Home > Fireborn (Souls of Fire #1)(16)

Fireborn (Souls of Fire #1)(16)
Author: Keri Arthur

I shrugged. “Given he’s into the black market, maybe he doesn’t want anyone to know about her. Maybe he fears she could be used as leverage against him.”

“Possible.” His expression was contemplative as he began to run his fingers idly up and down my leg. My head might be locked in pain, but the rest of me seemed to be in fine working order. “Did either of the cops hear him say that?”

“Not that I know of.” I hesitated. “But Adam—the vampire—would have read his thoughts. He’d surely know.”

“Not necessarily.” His touch was slowly moving around to my inner thigh. Anticipation began to thrum through me. So much, I thought wryly, for the headache. “Despite what humans think, not all vampires are telepathic, and the ones who are usually need to be very specific in what they’re looking for. They haven’t got carte blanche access to the mind, especially when it comes to weres.”

“Yeah, but knowing Sam, he’d have someone on his team who was one of those few who did.” I paused. “So Radcliffe was a wererat?”

He glanced at me, his expression surprised. “You couldn’t tell?”

“I thought he was, but the senses of a phoenix aren’t that specific.”

“But they’re very prettily packaged.”

I smiled at the compliment. “So our next course of action is looking for the wife?”

His hand slipped between my legs and the caressing continuing, running up and down my inner thigh, sending shivers of delight racing through my body.

“Either that, or we attempt to find out who else Sherman Jones worked with. He’s our only other lead.”

“He’s missing.”

“Someone on the streets will know something. They always do.”

His fingers lightly brushed the junction of my legs, then moved away again. I resisted the urge to growl in frustration. “We do have one other option, although I daresay the cops have already checked it.”

“What’s that?” His voice was becoming more and more distracted. This time, his fingers didn’t brush. They slid through my slickness, caressing and teasing.

I took a somewhat shaky breath and somehow managed to say, “The waitress.”

“The waitress?”

“The one my boss used to chat with every morning.”

“Then she’s definitely an option.” He shifted, grabbed my hips, and tugged me down the bed. “However,” he added, as he slid his body over mine. “There’s only one woman I want to talk to right now.”

Except there wasn’t a lot of talking from that moment on, just a whole lot of loving, until an hour had passed and we were both replete and exhausted.

“Best cure for a hangover ever invented,” he said, his breathing a harsh rasp as he finally lay down beside me. “Unfortunately, we now have less than half an hour to be out of here.”

I glanced at the clock. It was nearly ten fifteen, which meant I was more than a little late for work—if I had a job left, that was. I shifted onto my side and propped my head up with my arm. “I need to go to the lab and report in.”

“I’ll drive you there, then walk across to the café and apply some Fae charm to the waitress.” He hesitated. “She got a name?”

“Sandy, I think. But there was also a Michelle he often talked to. One of them reported Sherman Jones lurking about, but I’m not sure which.”

“Good. As you said, the cops have probably gotten everything out of them, but it doesn’t hurt to double-check.”

I nodded, then swung my legs off the bed and headed for the shower. Unsurprisingly, he followed; exhaustion in a Fae was apparently a rather short-lived state. It meant my shower was rather longer than intended, and we barely checked out of the hotel in time.

We parted company just down the road from the Chase Research Institute and, as I headed inside, the awareness of being watched again rose. It seemed my official watcher was still very much on the case.

“Hey, Emberly,” Ian said, his brown eyes somber when they met mine. “Heard you had one hell of a weekend.”

“You could say that.” I picked up the pen and signed in. “I don’t suppose Abby has left a message for me?”

I hadn’t received anything on my phone, which was slightly odd, given everything that had happened.

“Yeah, as a matter of fact, she has. Lady Harriet wants you upstairs ASAP.”

“Upstairs? As in, her office?”

He nodded gravely. “’Fraid so.”

“God, that cannot be good,” I muttered. “Wish me luck.”

“Luck,” he stated cheerfully, making me smile as I headed for the elevators.

Lady Harriet’s offices were on the top floor of the Chase building. I’d never actually been there before—when they’d employed me, I’d gotten as far as the personnel offices two floors down. Plebs were rarely invited any higher, so it was with some trepidation that I stepped out of the elevator and walked along the plushly carpeted corridor to the double doors that presumably led into her offices.

They swished open as I approached. Abby looked up from the landing-strip-sized desk she sat behind. “Emberly,” she said, her voice oddly distant. “Ms. Chase has been expecting you.”

“Yeah, sorry, but it’s been one hell of a weekend and I slept—”

“That is not important right now,” she interrupted. “Please go straight in.”

She pressed a button on the control panel to her right, and the doors directly in front of me opened. The room beyond was both huge and shadowed, and it suddenly felt like I was stepping into the den of an ogress. Unease stirred, and I had to force my feet forward. The floor-to-ceiling windows that ran the full length of the room should have flooded it with light, but the heavy curtains were drawn, making me wonder if Lady Harriet had a vampirelike phobia about sunlight. She wasn’t one, of course, because she was often out and about during the day, going to meetings and doing interviews, but the utter darkness was still odd.

A huge bank of bookcases lined the wall to my right, and to the left there were two doors, both of which were closed. Harriet Chase sat impassively behind a mahogany desk, which dominated the center of the room. Only she wasn’t alone.

A man lounged casually in one of the visitor’s chairs in front of the desk. Even seated he looked tall, and he had gray hair and old-fashioned rimmed glasses that perched precariously on the end of his nose. He had the air of a professor, but, as my gaze met his, the image that rose wasn’t scholarly. It was of Death herself; she was standing close by his shoulder, waiting for her chance to reach out and take my soul.

I stopped, my heart hammering and my mouth suddenly dry. “You wanted to see me, Ms. Chase?” I said, my gaze still on the man in the chair rather than Harriet herself.

“Yes,” she said, her voice almost mechanical. “Professor Baltimore’s death is both unfortunate and untimely, but his work is far too important and must be continued.”

I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. Fear of the man in front of me had frozen over my throat.

“Luckily, Professor Heaton here is available to jump on board at short notice.” She beamed at the man. It was a false thing, and hard to believe. “We are extremely lucky to have him.”

“I’m the one who is lucky.” His voice was a low rumble of sound and surprisingly pleasant—the total opposite of what I’d been expecting. “Baltimore was someone I admired greatly. I’m honored to be picking up where he left off.”

Where Mark left off was being dead. I somehow doubted he’d find that such an honor.

“Of course, given you worked with Professor Baltimore for so long, Emberly,” Harriet continued, “and you are already familiar with his research, it is in everyone’s interest for you to continue your position as an assistant to Professor Heaton.”

Work for Death? Not if I could help it. I wasn’t that desperate for a peaceful job this life span.

“But—” It came out croaky. I swallowed heavily, then added, “I’m technically not a research assistant. I rarely did more than transcribe his notes.”

And she knew that, so why the pretense?

She half shrugged. Again it was an almost mechanical gesture. “That doesn’t alter the fact that you’re more familiar with his work than most. So, could you take Professor Heaton down to the labs to familiarize himself with the work space?”

“What, now?” I squeaked.

“Now,” she said firmly. “It is more than two hours into your workday, after all.”

Heaton rose from his chair in one long, fluid movement, and I resisted the urge to step back from him. He reached across the desk and shook Harriet’s hand. “I cannot wait to get to work, Ms. Chase.”

His words sent another chill down my spine as visions of Mark, tied to a chair and beaten to death, rose like ghosts to taunt me.

He swung around and swept a hand toward the door. “Shall we go, Ms. Pearson?”

No, my inner voice said. No!

But I forced my feet to turn around and walk out of the office. He followed, a somber, forbidding presence who seemed to loom over me. He drew close the minute we left Abby’s office, until every breath seemed filled with the nonscent of him and my skin crawled in distaste. Only, he didn’t just have no smell; there was no heat in him, no sensation of life.

I remembered Abby’s lack of life, Lady Harriet’s mechanical responses, and my heart suddenly lurched.

He was a vampire.

And he’d been controlling them both.

I closed my eyes briefly and battled to remain calm. One thing was abundantly clear—I couldn’t get into the elevator with him. I couldn’t go anywhere alone with him. If he’d been controlling them to get at me, then he certainly couldn’t intend anything good.

The urge to run was hard to ignore, but if I moved too soon, didn’t plan my escape, he’d have me. Vampires were fast. Superfast.

My gaze swept the corridor almost frantically and came to rest on the fire escape down at the far end. I took a long breath, gathering courage, then strode forward, punching the elevator call button and hoping like hell the one closest to the fire escape answered. It was the one I’d come up in and—given how little time had passed—there was a good chance it was still sitting on this floor. The light above the doors flicked on, and I moved toward it with relief.

“Such prompt service,” Heaton said, as if to make conversation. Maybe he sensed the tension in me and was trying to calm me.

Maybe I was overreacting and he was just a professor who intended me no harm.

But if that was the case, why mind-control the two women?

I clenched my fists against the flames fighting for release. I had to time this precisely if I didn’t want to provide the security cameras with more of a show than they were expecting. I might not want to work for this vampire, but I wasn’t about to out myself as something other than human, either. Of course, that was presuming the cameras were actually working. Heaton’s appearance had all the hallmarks of a well-planned raid, and I doubted he’d chance the police using security-cam images to track him down if something went wrong.

But would he know that Lady Harriet had a separate system working in her office? Few people did. I knew only because I’d been working late the night it had been installed. It might have been a secret installation, but no one had informed the workmen, and they hadn’t minded telling a curious female what they were up to.

As the elevator doors fully opened, I pretended to stumble. Heaton was following so close that not even his vampiric speed could prevent him from running into me. As he did, I caught his arm and yanked him forward with every ounce of strength I had, so that he sailed over my back and crashed into the rear wall of the elevator.

Then I spun and ran like hell for the stairs.

I flung the door open and called to the fires as I raced downward. They came in a rush, sweeping through my body like a maelstrom, flinging me from flesh to flame in an instant. No longer restrained by physical form, I leapt over the railing and surged downward, until the sound of the door above opening again echoed across the silence. I swept back over the railing, keeping to the wall and out of his sight as the race downward continued. As I neared the exit, I switched back to human form, and suddenly the awareness of him surged. He was only a couple of floors above me, a dark and forbidding presence that swamped my senses and snatched my breath. I crashed out into the foyer and ran like hell for the doors.

“Hey, Emberly,” Ian called, as I raced past his desk. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah,” I yelled, not wanting to say anything and risk the vamp getting into his head. “Just got an urgent errand.”

The doors swished open and I raced out into the sunshine. I didn’t immediately stop, but ran down the street to put some distance between me and the main entrance.

Finally, I stopped and turned around. Heaton had halted on the cusp of sunlight, his face impassive but his fists clenched. The darkness in him rolled out in waves, battering my senses, making me gasp.

I dragged my phone out of my purse and took a photo of him as he turned away. I doubted he’d seen me do it, but I also had no doubt that I hadn’t seen the last of him. I might have escaped him this time, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t try again. And if they knew where I worked, then they knew where I lived.

I grabbed my phone and called Rory.

“Hey, babe,” he said, his voice cheery. “What’s happening?”

“Don’t go home,” I said, the words coming out in a rush.

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