“Got you some ice,” Mason said, holding out an ice pack.
“Thanks.” I grimaced. I’d found a new level of hatred for ice, but if it kept me from the doctor’s it would be worth the discomfort.
“You should go to bed. Rest for a few hours.”
“Soon. I just need to relax for a while first.” Preferably not alone, but I didn’t dare say that.
I sat in a corner of the couch and propped my foot up. Mason gently placed my foot on his lap and then carefully wrapped it with the ice pack. The whole situation was comfortable—too comfortable. I glanced around the living room and tried to ignore the cold sinking into my skin. Warmly decorated, but with no pets or other people, the house felt awfully lonely.
“Looking for something?”
“Just seems like such a large place for one guy.”
“Suits me fine.”
“I’m sure it does, but still strikes me as kind of lonely.”
“I’m not lonely,” he growled.
I raised my eyebrows at him and ignored the voice in my head telling me to be polite and leave it alone. “Oh, did I touch a nerve?”
I tugged on a chunk of my hair and finally blurted out exactly what was on my mind. “Are you going to hold that small omission against me forever?”
“Small omission? You lied to me. Point blank. Didn’t even give me the chance to—”
“Oh, I gave you a chance, all right. But it was obvious that you weren’t going to take it.”
“Was it? Well a lie is still a lie.”
“I’m not the only one who hasn’t been entirely honest.” I pulled my foot away from him and sat up straight on the couch, balancing so the ice pack stayed on as I set my foot on the floor. I didn’t quite have it in me to stand up, but I wasn’t going to argue lying down either.
“Why did you kiss me last year?” I asked. The timing couldn’t have possibly been worse. After I’d lied to him and he’d been forced to take me in. But if I hadn’t been awake, tossing and turning with thoughts of Mason troubling my mind, I wouldn’t have sensed that vampire and who knows what would have happened? And for some reason, that loosened my tongue.
He drew back as if I’d struck him, then his face hardened even further. “Because I wanted to.”
At least he hadn’t said because he had drunk too much. “Always honest, huh? You kiss me, then you call it a mistake. You act like you care about me one minute, then like you couldn’t care less the next. You say things like…like what you said earlier tonight, and then you act like a stranger.”
“I’ve never lied to you.”
“Didn’t you?” My voice raised and for once I didn’t try to stifle my anger. I’d lost too many hours of sleep over the man. “You lied when you said that kiss was a mistake and then followed me with your eyes for months after. You lied when you just said you kissed me because you felt like it in the moment.” I leaned closer to him with every word until we were only inches apart. “Why?”
I had only a split second of warning before his mouth fell onto mine. Hard and without allowing any recourse, his lips pressed against me. Someone made a small noise, needy. It might have been me.
Emotion and lust rushed through me and I opened my mouth to him. His tongue stroked mine, leaving heat and need in its wake. And he growled low in his throat.
The constant worry about my job, about Mason, about my family, all faded into the background. There was only him. His masculine scent intermingling with that of his soap and aftershave. The minty taste of toothpaste and the feel of his strong arms pulling me against his solid chest were overwhelming.
A swirl of emotion rolled through me as I let myself be swept away in that kiss, in the hard grip of his hands holding me against him. Lust, sure. But hope too. And a heartbreaking feeling of belonging. Finally belonging.
Mason broke the kiss and the spell too, and I collapsed back into the corner of the couch, my fingers touching my lips. For once, he looked affected too. Lips slightly swollen from our kiss, his hair was mussed, and his expression fiercely open.
“Now tell me that you didn’t lie to me too,” I said softly.
He rubbed his face with his hands, and when he looked back at me, a deep frown creased his mouth. “It would never work between us.”
“Why not?” The question was too honest, left me open to too much hurt. But it fell from my lips before I could stop it. And it was a reasonable question, if too revealing. We were both cops. Both otherworlders—well, mostly. Sure, I wasn’t a lycan, but I didn’t think tradition alone would keep Mason Sanderson from anything he really wanted.
“Because I can’t be with anyone,” he said firmly.
“And I suppose the ‘why’ is a big damn secret.” The man was turning me into a potty mouth but I didn’t have the strength to care, and my mother’s lessons had faded to the back of my mind. I was tired. Tired of Mason’s issues. Tired of my own.
He didn’t reply, but his face scrunched slightly, before returning to its expressionless norm. He turned away from me and leaned over, bracing his elbows on his thighs. And his gaze shifted to stare at his hands.
Suppressing a sigh of pure self-pity, I pushed up from the couch and went to bed.
A headache pounded from my neck. And with too many other aches and pains throbbing through my body, I found I could no longer sleep. The clock on the nightstand revealed that it was still early. I’d slept less than four hours.
But the injuries didn’t keep me awake when I should have rolled over to go back to sleep. It wasn’t even the vampire who’d violated the sanctity of my home. It was Mason.
The lycan embodied contradiction. He said things that made it seem like he really cared about me, and his actions supported that theory. But every time I felt like I was getting close to him, sneaking in under his barriers, he pushed me back.
I stepped off the bed and tested my ankle experimentally. The swelling had gone down. It ached, but was manageable. I tottered to the bathroom and dressed, then made my way down to the kitchen. The room was well-organized—almost obsessively so—and I found the coffee easily. With a pot brewing, I wandered around the rest of the downstairs. Mason should have case files here somewhere. Hopefully not in his bedroom.
I found the room he seemed to use for an office. A small den off of the main living area sported a computer and a small stack of files. I flipped the top one open and glanced at the contents. Bingo. Case files.
The first folder held summaries and comments, both from the Chicago PD and Mason’s own notes. I had missed surprisingly little on the first scene, and what I’d learned from Mason in the meantime filled in any blanks I’d had there. The vampire had his throat cut, and with the relatively small amount of blood on scene, they suspected he’d been killed elsewhere.
I frowned. There had definitely been blood on the scene. If Mason was right and he’d been moved there, then he must have been fresh when they’d done it.
I grabbed the second folder and flipped it open. Autopsy and crime scene photos greeted me, and I was suddenly glad I hadn’t eaten yet.
Crinkling my nose in disgust, I forced myself to look over the pictures carefully. Back and forth between the photos and the report, I lost track of time.
“Coffee?” a low voice asked from the doorway.
I started, and then peered over my shoulder at Mason. “Oh, I forgot about the coffee. Thanks.”
He nodded and handed me a steaming cup.
“Do you have photos from the other cases Isaiah is suspected in?” I took a sip of the coffee and choked. I looked up into Mason’s wide eyes.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“How much sugar did you use?” I plucked a tissue from the box on the desk and wiped furiously at my chin.
“Sorry, I don’t use sugar, so I guessed.”
He’d guessed wrong. Probably a good four spoonfuls wrong, and I liked my coffee sweet. I rubbed my tongue against the roof of my mouth and tried to break through the sweet, thick barrier that coated it.
I glanced at him as he searched a desk drawer for the files. Nice to know he wasn’t perfect. He produced a thick folder which he set in front of me on the desk. I reached to open it and he put one hand on the file.
“These are pretty bad,” he warned.
“I can handle it.” Granted, I hadn’t been a cop for as long as most at the detective rank, and had pretty much been placed at that level right out of the academy because of my unique ability. But I was a cop, and I’d worked with Claude for two years. That Mason thought to warn me that crime photos might not be fun to look at was a little condescending.
I thumbed through the pictures for a while and Mason worked on the computer. They were bad in that they were bloody and there were quite a few of them, but at least the vampire hitman didn’t seem to torture his victims. Not to the extent I’d seen in other cases. And none of the other victims had coin images burned into their bodies.
“Do you want something to eat?” Mason asked after we’d been at the desk for a while.
I blanched. Even though those pictures weren’t the worst I’d ever seen, breakfast was the last thing on my mind. “Not yet, thanks. But don’t wait on my account.” I flipped the casino crime scene photos open and frowned at them. Something was different, off, about the casino pictures compared to the others attributed to Isaiah.
“So you think the body in Casino Merveilleux was taken there after death?” I asked.
“Yes. You’ll see the blood pooling below the bodies at the other crime scenes. That was missing.”
I stared at the image of Jake Stone. “So Isaiah kills them by slitting their throats and allowing the blood to go to waste—pooled at the victim’s feet. A tough thing for a vamp to do, especially with another vampire’s blood. Shows he’s one tough mother. And if Isaiah killed Jake Stone, there would have been no reason for him to vary from that.” I flipped back to one of the other victim’s photos, a close up of the neck. “Why do you think he didn’t just kill Stone on the ship?”