Lycan Unleashed

Page 1


Chapter One
Bright 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.
He nodded.
“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.