Home > Fireborn (Souls of Fire #1)(17)

Fireborn (Souls of Fire #1)(17)
Author: Keri Arthur

“What? Why?”

“Because a vampire intending me no good just made an appearance at the Chase Institute, and I don’t think I can risk going home. I don’t think you should, either.”

“Are you okay?” Concern swirled through his voice. “Do you want me to come pick you up?”

I hesitated. I always felt safer with Rory around—he was my rock, the one person I could always turn to. But I also didn’t want to drag him into this mess any more than necessary. “No. I’ll have to report it to Sam, and I daresay he’ll arrange a tighter security net around me. I just wanted to warn you, in case they were also watching the apartment.”

“Get Sam to send his people over there. Vamps can’t cross a threshold uninvited, so if there are people there, they’ll be human or weres.”

“I will. I just wanted to warn you first.”

He grunted. “Be careful, and call me if you need help.”

“I will. Thanks.”

I hung up, then dragged Sam’s card out of my pocket and dialed the number. A mechanical voice answered, telling me to leave a message.

“Sam, it’s Emberly,” I stated, and gave a quick rundown of events. “You might want your people to check both Harriet Chase and Abby to uncover just what other information he might have dragged from their minds. And Lady Harriet has a separate security camera system operating in her offices, so grab those tapes.”

I hung up and jogged the rest of the way to the café. Jackson was talking to a dark-haired waitress at one of the outside tables, so I simply brushed past and continued on to the Magenta. Early morning or not, I needed a drink. A very large, very alcoholic drink.

Jackson slid onto the stool beside me about fifteen minutes later. He ordered himself a beer and another double vodka and orange for me.

“I’m gathering,” he said dryly, “that things did not go well at work.”

“You might say that.” I finished my second vodka in one long gulp that had my head buzzing pleasantly, then got my phone out and found the photo I’d taken. “Do you know this man?”

He studied it for several seconds, then shook his head. “Why?”

“Because he claims to be a Professor Heaton, and he’s just been employed to continue Mark’s work. Only he’s a vampire, and he not only had Harriet Chase and her assistant under full mind control, but he got madder than hell when I made a run for it.”

He took the phone from me and studied the image again. “Definitely not someone I know.” He scrolled back to the main page, hit several buttons, then attached the photo and sent it off somewhere.

“I have a friend who might be able to help us pin down his identity,” he explained, handing me back the phone.

I shoved it away and then smiled at the bartender as he delivered our drinks. “A cop friend?”

“Sort of.”

“A secret source you fear to reveal, huh?”

“Yeah.” He half shrugged and looked slightly embarrassed. “Thing is, your friend Sam and his partner seem ready and willing to roll over everyone and everything to get their answers. I’m not going to waste a valuable source by telling you, and have you willingly—or unwillingly—reveal it to them.”

And I couldn’t fault him for that—even if I’d already said my mind couldn’t be rolled. “The only trouble is, Sam is undoubtedly keeping an eye on everyone I contact, and that will include anyone I contact via phone. He’ll trace your source’s number and probably shut them down.”

Jackson smiled. “Well, no, because I actually forwarded the pic to one of my e-mail addresses. It just happens to be one my source has access to and checks regularly.”

“So your source is a female you’re intimate with?”

He raised an eyebrow. “And why would you think that?”

“Because I can’t imagine a man would be bothered checking for e-mails from you every day. A woman you’re bedding, however, is an entirely different matter.”

He grinned and didn’t bother denying it.

I added, “Did either of the waitresses reveal anything exciting?”

“I’m afraid only Sandy was there, and she none too subtly suggested she was up for being taken in the storeroom.”

I just about choked on my drink. “Really?”

“Truly,” he replied somberly, though his eyes were twinkling. “Sadly, I had to inform her I already had my hands full when it came to catering to the needs of a woman.”

I grinned. “And a Fae can’t cope with more than one woman? I’m shocked!”

He laughed, the sound warm and rich. “Not even the Fae have unlimited stamina. Had it been later in the afternoon, it might have been a different story.”

No doubt. “So did she reveal anything other than a high sexual drive?”

“Yeah. She and Baltimore were f**k buddies.”

For the second time in as many minutes, I just about choked on my drink. Jackson slapped my back, his grin huge. “Your boss was old, not dead.”

Which was exactly what Rory had said a couple of days ago. “But he’s old enough to be her dad!”

“So?”

I studied him for a moment, then shrugged. I’d certainly lived long enough to know that men only ever stopped thinking about or wanting sex when they were dead—and sometimes not even then—but for some reason, Mark’s predilection for much younger women really did surprise me. “Did she say how long it had been going on?”

“Ah,” he said, with a knowing grin. “Therein lies the rub. They became lovers in June last year.”

“That’s the month Mark started his current project,” I said with a frown.

“Coincidence, hey?”

I eyed him for a moment. “You obviously think not—why?”

“Because she was trying to read me.” He tapped his head. “Felt the buzz of her telepathy, but she didn’t have any more luck than that Adam fellow last night. As I said, I tend to rate rather highly when it comes to telepathy resistance.”

“So did she offer the storeroom adventure before or after that?”

“After. I rather suspect I would have gotten a whole lot more than a tasty bit of ass.”

I snorted softly. “So we have lead number two.”

“Maybe. I mean, that cop friend of yours would no doubt be as aware of her connection to Baltimore as us.”

Probably. And he’d no doubt had Adam covertly read her mind and pick out any information. “But if she was working for whoever is behind this, why is she still working there now that Mark is dead?”

“Probably for cover. It’d be too obvious if she quit right away.”

“Yeah, but Adam’s also telepathic, remember, and he—or someone with similar skills—would have interviewed her by now. She wouldn’t be working there if Sam’s people thought she was involved.”

“Not necessarily. It’s not unusual for strong telepaths to be unable to read each other. That might be the case here.”

Meaning, if they’d been unable to read her, they’d undoubtedly have a watch on her. Which also meant Sam would be aware that Jackson had talked to her this morning and that we weren’t letting the case drop as advised. “What about Michelle, the other waitress?”

“Interestingly, she hasn’t come into work since Baltimore died.”

That raised my eyebrows. “Has anyone contacted her?”

“Yeah. She’s sick, not dead.”

“Is she worth talking to?”

He shrugged. “It can’t hurt.”

No, I guess it couldn’t. I downed the drink quickly, then rose. “Shall we go, then?”

“What, now?”

Getting up so quickly had my head spinning. I had to grip the bar to steady myself. “You did get her address, didn’t you?”

“Yes.” He rose and threw some cash on the counter. “Might be worth waiting to see what we get back from my contact, though.”

I frowned. “Why?”

“Because if he came after you, they might also be going after anyone else who had any contact with Baltimore.” He rested his hand lightly against my spine, guiding me toward the exit. “And that could be a reason for her disappearing act.”

“You said she was only sick.”

“Doesn’t mean she actually is.”

True. I studied the sunlit street as we walked toward his pickup. For the first time that morning, there was no immediate sensation of being watched and, for some reason, concern stirred. My watcher had been nearby when I’d entered the institute less than an hour ago, so where was he now? And more important, where the hell was Sam? Why wasn’t he answering my phone call? Frowning, I added, “What about Professor Wilson? Did he have similar liaisons?”

“Wilson was married.”

“If a man is inclined to stray, being married certainly won’t stop him,” I said dryly.

“True. And to be honest, it never occurred to me to check. I’ve focused more on Baltimore and you, simply because that’s where all the leads seem to be.”

Not to mention the sex, I thought with amusement. “Meaning you haven’t talked to the wife?”

“I have, but she was in a rather distraught state, and I couldn’t get anything useful out of her. But if Wilson was having an affair, I don’t think she’d know about it. She seemed pretty clueless about what he did for a living.”

“She may have been clueless about his job, but if he was having an affair, or was otherwise in trouble, she would have had some sense of it—even if she didn’t want to confront or admit the situation.”

“Maybe.” His expression suggested he didn’t agree.

I shrugged. “Then we need to talk to his friends. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my many lifetimes, it’s that men boast.”

He grinned. “Well, when it comes to a tasty bit of ass, can you blame us?”

“When you’re married, yes.”

“I’m not married, and never will be.”

“But if you were, I’d have to punch your lights out.”

His grin grew. “Fae don’t marry. We don’t even do serious commitment.”

“Which is a very good thing for both of us. But I merely meant that I don’t believe in fooling around with a married man.”

“You’re perfectly safe with me, I assure you.”

“Somehow, I’m doubting that.”

My voice was wry, and he chuckled softly as I got into the car. “You could be right in that.”

Once I was seated, he jogged around to the driver’s side and got in. As he pulled out into the flow of traffic, I flipped down the sun visor and adjusted the vanity mirror to look behind us.

“Looking for anything in particular?” he asked.

“Just wondering where my official follower is. I’ve never really spotted him, but I’ve generally sensed his presence. I didn’t when we left the bar, and it just strikes me as odd.”

“Maybe they’ve been pulled off your tail since events at the Crown.”

“Surely they’d only do that if they’d solved the case, and the vampire at the institute suggests this case is far from solved.”

“True.” He contemplated the rearview mirror for several seconds, then shrugged. “The only way to know for sure is to ring the cop.”

“Tried that. No immediate response.” I grimaced, then thrust the worry from my mind. There was nothing I could do about it, after all. “Where are we headed?”

“Braybrook. Michelle apparently rents a small house not far from the Braybrook Plaza.”

Which didn’t mean a whole lot to me as I really didn’t know the area. We cruised on in comfortable silence, and it wasn’t long before he was slowing in front of a small double-fronted house whose facade had been “beautified” by a wash of white concrete that made it stand apart from its orange-bricked neighbors. Two green rubbish bins stood on the lawn next to the concrete path that led up to the front veranda, and a white station wagon sat in the shared driveway.

“All the curtains are drawn,” I commented, peering past him. “But the wire screen door is open.”

“And the front door is slightly ajar.” He studied the house a bit longer, then parked several doors up. “She might be getting ready to leave.”

“Could be.”

We climbed out of the car and walked back. But as we neared the front gate, something shattered inside the house; then the screaming started. It was a woman.

“Back door,” Jackson said as he bolted for the front door. I ran down the driveway, my sneakered feet making little sound on the concrete. A large metal gate divided the front yard from the back, but I leapt up, gripped the top, and hauled myself over.

Behind me came the sound of a door crashing back against a wall. Jackson, inside the house already. The screaming stopped abruptly but not the noise. Whoever was inside was on the move—toward me.

I bent and ran past a window, then stopped just to the side of the back door. The footsteps came closer—two men, not one.

I flexed my fingers, and fireflies danced across my fingertips. Timing was everything.

The door was flung open. I stuck a foot out as the first man appeared, tripping him and sending him stumbling; then I lunged around the doorway, grabbed the second man before he could realize what had happened, and sent him flying into the first man. They went down in a tangle of arms and legs, their heads smashing against each other, knocking each other out cold. They fell in a heap, one pinned beneath the other.

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