Mason undressed quickly and joined me. He covered my body with his and cradled me in his arms. Comfort and such a feeling of safety hit me that a rush of fear immediately followed it. There were too many what-ifs between us. Too many unresolved issues. Too many unanswered questions.
Mason moved from my lips to kiss my neck and worked his way down to my breasts. Taking my nipple into his mouth, he sucked and nipped until all coherent thought was forced out of my head.
He kissed his way down my stomach. Lower. His tongue touched my aching heat and I cried out and gripped his hair hard enough that he growled. But he didn’t slow his assault. And within moments I was moaning and writhing against him. Calling his name and forgetting my own.
He slid back over me and kissed and bit my neck softly, then I could feel his hardness, nestled so close to where I desperately needed it.
“I love you,” he murmured in my ear. But before I could process the words, he took me.
Thrusting hard within me, Mason lost the control he’d shown with his gentle assault all night. I held onto him, moving beneath his hard, sweat-soaked body to meet his every thrust. I cried out again when my body exploded beneath him, and his cry joined mine as he pushed himself into me as far as he could, and shuddered on top of me.
Realization hit as he held me in his arms, his words reverberating in my skull. I loved him too.
But could I trust him?
He’d turned his back on his family—his pack. And he’d been hot and cold with me. Kissing me one minute, and pushing me away the next. He was able to go on without the people he loved, the people he’d sworn to protect. If I loved him and he pushed me away, he’d move on. But I’d be broken.
How could I put my faith in someone who could so easily turn from those he loved?
The sun didn’t get a chance to rise before my eyes flew open the next morning. I wanted to stay in the heat of Mason’s arms, but there was an itching in my muscles, just under my skin, that refused to let me relax. We had to get up. Get out there and look for Min. And I had to get away from Mason’s embrace, where everything felt too comfortable, too safe. I had to think.
His arms tightened around me briefly before letting me go. Mason’s eyes met mine and I gave him a small smile before grabbing the shirt he’d worn the night before from the corner of the bed. I threw it on and headed for the spare bathroom.
After a quick shower I felt almost normal. Almost like myself again. But his words still bounced around my mind, fighting for first position in my thoughts along with wondering how we were going to find Min, and how the hell they’d gotten that coin out of the evidence warehouse.
Mason was eating cereal when I reached the kitchen.
“Cocoa Puffs or Frosted Flakes?” he asked, face entirely too straight for a man who just offered me children’s cereal. I grinned and he raised his nose up. “They’re both very good, I’ll have you know.”
I laughed and grabbed the Frosted Flakes. Less than five minutes later, we were headed out.
Mason opened the door and waved for me to go first. I’d been wrong. His gallantry hadn’t grown old. But the sight that greeted me on the other side of the door made my grin falter.
A white box with a large blue bow wrapped around it. The fancy kind of bow that has to be tied by hand, not stuck on. And the bottom of the box was rimmed with a dark liquid.
Mason already stared at the box, his posture stiff. His nostrils flared. Of course. He’d probably smelled it the second he opened the door.
“Blood?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
What the fuck is that? How the hell did they get it on your doorstep with an officer parked across the street? I wanted to fling the questions at him, but instead I asked, “Smell any explosives? Traps?”
“No. What do you see?” he asked, and I knew that he wasn’t talking about my normal sight.
I closed my eyes and tried to calm down. The box didn’t look hexed or trapped magically—no witchcraft traces were on it that I could sense. One distinctive energy clung to it heavily, seeping in and around the box. Another otherworlder power was there too, slighter, fainter, but fading more slowly than the other. Burnt coffee filled my nose even as a hint of strawberries touched my tongue
“Fucking vampires,” I spat out. “And Mason…”
“What is it?”
I swallowed hard. “I think it’s Mary Stone.”
Mason’s face was hard as granite when the police showed up. First OWEA units and techs, then—hot as a raging bull and just as fun to talk to—Lieutenant Vasquez.
The OWEA crime scene techs took their pictures and samples from the outside of the box before okaying Mason to open it. I watched as he swiftly cut the ribbon in three places to free the lid, and even though I was certain of what he would find, I couldn’t look away.
A quick flip of his pocketknife under the cardboard and the still-open eyes of Mary Stone stared out at us. Accusation laced her expression. Blame. You said you would keep me safe. You promised. I risked my life to help you and now my head is stuffed in a box.
I swallowed bile and took an involuntary step back. But I still couldn’t look away. This was my fault. I’d pressed her. Insisted that we make her tell us the truth. Promised to protect her.
Mason was talking. Giving out orders in his low but dangerous tone. Vasquez cursed into his cell phone. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I had to focus. I had to find the bitch that did this.
Nicolas had the perfect alibi, of course. He was at the police station all night. Going over what he knew of Min. Handing over every location he knew she haunted. Except for the one where she currently hid—of that I had no doubt. He’d volunteered to stay and hand the information to the OWEA. Ever helpful. Ever the good citizen. Ever securing the best damn alibi possible.
A hand squeezed my arm and I opened my eyes. Mason looked concerned, but under that was something else. Something deadly.
“I’m taking a team. Min has been spotted at one of her haunts. Some vamp’s house. You stay here with Vasquez and the others.”
I opened my mouth to argue and he squeezed my shoulder, not hard, just enough to give me pause.
“I can’t take you.” He stepped closer. “It’d be totally against regulation. And—”
“And what?” I snapped. The whole thing put me on edge. Mary Stone was my witness, dammit. No way would she have given that info if I hadn’t sensed she was holding back. If I hadn’t forced her to tell.
“If something happened to you—”
“No.” His eyes flashed. “Not negotiable. Vasquez wouldn’t let you go even if I asked.”
I wanted to point out that he had never “asked” Vasquez anything. And that it was a damn poor excuse to leave me behind because he was scared I’d get hurt. But I wasn’t an idiot. A vampire would run rings around me. I knew it. Mason knew it. But I’d worked the investigation too. I deserved to be in on the takedown. And I wasn’t useless. My sensitive abilities could help them. Could make sure they weren’t walking in to a trap.
But I wasn’t going to win this argument, so I saved my breath. “Be careful,” I said instead.
He nodded and gave me a small smile, a quick flash reserved just for me, then he was gone.
I examined the head until the coroner’s office relieved us of it, then I stared blankly at case files, keeping my phone in hand in case Mason called. When Jarvis showed up, Vasquez exploded.
I hadn’t thought to ask who’d been with the widow and how the hell they’d gotten to her with police protection. She should have been in a safe house. I wanted to smack myself for not asking sooner, but I’d been distracted. A dismembered head would do that. Getting left behind on a takedown would do that. Worrying about a man you might be in love with going up against a vampire would do that.
But when Jarvis arrived, the information came out pretty clearly.
Vasquez yelled until a vein on his forehead looked like it might burst from the pressure. Jarvis’s body jerked at each of Vasquez’s insults and curses, twitchy and imp-like. Like a lot of oh-dubs, his traits came out even more obviously when he was under pressure. And he did the only thing he could. Apologize profusely and try to explain what happened.
“I don’t know if it was a spell or what,” the imp said, voice drenched in desperation, and his hands wringing. “I didn’t just fall asleep and not wake up while someone took her.”
I almost blurted out the question that had been on my mind since Jarvis entered the room. Wasn’t he supposed to be on administrative leave, too? Instead, I gave Vasquez a meaningful stare. He took me aside after reaming Jarvis.
“No evidence was found that he’d been involved, so he came back on duty yesterday,” Vasquez said, voice pitched low to keep us from being overheard.
“Oh, yeah? Then why wasn’t I brought back on?” I feared his response, but I had to know.
“You have easier access to the kind of spell that knocked everyone in that room out, so you’re taking a little longer to clear.” He waved at me to keep me from interrupting. “That you’ve been personally targeted isn’t making this move any faster. But it is moving. I know they won’t find any evidence against you, but shit moves slowly down at IA. Give it a couple more days.”
I swallowed down the anger that pulsed in my throat, and forced a nod. A screaming match with Vasquez would get me exactly squat right now, and I had to stay focused.
So I turned away from my boss and looked at Jarvis. I felt a little sorry for him, but just a little. The memory of Mary Stone’s sightless eyes kept me from real pity. But his words got me thinking, so I closed my eyes and looked at him—really looked. His imp energy coated him of course, and the vampiric energy I’d sensed on him at the casino crime scene touched him, too. Why did he stink of vampire?
Maybe I’d been wrong at the Casino Merveilleux. Maybe he hadn’t gotten too close to the body. Maybe he was dating a vampire or something. My heart rate kicked up a notch at the thought, and I watched him carefully. The shadow of vampire energy muted the already subdued strobe light that signaled his imp heritage.