Authors: Tiffany Allee
From the Files of the
Otherworlder Enforcement Agency
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by
. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
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Fort Collins, CO 80525
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Kerry Vail, Erin Molta
Cover design by Starla Huchton
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition January 2013
The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Pottery Barn, Chicago Bears, Advil, Coke, Heineken, 7-11, Microsoft Outlook, Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Puffs.
To Kerry Vail, for pushing me to be the best writer I can be in the kindest way possible.
t lights poured over me as I strode up from the parking lot and across the small, dock-style entrance into the boat. I closed my eyes before crossing the threshold and let my attention shift from my five senses to my sixth—as a sensitive, I could feel the powers that otherworlders, or OWs, emitted. “Oh-dub” energy radiated from the boat, but most of it was too far in for me to get a good read. But the shadowy wave of vampire energy was unmistakable—there were several of them inside.
And I could feel the slight pinging of a banshee too, almost too far away for me to sense. Mac would probably be distinguishable from other banshees, especially full-blooded ones. But that wasn’t a theory I’d ever had a chance to test, since I’d never been around another banshee.
Casino Merveilleux floated permanently docked on the Fox River. Since it was technically a boat, it could offer gambling games to the residents and visitors of the greater Chicagoland area. New gambling ships were rare, but with the Chevalier money and influence behind the project, approval had not really been an issue.
Lieutenant Vasquez hadn’t mentioned anything specific about the crime scene other than the address, when he’d called me into his office with a brisk, “Astrid, get your ass to this crime scene.” So when I found my GPS leading me into the parking lot of a riverboat casino, I was a little ticked. Sure, the lieutenant wasn’t exactly the talkative type, but a quick mention of the location wouldn’t have been out of order. He’d probably been too pissed about Claude’s latest no-notice “vacation” to think to mention it.
Once I got on the ship, the last vestige of marine-style faded, and the feeling of being in a landlocked casino settled over me. Opulence abounded, with rich colors and flashing lights shining through the short hallway leading into the casino proper. Theoretically the Casino Merveilleux could probably still float downriver, but since it had been attached to the dock for a year, at this point it was hard to envision such a change.
The low hum of sound I’d come to expect from such a place was absent. No doubt the police had removed the guests.
I passed a set of elevators and a stairwell. A vampire leaned against a wall with his arms crossed—even if I hadn’t been a sensitive, I would have known him for what he was. Fear radiated from vampires, just like sexual appeal draped succubi and incubi. Unlike the insta-lust that succubi and incubi elicited, vampires made people around them instantly want to run the other way. And you didn’t have to be a sensitive to feel it.
Some were more bathed in this intimidation aura than others, and this vamp had a decent aura going. He was waiting to bring news to the Magister, no doubt. And to be available to answer questions about the scene for the police. I almost felt bad for the guy. Bringing bad news to one of the most powerful vampires in the country, and the leader of three states full of vamps, wasn’t my idea of a fun job.
My sensitive powers were able to discern one vampire from another, although they all smelled somewhat like coffee and appeared draped in shadows that played with my oh-dub vision. Some vamps were more distinguishable than others—and usually that seemed to depend on how powerful they were. This particular vampire was as generic as a vamp could be, and would probably be almost indiscernible from a similarly forgettable vamp.
Others were unforgettable. And that’s how I knew that the Magister wasn’t on scene. Or at least, he wasn’t within my, admittedly short, range.
A uniform moved forward to stop me before I reached the main area of the casino, but I flashed my badge and he waved me through, after writing my name on a form attached to his clipboard. Sweat touched his brow—probably from spending time so close to a vampire with an oppressive fear aura. No police tape blocked my path, but the boat had been emptied—at least the first floor.
It wasn’t hard to follow the line of officers and crime scene technicians flowing in and out of the high stakes’ poker room. And with one more flash of my badge, I was in.
The smell rolled over me as I approached. Death and the beginning of decay and rot. I swallowed hard and tried not to breathe through my nose. Luckily, the victim had been dead less than a day. Most of the really good smells were just getting started.
With Claude out of town, I’d expected to spend the day doing paperwork. And I would have been okay with that. Not that I’d ever let anyone know, if I could help it. Cops were supposed to love being out in the field, but I was perfectly happy going out only to check over scenes that had already been secured.
The victim had been killed before he was staked to the back wall of the room—feet dangling only a few inches off the ground—that much was obvious. But a stake through the chest—despite the old rumored ways to kill a vampire—probably hadn’t killed him. Vampires had to be drained of most of their blood or beheaded to actually die.
His throat had been slit, and that appeared to be the cause of death, but there was very little blood soaking into the carpet beneath him. He’d definitely been dumped here. Pinned against the wall, he had some sort of spikes sticking out of his wrists and chest. His arms were splayed out, but the spike through his chest provided the actual support for the body. Blood covered his neck, soaking his now-dried shirt in starchy red, but very little touched the garish carpet below.
No wonder Vasquez was pissed. The highest ranking vampire on the force, and the unofficial attaché to the vampire community, decides to take the week off a day before someone dies on a casino ship owned by the most powerful vampire family in the tri-state area.
The level of annoyance my partner could draw out of me while not even in the same town was amazing. Most cops didn’t have that problem, I was sure of it. Then again, most people weren’t partnered with a vampire who considered them to be a long-lost little sister.
Mac and her twitchy new partner, Kurt Jarvis, had beaten me here. By the looks of it, just barely. Jarvis was still removing his winter gloves. Mac was questioning a lab tech within an inch of his life while Jarvis’s gaze roved the carpet for evidence.
As a banshee, Mac radiated a certain power that never failed to draw my attention. She didn’t sound like a banshee to my oh-dub senses, but something like a wind chime. Sensitives like me felt otherworlder energy often, so unless the OW was actually using his or her powers or was particularly powerful, the OW usually faded into the background of my senses. And many times, I couldn’t actually get a read off of an oh-dub unless I was close and concentrating.
Unlike Mac, the tech being questioned seemed human, at least from a distance. As did Mac’s new partner, Kurt Jarvis. But Jarvis wasn’t human. Not even close.
Mac nodded to me and gave me something close to a small smile when I approached—practically a hug and a kiss from the woman. Jarvis spared me a quick glance before returning his gaze to the floor.
“What do we have?” I asked.
“Dead guy looks like a vamp,” Mac said grimly. “Still no ID, but we haven’t been able to search the body yet. Techs are still pulling evidence.”
I glanced at the body and took a couple of steps away from Mac and Jarvis. Jarvis’s jerky motions were distracting, but I reminded myself that he couldn’t help it. As an imp, he acted like a man on three pots of coffee. His presence was a bit unsettling if a person was at all nervous or paranoid—and cops were always paranoid—but his speed and cleverness were helpful. Imps were an odd type of otherworlder. They were fast and seemed to uniformly have cunning minds, but they weren’t much stronger than a human. And they were as easy to kill as any normal, if you could get them to hold still long enough. But their quick minds and movements made them good cops. And other than the twitchiness, they blended in with normals more easily than most oh-dubs.
Closing my eyes, I tried to ignore the smell that pressed my stomach into my throat, the murmurs of cops and techs around me, and the weight of the eyes watching me.
Mac’s power sang, but it was unique, identifiable. Easy to separate. Jarvis also pulsed, in the strangely erratic way imps did. Like a strobe light—a subdued one.
And something else. Yes. Shadowed and dark, hungry but not fierce in the way lycanthropes were—and smothering it all: intimidation and terror.
I concentrated on that thread of Other, and watched the energy that covered the victim. The darkness—like a liquid shadow—didn’t just touch the outside of his skin. Coated in a bitter scent I could only compare to burnt coffee, it filled him through and through. My eyes flew open. I dropped my left hand to my side and pushed down the embarrassing knowledge of how I’d probably looked—eyes closed and my arm raised toward the dead man.
“Definitely a vampire,” I told them. “Looks like someone was trying to give the Magister a message.”
“Seems pretty fucking likely. What a damned mess.” Mac glared at the victim as if he’d died to personally ruin her night.
Mac waved toward a man in a suit who had walked up to the line. He approached, obviously trying to keep his expression under control. He halted a good ten feet away from us and put his hand over his mouth, eyes wide with shock.
“Oh, yeah.” Mac glanced at the vic. “Let’s talk over there.”
I followed, out of curiosity more than anything. I was here for my sensitive abilities, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t curious. Jarvis held back, still glancing around the scene in his restless way.
“Can you walk us through what happened here tonight?” Mac said.
“This is the high roller room. It’s closed from five thirty until nine thirty every morning—for cleaning. One of the cleaning staff came in at nine, found the…” His eyes darted to the victim. “The man,” he finished.
“We’ll need to talk to her.” Mac made a note.
“So you didn’t get any reports of noise or anything from this room earlier?” I cut in. Mac raised an eyebrow at me, but I ignored her.
“No. Nothing. And we have people around here twenty-four hours a day. I don’t see how they could have—” His voice broke and he shook his head.
“Snazzy casino like this, you have to have some good security cameras,” Mac said.
He nodded, but his skin paled. “We lost power for a half an hour. The whole ship. We’ll give you the footage we have of course—”
Mac cursed under her breath, and I glanced back at the vic.
“That’s a lot of work for a half hour,” I said. But was it, really? Maybe. Maybe not. Not if he’d been killed elsewhere, which the slit throat with minimal blood seemed to suggest.
“Anything special going on last night? Anything different?” Mac asked.
The man shook his head. “Nothing.”
“Do you recognize the deceased?” I asked. Sure, he probably would have said it already if he did, but best to ask just in case.
He shot a quick glance at the body and grimaced. “No. I’m afraid I don’t. But we get a lot of people through here.”
My attention wandered after that, as I approached the cadaver hanging from the wall. It was easier to think of dead bodies that way. Not as people. Not as victims. But as a simple object. A body. A corpse. Not a man.
Or in this case, not a vampire.
I stopped a couple of feet away, grimacing at the smell even though I was getting used to it. Eyes firmly shut, I forced my flittering thoughts into the back of my mind and tried to keep my focus on the energy in front of me.
I breathed slowly and let myself fall into an almost meditative state—or as close as one could get two feet from a dead vampire with a nervous ME tech shifting on his feet nearby.
The corpse was definitely a vampire, and had not just been killed by one. Sometimes that happened—sensitives could pick up the type of powers that had killed a person in addition to the victim’s otherworldly aura. In humans, that’s all that would linger. It made identifying the killer easier when it worked that way. But too often, things were muddled. Especially with otherworlder victims.
But nothing about this victim felt like anything but vampire, and the energy was soaked through to his bones. I stood still and let my senses open more fully, but I couldn’t sense anything but vampire in the area. Dark energy—unmoving because it lingered on a no-longer-living object—saturated the room.
And on the edge of my senses I could feel the other oh-dubs. Mac with her odd swirl of power. Jarvis with his pulsing beat—his power was nearly as twitchy as he was. Some of the vampire’s power lingered on him too. He must have been in the room longer than I’d thought, and probably closer to the body than he’d want the evidence techs to know. If I’d gotten here a bit earlier I might have snuck a small touch myself.
In order to get something more specific off the body, I’d have to touch it. And the medical man stood close by to prevent that very thing until he’d gotten the okay from his boss.
I frowned. Something else was here too. Vampiric, but different. Clearer. Through my closed lids I could almost see it. A blot in my vision of black, dark and shadowy like all things vampiric. But somehow thicker and blacker than the vampire above it.
I opened my eyes and blinked at the sudden brightness of the room around me. I took a step closer to the body and searched the floor with my eyes. There. Several feet away something shone under a poker table.
“Mac,” I called out, and shuffling sounded from behind me as I crouched by the dark wood table leg.
“You got something?” Mac asked.
“You have a glove?”
Mac reached into a pocket and handed me a purple nitrile glove. I pulled it on even though I didn’t intend to touch anything but the floor, and then pointed to a large coin leaning against the inside of the table leg. It had to have rolled there, to get to such an awkward spot at such an angle. Details were difficult to make out in the casino lighting and at our viewpoint, but it didn’t look like any poker chip I’d ever seen. And the circular shape looked wrong somehow, imperfect.
“Are you getting anything off of it?”
“Kind of. But to be able to match it to the owner I’ll have to touch it—with my skin. Inanimate objects don’t carry the juice to radiate much energy.”