We walked in and took the elevator up to the top floor. The elevator opened into a short but stately hallway that led to a single set of double doors. The vampire guarding the entrance radiated a fear aura at a level I hadn’t felt from a vamp in a long time, and every muscle in my body encouraged me to run back into the elevator. I pushed down the urge. This vamp was nothing more than a lackey, a bodyguard for the Magister—as if Luc Chevalier really needed anyone to guard his body. The threat the guard radiated had nothing to do with his actual power. That, from what I could sense, was in a mediocre range.
I glanced at Mason. His jaw was tense, but other than that he didn’t react to the vampire. If I were a betting woman, I would put my money on the lycan against a mid-level vamp any day.
Mason flashed his badge at the guard, who examined the identification closely before he nodded and opened the door. He stepped back to allow us entry, and his power licked at me as we passed.
I’d felt the Magister even before we entered the building, but when the door closed behind us, the otherworlder energy in the room washed over me like a flash flood: harsh and powerful and fast.
I stopped in my tracks and closed my eyes, breathing slowly to give myself a chance to adjust. I was used to vampiric energy. Claude was nearly as strong as the Magister himself, and I spent most of my waking hours with him. But there were so many powerful vamps in this room that it was a bit of a rush, especially with Mason’s contrasting silver-tinged lycan energy swirling. Burnt coffee filled my lungs, overpowering Mason’s fresher, more pleasant scent. And waves of shadows rolled through the room, distracting and a bit vertigo-inducing.
And I couldn’t escape the sudden harsh realization that this situation was exactly why I hated going into the field.
“Are you all right?” Mason murmured, his mouth only inches from my ear.
My eyes fluttered open and I nodded, shaky from the energy and his proximity. His scent washed over me, a touch of sweat and wildness, soap and cola.
Mason turned his attention to the rest of the room. The Magister, Luc Chevalier, lounged in a large leather chair behind a desk, hands clasped behind his head. Sitting on the corner of the desk was another vampire I recognized. Nicolas Chevalier, Luc’s natural born son from before Luc was turned. A rare treasure among vampires. And according to Claude, a big pain in the ass.
A woman stood to the other side of the desk. But unlike Nicolas, she was behind it, leaning against the wall behind Luc. Her arms were crossed. Although her frame was slight, she looked around five and a half feet tall. Asian, with soft dark hair brushing her shoulders, she would have struck me as quite lovely if not for the threatening aura that seemed to pour from her, beating at us like waves against rocks.
It was difficult to tell the vampires’ auras apart with them all together, especially with the punch the Magister carried. But from what I could feel, the tiny woman carried enough power to put even Nicolas to shame. And the Magister’s son was no slouch.
Mason introduced himself and shook everyone’s hands. I was grateful for his presence. I felt safer, for one. And his lycan energy helped to break up the barrage I was receiving from the vampires. Gave me something different to concentrate on, to cling to. Even though it did little to keep my focus on the interview.
“Astrid,” the Magister said, reaching out to take my hand in both of his. His energy flooded over me, almost painful in its strength, and the room and its occupants faded as I fought for focus. He held my hand like we were close friends for an awkward moment, until Mason took a step closer to me.
“So nice to see you, my dear,” Luc continued. He released my hand and stepped back. I nodded politely.
I’d met the vampire Magister a few times during the couple of years I’d worked with Claude, and he had always been polite. But he’d never acted so warmly before. Had he already heard about what had happened? Did he know my badge was in jeopardy?
“Detective, Agent, this is my son Nicolas. And,” he added, almost as an afterthought, “his assistant, Min.”
Mason shook hands with the other vampires, but I held back, nodding to them in turn. Filtering through their energy was overwhelming enough without physical contact.
“Tell us what you know about the victim, Magister,” Mason said.
I shot him a warning glance for his tone, but the Magister didn’t seem to notice. Or, more likely, wasn’t bothered enough by it to make a scene.
“I met Jake only a few times. He was a decent enough young man, if not particularly powerful or ambitious.”
I frowned. “Jake wasn’t from here?”
“No. He was a transplant.”
Catching where I was going with the question, Mason continued as if I hadn’t interrupted. “Isn’t that unusual for a younger vampire, to leave his family?”
“Yes, it is. But Jake’s wife wasn’t particularly popular with his family. He elected to leave Denver around a year ago to join us here.”
I gave Mason a small nod when I noticed him glance at me. That made sense. While vampires married outside of the fold occasionally, it was rare. Vampires were long-lived, which gave them time to accumulate large numbers of their kind. But in general, marrying a shorter-lived creature wasn’t encouraged, although it was hardly a crime.
I lost myself within my own thoughts and in the pulse of the energy around me. I rubbed my nose, but the smell of burnt coffee wouldn’t fade until we left the vampires. When the conversation caught my focus again, Mason had moved on to question Nicolas.
The Magister’s son answered Mason’s questions with one-word answers where he could, and brief responses otherwise. He’d worked at the same branch as Jake Stone, and was acquainted with the vampire. But he admitted to little else. His assistant—who I had no doubt also doubled as a bodyguard when necessary—stood still as a stone against the wall. Arms crossed, every time Mason’s voice raised, she ran her fingers over her arm, like a smoker in great need of a cigarette. A stress response? I couldn’t pull my eyes away as energy swirled and rolled around her, an ocean of menace and power. It was intoxicating and repulsive.
Mason’s voice drew me back to the conversation. “So you’re saying Isaiah is in Chicago?” His voice wasn’t raised. If anything it had lowered. Quiet, but dangerous.
“Yes, Agent. And I’m not surprised that the OWEA hasn’t discovered his arrival yet. He’s quite…crafty.”
Mason grunted, playing along with being underestimated. He’d mentioned the suspect being in town at lunch, but seemed to prefer that the Magister not know. He continued to question the Magister, getting an address to where the suspect was staying. My attention faltered again, and a strong hand on my shoulder brought me back to myself.
“Thank you for your time, Magister. We may have more questions, so don’t make yourself scarce.” He leaned toward me, his hand still on my shoulder. “Time to go,” he said softly.
“Coffee?” I asked Mason when we pulled up to my townhouse, even though after being around that many vampires, I wasn’t going to be drinking coffee for the rest of the day. It was full dark, but not all that late. I needed to know what I’d missed in his discussion with the vampires, but couldn’t think of a way to ask without sounding like an idiot. But if he came in, I might be able to get him talking.
“Okay,” he said, and a spark of surprise ran through me.
I set the coffee pot to brewing and found Mason exploring my living room. He didn’t look impressed. I frowned. My townhouse might not be anything fancy, certainly nothing like his house. But I’d paid for it out of my own pocket. It was mine. I had my doubts as to how he’d paid for his. If he’d earned it, he was somehow making a good deal more than a cop’s salary.
“Is there a problem?” I asked. Then I mentally chided myself for the annoyance in my tone.
“No,” he said simply. Then, without invitation, he sat on my couch.
I pushed down the irritation spiking through me and sat down on the loveseat across from him. My coffee table sat between us, and a fireplace—my biggest reason for buying the townhouse—decorated the far wall. I loved the fireplace, but more for the feeling of home it gave me than for any reduction in my heating bill.
I started. Is that what had disturbed him about my home? “I have a small set in my office.”
He nodded and awkwardness settled over us.
“So…the conversation with the vampires was interesting,” I said.
“Was it?” He raised an eyebrow at me.
Crap. My inattention must have been obvious.
“I’m curious, Detective. How do you investigate crimes when you can’t even focus when questioning witnesses?”
Heat flooded my face and my ears burned. “I do just fine.”
“Yes. With an investigator of Claude Desmarais’s caliber leading the way, I suppose you do.”
“You don’t know what the—” My mother’s training kicked in and I broke off before the curse word escaped my lips. “You haven’t the slightest idea of what you’re talking about.”
“Why should I?” I practically jumped up off the loveseat. “Maybe you should just go.”
He didn’t move from his seat.
“I’m not having an unknown factor in this investigation. Tell me or you can stay out of it.”
I gaped at him. “But—”
“I don’t care if you can lead me to the killer like a bloodhound,” he growled. “If you can’t be honest and straightforward with me then you can just stay out of it. I won’t have a wildcard mucking up my case.”
I sat heavily on the loveseat and took a deep breath. He was right. He had no reason to trust me, especially with how out of focus I’d been at the Magister’s.
“Just tell me, Astrid.”
“Have you ever worked closely with a sensitive before?”
“No. I’ve been around you, of course.” His eyes flashed toward me and for a second all I could think about was the heat of his mouth against mine. A year had passed, but I could still feel him vividly. “I haven’t been with the OWEA long enough to work with any of their sensitives.”