Then again, I’d never been accused of misconduct before.
“The coin disappeared from the lock-up,” Mason said. “According to our Covenant contact, it’s likely that the spell was activated from inside the building. The spell knocked out the power and cameras in the building too, so it couldn’t be tracked. Someone sets off the spell, an accomplice comes in while everyone is knocked out to grab the coin.” Mason’s voice lacked emotion, but his words hit me like a brick.
“So you think that I…” I couldn’t get the words out. Betrayal flooded me. After all this time, Vasquez could really suspect me of this? And Mason. God, the idea of him thinking I would remove evidence like that made my eyes suddenly burn. I swallowed hard.
“No,” Vasquez said firmly. “We don’t. But this does make the lot of us look like prize idiots—best case scenario. I’m sorry, Astrid, but I’m going to have to ask you to take a few days off until the inquiry is complete.”
I took a deep breath. “You don’t think I did anything wrong, but you’re going to make me take leave anyway? You know how that’ll look, don’t you? Everyone will think—”
“They won’t,” Mason cut in, deep tones reassuring despite the situation. “It’s not just you.”
Vasquez shot Mason a glare for butting in to what he no doubt viewed as his conversation. “Exactly. Jarvis is going to be on administrative leave, too. As is the officer who was on duty at the evidence locker. It’s just for a couple of days.”
I clenched my hands together in my lap to prevent myself from fidgeting. “That spell might have been set off by someone in the building, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been attached to an object, and was set off when one of us inadvertently touched it. It could have even been set to a timer—sort of. A very iffy kind of timer.” I grimaced under their scrutiny. “Magical timers aren’t exactly accurate.”
“Be that as it may, we have to look into it.” And Vasquez’s words were final, his tone brooked no argument.
My career was on the line. Vasquez didn’t say it, but I knew that it was true. And their inquiry was likely to turn up my family history, which would put me smack dab on the top of their suspect list. Heck, even if my career wasn’t officially damaged, with my family ties, Vasquez wasn’t going to trust me as much. Not with how perfectly those ties could have helped me remove that evidence.
Not that I was the only one at risk here. Guilt twinged in my chest when I thought of Donaldson and Jarvis. They didn’t deserve this any more than I did.
“Fine,” I said icily, forcing the veneer of politeness and formality my family had drilled into me around myself. And for once, I was happy to have the defense. “I’ll be at home.”
“I’m going to need your badge and sidearm,” Vasquez said.
I wanted to bristle and fight, but that would only make me look worse. Shoulders stiff, I pulled my gun from its holster and placed it on the desk, then tossed my badge next to it. Ignoring the two sets of eyes that followed my movements, I turned and left.
My silent house greeted me when I got home, but I was quickly inspected by my cat—who I suspected was more interested in the odd hour of my return than in me.
I stayed in my quiet townhouse as the darkness settled in over the trees in my backyard. And I stayed home through the nightly news. The vampire’s death was a top story, though the details were kept hazy. A body, found on the casino ship owned by the vampire’s Magister. Foul play suspected. The victim’s species wasn’t specified.
When the ten o’clock news ended, the restless feeling that had crawled over me since I had left the station inundated my every cell. I had to do something. Anything. And I had to get out of my townhouse. Despite Vasquez’s reassurance that I wasn’t in any trouble, if whoever took the coin wasn’t found, the police department would need a scapegoat.
My career was on the line—or at the very least my reputation. And I knew where I had to go.
I grabbed my personal firearm—a 9mm I’d owned since before I joined the force. I didn’t think I’d need it, but I felt naked without a gun nearby since I had carried one for several years.
When I got in my car, I shoved the unloaded gun into my glove compartment along with a box of bullets. Then I locked the glove box. I felt better with the gun there even though I didn’t intend to take it out or load it. It had been a long time since I’d travelled without a sidearm, but a gun in my car would have to be good enough.
Mason wasn’t going to help me easily. I had to give him a reason to let me in, something only I could help him with. He didn’t have any motivation to let me in on the investigation as things stood now, and had every reason not to. Sure, he’d kissed me once. But he’d never followed up on it, had called it a mistake. That one moment of closeness would hardly convince him to let me back into the investigation. In fact, bringing up that incident would more than likely end with me kicked out of his house, if not arrested for whatever charges he could come up with to keep me out of his hair for a couple of days.
No. The personal angle wasn’t going to help me. I had to come up with something else—something that would convince him beyond a doubt that he had to let me in. Even better, that he had to have me working alongside him. My mind rebelled at putting myself into a situation that would almost certainly put me more out in the field than I was used to, or comfortable with, but I couldn’t stand idly by while my career came to a screeching halt.
I parked on the street in front of Mason Sanderson’s sprawling house. Steeling my spine, I walked up his driveway. Light from small lamps lining the drive reflected off the concrete, creating odd shadows as I trudged to the flagstone walkway leading to the front door.
Mind racing, I made my way up the steps and lifted the knocker and let it drop back onto the door twice.
Should I ring the doorbell, or would that be too obtrusive? I crossed my arms, blew a large sigh into the chilled air, and watched it puff around me. Surely he wasn’t sleeping already?
My heart dropped into my stomach. What if he had someone else here? What if he didn’t live alone anymore? Hell, he’d worked for the OWEA for a couple of months, and IA for a year before that. A lot of news made its way through the police grapevine, but not everything. Mason Sanderson could be married now, for all I knew.
Just as my mind was making the leap from wife to possible children, the door opened. Framed in the doorway, Mason stood stiffly. His expression was still hard, but somehow less distant than it had been at the station.
For a beat, I just stared at him, unable to yank my gaze from his. The gray eyes I’d seen soften only once, in passion. They’d reflected under the moon the night he kissed me. The mouth that now formed a hard line had softened so perfectly against my lips. Brushing against his forehead, his hair was still damp from his shower. And the way the black T-shirt stretched across his muscular chest made my mouth dry.
“What are you doing here, Astrid?” he asked, breaking me from my spell.
I cleared my throat and stared at the hardwood beneath his sock-covered feet. “I need to talk to you.”
“I don’t think that’s a good—”
“Please,” I said, glancing at his eyes quickly before returning my gaze to the floor.
“All right,” he said gruffly. “Come in.”
I scanned Mason’s hallway. I’d never actually been here before, and I prayed that he didn’t ask me how I knew where he lived. I’d looked him up once. Not long after the kiss.
The place was impressive, nearly as nice as the house my parents lived in. The house I had been banished from at far too young an age. I pushed back a rush of anger at that memory, and concentrated on my surroundings. Mason’s home was warmer than my parents’. Browns and other natural shades covered the surfaces of his furniture and walls, and the decor was simple. It was too nice for a cop’s house, especially in a nice suburb so close to the city.
Were our backgrounds as dissimilar as I’d always thought? Mason had never struck me as well off. Something about his gruff exterior, plain clothes, and two-day old shave always made me think blue collar. Not in a bad way, but in a rough, manly sort of way.
Get a grip, Astrid.
We reached the living room and Mason stopped and turned to me. “I can’t get you back to work, if that’s why you’re here. Vasquez doesn’t listen to me if he doesn’t have to. And I have no jurisdiction over what the Chicago PD does anymore.”
“Do you think I took the coin?” I asked, hating the way the break in my voice gave my emotions away.
Relief flooded through me at his hesitation-free answer. A small piece of me had wondered if he thought so little of me, but his simple response pushed my battered confidence up a bit. “Thank you.”
He shrugged and watched me.
I struggled to meet his gaze. “I want you to bring me in. Let me investigate with you.”
“Not a chance.”
I had the inexplicable urge to ask him why, even though I already knew the answer. “I can help you.”
His eyes narrowed. “How? The OWEA has sensitives I can call in if I need to. It would have been…easier to use you. But I can get someone else.”
“Maybe. But have any of them handled the coin?”
He gestured for me to continue and then crossed his arms.
“I held the coin. I should be able to identify the owner,” I said, the lie pressing against my throat, trying to choke me.
“You managed to get a strong enough reading off that coin to be able to do that without physically touching it?” he asked, eyebrow raised. “I thought you said you hadn’t touched it with your bare skin when we talked at the hospital.”
Mason wasn’t an idiot. He knew how rare that would be for a sensitive, even one as strong as me. “I told you, the owner held that coin—probably almost constantly on their person—for decades, maybe centuries,” I evaded. Not a lie. Not exactly a lie, anyway. I suppressed a cringe. When Mason found out about the omission—and there was no doubt in my mind that he would eventually—I didn’t think he would care that the lie was omission-only.