Home > Fireborn (Souls of Fire #1)(7)

Fireborn (Souls of Fire #1)(7)
Author: Keri Arthur

I sighed and headed home. Rory hadn’t returned to bed, but then, I hadn’t really expected him to.

“What did he want?” he said, gathering me close.

I relaxed into him, enjoying the comfort and peace of his arms for several minutes before actually answering. “Mark was murdered last night, and I found the body.”

“Fuck,” he said; then, “You okay?”

“I would have been a whole lot better if the case hadn’t been handed over to Sam’s unit.”

He snorted, the sound rumbling through my body. “I told you—someone upstairs is pissed at us in this lifetime.”

“It certainly seems that way.” I sighed, then added, “I now have to go through everything in Mark’s office and apartment to see what’s missing.”

“You’re probably the only one who’d have any chance of knowing, given you were his all-around go-to person.” He dropped a kiss on the top of my head. “You’d better leave before my hormones start acting all desperate again.”

I grinned, then rose up on my toes to kiss him properly. “Given our love life has been a little hit and miss of late, why don’t you see if Rosie’s free after work tonight?”

Rosie was a divorcée who worked in the office at the fire station. She and Rory had been friends with benefits for almost three years now, with neither of them expecting or wanting more. I liked Rosie. She was human, but she was good for him, and she understood his loss. Her husband had been murdered two years before Rory’s fiancée had been. We still had no idea why Jody had been killed and, apparently, neither did the police. Rory was in semiregular contact with the officer who’d been in charge of the case, but there’d been no fresh leads for some time now.

Even my dreams were mute on the subject—not that they ever made an appearance when I actually wanted or needed them.

“That,” he said heavily, “is a damn good idea.”

“Glad I could help.” I dropped a quick kiss on his cheek, then spun and headed for the shower.

• • •

The search through Mark’s office and lab was as tedious and long as I figured it would be, and just as useless. I couldn’t see anything missing, but it was hard to be absolutely certain. I stacked the final pieces of paper onto the last of the checked piles, then swept my gaze around the small room. The books he’d cared so much about now sat broken in piles. But at least many of them were salvageable, which was more than could be said about his running trophies. What they thought they’d find in those I had no idea. Hell, even his computers . . .

I stopped suddenly. His laptop. Sam’s people would have checked whether the institute’s system had been compromised, but I doubted they’d have known about either the laptop or the cloud storage Mark cross-copied everything to. Hell, as far as I knew, even Lady Harriet wasn’t aware he’d been stashing copies of everything, because he accessed it only from his laptop. I’d once asked him why he was being so secretive about it, and he’d mumbled something about having had research stolen in the past and that this was one way to both ensure its safety and to prove he was the originator.

If someone was after his work, then that would be the one place they’d get it all. Although if they had accessed it, why did they then wreck his office, lab, and home?

“One problem at a time,” I muttered, then thrust to my feet, grabbed my jacket, and headed back out.

The last rays of the setting sun painted the gathering clouds with streaks of pink and gray. The wind was cool and thick with the promise of rain. I shoved my hands in my pockets and hoped it held off until I made it home tonight—although getting soaked walking home from the train station would certainly cap off a perfectly shitty day.

It didn’t take me long to jog to Mark’s. I pulled the door open without really looking where I was going and plowed nose-first into a heated chest.

“Ow,” I said, instinctively jumping back and then rubbing my nose. “Sorry, I wasn’t watching—”

I stopped, suddenly recognizing the grinning man in front of me. It was the emerald-eyed Fae I’d talked to yesterday.

“Meeting in this doorway seems to be our destiny,” he said, idly rubbing his chest. Though I’d hit him with some force, I doubted I’d actually done any real damage. He was too muscular—too hard-looking—to be injured by a short woman in a hurry. “How’s your nose?”

“Sore, but that’s what I get for not looking where I was going.” I shrugged, my cheeks heating. Only I very much suspected its cause wasn’t embarrassment, but the rather intense way he was watching me. Like I’d suddenly become prey he very much intended to hunt. I might not be an innocent, but—if his expression was anything to go by—he very much intended to explore some of the more sensual pursuits with me.

“Well, I’m afraid it’s not entirely your fault.” He raised his left hand, revealing a phone. “I was texting rather than looking.”

He was also blocking my entry into the building and showed little inclination to move.

“Do you live here?” I asked, more to break the silence than any real need to know.

His gaze dropped to my lips as I spoke, and the waves of heat rolling from him sharpened abruptly. Desire flared deep within me. Heat—any sort of heat—was a siren call we found hard to resist.

“No. But a friend rents an apartment on the second floor.” His gaze scanned me, and it felt like I was standing na**d before him. It was a rather pleasant sensation. “You?”

“My boss lives here, but he’s a forgetful old sod and I’m always having to retrieve stuff.”

He laughed. It was a rich, strong sound that rumbled across my senses and fueled those inner flames. “I’ve known a few bosses like that. Sounds like you might need a drink to recover.”

“Possibly,” I said, raising an eyebrow. “Depends on who’s offering.”

“Ah, of course.” He held out his hand. “Jackson Miller, at your service.”

“Emberly Pearson.”

His big hand enclosed mine, and a tremor ran through me. God, his skin was so deliciously warm it was all I could do not to close my eyes and draw it into me.

“Well, Ms. Pearson, I do think I need to buy you a drink to apologize for my clumsiness.” He drew my hand to his lips and lightly kissed my fingers. It felt like a caress of flame. “What are you doing tonight?”

I couldn’t help smiling. He was a fast worker, that was for sure.

“Sadly, I’m working tonight.”

“Well, technically, so am I, but I can always find time for a pretty lady.” He pursed his lips, amusement and desire making his bright eyes glow. “What about breakfast?”

“Breakfast?” I repeated, all sorts of exciting possibilities running through my mind.

“Yeah, breakfast.” He paused, his grin widening. “Nothing else, just breakfast. Fae prefer to savor the chase, so the rest will come with our second date.”

Second date? I didn’t know if I’d survive the first one without at least exploring some of his unrestrained heat. But I raised my eyebrows and drawled, “And what if the first date bombs?”

“Given what’s burning between us, my sweet, I very much suspect the first date will be hot and heavy and that our second date will be sooner rather than later.” He took a business card out of his wallet and handed it to me. “Ring me whenever you’ve finished work, and we’ll go from there.”

I accepted the card. Jackson Miller, Miller Engineering, it read, with a cell number underneath. I tucked it into the top pocket of my jacket. “It could be very late by the time I’ve finished tonight.”

He shrugged and finally stepped to one side. “I’ll be awake.”

“Then I’ll call.” With a smile, I brushed past him and made my way up the stairs. His hungry, heavy gaze followed me until I was out of sight.

Damn, but he was hot.

I blew out a somewhat shaky breath and tried to pull the scattered remnants of my thoughts together. Work first, then Sam, then pleasure.

Although once upon a time Sam would have been my pleasure, instead of an unknown but sexy fire Fae.

I shoved the thought back into its box. Sam had moved on to the amazonian, and maybe, just maybe, I’d run nose-first into her male counterpart.

I coded myself into Mark’s apartment and then ducked under the police tape and went inside. The mess was much the same, only this time there was fingerprinting dust everywhere. I ignored the empty but bloodied chair and walked over to his desk. After feeling around for a couple of seconds, I found the little latch and pressed it. There was a click; then a drawer popped out from the base of the old table. I grabbed the laptop, plonked it down onto the desk, then hit the on button. After a moment, it fired up.

I pulled up the chair and got to work, accessing his network and then entering his cloud site. To discover it was empty. Totally empty.

The bastards had not only accessed his site but erased all his files. And the only way they could have done that was via Mark. I wondered how long he’d lasted before he’d given up his secrets. I guess if his battered state was anything to go by, it had been quite a while, and for that I could only admire him. Many a stronger man would have suffered far less before giving in.

I studied the screen for a few moments longer, then clicked back into the activity screen. The information had been accessed at 9:20 and then removed at 3:45 a.m.—hours after Mark had been killed and the institute ransacked. Why? If they’d wanted to ensure they were the sole owners of all his notes, why not erase it immediately?

I didn’t know. Probably wouldn’t ever know, given Sam wasn’t likely to bother me again once I’d handed over all the information I could. And given they apparently had open orders to kill the virus-afflicted, I very much suspected that whoever was behind the professor’s death wouldn’t exactly be getting his day in court if caught.

I leaned back in the chair and rubbed my eyes for a moment. It had been a long day, and all I really wanted to do was go home and go to sleep before I went to breakfast with a certain Fae. But I needed to complete my task here and get Sam out of my life again, and the sooner I went through the rest of this mess, the better.

With a sigh, I pushed upright and got to it. It was close to eleven by the time I’d finished. I picked up the laptop and left Mark’s apartment—hopefully for the final time—then made my way downstairs. The back of my neck began to prickle as I neared the ground floor, and I frowned, glancing around quickly. I couldn’t see anyone in the shadows, couldn’t feel any body heat, and yet . . . someone was watching me.

And while the sensation might have been nothing more than tiredness and an overactive imagination, I nevertheless hurried out of the building. Only it wasn’t just cold, but raining.

“Fantastic,” I muttered, shoving the computer under my coat. “Just f**king fantastic.”

Shivering, I ran toward the crisp white and pink glow of Magenta’s lights.

The sensation of being watched didn’t fade.

It grew.

And they were no longer just watching, but following.

CHAPTER 4

I ran on, but all my senses were trained behind me. Whoever it was, they were little more than the occasional whisper of footsteps and a distant shimmer of heat that was too cool to be human.

Vampire.

Fear and panic surged, making my heart race and a cold sweat break out across my skin. I could protect myself better than most, but I’d been attacked by a rogue vamp in a past life, and it was an experience I had no wish to repeat. Legend might suggest a vampire’s bite was orgasmic—and they certainly could be—but it was a harrowing, hateful thing when you were an unwilling victim.

And the bastard had killed me, too, simply because he’d caught me off guard and had ripped out my throat before I could fully react. And if a phoenix died before their allotted one-hundred-year span was over, the subsequent rebirth was a wretched, traumatic experience.

I shivered, suddenly thankful Magenta’s was close. I raced for the warm pink glow of the bar, slowing only once I’d reached it. A quick glance behind me didn’t reveal my follower, but if it was a vamp, I wouldn’t see him. The bastards were well able to surround themselves in shadows and all but disappear.

At least I was safe for the moment. Whoever it was would hardly make a move in front of so many people.

I shook the rain from my hair, then unzipped my jacket and held the laptop in one hand as I made my way through the crowd hanging around the front of the place, smoking and drinking. Sam wasn’t among them. Inside, the music was loud and bass heavy, and the air rich with the warm heat of humans. It took me a few minutes to find Sam, as he’d positioned himself in a rear corner and was half-hidden by the shadows.

He rose as I approached, his gaze scanning me and suddenly sharpening. Just for a moment, his concern washed through me, thick and sharp, and it not only warmed me deep inside, but provided yet another hint that the man I’d once loved was still in there somewhere. Which only made the steely front all that much harder to take. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m being followed,” I said. “A vampire, by the feel of him—”

He made a disgusted sound and sat back down. “He was supposed to keep out of your damn sight.”

I stared at him for a moment; then anger surged. “He’s one of your people?”

“Yeah.”

He motioned me to sit. I ignored him. That odd sense of darkness flared again, sending a shimmer that was part desire, part fear, down my spine.

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