“It’s not a good idea.”
“I need to clear my name.” I swallowed hard and put strength into my voice. “It’s my reputation on the line. Maybe my badge. I should have that right.”
Mason took a deep breath and stared at me. I struggled not to squirm under his steady gaze. Finally he nodded. A short quick motion that seemed more to himself than to me. “You’ll do what I say, when I say it. And you will have to work as a consultant. It’s highly irregular, but I do need a sensitive for this case. I can make it fly if I have to. But you’ll follow my orders to a T. And you won’t breathe a word of it to anyone.”
Elation rushed through me, tempering my annoyance at his tone. He wasn’t asking me to bow to his demands; he was stating them as if my choice in the matter was nonexistent.
“Deal.” I held my hand out and Mason stared—as if it might turn into a snake—for a few seconds. I almost withdrew, but finally he took my hand with his own. His lycan energy rushed around me, made all the more clear and distracting because of our physical contact. I dropped his hand, and an expression flashed across his face too quickly for me to identify. But any expression on the man was a rarity.
It suddenly struck me that I might not be the only one who still thought about that kiss.
Overcast skies still hung low over the city when Mason came to pick me up Sunday morning, and snow barriers surrounded the slushy roads. The air was cold when I stepped out of my house after his curt knock, but not biting like it would be when the clouds cleared. I clutched my to-go coffee mug against my coat and locked the deadbolt.
“We got an ID,” he said without preamble as we walked down the sidewalk.
“Good.” I reached for the door handle but Mason beat me to it. He opened my door and gestured for me to get in. I blinked at him dumbly for a few seconds, then hopped in the SUV. He shut the door soundly behind me.
He wasn’t hitting on me. I was certain of that. Was he just being polite? I knew that Mason was a bit old school with certain things, but I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a man open a building door for me, let alone a car door.
“The name’s Jake Stone. His wife ID’d the body last night. She’s expecting us this morning.”
I nodded and decided this wasn’t the best time to ask about his chivalry. I could feel him next to me, and his power was a little distracting. I’d get used to it—hopefully sooner rather than later. The first week I’d worked alongside Claude, I’d been hopelessly distracted by his power signature humming along beside me. But I’d gotten used to him, so his aura had faded into the background, leaving me free to pay attention to the rest of the world. But Mason’s was still fairly fresh and new, and very different from the vampire’s. Wild and glinting, not dark and controlled. And the fresh, outdoorsy scent of his energy comingled with his scent as a man in a very delicious way.
“What?” I asked, feeling stupid. Distracted again.
“I said, make sure to let me do the talking. I don’t want word getting back to Vasquez about the little sensitive coming to question witnesses with me.”
The “little” comment made me want to respond with a biting retort, but I calmly replied, “Okay,” instead. Polite over spite, my mother’s voice intoned in my head.
I took a sip from my to-go mug. The coffee—thick with cream and sugar—slid smoothly down my throat. Familiar, soothing, and a wonderful distraction from Mason’s energy.
The vampire’s wife lived in the city. Up and coming was how a real estate agent would describe the neighborhood. Nice, but with decay and age lingering along the edges and coating a few of the buildings not yet renovated. I chewed on the inside of my lip and tried to get my mind around a middle-class vampire.
“What is it?” Mason asked, taking in my expression after parking on the street.
“Nothing. It’s just—” I waved my hand around. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a vampire who wasn’t rich.”
Mason snorted. “Well, many of them have been around long enough to accumulate a lot of wealth. Maybe this one’s younger.”
“Maybe.” That would also fit his very ordinary power signature. While most never got truly powerful like Claude or the Magister, the older ones tended to feel more unique. I suspected age played no small part in that truth.
We crossed the slushy street and Mason lingered near me. No doubt at the ready in case I slipped in the slush and fell on my butt. The man was far too chivalrous to live in the modern day. A sexy, broad shouldered antique.
The house we approached was one of the nicer on the street. Although it was difficult to see the differences with everything covered in snow, the paint job was a bit newer. And all of the original windows had been replaced with energy efficient ones.
I paused at the door, and Mason reached around me to knock. His arm brushed mine, and even though we were both covered—me in my thick winter coat and him in a much lighter jacket—I could feel his power caress me. My heart raced, and it annoyed me that he could probably hear it.
“You should let me feel places out before you do that,” I muttered.
“Claude always has me check out buildings with my powers before knocking or entering.”
“Well, I’m not Claude,” he said, and there was an edge to his voice.
I glared at him from under my eyelashes, but before I could come up with an appropriate response, the door opened.
The woman’s beauty and pure sexual force would have told me what she was, even if my sensitive powers weren’t on high alert. Her energy tasted like strawberries and my fingers tingled—both sure signs of a succubus. Hair as dark as coal draped her face and hung all the way to her waist. Hazel eyes, rimmed in red and swollen from crying, peered out at us. She licked her full lips before she spoke. “Yes?”
“I’m Agent Sanderson, and this is Astrid Holmes. She’s helping out on your husband’s case,” Mason said. “We spoke on the phone last night?” His voice had lowered to its least menacing growl, but the man still sounded like a predator.
She flinched almost imperceptibly and stepped back. “Of course. I’m Mary Stone. Please come in.”
We walked through her Pottery Barn-decorated home and sat at her dining room table. I had to hop in a most unsophisticated fashion to get onto the tall chairs surrounding the large table, and annoyance flashed through me as the tall succubus sat gracefully. Then Mason started in with the questions.
“I know that this is a rough time, Mrs. Stone, but if you could run us through the last day you saw your husband, it would be helpful.”
Mary nodded and dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. The succubus managed to be beautiful even after crying. “It was just a normal day. Jake got up and went to work and so did I. He said he had to go out at around seven and he left.”
“He didn’t tell you where he was going?” Mason pulled out a notebook from the inside of his jacket and made a quick note.
“No. I assumed it was for work.” Eyes wide like a frightened baby animal, she looked every bit the innocent. I wasn’t sure I bought it, and a slight narrowing in Mason’s eyes made me think he didn’t either.
“Your husband worked in a law office, as a paralegal?” Mason asked.
“Did he have to work nights often?”
She took a sip of water from her glass, hands trembling. “No. He didn’t usually work nights.”
“Did he go out in the evenings like that a lot? Without telling you where he was going?” Mason pressed.
“No, but I—”
“Then why didn’t you ask him where he was going?” Mason said, the aggression in his leaning stance growing more pronounced.
The succubus was the same height as Mason, within an inch or two, but as he shot out questions that she struggled to answer, she seemed to shrink, and he appeared to glower over her. Their energy pulsed around me, and I got lost in it for a few moments, missing some of his questions. Tears built behind the woman’s eyes, but Mason didn’t seem to notice.
“I’m just having a hard time understanding why you’d let him walk out that door without knowing where he was going, Mrs. Stone,” Mason said. His voice was still low, but I could feel the danger lurking there. Controlled violence. And Mary Stone could obviously feel it too. Her face crumpled and she drew back into herself like she expected Mason to strike her.
I stood, hopping off the pub-sized chair in as dignified a manner as I could manage. “Thank you, Mrs. Stone. We appreciate your time. We understand that you’re grieving right now and probably have funeral arrangements to make, so we’ll come back another time.” I held out my hand to the succubus and she shook it, her clammy hand flimsy and weak against my firm grip.
“Thank you,” she gasped, trying to control her tears, which were fast dissolving into outright sobs.
Mason gaped at me for a second before he snapped his mouth and notebook shut. “Thank you, Mrs. Stone,” he muttered, and then he followed me to the door.
“What the hell was that?” Mason asked after we were back in his car.
I shrugged, still in shock that he’d opened my door for me yet again, even though he practically radiated anger. Courtesy must have been driven into him as much as acting politely had been driven into me. “She wasn’t going to give us anything.”
“I had her ready to crack.”
I eyed him levelly. “No. You had her scared and stressed, and even less likely to tell you anything. The woman just lost her husband. Don’t you know how to question people without scaring them witless?”
He shoved his key into the ignition and the SUV roared to life. “Intimidation is a proven questioning technique.”
“Yes. And one you’re undoubtedly good at,” I said dryly. “But it’s not the only technique and not the best one for questioning a woman who just lost her husband. A woman who isn’t even a suspect.”