Home > Fireborn (Souls of Fire #1)(6)

Fireborn (Souls of Fire #1)(6)
Author: Keri Arthur

Sam waited to the right of the building’s main exit, his arms crossed and his expression closed. The early-morning sunshine gave his black hair an almost blue shine, but his face, like his body, seemed leaner now than it had once been. Certainly his cheekbones looked more defined. More French, I thought, though I knew he could claim that blood only through his mother’s grandmother.

“So,” I said, stopping several feet away. The air was crisp and cool and filled with the salty scent of the nearby ocean, but this man’s smell seemed to override all that, filling my lungs with his warm, lusciously woody aroma. “I’m here. What do you want?”

“Breakfast.” He pointed with his chin to Portside, the small café several doors down from our building, and, without waiting for me, walked toward it.

I trailed after him, tugging up my jacket’s zipper to protect myself from the chilly breeze coming off the sea. Liar, that voice inside me whispered. It’s not about the chill; it’s about him. About protecting yourself from him.

That inner voice was altogether too smart.

He chose an outside table overlooking the marina and as far away from the other diners as possible. Not that there were many people here. It was seven in the morning, after all, and not even Portside, as popular as it was, started getting really busy until at least nine on the weekends. Had it been a weekday, we wouldn’t have gotten a table.

I pulled out a chair and sat down opposite him. He didn’t say anything, simply picked up the menu and studied it. Frustration swirled, but so, too, did curiosity, and that—and only that—kept me from leaving.

The waitress came up and gave us a cheery smile. “Are you ready to place your orders yet?”

Sam said, “The breakfast fry-up and black coffee for me, thanks.”

The waitress glanced at me, pen poised, so I added, “I’ll have the French toast with strawberries and double cream and a Moroccan mint-green tea, thanks.”

She nodded. “Any juice?” When both of us shook our heads, she added cheerfully, “Won’t be long.”

As she disappeared inside the restaurant, I crossed my arms and leaned back in my chair. Leaning on the table would have brought me far too close to him. “So, to repeat my question, what the hell is this all about, Sam?”

“I’ve already told you why I’m here.”

“And I’ve already given my statement to the police. Everything I could tell you is there.”

“Not when there have been further developments.”

“Like this case being taken from homicide and given to your unit, whoever your unit actually are?” My voice was dry. “Why is that?”

“Because Baltimore’s murder isn’t as straightforward as it seems.”

“I guessed that the minute I saw him trussed up like a turkey and beaten to death. Just spit it out, for god’s sake.”

His blue gaze raked me, as sharp as a knife. There was a tension in him I didn’t understand, a hunger that was deep, dark, and not entirely sexual. My traitorous body nevertheless responded. Damn it, why did he still have the power to affect me so strongly?

Because he is this lifetime’s love, that inner voice whispered. And there is nothing you can do about it but suffer.

I hated my inner voice sometimes.

“It wasn’t only Professor Baltimore who was murdered last night,” he said, voice curt. “A security guard by the name of Ryan Jenkins was found dead—and stuffed into the janitors’ closet—by the morning relief.”

My eyes widened. “I talked to Jenkins last night.”

“We know,” he said grimly. “At ten eighteen.”

I frowned at the odd emphasis he placed on the time. “So why does this seem to be a big deal?”

“Because Ryan Jenkins was apparently murdered between nine and nine thirty. The man you were talking to was not Jenkins.”

I remembered the unease I’d felt as I’d walked out of the building. Instinct had known something was wrong.

“Meaning I talked to one of the men involved in his death, and you want me to give a description and work up a composite?”

He nodded but didn’t say anything as the waitress approached with our drinks. “Your orders shouldn’t be much longer,” she said and left again.

I opened the lid of the little china teapot to let the water cool a little, then said, “So they killed the guard because they wanted to get something from Mark’s office?”

He nodded. “Both the lab and his office were ransacked. We want you to go through those areas as well as his home to see if there’s anything missing.”

I frowned. “That’s going to take all day and half the night. And I seriously doubt—”

“You’ll do it, no matter how long it takes.” His voice was harsh. Cold. “It has already been cleared with Harriet Chase.”

I glared at him for several seconds, annoyed as much at his manner as the order itself. But, truth be told, I probably was the only one who’d have any sort of chance of spotting if something had gone missing. It made sense to at least try.

I plonked the little tea bag into the pot and closed the lid. “Have you any idea what they were after?”

He hesitated, his gaze raking me again, as if he was deciding whether I could be trusted or not. And that stung even more than his bitter words had five years ago.

He leaned forward and crossed his arms. It accentuated the muscles in his arms and the broadness of his shoulders. “Your Professor Baltimore was working on a possible cure for the red plague virus.”

I blinked. “Really? I knew he was involved in molecular research and was attempting to track down certain amino acids, but I had no idea there was a virus involved. He certainly never called it by that name.”

“He wouldn’t. For security purposes, it was simply given a number—”

“NSV01A,” I cut in, remembering seeing it repeatedly in the notes. When he nodded, I added, “But how did these men know that? I mean, I didn’t, and I worked for the man.”

“It was kept quiet for the same reason the virus has been kept quiet—we don’t want to alarm the public unnecessarily.”

“So who knew what he was doing? Because someone must have talked if these men were after his research.”

“That we don’t know. But as far as I know, only Harriet Chase was fully aware of what he was doing.”

And that old battle-ax wasn’t about to blab to anyone about a project that could potentially net her billions. “Well, someone else obviously did know.”

He eyed me severely. “Yeah, you. Or at least, you knew about his notes.”

I snorted. “I can’t understand half the crap he goes on about in those notes. I’m just there to type it up.”

“Doesn’t mean you couldn’t have mentioned it to someone.”

“Meaning I’m both a witness and a suspect? Way to get my cooperation, Sam.”

Our meals arrived, and I tucked into my French toast and berries with gusto. But he, I noticed, pushed his meal away before he was half-finished. He picked up his coffee and cradled the mug in his big hands, watching me eat for several minutes. The intensity of his gaze was unnerving.

I scooped up the last of the strawberries, then pushed the plate away with a contented sigh. “What about Mark?”

He blinked. My question had obviously caught him by surprise. “What about him?”

“Well, couldn’t he have talked to someone?”

“Who? From what we understand, his work was his life. He had few friends and did little beyond moving between his home and the institute.”

“That’s not entirely true. He ran regularly with one of the other professors, and he had breakfast at the café across the road every morning. He was quite friendly with several of the waitresses there.”

“Friendly as in lovers?”

I hesitated. “I don’t know. I never had reason to ask or care.”

“We’ll check.” He drank some coffee, then said, “Were you and he lovers?”

I bit back a snarky remark and simply said, “No.” Snarky remarks, I suspected, would run off his back as quickly as water off a duck’s.

He grunted. “Who was his running companion?”

“Professor Jake Haslett.”

“Would Baltimore have trusted him enough to mention his research?”

“How the f**k would I know? I ran his research life, not his private one.”

He raised an eyebrow, and just for a moment I thought I saw a glimmer of amusement. But it was too quickly lost to the sea of darkness to be really sure. “And you can think of no one else he interacted with on a regular—or even irregular—basis?”

“No.” I paused, then added, probably a little too hopefully, “So, can I go now?”

“Not until Rochelle gets here.”

I poured my tea, then raised the cup and drew in the rich scent in an attempt to cleanse his smell from my lungs. I might as well have tried to sweep a chimney with a feather. “And who is Rochelle?”

“Our compositor.”

That raised my eyebrows. “She’s coming here? Why?”

“Because we are a specialist unit working outside regular police boundaries, and we prefer to keep our location secret. It’s safer that way.”

Which made me wonder what in the hell his unit was doing—other than tracking down and killing those infested with the red plague, that is.

“Then how do I contact you if I discover there’s anything missing from the lab, office, or home?”

“You don’t. I’ll meet you again tonight.”

“There are such things as phones, you know.” And if he knew where I now lived, he undoubtedly also knew my phone number.

“We avoid using phones unless they are securely scrambled.”

Wow, his employers were going to serious lengths to protect themselves. “Meaning I’ll have to put up with you leaning on my doorbell again?”

He hesitated. “Unless you wish to arrange a meeting time now, then yes.”

I drank some more tea and wished I knew what the hell was going on behind his closed blue eyes—although what good it would do me, I had no idea. It wasn’t like we could undo the past and the things that had been said.

“Given it’s going to take me a good part of the day to go through Mark’s things, let’s meet at the Magenta,” I said. “It’s a bar just down the street from Mark’s.”

He nodded; then his gaze slid past me and he rose. The smile that touched his lips was warm and welcoming, and it briefly lifted the shadows in his gaze. It was also the first true indication that the Sam of old wasn’t entirely lost.

He was just lost to me.

A tall amazonian brushed past me and greeted Sam with a kiss on the cheek that was just a shade more friendly than necessary. And her fingers lingered on his arm as she said, “This is a bitch of an hour to be up. I hope you’ve ordered me coffee.”

She was the same height as Sam—six foot—broad shouldered and muscular, without appearing too much like a bodybuilder. She also emanated a high degree of heat, had thick, strawberry-blond hair that tumbled to her shoulders in waves, and wide, leaf-green-colored eyes. Her clothes were designer.

To say I suddenly felt inadequate in my baggy sweats and old leather coat was something of an understatement.

“I haven’t yet,” Sam replied. “I wasn’t sure how long it would take you to get here, and if there’s one thing worse than an early hour, it’s cold coffee.” Warmth fizzed between them, and it was decidedly sexual in its nature. Lovers, it suggested, not just work companions and friends.

Sam’s gaze came to mine again. “Rochelle Harmony, meet Emberly Pearson.”

“Emberly,” she said, in a voice every bit as cool as Sam’s. “A pleasure to meet you.”

I shook her offered hand and noted it was a whole lot warmer than his. She was, I realized suddenly, another fire Fae. And maybe she was the reason her male counterpart was also here—maybe he was simply waiting for her to come into her reproductive period. From what I knew about the Fae, it was a somewhat irregular event that happened only every fifty years or so, and was, in part, the reason why there were so few of them.

She placed a tablet computer on the table and then sat down, firing it up as he placed an order with the waitress.

“Now,” she said, unclipping the stylus from the top of the tablet. “Describe him to me.”

I did so. She worked on the image as I spoke, and within a remarkably short amount of time, we had a composite that looked like the guard I’d spoken to last night.

“I’ll get this out to all operatives and see if we can find a match in the system.” She finished the last of her coffee, then glanced at Sam again. “Anything else?”

He shook his head. “I’ll meet you back at headquarters.”

She nodded, gave me another of those cool smiles, then left. Her scent lingered, all warm exotic spices.

I finished the cooled remnants of my tea, then said, “That it?”

“For now. I’ll meet you tonight at the bar—six okay?”

“Uh, no. Not if you want this job done properly. Try something closer to ten.”

He nodded, flipped enough cash onto the table to pay for everything, then rose. “I’ll see you tonight.”

He walked away, and suddenly the morning seemed a whole lot brighter—another sad reminder that he wasn’t the man I’d known. At least around me, anyway.

A glance at my watch revealed it was almost eight thirty. If I didn’t get to work ASAP, I’d be meeting him a whole lot later than ten. He obviously had no idea just how much crap Mark kept.

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