“What if he’s the coin’s owner?” I asked. Another lie hiding as an omission. Guilt pressed against my mind, rising from my heart. If all the otherworlder auras didn’t give me a blasted migraine during this case, the guilt certainly would.
He tensed then rubbed his face with his hands. “Fuck. You’re right. You can’t very well ID him if you aren’t there.”
I nodded and gave him a half-smile. He returned the expression with a sardonic grin. The look was so rare for him it shot straight through me. I swallowed hard and tore my eyes away to watch the mortuary, fearing if I looked at him for one more second I’d blurt out the truth.
Perhaps sensing my change in mood, Mason watched the mortuary silently.
We sipped our coffee and shared some beef jerky that Mason carried in his glove compartment. Not my snack of choice, but the lycan seemed to enjoy it. Finally, the funeral service ended and people began filing out two and three at a time. Even from across the street I could feel several different species of oh-dubs, mainly vampires. But at this distance, they sort of melded together and the energy was weaker. It made it easier for me to concentrate, but it also meant I was surprised when Nicolas Chevalier walked out, holding Mary Stone’s arm and supporting her weight as she leaned against him.
“What’s he doing here?”
Mason shrugged. “Probably a polite vampire thing. Guessing he’s here to represent Luc.”
“I suppose.” But something about the way the vampire held the succubus’s arm didn’t sit right with me. Mary seemed stiff and uncomfortable, but that could very well be because she was at her husband’s funeral.
The SUV roared to life and I jumped a little. “Are we going to the cemetery, too?” My stomach let out a loud noise, its vote obvious.
Mason snorted. “Let’s get some lunch and then go talk to Isaiah. I don’t think we’re going to find out much more here. Waste of time.”
“Perhaps,” I said, and glanced out the window to the spot where Nicolas Chevalier and the widow had stood. I wasn’t convinced that there was no value in our trip.
Despite the chill breeze whipping its way through the city, and the snow and ice covering the ground, Mason suggested that we eat from a hot dog vendor–outside. Seeing the perspiration touching his brow after he had kept the car temperature high enough for me to be comfortable all morning, I agreed.
We drove down to the city, exchanging a few words during the trip. I half expected him to change his mind again and decide that I shouldn’t come along with him to question Isaiah, and I didn’t want to tip the unsteady balance between us. So I stayed quiet.
Mason parked in an underground parking garage on Michigan Avenue and we snagged hotdogs from a vendor a short walk away. With my hat and gloves on, and my coat pulled tight around my body, the cold wasn’t too difficult to bear. Finding an unoccupied bench near the hotdog vendor, we sat and munched on our dogs, eager to finish them before they froze.
I watched Mason as I chewed my food. His posture was relaxed and his face more open than I was used to seeing on him. “You don’t care to be indoors all the time, do you?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I suppose it’s a lycan thing. Half-beasts like to be under the sky.”
“I’m surprised that you don’t live farther out in the burbs. With land or something.” I popped the last bite of hotdog into my mouth and then crumpled the wrapper into a small ball.
“I like commutes even less than a lack of space. Besides, my home is my place.” He gave me a tight smile. “My territory, you could say. I don’t feel as uncomfortable there.”
A snicker escaped me as the image of Mason rubbing all over his furniture to claim it flashed in my mind.
“What?” he asked, amused.
He raised an eyebrow.
“Really. You don’t want to know.” The idea was ludicrous. Mason wasn’t that much of a beast. Besides, I wasn’t even sure a wolf would mark their scents the same way my cat seemed to. Heck, wolves probably…oh goodness, no. He couldn’t.
Mason watched my expression in fascination as I tried to decide whether a lycan would mark his territory like a domestic dog. Finally I threw an arm over my face dramatically. “Quit looking at me or I’ll have to tell you what I was thinking, and you’ll never think well of me again.”
Mason let out a small noise that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle, but when I dropped my arm to my side, his expression was back to normal.
“When we talk to Isaiah, you’re going to need to try to keep your thoughts off your face, Astrid.”
My smile faltered. “I know.”
“I’m serious. If you show how much you know and he’s our guy, he’ll pick up on it—hell even if he isn’t our guy in this case, I don’t want him to know we’re aware of that.”
I brushed at my nose, which was now almost numb from the cold around us. Cold that I hadn’t even noticed when I had been distracted by Mason’s good humor. But now that professional Mason was back, I felt everything more sharply. I pushed up from the bench. “I get that this is serious, Mason. I’m not a child. And this isn’t my first investigation.”
“All right, then.”
“All right,” I echoed. “Let’s get going. I’m sick of the cold.” How could he switch it on and off like that? Humorous and almost normal one second, and cold and gruff the next? And I was fully aware of the necessity of keeping my feelings hidden around a suspect, especially a vampire with a reputation like Isaiah’s.
I made it a few steps away before the anger pulsing in me had to find an outlet. “I might not have the best poker face in the world, but we’re none of us perfect.”
“No, we aren’t.”
I narrowed my eyes. I wasn’t ready for his platitudes when embarrassment still surged through me. “Speaking of which, you intimidate everyone around you. I want to speak to the wife alone. I think she might be more inclined to confide in me if you’re not there glowering at her.”
“That’s not a good idea.” He crossed his arms.
I poked at his chest, ignoring the rush I got from the simple touch. “The succubus isn’t going to jump me. And if you’re paranoid about it, you can wait in the car. Like a good boy.”
His mouth dropped open and I couldn’t help but notice how not intimidating he looked with an expression of shock on his face. And despite the ridiculousness of my comment, I had a hard time suppressing a laugh. A second later, he snapped his mouth shut. Pushing my chin into the air, I waited for his comeback. Finally, he said, “Fine.”
Not bothering to keep the triumph I felt at the small win off my face, I nodded and continued down the sidewalk.
Mason and I walked to the swanky hotel where the suspected vampire assassin was staying while he was in the Chicago area. It struck me as odd that he wasn’t hiding out in a dank hole somewhere, but I guessed there was no accounting for vampire politics and behavior.
We rode the elevator in silence, but Mason’s posture had straightened, and his fists clenched tighter at his sides the closer we got. I doubted my heart pounding nervously in my chest was good for his nerves, not to mention that I’d suddenly started sweating. Probably not something I’d normally notice, but knowing how good Mason’s sense of smell was made me conscious of it.
The elevator pinged open, and for once Mason violated his ladies first mindset and stepped out in front of me. I exited the elevator behind him. He paused and turned to me, then touched my shoulder softly, before continuing down the hall. Confidence seemed to flow from his hand, and some of my worry melted away. I was suddenly certain that the lycan beside me could handle whatever threat the vampire might offer. True or not, the thought made me feel better.
I stood back while Mason knocked on the door and then confronted its occupant. From my position next to the door, I was unable to see the man who answered, but I could feel him.
Isaiah’s voice was low-pitched and smooth, and when he invited us in, I paused for a second to examine him. Dark skin covered a large, well-muscled frame that would no doubt have women drooling if it wasn’t for the aura of fear surrounding him. As it was, with my enhanced senses, his energy was almost stifling to my regular vision and burnt coffee already clung to my nose. But he exuded confidence and violence, and I decided that he probably had no trouble with women—intimidating aura or no.
“I’m confused as to why you’re here to see me, Agent,” Isaiah said.
“When did you get into town, Isaiah?” Mason asked, ignoring the vampire’s question.
The hotel suite was nicely decorated, with a half-wall partially blocking our view of the large king-sized bed behind it. A couch and large television occupied our area, as well as a small desk and office chair. Isaiah did not invite us to sit down.
“A week, I suppose,” the vampire replied.
“And what brings you to Chicago?”
“None of your business.”
Mason smiled, and the look was predatory and grim. “We can discuss this downtown if you’d prefer.”
The vampire returned the smile, perfect white teeth flashing. I caught a glimpse of fang. “That won’t be necessary, I’m sure. I’m here on business.”
“What sort of business,” Mason shot back.
“The private kind,” Isaiah said, voice still full of good humor. The vampire, it would seem, was not easy to anger. A good quality, I supposed, in a professional killer.
The conversation faded around me as I focused more closely on my other senses. Isaiah’s power proved as staggering as I’d expected. And I had the sudden urge to put him in a room with the Magister just so I could determine who was more powerful.
I closed my eyes as his aura rolled around me, and I could hear the voices that had faded to murmurs, pause. Mason touched my shoulder. I glanced at him and there were questions in his eyes. “I’m fine,” I muttered, and then I closed my eyes again. Not something I’d normally do with a powerful vampire assassin in the room with me, but I trusted Mason to keep me safe.