“I’m guessing that none of them are actual investigators.”
He thought about that. “I suppose not.”
“I’ve never met another sensitive in an investigator role either.”
He leaned forward, elbows on his knees and his eyes held mine. “I’m listening.”
“Being a sensitive is like having a sixth sense. Except instead of it being one type of sense—like seeing or smelling or touching or hearing—it kind of meshes into a sensation that combines them.”
He nodded. “Yes. I understand that.”
I almost snorted. Understood it? Not likely. Not in a real way or he wouldn’t have to ask about my lack of focus around otherworlders.
I got up from the loveseat again and walked around to sit next to him. A foot of couch sat between us, and I had the sudden urge to close the gap. “Close your eyes,” I said instead.
His brows pinched in confusion, but he closed his eyes.
“Imagine that you’re watching a movie,” I murmured.
“Big screen?” he asked, voice husky.
I smiled. “Sure.”
“Now as you’re watching, a song starts to play. It’s loud, and contradictory to the tone of the movie. You can still hear the movie, but you have to focus on it so you don’t miss bits.”
He grimaced. “Okay.”
I touched his arm, my hand soft against the material of his shirt, and his power caressed my skin. Hard muscle beneath the cotton flexed in surprise at my touch, but he didn’t pull away.
“Now, you’re still watching your movie. The song is still sounding, but now something is touching you. Here and there. Small brushes. Barely noticeable.”
A muscle in his jaw clenched and I watched it with some interest. Did my presence make him tense, or was he merely impatient?
I gripped his arm. “Now colors occasionally flash across your vision. On the screen, between the screen and you. Not enough to block your view. They’re like shadows, and only if you concentrate on them can you really see them. See their form. Again, they don’t interrupt your movie, but they’re distracting.” I dropped my hand from his arm, unable to resist a small caress as I let it fall. “And to top it all off, a smell overwhelms you—maybe burnt coffee, maybe something else. A taste invades your mouth. Maybe it’s pleasant, like strawberries, but it’s still uninvited.”
“It’s not like any creature really tastes or smells like coffee or fresh air or anything else. Energy is just energy. But the subtle differences that I can feel are interpreted by my brain. So, it interprets them in mostly familiar ways.”
His eyes opened and focused on me. Shivers rushed up my spine and my breath caught in my throat. I’d expected an expression of understanding, but his face flashed with lust so plain I felt my own body clench in response.
Mason shook himself suddenly, like I imagined the beast part of him did naturally. And when his eyes reopened, his expression was back to normal. Controlled. Violence dancing just under the surface.
“That’s what you deal with all the time?” His voice had lowered to something nearing a growl.
“Not always. Usually I can tune it out. But that’s what it was like to be in a room full of powerful vamps and an equally powerful lycan.”
“I’m sorry I called you unfocused. Damn, Astrid.” He ran his hand through his hair. “You’ve got to be focused as hell to act halfway normal most of the time.”
My chest pinched. Halfway normal? Was that how I acted? My throat burned and I got up from the couch and turned away from him. “Look, maybe we should just call it a night, okay?” The cheer in my voice sounded false, but there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.
“Please.” I walked toward the kitchen, afraid I’d cry if I looked at him and saw pity in his eyes. But even more afraid of running away from him. I could still get out of this with a bit of dignity if he would just leave. I was overreacting, but I couldn’t seem to help myself. I didn’t want Mason, of all people, to think I was some pitiful freak who didn’t fit in. I didn’t want him to think of me as odd.
I wanted him to think that I was beautiful and smart and skilled. I didn’t care what a lot of my coworkers thought—not that I wasn’t irritated by their reactions sometimes. But they didn’t matter.
I stopped at the sink and stared into my backyard. Moonlight peeked through the heavy cloud cover and reflected off of the snow that enveloped every surface. Half full.
Less than a minute later, I heard the front door open and shut. A ragged breath escaped me, and I swallowed down my tears.
“So why aren’t we meeting with the prime suspect right now?” I asked as we pulled up in front of a mortuary. I rubbed my arms. Even in the car with my coat on, the chill of the bright, sunny morning cut through me.
“They’re having services for Jake Stone this morning.” Mason cranked the heat.
I whistled under my breath. “That was fast.”
“Can’t let vampire bodies sit. Besides, autopsy’s complete.”
Of course. Vampires were unusual in that they didn’t always stay dead. A truly dead vampire didn’t come back—not really. But their bodies didn’t always die all the way either, even when decapitated. And a zombie vampire could be messy as hell to deal with. Especially one that had been murdered. While they didn’t retain much of their old selves, ones who died violently tended to act in kind. To ensure they didn’t come back as killing machines, vampires had to be cremated within a few days of death.
“I get why we’re here. But if the suspect leaves town while we’re watching the vic’s wife grieve—”
“Crafty as the Magister thinks he is, Isaiah’s not the type to hide. If he leaves town, we’ll be able to track him.” Giving me a sidelong glance, he turned the heat up another click. “Besides, we don’t have anything substantial on him. Can’t hurt to take a few more hours to see if we can come up with anything.”
I relaxed as the heat filled the SUV and melted into my coat. A few people trickled in for the services. I recognized Mary Stone, arriving with an equally beautiful older woman who had to be her mother.
“Our prime suspect, Isaiah, is around two hundred and fifty years old according to Luc Chevalier. That matches what the OWEA has been able to dig up.” Mason took a sip of his Starbucks.
“And the Magister thinks he’s responsible?” I kept my voice even, but I wanted to reach out and give Mason a big kiss on the cheek for passing along the information I’d missed the night before without making a big deal about it.
“He strongly suspects him.”
“I’m surprised that the Magister hasn’t taken care of it himself,” I murmured.
“Oh I’m well aware of the vampires’ tendency to take care of their own business. But the OWEA is already aware of this guy. Besides, Luc isn’t likely to take out someone he might want to hire himself someday.”
I started at the thought. But of course it wouldn’t be personal to the Magister. He might want vengeance on whoever hired the hitter, but not on the hitter himself. Jake Stone wasn’t a personal friend or family member of the Magister’s. If it had been someone like Nicolas, I had no doubt that Luc Chevalier would have been unstoppable in his vengeance.
Guests filed into the mortuary, fewer than I would have expected. But then, Jake Stone wasn’t from Chicago, and it was entirely possible that not all of his friends and family could make the trip on such short notice.
“I’m going to go speak to the suspect alone later this afternoon,” Mason said after the parking lot had quieted.
“Pardon?” I turned in my seat to face him.
He sipped his coffee, not at all ruffled by my tone. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go.”
“Why?” I said flatly.
“It’s not safe.”
“I’m sick and tired of people thinking I’m made of glass or something. Granted, I don’t have any offensive abilities, but a lot of normal cops don’t, and they manage just fine. I have a personal sidearm.” I didn’t add that it was still in the glove box of my car. He could see for himself that I wasn’t carrying at the moment. “And I know how to use it.”
“Not much help against a vampire. Besides, do you even have a permit to carry concealed as a citizen, not a cop?”
“Vampires will go down if you get enough bullets into them,” I countered, ignoring his permit question. I’d never needed a permit before, so of course I didn’t have one. But I viewed that as a technicality. I’d get my badge back, and his point would be moot.
Mason nodded. “Sure they will. If you can get one to hold still long enough to shoot him.”
“I’m going with you. This case is more important than your overprotective machismo bullshit.” I clapped my hand over my mouth and Mason let out a short laugh at my expression.
“Cussing isn’t against the law. You know that, right?”
I ignored his silly question and the heat bathing my face. “It’s important for me to go.”
He glanced down at his coffee before returning his gaze to me. “Your safety is more important.” His voice was so soft that I thought I’d misheard him, but there was no escaping the flash of emotion on his face.
Mason Sanderson cared about me.
My breath caught and my heart thundered in my chest. I almost wanted to give in. Almost. If only to give this handsome man what he wanted. If only to revel in the fact that he had feelings for me. If only to let someone take care of me, even just for a minute.
But I couldn’t do that. My pride wouldn’t let me, and neither would my good sense. I was an adult, not some kid looking for someone to worry about her. And Mason had made his feelings clear the year before. Even if it seemed like he cared for me, he didn’t care for me in any lasting way. Not enough to want me in his life.