His brows drew together and he pulled out onto the street. “Close family—spouses in particular—are always suspects.”
“Yes. But it isn’t exactly likely that she nailed him to that wall. Last I heard, succubi don’t have super strength.”
“That doesn’t mean she didn’t do it with help.”
I crossed my arms and glared at him. “I’m not saying that she doesn’t know more than she’s letting on. And she might well be involved. But coming at her with a bit of compassion and kindness would have gotten us more information.”
“If you hadn’t butted in—something I specifically told you not to do—we might have more information right now,” he said, but doubt touched his voice.
I didn’t press the issue. He’d just dig his heels in deeper. Stubborn ass. Instead, I asked, “Where to now?”
“We’ll question some of his coworkers.” He gave me a sidelong glance, full of meaning. “And by we, I mean me.”
It took every bit of my considerable self-control not to roll my eyes at him. Think like a sailor if you must, my dear, but you will speak like a lady if you want to be treated like one. My mother might have been right, but Mason sure tempted my control.
Jake Stone’s direct supervisor and the two co-workers we spoke to didn’t know of any projects that would have required Jake to leave his house that evening. The firm was vampire-owned—by the Magister’s own company—and run by his son Nicolas. And I got the distinct feeling that even though Jake was a paralegal and not an attorney, his vampire status gave him a lot more leeway in his position than he would have gotten if he were a human. Even in the world of vampire companies, sometimes it came down to who you knew, not what you knew.
We headed to lunch after leaving Jake’s law office. It was almost one thirty by the time we arrived at The Grill House, so the crowds were thinning and we were seated quickly.
Mason eyed me over his menu from across the booth. “So, what do you think?”
“I don’t know yet.”
He raised his eyebrows. “No theories?”
“Sure. But I’m trying to keep an open mind.” Never assume. I didn’t always stick to the first thing Claude had taught me when I was assigned as his partner, but I tried.
Mason folded his menu and placed it on the table, flush with the corner. “I think we’re probably dealing with some sort of vampire turf war.”
“Perhaps.” I focused on my menu. It was difficult to pay attention to Mason and the food choices at the same time as we were in such close proximity to several other oh-dub patrons. A salamander was nearby—I could feel the signature heat. And if I wasn’t mistaken, a selkie was close too. The scent of saltwater came through subtly, mostly overpowered by the smell of fresh air carried by Mason.
“Well, we have a dead vamp who belonged to the local Magister. He was displayed at the Magister’s place of business.” He leaned forward and caught my eye. “And he was killed in a manner that matches the M.O. of other vampire murders across the country.”
I dropped the menu on the table. “When did you make that connection?”
He frowned. “Even before I got to the scene. I mentioned it to Mac. You were there.”
“I was distracted.” God, he probably thought I was incompetent.
“You’re distracted a lot.”
I opened my mouth to tell him where he could stick his attitude and then snapped it shut. I didn’t have to explain myself to him, didn’t owe him an explanation for the bits of conversation I missed. My issues with paying attention were my own.
The waiter saved us from an awkward silence. The bright-eyed young man asked for our orders with a big smile on his face.
“Steak,” Mason said. “Salad, and baked potato,” he added. “Coke to drink.”
“How do you want it cooked?”
“Rare,” he said, and his gaze flashed back to me.
Shivers ran down my spine at that look. He could have been talking about sex instead of food for how my body reacted to his gaze.
“And you?” the waiter asked me.
“I’ll take a Coke too. And a burger and fries.”
“We’ll have that out for you soon.” The perky young man dashed off to his next table.
“You said there were other victims?” I said, bringing the conversation back to the case before Mason could derail me. “What are the similarities?”
“Vampires with their throats cut for one. And they were all killed by another vampire—or more than one—as far as we can tell. And no bite marks on the bodies. Whoever is killing these vamps isn’t feeding off of them.”
My stomach dropped. For any other species, killing by cutting a person’s throat wouldn’t necessarily be enough to tie murders together. But if a vampire killed them all, the likeliness of the same killer increased exponentially. Vampires craved blood like addicts craved drugs. And the scent could be overwhelming for them—particularly the smell of their own kind’s blood.
It was why there were almost no vampire doctors or nurses. Not because it was illegal—that would be discriminatory—but because the vampires themselves would not allow their members to be put into such precarious positions. The control it would take for a vampire to resist a small bite with someone pouring their lifeblood out right in front of them…it was difficult to imagine.
Especially if the vampire had cut the throat of the person bleeding to death in front of them—morals wouldn’t be a factor.
Mason simply watched as I considered the implications, and I wondered if he could read my thoughts on my face. Claude swore it was an easy thing to do, so I’d worked at schooling my expression. But so often, I simply forgot. Sensory overload did that to a person.
The waiter dropped off our drinks and promised our meals would be out soon.
“Other connections,” I asked after he’d moved away again.
“They all seem to have some political motivations. A vampire trying to take over a Magister’s position. Repayment for a perceived slight. Things of that nature.”
“But not all connected to the same vampire Magister?”
“Nope. We think that the perp is something of a gun for hire. A free agent.” He stabbed at the ice in his glass with his straw, loosening it from a large glob of frozen water to something easier to drink around.
“A vampire assassin,” I muttered. “Why doesn’t the killer take the blood?”
“We think it’s to show how tough he is. How powerful.”
“We have a suspect. But we don’t have enough evidence on any of the cases to make an arrest. He goes by Isaiah—no known last name.” Mason pulled the straw from his glass and then took a long drink from his Coke. “He’s good.”
“So someone is either trying to move in on the Magister’s territory, or they’re sending him a strong message.”
Mason stretched, his hands moving behind his head, giving me a great visual of the well-formed muscles that pushed at the shirt binding them. “That’s the working theory.”
Suddenly warm, I picked up a small dessert menu that was propped up on our table and fanned myself. “It’s a good theory.”
“But it doesn’t explain why the wife was so nervous. Why she’d be hiding something from us.”
Mason nodded. “Like I said, it’s a theory. And she could have been nervous for any number of reasons.”
I snorted. “Like an intimidating lycan staring her down?”
A laugh escaped him, short, but it lit up his whole face for a brief moment. “Could be.”
“Maybe she thought you were going to change right then and there and eat her.” I grinned at the thought. Sensitives weren’t the only misunderstood oh-dubs out there, and lycans were especially misunderstood. Something about the ability to change into a beast-man creature that could dismember a limb with one good bite tended to intimidate people. Not that the succubus could necessarily tell what Mason was, like I could, but the man felt like a predator. You didn’t need a sensitive’s abilities to feel that.
His light expression faltered. “Not much chance of that.”
I almost pressed him to explain what he meant, but his expression hardened as I watched. Whatever it was, it wasn’t something he wanted to talk about. So I changed the topic to something I knew was safe, and of great interest to Mason.
“So, how about the Bears this year?” Mason was intense about his work, and the first time I’d gotten a peek at the man beneath, it had been during a football discussion.
Mason looked at me quizzically for a second before he relaxed. We chatted about football until the waiter dropped our food off and I let myself sink away from the world while we ate in companionable silence. Allowing my focus to drift, instead of forcing my senses to filter out the excess energies I could see and feel as a sensitive, relaxed me and I could feel the headache that was threatening to ruin my afternoon fade away.
“Are you done?” Mason asked, his voice startling me.
“Oh, yes.” I pushed my half-full plate forward and touched my napkin to the corners of my mouth.
Mason frowned at my plate. “No wonder you’re such a little thing,” he muttered. Then more loudly to me, he said, “You should eat more.”
“I’m fine,” I insisted.
He glanced at his watch. “We have to leave now, anyway.”
“Where to next?” I scooted out of the booth, pausing when he spoke.
“To interview the Magister. Maybe he’ll know who has a beef with him.”
I expected Mason to head to the Magister’s estate. But instead he drove north out of the city, then west. When he parked in front of Casino Merveilleux, I wasn’t entirely surprised, but I was annoyed. Not so much at the location, but at the slithering pulse of vampire power I could feel from within. Even from the parking lot, Luc Chevalier made an impression.