hate doesn’t do anybody any good. But they aren’t my favorite Creatures. I just don’t see where they do anyone any good. They exist to bleed others dry. Every other Creature has a virtue. The Fae create. The trolls guard, the witches control the elements of the earth. The vampires just exist to kill, and if they don’t kill, they at least take from other beings without giving anything in return. But if I did hate, Balthazar would be where it was directed- not at his whole race.” He smiled, his mood shifting with such suddenness that I was left momentarily disoriented.

“Enough about me.” His eyes darkened as quickly as a window shade snapped down. I knew his walls were wrapped tight around him. I thought I saw a glimmer of regret that he’d been so honest. “What did you see that scared you?”

“Who says I was scared?” It was more than my pride that caused me to speak so sharply. For an Enforcer, fear could get you killed. Creatures could smell fear. It marked you as weak, easy prey.

“I say. You went pale, but it was more than that. Your whole body tensed as though you were screaming. Then you collapsed into a puddle of vomit and tears. It didn’t take a genius.”

Of course, I was scared. But I had no intention of telling Micha what I saw. The Creature responsible for the girl’s death was young, freshly made, but she was not evil. She was operating out of instinct, and under someone else’s orders. She was scared and confused. She couldn’t control what she was doing, any more than a car could find a destination on its own. Whoever created the girl was powerful, and either really stupid, or really strong- and my money was on strong. I almost saw the face, hiding behind the young one. But at the last moment, my vision had gone dark. It took more power than I could imagine for a Creature to shut down a witch’s sight that way. I could only think of a few Creatures that powerful. One such Creature was in Europe, a Fae that was rumored to have lived in the Garden with Adam and Eve and had discovered the secret to immortality. So many Creatures searched for the secret to eternal life. I sometimes wondered the hatred for vampires was born out of envy. The other Creature was rumored to be in Africa, a native witch that could channel Loa at will. The last one, Balthazar, was in the States. It could be no one else, but I wouldn’t tell Micha this. The problem was, I had never even laid eyes on Balthazar. I heard his name, knew the stories, but I’d never come face to face with him. I just shrugged. “There were two. One was young, the other not so much. I didn’t get a good look at the face.”

He made a cradle of his hands and rested his chin on his knuckles. He raised his eyebrows and gave me a smirk. “You’re lying. I can smell it coming off you. You’re a terrible liar. But I can’t see why.”


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