Jarvis pulled into an abandoned strip mall parking lot, and I drove on, pulling into a convenience store next door. The truck disappeared and I parked and waited. Counting down five minutes by the clock on my dash, I struggled not to chew my nails in anticipation. When he didn’t resurface, I got out of my car and walked around until I could observe the back of the strip mall. Jarvis was nowhere to be seen, but his truck was parked neatly at the back door of an old supermarket.
I closed my eyes and concentrated. The distance was at the limit of my range, but I was certain that I could sense anything with a significant power signature. The lycan energy jumped out at me first.
Shit. What had they done? Taken him from the house they’d raided looking for Min? But why?
At this distance, I shouldn’t have been able to say that it was him for sure. But we’d spent enough time together—grown close enough—that I was certain he was the lycan I sensed.
A darker power signature licked the edges of his, farther away from where I stood and watched. That one I couldn’t confirm with any certainty, but I was willing to bet that it was Min’s. Nearly overrun by the powerful vamp and lycan auras around him, Jarvis’s imp aura drowned, a flicker of weak energy.
Two oh-dubs. I could easily handle a couple of humans with a gun, and probably an imp too. But the vamp would be a challenge. No. Going in alone would be stupid. Suicidal. But if the place was swarmed with cops and their sirens and flashing lights, then they might just kill Mason and go. Chances were, Jarvis carried a portable radio with him as well. So radio silence was imperative.
I pulled my cell phone out and hit Vasquez’s name. Four rings and then he picked up.
“This isn’t a good time, Holmes.”
As quickly as I could, I told him the address and very specific instructions about radio silence. He was surprisingly silent on the other end of the line.
“You’re sure he’s in there?”
“Yes,” I said simply.
“You maintain your distance until we get there. Twenty minutes, maybe thirty. I’ll get some uniforms out there sooner.”
“I’m serious, Astrid.”
“I got it.”
He cursed and the phone went dead. Despite what Vasquez feared, I knew I was outmatched. I’d wait it out. But Mason’s face flashed in my mind. I had to get closer.
I pulled my 9mm out of the glove box where I’d stuffed it the first night I’d lost my badge and police-issued sidearm. I jogged to the back door of the grocery store and listened. Then I closed my eyes to allow my other senses to take the forefront of my mind. Mason’s energy still rolled, but so did the others.
A cry, muffled by the door, snapped my eyes open. What were they doing in there? Were they hurting him? Killing him? I closed my eyes again, and his energy swirled and spiked unnaturally. I’d seen energy do that before. Not long before it faded into nothingness. If I waited for Vasquez to organize a rescue, would I lose Mason forever?
I’d just found him. Against procedure or not, I had to get in there. Distract them. Something. Entering that building would mean putting my life on the line. It would mean that I cared enough about Mason to risk my life to spare his. Logically, I knew that he wouldn’t thank me for it. But there was nothing else I could do. If I lost him when I could have saved him by distracting his torturers, I couldn’t live with myself.
With trembling fingers, I touched my phone’s screen. It would take Vasquez at least thirty minutes to get here. He’d said twenty, but there was no way. Not in traffic. Not even with lights flashing and sirens blaring. It was a long shot, but there was a small possibility that someone could get here sooner. If he was back in town.
I just had one more phone call to make. But the door was so close, I couldn’t take the time to run back to the car to make sure the vampire inside didn’t overhear me.
So, as quickly as I could, I sent a text message that I hoped my partner wouldn’t be too far away to answer.
The handle of back door to the grocery store was locked, but not the deadbolt. A few quick motions with a credit card and I was in, gun in hand. The room I entered was dark, with small bits of light creeping in through mostly boarded-over windows. A dank smell touched my nose, mildew and bacteria-ridden stagnant water. I shut the door quietly behind me. Perspiration beaded on my forehead and between my breasts. Even though I couldn’t detect much noise from my break-in, Min’s ears would be far more sensitive.
But no vampire greeted me as I crept forward in the general direction of what I was certain was Mason’s energy. I wished I could close my eyes to get a better fix, but that wasn’t an option.
The back room I was in connected to the main store area through a short hallway with doors on either side. Old restrooms, by the signs on the doors. The air was oppressive, and the suffocating quality grew as I moved farther from the door. Dirt coated the floors. Some areas only a heavy sheen of dust, while others were marked where furnishings had been removed but the area beneath them hadn’t been cleaned.
Other things were splattered on the floor as well. Dark stains coated in enough dust that it was difficult to tell their original color. Pink droplets I could almost convince myself had come from an old meat department in the grocery store, if they hadn’t looked so fresh. Not days old, no. But maybe weeks. I wasn’t much of a germaphobe, but I was almost willing to convert at the sight and smell of the old supermarket.
I crept into the hallway toward the main part of the store. A red stain, dark and almost hidden in the shadows, slid across small sections of the floor. My breath caught in my throat. Blood. Blood and what looked like drag marks.
My gun felt solid in my hands. Real. I thumbed off the safety and took another step. The shelving was still intact. I paused. Was that normal? It didn’t seem like it. I’d thought they scavenged all they could when one of these places closed. Maybe the owner had thought including it would sell the property faster. Regardless of the reason, it made seeing anything all the more difficult.
Inky darkness bathed the room. Farthest from the front windows, and blocked from the back ones save for the hallway, the area was shadowed, and my mind jumped to fill the spaces with lunging imps and salivating vampires.
I risked a moment of lost focus to try to feel out which direction Mason was. Left, and still in front of me. Keeping my eyes darting and my gun fixed, I headed toward his familiar energy.
The smell hanging in the air went from dank to spoiled in the meat section. I didn’t dare peek into the once-refrigerated bins, but I was certain that they hadn’t been well cleaned after the supermarket closed. My feet were nearly silent against the dirty floor, but the slight tap of my shoe was audible—just barely—to my ears. The vampire—wherever she was—would certainly hear me coming.
My heart thudded against my chest at the thought, and my body tensed to run. To leave until backup could arrive. But I couldn’t leave Mason here in this horrible, rank place alone. I couldn’t leave him to die on the teeth of a vampire. I couldn’t open a box tomorrow and find his accusing eyes staring back at me.
I forced myself forward and—gun first—rounded a corner into what must have been the fresh produce section. A fairly large amount of open space had large expanses of bins around it that once held potatoes and apples and onions. I’d made my way from the back to the front of the store. The light snaked in from the boarded up windows. And in the open space was a single, sturdy-looking chair, where a man was tied by his wrists and ankles to the heavy metal frame.
Mason looked up, moving his head slowly. Blood ran down his face and coated his neck and chest. Skin swollen and bruised, he was barely recognizable. And I could see punctures in his neck.
Our eyes met and recognition flashed in his eyes.
Suddenly one of the shadows moved, so quickly that I only registered the movement when the flash reached me. My gun flew from my hand and pain ripped up my arm and through my shoulder. I was face down on the ground, gun arm twisted behind my back before I could even squeak in protest.
The vampire yanked my other arm back and then pulled me to my feet. A loud chuckle rolled through the air from behind me, masculine and arrogant. And Jarvis walked around to stand between me and Mason.
“Thank you for being so naïve and following me here, Astrid,” he said. “And thanks for coming in when we called.”
Min shoved me forward and I barely caught my footing before running headlong into Jarvis. I backed up a step when it looked like he was going to try to help me balance myself. Great. I’d not only walked right into a trap by following him, but I’d tightened the noose around my neck by coming in at the first hint that Mason was hurt. But I’d known that walking in. I hadn’t come in here to take out a vampire and an imp. I’d walked into the building to distract them long enough for Mason to escape, and I hoped long enough for help to arrive.
“We need to finish this. She may have called in for backup,” Min said, voice humorless. What did Jarvis see in her? Oh right, a fellow homicidal maniac.
“You were a good cop, Jarvis,” I said. I knew no such thing—he’d only been in our unit for a few months. But I figured he’d be easier to get talking. Help was on the way. I just had to keep us alive for a few more minutes. “Why are you doing this?”
“None of your business,” Min said, simply. Jarvis gave her an annoyed glance, but didn’t argue with her.
“I’m guessing money,” I said, “because it can’t be her sparkling personality.”
Min simply gave me a smug grin, her menacing aura and vampiric energy swirling around her, coin flipping easily through her fingers. For a split second I lost myself in that energy, the swirl of shadows surrounding her, moving in their flowing, liquid way, before jerking back to reality.
“Then again, maybe you’re the one who’s slumming,” I told her. “Come on, an imp?” I shrugged, doing my best to appear nonchalant. It might not fool a vampire, but Jarvis wouldn’t be able to hear my thundering pulse.