I only knew one other vampire who I’d match against Luc—and I knew that Claude had his own reasons for staying in Chicago and serving the Magister. But I wondered why Isaiah didn’t run his own little vampire world somewhere. A certain amount of vampire standing was gained through politicking, but much could be gained with pure brute strength.
And Isaiah had plenty of it.
I took a deep breath and wiped my brow against the arm of my jacket. Sweat coated my forehead and built between my breasts and down my back. A consequence of ignoring my body’s order to run from Isaiah’s aura of fear.
Could Isaiah be the owner of the coin that had gone missing from evidence? He certainly possessed the power to so fully coat the coin, but then, most vampires could have done the same if they had held onto it long enough. Nothing about his aura was particularly familiar, but that didn’t mean much. Despite what I’d told Mason, I couldn’t identify the killer from that power signature. It hadn’t really felt any more specific than a vampire who carried a hefty fear aura.
I wanted to yell in frustration. I’d hoped for his signature to be familiar, at least. It would give me something to tell Mason, something to make my lie into the truth.
But I had zilch. And after tonight, Mason was going to know I’d lied.
“I’ve heard that you’ve had a bit of trouble holding on to your evidence,” Isaiah was saying as I picked back up on the conversation. He smiled at me, and my stomach clenched and my breath came faster. It took everything I had not to back out into the hall and run away from the vampire in front of me. The smile was like that of a shark, and it disappeared quickly.
Mason stiffened and took a single short step to his side, placing himself slightly between Isaiah and me. “I’m sure we don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mason said, a warning in his voice.
Isaiah continued, as if he hadn’t noticed the tension the lycan now emanated. “An unfortunate loss, that coin.”
“What do you know about it?” Mason asked.
I forced my expression to stay even, but I almost started at Mason’s admission. But pretending the coin didn’t exist wouldn’t get us anywhere. The vampire obviously had sources of information, either with the police or more likely in the local vamp community.
Isaiah’s gaze flashed to me before returning to Mason. “I’ve heard things—rumors. Managing things so recklessly, you’re lucky no one has gotten hurt.” A slight grin touched his lips. “Then again, your investigation is still young. And I suppose accidents are inevitable in your line of work.” Again, his gaze slid to me. It was subtle, but the threat was as clear as if he’d slid his finger across his throat, in a macabre imitation of a knife.
Mason shoved Isaiah against the wall, his forearm under the vampire’s neck, and their faces only inches apart. I blinked at them before reaching for my gun. I’d known that lycans were fast—even in their fully human form—but I hadn’t known they were that fast.
“Was that some kind of fucking threat, you undead piece of shit?” Mason’s hard voice was low and controlled, despite his words. “Because you look at her again with a threat on your tongue and I will rip your fucking head off.”
I gaped at his words, and my hand found nothing. Shit. I didn’t have a sidearm. Great. All I could do was stand and stare and pretend that I had a holster on my back. Doing my best to smooth my expression, I hoped I looked convincingly unaffected and ready to pull my weapon at any second.
But neither man seemed to remember I was in the room, and as the seconds ticked by, the tension was so thick it choked me. The power rolled off them, mixing with the violence to create a room set to explode.
I couldn’t think about what Mason had said and what it might mean, but the possibilities kicked my heart rate up a notch. And looking at the dead, deep eyes of the vampire, the professional killer who had murdered his own kind for years, I wasn’t entirely sure which side would come out on top if it came down to it.
I had to diffuse the anger, before the balance tipped. “Thank you for answering our questions, Isaiah,” I said in the most civil and disinterested voice I could manage. “We’ll be in touch. It would be best if you didn’t leave town for a few days.”
Like the fuse fizzling out on a bomb, the tension dissipated, and Mason released the vampire.
“Well?” Mason asked when we were safely in his SUV.
“Can we talk when we get to my place, please?” I rubbed my temples and wished that I was just asking in order to postpone the inevitable, but the power and menace rolling off of that vamp had been overwhelming, especially with Mason’s energy jockeying for my attention. Trying to push it away to actually pay attention to the conversation and then jump back into the swirl in the inane hope of matching Isaiah to the coin had given me a splitting headache.
“Sure,” Mason said.
“And I’m bringing my personal sidearm from now on.” If Mason wasn’t going to bring up the close call we’d just had, neither was I. But I’d be damned if I’d go in to question a suspect like Isaiah without a gun again. Legality be damned.
Mason grunted his agreement.
I pulled a small bottle of Advil from my purse and tossed a couple in my mouth. I chewed them, an old trick to make them work faster, but the taste made me grimace. Part of me wanted to ask if his reaction to what he perceived as a threat against me from Isaiah meant anything. But how did I start the conversation? And what if he would have done the same for any coworker who’d been standing in my place? The whole thing made my head pound harder.
“There’s a bottle of water in there.” Mason nodded toward the glove box. “It’s old, but unopened, so it should still be okay.”
I flipped down the glove box door and grabbed the water. I swallowed the remnants of the pills with a large gulp, thankful I didn’t have to choke them down dry.
“Thanks,” I said after I’d dislodged the crushed pieces of the pills from my throat.
We drove to my townhouse in silence. Mason parked on the street in front of my building and followed me up the sidewalk to my house. But he stopped in the doorway. I turned to see his face scrunched in concentration.
“What is it?” I asked, glancing around my foyer. Nothing appeared disturbed.
“Your cat never comes out to say hello.” He shut the door.
My headache had started to fade—probably more from the time away from Isaiah’s energy than from the Advil kicking in—which left me in an almost good mood from the relief. I grinned. “Yes well, I’m sure he doesn’t particularly want to meet you. His name is Charlie. And this is his house more than mine, so you’ll have to show him some respect.”
“Respectable people have dogs, you know,” he informed me as we walked to the kitchen.
“Do they? Guess I’m not respectable.”
He just snorted and sat at my small eat-in table.
“Want something to drink?” I asked, suddenly nervous again. I couldn’t put this conversation off. There was no way to avoid Mason finding out that I’d been dishonest without lying further. And I couldn’t lie about Isaiah’s signature. If I said it was his coin, the vampire could get in trouble for something he may not have done—his past history as an assassin notwithstanding. Besides, that kind of deceit would be so morally wrong that just thinking about it made my stomach turn.
And I couldn’t tell Mason that I didn’t recognize Isaiah’s aura and still pretend that I could ID the vamp off of the coin. That would make Mason think that Isaiah definitely wasn’t responsible, which he might very well be.
I’d backed myself into a corner.
I opened my refrigerator and peered inside. “I’ve got orange juice and Coke. Or beer.”
Of course. I grabbed a Heineken and a Coke and poured them into glasses, avoiding Mason as long as I could.
“What’s wrong, Astrid?” Mason asked.
I set his drink down and then sat in the seat next to him. His face had softened, and his concern was apparent. Crap. Of course he’d look at me like that right before he was going to be out of my life for good.
I drank a swallow of my Coke and for once wished it had something alcoholic in it. “I don’t know if Isaiah is the killer. I can’t tell.” I kept my eyes firmly affixed to the glass and tensed in preparation for the explosion I knew was coming.
Mason sipped his beer and didn’t say anything for a few seconds. When he spoke, his voice was low, but something in the air had changed. Electrified. “Because you can’t get as good a read as you thought you’d be able to, or because you knew you’d never be able to ID the killer from what you felt on that coin?”
It was a question we both already knew the answer to, and it hurt my heart that he thought enough of me to even consider the other possibility. Part of me wanted to take the out he’d given me. But I’d lied enough. “I can’t ID the owner off the aura I felt on the coin. It wasn’t distinct enough.”
“And you knew that from the beginning?” he growled.
I steeled my spine and met his gaze. “Yes.”
“So you lied to my face.”
“You omitted?” His voice rose, harsh against my ears.
I jutted my chin out. “I never actually said—”
“The hell you didn’t! Near enough.”
“I’m sorry, okay? You’re right. I lied. I deceived you on purpose. And maybe that makes me a total bitch but I don’t care.” Talk like a lady or no one will treat you like one. Like my mother’s rules mattered now. I was a liar, and deserved every bit of Mason’s ire.
“You don’t care?” He asked. His voice returned to a low growl, but somehow sounded even more dangerous. And filled with more anger.
“It’s my badge on the line! I had to be in on the investigation.”