Authors: J. C. Daniels
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Vampires, #Tagline… A knife in the dark
I pressed harder with my knife, watching as the iron tip pierced his flesh. Witches weren’t sensitive to silver but iron weakened them, interfered with their ability to throw spells, to heal.
“But if you do it, you don’t stand a chance in hell of saving him, Kit. I’m one of few who thinks this whole mess is fucked up and that we’re being led around by our noses. Now are you going to let me help you or not?”
Swearing, I hurled the knife away.
It buried itself in the wall with a thunk.
I smashed my fist into Justin’s perfect nose. I heard bone crunch, smelled his blood on the air and it did nothing to satisfy me. Standing up, I shoved myself away from him.
Fury, hot and potent, held me in its grasp.
What in the hell had I gotten into
* * * * *
The board in front of me held the images of five men and women. Four of them were vaguely familiar, but the fifth man, I was fairly certain I’d never seen him before.
I was almost certain he was—or had been—a vampire.
I was absolutely certain that these people were all dead.
After all, Justin had just informed me of that and I figured he’d be in the position to know. Banner was good at knowing details of that nature and Justin was one of their best cops. Justin was pretty fond at excelling in everything he did.
“Why am I staring a bunch of dead Assembly members?”
“You recognize them?”
“No. I’m just very good at guessing,” I snapped. I was still pissed and not in the mood for chitchat. “Look, don’t beat around the bush, okay, Justin? Just out with it.”
“I need the answer.”
“Oh, bite me,” I muttered, shoving a hand through my hair and storming up to the board. Tapping my one finger against the picture of the pretty woman up in the corner, I said, “This is Maxine Maguire. Better known as Max. She was a witch out of Blue Sky. One of their preeminent seers—I’m assuming she’s dead, right? She was talented, but also something of a shark. She’d sell her skills to anybody who was willing to pay. Grew up broke and she was pretty determined to never go back there. It didn’t matter if she sold her visions to somebody who was willing to slaughter thousands, or if she just sold an old woman information on where she left her car keys.”
Justin crossed his arms over his chest and waited.
I moved to the next picture. “Silas MacDonald. Cousin to Alisdair, current Alpha of the wolf pack. Old Silas, I think he would have liked to have been the Alpha but he has a bit of a problem with Torque. Being an addict sort of causes control problems, you know. Any time he’s ever tried to challenge Alisdair, he’s come up short. I’m not sure why Alisdair hasn’t killed him, unless it’s out of loyalty to his family or whatever. Nor am I entirely sure why he still serves on the Council. You’d think they’d have better wolves to choose from.”
“Silas has a Torque problem but he’s also damn good at ferreting out information. That’s why he still served on the Council. Any time they try to get rid of him, he unearths something that would work as bribe or blackmail material.” Justin slid me a look. “Plenty of people breathed a sigh of relief when he finally bit the big one.”
I grunted and flicked my hair out of my face. It must have been recent. I hadn’t heard a damn thing about his death. I’d heard about Max’s, yes, and whispers of a couple others, but Silas…hadn’t heard a damn thing. And I would have. I was good at hearing things.
The third one was another shifter, but a cat. It bothered me to look at that one. By law, he should have owed loyalty to Damon, but I knew Robert Moriarty. He owed loyalty to nobody but himself and he had a fondness for gambling. He was a rich jackass so he could cover things. He also had a problem with…cruelty. That was a problem the Council had worked hard to hide, a problem that Annette, the previous Alpha hadn’t worried about.
And a problem that Damon would have killed him for.
I’d heard about his death just a couple of days before I took the courier jobs and I had to admit, I’d breathed a sigh of relief. Moriarty had been known for fighting hard and dirty. Damon could take him but I didn’t want him coming home bloodied and battered any more often than he had to.
Still…it didn’t fit.
“This one doesn’t make sense.” I looked at Justin and said, “It just doesn’t. Damon was cleaning house, which is his right as Alpha. He was going through and making sure everybody was loyal to him, making sure they’d fall in line—he wouldn’t tolerate the shit that Annette had tolerated.”
Justin winged up a brow. “Annette?”
I snorted. “Don’t act like you don’t know her name. Banner knows everything.” I went back to staring at Moriarty’s face. “He had every right to face Moriarty, call him out and if the bastard didn’t fall in line, kill him. I’ve met Moriarty. He’s strong. But he wouldn’t stand a chance against Damon. If Damon wanted him dead, he wouldn’t have to do it quietly or in the dark.”
“Unless there was a reason,” Justin said amiably. “Keep going.”
I studied him for a long moment and then looked back at the board. “The brunette is another witch and she was an ugly piece of work. One of the independents and if you looked up
in the human’s dictionary, you’d probably find a picture of her. Complete with broomstick. I don’t think the independent witches elected her to speak for them because they liked her—Veronica Ewing was
. I’m talking Category Five Hurricane strong. She had power and connections.”
“Yes.” Justin nodded and stroked a hand down his jaw. “She had them. Not anymore, unless she’s making them in hell.”
I blew out a breath and studied their faces again. Five dead. If I remembered right, the first dead Assembly member had shown up dead about two months ago. The rest, scattered over the weeks that followed. I’d looked into it, because that’s what I did. I hadn’t seen a connection, but I hadn’t paid that much attention.
It didn’t mean there wasn’t one, but what was it?
All of them were strong, I thought. And Veronica, in particular had been a piece of work. It would take somebody with either a lot of power, skill, or determination—or all three—to take her down. Storm-cloud grey eyes danced through my mind.
Damon had all of that. In spades. Plus the cunning to see through just about any plan.
“Which brings us the vampire,” I said, staring at his picture. “I’ve heard about everybody but him and Silas…and I don’t even know this guy’s face.”
“Not surprising. Reclusive bastard. Not local. Has territory here and since this is where he’s registered, this is where he acts as speaker when he has to.”
The speakers for the Assembly were those who would represent their correlating factions. They weren’t on the ruling Council, but they had considerable influence. A friend of mine, Es, was one of the speakers for the House of Witches.
So this one had been a speaker for the vampires.
“Samuel.” Justin’s eyes glittered hot and bright. “He was a vampire who didn’t like the changes that came out when humans found out about us. If he had his way, he would have made enough vampires to turn humans into slaves. That’s what some of the old ones wanted anyway.”
“A lot of the ones like that are gone.”
Thanks to the Assembly, thanks to Banner. The past five decades had been bloody and brutal; it had settled down and the past ten years had been calmer but there were still reports of NHs, the young and the old who died. Brutal and harsh. Most of them were taken down by the Assembly. Some were taken down by Banner.
Except the latest five.
Taken out in silence. By a knife in the dark.
“Why are you so sure it was Damon?” I asked quietly.
Justin’s gaze shifted my way.
“Questions, Kit. Too many questions asked.” He shrugged again, the light in the room dancing off the silver worked into the sleeves of his uniform. “Rumblings, really. Whispers. Would have to be a high-level NH to do this. Not just the strength, but the skill, the brains. Not enough new players on the scene.”
“Why a new player?”
Justin made a weird little clicking sound and skimmed a hand back over his dreads. “Because I’m the investigator…and I don’t recognize the player.” He shot me a look before return back to the board. “You know me, Kit. I don’t lose a signature once I’ve had it and in the past ten years, I’ve come across almost everybody in the Florida region who’d be strong enough to do this. I’ve either met them or tasted their magic, their power…something.”
His gaze moved back to mine as he added softly, “All except your boy.”
“Damon’s not a boy.”
I turned away and started to pace.
“No. He’s not.” Justin continued to talk. “He’s a cat who showed up out of nowhere twelve years ago.”
Not out of nowhere. Came from Borneo, thank you very much.
“Worked his way up through the clan. Strong enough to take a position as an enforcer for the previous Alpha—and from what I’ve heard, would have been strong enough to serve as her second, but he doesn’t do that.”
I stared at the wall.
“Not only is he a strong-ass bastard—and I know he is because he took her down—he’s controlled. Almost all of the shifters she surrounded herself were messed up. They kept it all contained within the clan, but I still heard the stories. Nobody ever heard anything about him, unless he was dispatched to kill.” Justin went quiet and I tensed as I heard him coming up behind me. “You know when he first caught my attention?”
Studying my neatly trimmed nails, I tried to pretend like I had no idea.
But I already suspected I knew.
“Rumor went out that he was going take down the investigator hired to find the Alpha’s ward, if she failed,” Justin said, his voice taking on an edge. “Now
caught my attention…and I started watching.”
“Don’t see why.”
Justin ignored me. “The next thing I hear is a report that the new Alpha and Jude Whittier are battling it out while you’re injured. I’m suiting up to head down there and then the word goes out across the wire that it’s done and the new Alpha is roaring and snarling at anybody who comes close.”
“I’m a little disturbed you know so much about my life, Justin.” Under the protection of the table, I rubbed the marks on my wrist—marks Damon had given me. Was he going to mention those? Had he seen them? The long sleeves of the shirt I wore would cover them, but still… “Stalker, much?”
I tensed and turned. He’d gotten quieter—standing just two feet away.
“Don’t come up on me like that,” I warned him.
“Don’t stand with your back to me.” His gaze narrowed on my face. “You’re getting in pretty deep with the cat. You’re serious about him. Right?”
I just stared at him.
Justin nodded. “I’ll take that as a yes. Here’s the problem, Kit. Damon was
with a few people recently before they died. It’s not just that I caught a trace. But he was seen.”
“Why is Banner in interested in this?” I looked back at the board, shaking my head. “It doesn’t make sense. Those are Assembly members and if anybody should be investigating, it should be them.”
“Two reasons. The first—we were asked.” He studied at the board. “Apparently, they feel they have a snake in their ranks and that just means they are idiots for not realizing that earlier. The second—a few people in Banner are worried it’s somebody moving for a power play, which is why they are so damned worked up about an aggressive extermination.” He shrugged, a restless uneasy gesture. “But they want an impartial party doing it…which is why
were approached. With the new Alpha just settling in and a lot of the cats pretty damned pleased with the new change of leadership…”
I stared at him. “None of the bastards in the Assembly want to dirty their hands. They are dumping it on you—they don’t want to piss off the cats when this goes bad.”
“Entirely possible.” Justin looked about as troubled as I’d ever seen him. “The Assembly members who reached out are claiming that he’s acting
out of control
…enough to warrant said aggressive extermination. All tied into that so-called power play, one they feel is a threat to the mortals in the area.”
That would be enough to bring Banner on board.
NHs really didn’t have the rights people would like us to think we had. They could pretty it up all they liked.
But if any of us were deemed too dangerous to live, they just killed us.
“Damon’s not moving for a power play,” I said as everything inside me went cold. “He didn’t even want to take over the East Orlando clan.”
He did it for me
I kept that behind my teeth, but it was true nonetheless.
“You might well believe that, and I’m fine buying it,” Justin said quietly. “But that doesn’t mean I can make my superiors believe it. I need to convince them he had another reason for killing five speakers to the Assembly.”
I met his gaze and my heart slammed hard against my ribs as I saw the seriousness in his eyes.
“If I don’t get them a valid reason? He’s dead, Kit.”
“What’s a valid reason?” I demanded.
Now he smiled a little. “Oh, come on, Kit…the charter was written for a reason. They know we’re going to kill. Unlike humans, we even have
to do it.” His green eyes glowed a little as he leaned in close. “Just find me a damn reason.”
I had several files worth of information, which he conveniently spelled to open only at my touch, a list of names, a gut full of acid, a pounding head and an aching heart.
I couldn’t talk about this to anybody.
That was what was killing me.
Not that I wanted to tell
But the one person I wanted to talk to, the one person who could explain every damn thing so I could just
I couldn’t say anything to him.
I’d asked Justin why in the hell I couldn’t just ask Damon, too.
Although I knew the answer.
Now, come on, Kit. I know you don’t think he’s making a power play or what the hell, but I can’t just pass gut instinct to my superiors. I need justifiable action and proof. If you just ask him, he’s got time to cover his trail. Proof, Kit. Give me proof…and if you fuck this up, you could be signing his death warrant