Being thrown out of a tree wasn’t my idea of fun.
Granted, countless nestlings all over the world went through this every year, but they only had to do it once, and for them it was simply fly or die trying.
I wasn’t a nestling, and I wasn’t built to die. Not easily, anyway. I was dhampire--the offspring of a newly-turned vampire whose dying seed somehow created life in the werewolf who raped and then killed him--and my bones were extraordinarily strong.
Being pushed from a tree couldn’t kill me like it did those countless nestlings. But God, it could still hurt.
I mean, werewolves weren’t designed to fly, and muscles used to being either a wolf or a woman were having trouble with the mechanics of being a bird.
Not that I particularly wanted to be a bird. And particularly not the type of bird I could now become. I mean, a seagull? A rat of the sea? Why that? Why not something more dignified and fearsome--like a hawk or an eagle? Something with useful weapons like talons and a hooked beak built for tearing?
But no. Fate had thrown me a seagull. I’m sure she was up there laughing at me right now.
Of course, I probably could become something else. The drug in my system that had caused the initial change into a gull would probably allow me to take other forms, but I wasn’t about to risk it. The other half-breeds who’d been injected with ARC1-23 had changed into so many different forms that they’d lost the ability to become human again, and that wasn’t a problem I was willing to face. Especially not when I’d already felt that moment of confusion, right after I’d first attained gull shape, when the magic that allowed me to shift shape had seemed to hesitate, as if it couldn’t remember my human form.
That had terrified me.
So, much as I hated being a gull, I was going to stick with it, practice its form, until being a gull was as natural and as ingrained into my psyche as the wolf and the woman.
Maybe then I would play with other shapes.
“Riley, you cannot stay on the ground forever,” a deep voice rumbled from above. “Learning to fly is a matter of perseverance. And height.”
I muttered something unpleasant under my breath and rolled onto my back. A dozen different aches assaulted the muscles along my shoulders, spine and arms, and made me long for the heat of a nice, deep bath. Though even a bath wouldn’t do much for all the bruises I was beginning to collect.
Not that a bath was in my immediate future anyway, if old Henry had his way.
He was sitting in one of the top forks of the gum tree high above me, his bright red shirt contrasting sharply against the cheery yellow flowers that dotted the tree. His silver hair gleamed like ice in the dappled sunlight, and his nut-brown skin was as weathered and worn as the bark of the tree itself.
He wasn’t Directorate personnel, but rather a friend of Jack’s. He was also a hawk-shifter, and his family apparently had ties with Jack’s that went way back. I’d tried some gentle questioning in an effort to glean something useful about my boss, but Henry had so far proved an unwilling gossiper.
“Riley,” he warned again.
“Henry,” I said, mimicking his cross tone. “I’m not going to have an inch of white skin left if you keep this up.”
“Jack says you must learn as quickly as possible.”
“Jack hasn’t been thrown out of a tree a million times.”
He laughed--a rich, merry sound that had a smile tugging at my lips despite my grumpiness.
“It’s only twenty today. It took Jack a good thirty or so times a day for a week before he got it.”
Jack might be a vampire now--thanks to the blood ceremony he’d taken over eight hundred years ago--but he’d been born a hawk shifter and had the advantage of coming from a family of shifters. If it had taken him so long to learn, then heaven help me.
I raised my eyebrows and pushed up into a sitting position. “You taught Jack?”
“I am not that old, little wolf. No, it’s just something of a legend in our roost. Few hawks are so slow to learn.” He laughed again. “There are some who say that’s why he’s bald. He lost his hair because he landed on his head too often.”
I grinned. “Well, I’m glad to know it’s not just us seagulls.”
“You have spent most of your life as a wolf. It’s natural that you would find the ways of flying difficult.” He shook the rope tied to the branch near his legs. “Come.”
“If it was as easy as coming, I’d be a natural.” I rose, and bit back a groan as a dozen fresh aches erupted across my torso and legs. Damn, I was going to be black and blue by tonight. Not that it really mattered. It wasn’t like I had anyone to go home to any more.
Pain rose like an old ghost. I quickly shoved any thoughts of Kellen back into the box that said ‘do not think about’, then reached for the rope and began to climb. It had been two months since we’d split. I should be getting over it by now. Should be getting over him.
But I wasn’t, and I wasn’t actually sure I ever would. I’d loved him, and he’d walked away. And not for the reason I’d most expected--the fact that I was infertile, and a half breed. No, he’d walked away because I was a guardian and wouldn’t give it up. And the fact that I couldn’t, thanks to the drug and the havoc it was still wreaking on my system, hadn’t made a difference.
He’d walked away. Become just another man who couldn’t accept what I was. Another man who’d managed to smash my heart.
I’d had just about enough of the whole damn ‘love and relationships’ thing. So much so that, since our split, I’d been keeping pretty much to myself. Of course, I was a werewolf, so the moon heat would always ensure sex was a part of my life. But that one week was about it for me and men. It seemed that love and I were never going to find a happy medium, and as much as I still wanted the whole picket fence ideal, I just wasn’t up to coping with the whims and foibles of men right now.
Chocolate, coffee and ice cream where far more reliable when it came to providing a good time, and at least they would never disappoint me.
I just had to thank the fast metabolism of a wolf for the fact that I hadn’t put on any weight over the last few months. If I were human, I’d be the size of a house.
I reached Henry’s branch and edged carefully past, sitting down and letting my feet dangle. My fingers were clamped around the branch tightly and I avoided looking down. Since my last fall off a cliff--the same one in which I’d gained my gull shape--my stomach had been getting a might queasy at even the slightest hint of a drop. Though I suppose that jumping repeatedly out of this tree and landing face first on the ground below--and not breaking any bones--was going a long way towards curing a little of my unease.
I took a deep breath and blew it out softly. “So, explain it all to me one more time.”
“A bird does not fly by simply flapping its wings,” he said patiently. “Hold your arms out now, and try moving them really fast.”
I did, feeling like a fool. Luckily, we were on Henry’s estate up in the Dandenong hills, and well out of the way of curious passersby.
“Now, try turning your arms as you move them. More air motion happens as you twist your arms, does it not?”
I nodded, though to be honest, the difference was negligible. But then, maybe I’d hit the ground one too many times and my skin just wasn’t up to feeling anything any more.
“This is how it works with a bird. On the down stroke of the wing, the leading edge must be lower than the rear edge. And it doesn’t just move down, it moves down and back, providing lift and forward movement.”
“Yep, got that totally.” Not.
He clipped me lightly over the ear. “Enough of the smart mouth, young woman. You can do this. You just need to think.”
“All the thinking cells are either too bruised or knocked senseless,” I muttered, edging a little further along the branch so he couldn’t hit me harder.
Anyone would have thought I was a teenager back at school again. I used to get clips over the ear for my smart mouth then, too.
“Think,” he said. “Down, back then up. Not up and down. Now change.”
I blew out a breath, then shifted position and called to the magic that lay in my soul--the magic that had been altered to supply the form of the gull as well as the wolf. Power swept through me, around me, changing my body, changing my form, sweeping me from human to gull in the blink of an eye.
“Go,” Henry said.
I spread my wings, closed my eyes, and jumped. Felt myself falling, felt the old familiar sense of panic roll through me, threatening to overwhelm. To freeze.
So I tried to concentrate on moving my wings instead. Down, back, up, down, back, up.
And miraculously, I was no longer falling. I squeezed open an eye, saw the ground sweeping past underneath me, and opened the other eye. I was flying.
“That’s it,” Henry said. “You’ve got it, my girl!”
“Woohoo!” The sound came out as a harsh sounding squawk rather than any actual word, but for once I didn’t care. I was flying. And it was such an amazing, powerful feeling.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last long enough. Maybe I was too wrapped up in the sensation of flying that I actually forgot to fly, because suddenly the ground was approaching at the rate of knots and I was tumbling through the grass and twigs and dirt again.
I shifted to human shape and spat out a mouthful of earth. “Well, crap.”
Henry laughed. He was lucky that I wasn’t up there with him, because I would have damn well pushed him off the branch.
“It’s not funny, Henry.”
“No, it’s hysterical. Most fledglings at least learn to land with some dignity by this time. I fear you and Jack are two peas in a pod.”
I rolled onto my back and stared up at the blue sky that seemed as impossible to reach as ever. “If all this makes me go bald like him, I will not be happy.”
“You flew, Riley,” he said, amusement still evident in his voice. “It might not have been for long, but you flew. Soon you’ll get a grip on the mechanics of it all.”
“Even with my coordination? Or lack thereof?”
I grunted and hoped like hell he was right. When I glanced at my watch, I saw it was nearly three. I’d been at this whole falling thing for nearly six hours, and I’d just about had enough.
Of course, a crash course in flying was the least of my problems. Jack wasn’t happy that I’d waited so long before telling him about the change, and lately he’d been taking every opportunity to chew me out. According to him, a broken heart was no reason for stupidity. I was beginning to think he’d never been in love. Or that it had happened so long ago that he’d forgotten the pain of it.
“I think I’ll call it quits for the day, Henry. My bones are feeling a little battered.”
“Go on up and help yourself to a shower, then. I think I’ll go for a fly myself, stretch some of the kinks out of my wings.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“You will, my girl, you will.”
He shifted shape and stepped off the branch, swooping low past my head before soaring up into the blue. I watched his brown and gold form until it disappeared, and couldn’t help the touch of jealousy. I wanted to fly like that, I really did, but I was beginning to doubt it would ever happen.
With a sigh, I dragged my battered body to its feet and walked over to the tree to retrieve my clothes. The magic that allowed us to shift shape didn’t always take the best care of the clothes we were wearing, so I tended to shed my outer layer for these lessons and just wear strong cotton undies and a t-shirt. Of course, that meant more scrapes and bruises than I would have gotten if I’d worn jeans and thicker tops. But, like most weres and shifters, I healed extraordinarily fast. Jeans and tops weren’t as easy to fix or replace. Not when I had a brother who kept blowing the family budget.
I grabbed the bundle of clothes and headed back to Henry’s treehouse. Not that it was actually a treehouse--just an old wooden house built on stilts, so that the living areas were high in the canopy of the surrounding trees. The light that filtered in through the windows had a pale, green-gold look, and the air was always rich with the smell of eucalyptus and the songs of birds. I loved it, despite my fear of heights. It had to be heaven for a bird shifter.
I rattled up the stairs and made my way to the bathroom, taking a quick hot shower before getting dressed. Brushing my hair took a little longer than usual. It had grown amazingly fast in the last few months, and now streamed in thick red layers to well past my shoulders. The only trouble was, it tended to get horribly knotted, especially when falling out of trees onto leaf-littered ground.
Once it was tangle-free, I swept it into a ponytail to keep it that way, then collected my purse and car keys and headed out. But I’d barely made it back to my car when my cell phone rang.
I knew, without a doubt, that it would be Jack. And it wasn’t my strengthening skill of clairvoyance that told me that.
It was experience.
Jack always tended to ring when I least wanted or needed to work.
I dug through the mess of my purse until I found my vid-phone. “You gave me a week to learn to fly,” I said, by way of greeting. “It’s only been three days.”
“Yeah, well, tell it to the bad guys.” Jack’s voice was etched with a tiredness that matched the dark bags under his eyes. “The bastards seem to be going out of their way to be pains in the asses lately. Just like some Guardians I know.”
I’d already apologized a hundred times for not telling him about the bird thing, so if he thought he was going to get another one, he was out of luck. Falling to the ground a gazillion times had knocked any sense of regret out of me. Besides, as much as I liked Jack--both as a boss and as a vampire--he could give the rest of us lessons when it came to being a pain in the ass. “So what have you got for me this time?”
“A dead businessman in Collins Street. The Paris end.”
I raised my eyebrows. The so-called ‘Paris end’ of Collins Street was filled with beautiful old buildings and mega-rich companies and businessmen. They had to be, just to be able to afford the rent there. It certainly wasn’t the sort of place you’d expect us to be called into. Though I suppose when death came calling, it really had no respect for wealth or location.
“So are we talking a street death, or inside a building?”
“Inside. He was found in his office by his secretary. No signs of a break-in, and no obvious signs of foul play.”
I frowned. “So why were we called? It sounds more like one for the regular cops than us.”
“It’s ours because the victim was Gerard James.”
Who was obviously someone I should know, but didn’t. “So?”
“So, Gerard James was the head of the Non-human Rights League--the party intending to run several non-human candidates in the next State and Federal elections.”
“And his death is a political hot-potato, so the cops have hand-balled it to us?”
Meaning the pressure would be coming down from on-high to solve this case quickly. Great. “I gather he’s not human himself, then?”
“Nope. He is--was--a hawk shifter.”
“Does he have family in Melbourne?”
“Elderly parents living in Coburg. Gerard’s a self-made man, and there were rumors of a contract being taken out on him several months ago.”
“Well, there are probably plenty of humans out there who’d go to great lengths to stop non-humans getting into government.”
“The rumor was investigated and appeared unfounded.”
So why was he now dead in his office? “Have you called in a clean-up crew?”
“Cole and his team are there already. Kade will meet you out the front of the Martin & Pleasance building in half an hour.”
I glanced at my watch. It was nearing three-thirty, which meant the daily traffic snarl had already began. “It’ll take me longer than that to get there.”
“Not if you speed.”
Amusement ran through me. I had a somewhat checkered driving history--the last car I’d actually owned I’d driven into a tree, and to this day I have no recollection of the event. Though given I ended up in a madman’s breeding center immediately after it, I very much suspected that particular accident wasn’t my fault. But I’d had several mishaps in Directorate cars since that were, hence my surprise at Jack’s order. Hell, it was only last week he was lecturing me about it, saying that any more accidents might send his budget into the red.
“If you’re ordering me to travel fast in a Directorate vehicle, this must be urgent.”
“Just don’t wreck the car any more than you already have.” He hesitated, then added, “Or yourself.”
“Gee, thanks for caring, boss.”
“Riley, just shut up and get there,” he said, and hung up.
I shut up and got.
It took me a good forty minutes to get into the city, then another ten to battle my way through all the traffic to the top end of Little Collins Street. I might have had permission to go super fast, but this particular Directorate car didn’t come equipped with lights or sirens. Which was a damn shame--I would have loved roaring through the city streets scattering pedestrians and cars alike. Although with my driving record, that probably wouldn’t have been such a good idea.
Kade was already waiting in front of the building, his jean-clad butt resting against the trunk of the car, his muscular arms crossed, and his long legs stretched out before him.
Just the sight of him sent pleasure shooting through me. I might be reluctant to get emotionally involved with anyone right now, but I was still a wolf, and still capable of admiring a good-looking man. Kade was that, and a whole lot more. He was a horseshifter, and his coloring was that of a bay--a rich, mahogany bay that came complete with jet black hair and wicked, velvet-brown eyes. And he was built like a thoroughbred, with broad shoulders, slim hips, and those wonderfully long legs. Legs that could hold a girl just in the right place as she drove him deeper and harder inside.
I blew out a breath, lifting the hair off my forehead, and tried to ignore the excited bouncing of my hormones. Even if I was back on the sexual merry-go-round, Kade would still have been out of bounds. Jack had made it perfectly clear the day Kade had finally finished training that he didn’t want work mates becoming bed-mates.
Which didn’t stop Kade flirting one bit, but neither he nor I had pushed it any further. Jack was mad enough at me as it was.
I tugged my keys out of the ignition and climbed out. He made a point of looking at his watch, then said, “That was the longest half-hour on record.”
“Jack was expecting miracles. There was no way--short of flying, and trust me, that ain’t happening yet--that I was ever going to get to the city in half an hour. Not from the Dandenongs, anyway.” I hit the lock button on the remote, then walked over.
His gaze skimmed my body, a caress of warmth that sent little tingles of desire shooting across my skin. In many ways, it was a damn shame that I couldn’t play with Kade, because he was the one man who’d be totally safe. When it came to the two of us, he wanted nothing more demanding than sex. He didn’t care that I was a half breed, that I couldn’t have kids, that I was a guardian, or that my DNA might be changing for the worst, not the better. He didn’t demand that I stay away from other men, that I be with him, and only him. All he wanted was to have a good time, while the good times lasted.
And I really did wish I could reciprocate--but it just wasn’t worth the hell my life would become if Jack found out. I’d only seen him truly angry a couple of times, and I had no wish to go there more than necessary. An angry Jack was not a pleasant thing to behold, nor be around.
“Do you know how boring it was, waiting here?” he said, voice warm and rich, and so very sexy. “There wasn’t even decent scenery to admire.”
A smile tugged at my lips. “Lust after, you mean.”
Amusement crinkled the corners of his velvet brown eyes. “Admire, lust. It’s all the same.”
“Whatever. But I refuse to believe that in a street filled with offices--and therefore tons of secretaries and workers--there wasn’t a single pretty girl who walked by.”
“Well, maybe one or two. After all, I do have a couple of phone numbers tucked into my pocket that need to be checked out.” He raised a hand and lightly brushed some hair from my cheek. His fingers were warm against my skin and a shudder that was all pleasure ran through me, but I resisted the urge to press into his caress and stepped back instead.
His lips twitched. “Jack,” he said heavily, “is a pain in the ass.”
“Oh, he’ll be more than that if we get down and dirty, trust me.” I stepped to one side, waved him on, then added, “So, what has Jack told you about this case?”
“Probably the same as you. We’ve got a dead shifter whose political aspirations have made him too hot for the regular police.” He glanced at me as he opened the building’s glass door and ushered me through. “I’m betting he brought a bit of tail into the office and had a heart attack while showing her the official briefs.”
I raised my eyebrows. “How old was he?”
Not what anyone would call old, especially for a shifter. “Has he got a history of heart problems, then?”
“No, but he’s got a bit of a reputation as a playboy. And even the fittest playboy can go down if he over-exerts himself, and one thing our boy wasn’t was fit.”
I dug my badge out of my purse and showed it to the cops on duty as we headed towards the elevators. Our footsteps echoed on the marble floors, and the sound seemed to be amplified by the high ceilings. It had to be hell on the ears when there was a full compliment of office staff going through here.
“But if it was just a heart attack, we wouldn’t have been called in.”
Kade snorted softly and hit the elevator button. “Yeah, we would have. Any time a politician dies in suspicious circumstances, there’s an investigation. But in this case, they’d want to be doubly sure there was no foul play. Him being the first non-human politician and all.”
“All the while cheering that the political threat he represented has very neatly been taking care of, no doubt.”
“No doubt. Gerard James wasn’t about making friends, and I really doubt he had many of them, either in the political field or out of it. Not that it mattered--not to those who cared what his party was about.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Are you a supporter of the Non-Human Rights League?”
“Hell, yeah.” The elevator doors slid open. He pressed an arm against the door and ushered me inside. “I liked what they were trying to achieve.”
“Getting us non-humans into state and parliamentary offices so that we might actually have a voice in the things that are decided for us.”
“Yeah, like the humans are ever going to want that.” I punched the fifth floor button, which was the top floor, then glanced at Kade. “So if he didn’t have many friends, why was he so popular with the public?”
“Because it was all about image, and he was good at that. He might have been an obnoxious bastard behind the scenes, but in the political arena--and on the social circuit-- it was all smooth sophistication and friendliness.”
“So if he was obnoxious and a playboy, why didn’t the human politicians make political hay out of that?”
“Oh, they tried, but Gerard had a very good publicity machine behind him. They were able to twist derisive comments to his advantage.”
I glanced at the floor indicator, seeing we’d barely reached three. This had to be the slowest elevator ever made. “How?”
Kade shrugged. “In the case of the ladies, by focusing on the fact that many of the women he went out with were human, and making the attacks feel race-related.”
“But still an asshole. Wouldn’t have stopped me from voting for him, though. I want a fairer world for my kids to live in, and I think he could have helped achieve that.”
Well, there was no law saying you had to like a politician to vote for them. If there was, there’d be no one in parliament. But could one lone politician make that much of a difference? Somehow, I doubted it.
I looked up at the floor indicator, saw we were almost there, then asked, “How’s Sable doing, by the way?”
Sable was his lead mare, the one mare he’d managed to keep from the herd he’d gathered before he’d been captured and slung into a madman’s breeding labs. Which was how I’d actually met him--I’d been slung into the same lab. We’d escaped together, and it was only after that I’d discovered he wasn’t an innocent bystander snatched up into the scheme, but rather part of a military investigation into an arms theft who had somehow stumbled onto the breeding labs.
Like Kade, Sable was a horse shifter--a stunning, leggy black mare whose every movement spoke of class and sophistication. I’d only met her once, but I’d seen her enough on TV. The woman was a phenomenon, with her show rating through the roof and five of her eight books on herbs and healing still amongst the country’s best sellers.
Of course, she wasn’t the only mare he now had. He’d collected at least seven others that I knew of, and was constantly on the look-out for more to add to his herd. The more the merrier was a stallion’s creed, apparently. Why the hell we werewolves got branded as sex-mad lunatics and horse shifters didn’t was beyond me. I knew for a fact that Kade was sexually insatiable, and he didn’t have the moon as an excuse like we werewolves did. Not that we used it as an excuse, of course. Sex was something wolves enjoyed indulging in, whether or not the moon was blooming full.
When their hearts weren’t broken, anyway.
“Sable is very pregnant, very fat, and grousing about being forced to leave her leafy Toorak house to live with me.” His sudden grin was all proud male. “Another mare confirmed she was pregnant yesterday, too.”
“So that makes five of them now? Damn, nothing wrong with your little swimmers.”
“With us, a sign of virility and strength is not only the size of the herd, but the number of foals. I fully intend to have the biggest herd in Melbourne.”
“Show off.” The old elevator came to a jumpy halt, and I grabbed the railing to steady myself. “Your Directorate salary is not going to stretch to feeding that many mouths.”
“Doesn’t have to. Herds work as a complete support system. Everyone contributes to support each other.”
“What happens if you die?”
He shrugged. “My personal insurance will take care of them. And the Directorate insurance policy is quite generous.”
That I wouldn’t know, having avoided the whole ‘death while on duty’ line of thinking. Which I guess was stupid, given the fact that a guardian’s lifestyle wasn’t exactly compatible with a long life--unless you were a vamp and all but indestructible. But there again, if something happened to me, I don’t think Rhoan would be worried about money. Nor me, if the situation was reversed.
The elevator doors finally swished open and Kade ushered me out. The foyer was empty, but I could hear voices coming from the right, and one of them was familiar. I headed that way.
Cole looked around as we entered the office. He was a tall, grey-haired wolf-shifter with a craggy-face and a sharp attitude--at least when it came to dealing with me. Though I have to admit, I probably deserved it. I enjoyed teasing him a whole lot more than was warranted. Of course, it didn’t help that he kept saying he wasn’t interested when I knew for a fact he was. Even though wolf shifters tended to think of themselves as better than us werewolves, not even they could hide the smell of arousal.
“Oh, great,” he said, his voice heavy but amusement sparking in his pale blue eyes. “Beauty and the beast have arrived.”
“I’d ask which one of us is classed as the beast, but I’m afraid I might not like the answer.” I stopped just inside the doorway and scanned the room. There was a huge desk, several sofas, and a gleaming coffee machine that appeared to have more than a dozen different selections. Gerard James was a man not satisfied with mundane choices, it seemed. “Where’s the body?”
Cole thumbed towards another doorway. “In the main office. His personal assistant found him slumped across the desk at two forty-five this afternoon.”
“That’s a rather late start, isn’t it?”
He shrugged. “Apparently it was a one-off starting time.”
One-off because he knew he was bringing someone back to the office, perhaps? Maybe someone he didn’t want to be seen meeting? Though if that were the case, the office would be the last place you’d think he’d bring someone. The press would most certainly be keeping an eye on his comings and goings, regardless of the time.
“Has he been dead long?
“It’s a little hard to tell. Rigor mortis can set in faster on those who have been active before death.”
“And was he? Active, I mean?”
“Very,” he said, voice dry. “As a rough estimate, I’d say the time of death was around six this morning.”
“Where’s the P.A now?”
“Down on the third floor, in the cafeteria. There’s a lady cop with her. I figured it’s the least the lazy bastards could do after fobbing this off on us.”
“Meaning that you don’t think there’s anything suspicious?” Kade asked.
“At first glance, no.” Cole shrugged. “But in this job, you never can be sure until a full examination has been made. And I’ve been wrong before.”
“No,” I said, putting on my best shocked face. “Tell me it isn’t so.”
The grin that tugged at his lips transformed his face, pulling it out of the ordinary and into the ‘oh-my’ class. “Why don’t you get your skinny ass into that office and do some work for a change?”
“Skinny ass?” I raised my eyebrows and looked at Kade. “Do you think my ass is skinny?”
“Darlin’, I think it’s lush enough to kiss. But you won’t let me.”
“No, Jack won’t let you. He’s the spoil-sport, not me.” I looked back at Cole in time to catch him rolling his eyes, and grinned. “So what are you doing out here if the body is in there?”
“Collecting body fluids. Seems our boy had something of a sexual marathon last night.”
Bang went my theories about illegal meetings. Literally.
“Can I pick it or what?” Kade said, voice smug. “Is his sexual partner around? We might need to talk to her. Or him, as the case may be.”
“Her, I would think. There’s a hint of perfume in the main office that’s definitely feminine, and it’s not the secretary’s scent. There’s no sign of the wearer, though. I’ve asked for the security tapes to be delivered to us.” He bent down and began swabbing the desk. “Whoever she was, she obviously had access to the security codes. The whole place was locked when the secretary came in.”
“Maybe she used his keys.” Though why would she run if he just had a heart attack? It wasn’t against the law to have sex in the office, though it was perhaps politically insane.
Of course, it could be that his partner-in-crime was somebody else’s wife. That would certainly explain the disappearing act.
Cole glanced at me. “The keys are still on the desk.”
“Yep, this is a weird one.” He paused, then added with that cheeky glint in his eyes, “Which I guess is why Jack sent you two.”
“Keep the insults up, and you know I’m going to mess up your crime scene.”
“You probably will any way.” His amusement faded as he nodded towards the main office. “Don’t brush against the door. We’ve yet to get prints off it.”
“They had sex against the door?”
I glanced at Kade. “Are you sure this guy wasn’t a were rather than a shifter?”
He grinned and pressed his fingers against my back, pushing me forward. “Nope. He’s just your run-of-the-mill, over-sexed politician.”
“Why can’t any of them keep it in their pants?”
“It’s the whole power and availability thing.”
“Which doesn’t go with the whole ‘in the public eye and trying to win votes’ thing.”
I walked through the second doorway, stepping over a large coffee stain and abandoned cup sitting just inside the door before stopping. The two men in Cole’s team--a bird shifter and a cat shifter whose names I didn’t know, and who didn’t seem in the least interested in introducing themselves--were both present; one examining the office chair, the other carefully taking pictures.
Gerard James himself was buck-naked and sprawled, arms spread wide, across the desk, his shiny-white butt facing the window for all the world to see. Or at least, for those in the offices opposite. I was betting the embarrassing pictures would be front page news tomorrow morning.
The scents of sex and lust lingered on the air, and underneath it was a hint of a jasmine and orange. A feminine scent, as Cole had suggested. But there was something else, something that made my nose twitch and my psychic senses tingle.
Not death, but something very like it.
I frowned and looked at the body, waiting for the energy of the dead to stir past my senses. Waiting for his soul to come out and speak.
In fact, there was an odd feeling of emptiness to the whole room, as if someone had come in here and sucked out all the warmth. Removed any lingering remnants of life.
I shivered and rubbed my arms. Clairvoyance could be a pain in the ass, sometimes--especially when it wasn’t giving me anything more than spooky little ‘something is wrong’ feelings.
Kade stopped behind me, the heat of his body pressing into my spine. “There is an odd feel to this room.”
I looked up at him. Kade was sensitive to emotions rather than souls or death, so if he was feeling something in this room, it had be very strong. And it would also be something very different to whatever I was sensing. He was also telekinetic, which had proven to be extremely handy when he was fighting vampires that were naturally faster than him. “In what way?”
He frowned, his gaze sweeping the room before coming back to rest on the body. “There is a strong sense of ecstasy and lust in here.”
“Well, there would be, if they did it against the tables, the walls, the doors and whatever else bit of furniture they could get a grip on.”
His velvet gaze was half-hooded and his lush mouth pursed. Not really listening, not really hearing, just concentrating on whatever it was he was feeling. “This is more than that. It’s like he was on a high, and couldn’t come down.”
My gaze went to Gerard. “Drugs?” It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a politician had been caught using an illegal substance. And it might just explain the stupid risk he’d taken, coming into his office and leaving the blinds wide open.
“I wouldn’t sense a drug high, but I’m sensing this.” He frowned. “There is something entwined in the high, something I’ve never felt before.”
“What do you mean?”
He hesitated a moment, then his gaze came back to mine. “Something very old, very powerful, and extremely deadly has been in this room.”