Not so into vampires, me.
But maybe therein lies my niche. My protag isn't either. I'll apologize for any formmating errors now--gee, I'm sorry.
A vampire’s favorite way to kill is to turn his victim into another vampire. However, when you’re immune to vampirism like I am, he has to convince you to die the regular way. This vamp was very persuasive. He really wanted me dead, as his thirty or so spent rounds made plain. Whatever serenity I’d achieved from my vacation had evaporated in the past quarter hour.
Bullets don’t kill vampires, but they’re pretty troublesome all the same. I edged just close enough to hold him back with a couple of rounds from my Glock. I was down the alley far enough that none of his return fire hit me, but it was close enough to scatter chunks of old brick and mortar from the building at my back. It was close enough to get me sweating.
Was he rogue or was this an ordered hit? Maybe it was a messy attempt at rectifying some personal vendetta? No, I decided. He probably was some low-ranking male from the local coven, looking for a free meal. He probably didn’t know who I was.
If he knew, he wouldn’t dare touch me--dead or alive. Though it took a healthy swallow of my blood to kill them, vampires never took any chances around me. They all knew I’d had the experimental inoculations against the vampirism virus, and they all knew the mutated antibodies in my blood killed vampires just as well as it did their virus.
He wouldn’t want to leave me, though, either. My body would be a big problem. My employer, the Federal Vampirism Agency, would suspect in a second that I’d been done by a vamp, and their first stop would be the Denver Coven.
I was grinning like a mad fool. It probably sounds like twisted reasoning, but facing death doesn’t leave you with many things to feel happy about, and my body being a problem for the Denver Coven made me pretty happy.
Nailing him a couple times in the head would make me even happier. They weren’t allowed enough human blood--legally, anyway--for immediate regeneration. That meant scars. The thought made me so cocky that I fired until my gun clicked.
I felt in my jacket for another clip but found only an empty pocket.
The brick next to my head exploded, scattering old building all over me. I yanked back and dropped to my knees. He wasn’t going away. I was outgunned and cornered. He’d heard the click of my gun and knew I was out of ammo, at least for a few seconds. He didn’t come down the alley yet, but since I wasn’t shooting back it’d only be a few minutes before he guessed I was out of ammo.
He started to gloat. And really, nothing irritates me more than a gloating vampire--especially one who’s about to kill me.
“Come out and face me like a man, Nolan.”
So he did know who I was. What was going down that they’d risk prosecution for murdering an F.V.A. asset? A life sentence (ironic term, I know, when you’re talking about the undead) is no joke to a vampire.
“Who sent you?” I yelled.
“Lord Scarlet, himself.”
I leaned against the wall and exhaled. The Lord of the Denver Coven took a hit out on me? Not possible. True, he’d beaten me senseless that time he found out I was an Agency mole planted in Coven House to spy on them, but we had since come to an understanding.
“Single shot.” He called it out like he was hawking beer at a ball game. “Clean and painless.”
Yeah, right, and vampires never lie. “Don’t you think I should know what I did first?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t care.”
“Grubs never do,” I shouted.
That smart-ass comeback earned me another dusting of old mortar.
My phone vibrated in my pocket. I yanked it out and looked at the screen. My partner. At least we could say our goodbyes. I’d hate to do that on voice mail.
“Kenna!” I whispered. “Where are you?”
“Right behind you.”
I looked up just in time to see her leap from the building and land in a crouch about ten feet away, cradling her crossbow in one arm. She smirked and pocketed her phone. “You never call anymore; you never write. I thought we had a thing.”
I scowled, wondering how long she’d been up there and why the hell she hadn’t come in behind the attacker. “What thing?”
“You know, that thing where I always have to come save your sorry ass.”
I stood up, glad for the millionth time that I was taller than her. Like I said, nothing irks me like a gloating vampire, and it’s worse when they’re sexy. “I’ve been holding out fine on my own!”
Another volley of bullets from outside the alley made me trot closer to her.
She didn’t even flinch. It takes a lot more than bullets hitting a brick wall to startle a vampire. “I see,” she said. “I’ll just be going, then. Have a nice afterlife.”
“What? Without kissing me goodbye?” I asked.
Now she flinched. “Low blow, Nolan. All right. I’ll take care of it.”
She strode past me, humming and swaying her hips because she knew I was watching. Most of the undead are as ugly as regular people, but Kenna was as tall and curvy as any movie vampire.
She didn’t hum loudly, but the pattern of his fire faltered. The vamp had heard her with his freaky dog hearing. They all knew her killing song. It bought her the split second she needed. He screamed when she shot a bolt through his chest. Then she stood over him and nailed him to the concrete with three more before settling down to a nice meal.
I admit I was shocked. It wasn’t really like her to kill a perp, much less eat the evidence, but the F.V.A. doesn’t regulate vamp-on-vamp feeding--even when it ends in a dead vampire. Besides, she was always sensitive when someone attacked me.
I should have been used to seeing her feed by then, but I had to consciously ignore the stirring in my pants. Vampires and blood and sex are all wrapped up in a neat little bundle for me. To distract myself, I started going through the vampire’s pockets. When I found his ID, I sank back on my heels, thinking hard.
“He’s with the Coven?” Kenna asked.
“Uh, yeah. Daniel Rowan.” I gave her the I.D. No photo, of course, but his name and the tiny upper jaw imprint could be easily crosschecked on the F.V.A. database. He was the third son of Scarlet’s second in command. I should have known he was no lackey just by the way he dressed, all high-coven in leathers and silk.
She dropped the I.D. next to the bolt in his sunken chest. “I believe it. He tasted rich.”
I backed up a few paces. He was already getting ripe. “Why would they send him after me? Scarlet and I have a truce.”
Kenna smiled a sexy, satiated smile. She’d seen my evidence of illegal blood orgies from when we’d been undercover at Coven House, all ready to send to the Rocky Mountain News in the case of my untimely demise. When it comes to humans, vampirism is highly regulated in the State of Colorado. Human grubs require a license, the vampire has to pay for the service, and Lord Scarlet knew all about my little insurance policy. Hence, our truce.
But her smile faded as she thought over the mystery of why the second’s son would come gunning for me. “Broken up any parties lately?” she asked. “Maybe this is personal.”
It was a good theory. The Rowans were notorious for taking things personally. “I just got back to town tonight, though,” I said.
Kenna followed me upstairs to my loft. “Maybe it’s political. Maybe Rowan’s trying to ruin good feelings between F.V.A. and the Coven and gain some standing that way. He’s never been as cooperative as Scarlet.” Our fingers brushed as she took the glass of wine I offered, but she was used to touching me. As long as we didn’t share body fluids, she was fine. We never let it get beyond holding hands, no matter how badly we wanted to.
“And kill me to do it?” I shook my head. I’m a face-value man; she liked to think unseen currents swayed the world. “I’ve got evidence on all of them, even Rowan.” Especially Rowan.
“Yeah, Scarlet knows that,” she said. “But we don’t know that he’s told anyone else.”
My cell rang again and I looked at it. Paul, our boss. I answered with, “I’m not back on duty until tomorrow night.”
“Get to Coven House,” he said. “Lord Scarlet has been murdered.”
Paul arrived just as we did, and Rowan, Sr. rose to greet us. Four other vampires flanked him, glowering at Kenna. Everyone shook hands all around--except for me, of course. I took the awkward moment for a surreptitious look around. Coven House was about what you’d expect: candles, heavy draperies, ornate art, and little in the way of family photographs.
“I’m glad you’ve come,” Rowan said. Hard to tell if he meant it; my money was on the lie. “He’s upstairs.”
“Wait here,” I said.
Crawling with F.V.A. as it was, for once Kenna could walk through the house she once called home without fear of retribution. Even though she hadn’t been back there since the day she’d rescued me, half-dead from Scarlet’s beating, she didn’t bother to look around as we climbed the steps to Scarlet’s library, just ran her hand along the glossy banister. When I’d infiltrated Coven House as her grub, I’d seen humans and vampires die some bloody deaths in there. But I’d never seen it like this. Scarlet was all over the room, literally.
We stood in the doorway, holding bandanas over our noses against the rotted vampire smell. The undead decay pretty quickly.
“Gee,” I said to Paul. “You think there’ll be any fallout from this?”
“Things are already heating up,” he said. “Three bite victims turned up at area hospitals.”
“The Coven is too organized to fall apart this quickly,” Kenna said. “Scarlet had provisions in place.”
“Yes, that’s what he said, but who really knows?” Paul was a face-value man, too.
Kenna made a quiet snarl of disagreement, the sort of sound that makes a cornered victim fall all to pieces, but she didn’t push it.
We moved over to make room for Candace Woo, F.V.A. coroner. “Ouch,” she said, blanching.
“Could you be more specific?” Paul asked. His humor was so dry I didn’t know if he was joking or not. Probably not. He looked sick from the smell. It’s not something you ever get used to.
“Cause of death: being hacked to bits,” Woo said. A most painful way for a vampire to go, considering Scarlet would have been conscious through the whole thing. Hell, until we found his heart and euthanized it with a sharp stick, part of Scarlet probably was still conscious somewhere in the room.
I rubbed my hand over the bandana I’d tied across my face. It wasn’t doing much against the stench. “Can’t we just read your report back at the office?”
“Wait a minute.” Woo picked her way through the wreckage. “There’s blood in here, on this knife.”
That was notable only if Scarlet had fed recently. He was one of those judicious types who only took the time to feed once a month or so--usually around the full-moon and always from several vampires or licensed grubs. Last night there had been no moon. Besides, he ate in his bedroom.
Woo knelt and studied the floor. “And bullet holes.”
“We’re more interested in a murder weapon,” I said.
“I don’t see the heart yet, but there is that.” Woo waved at the ceiling without looking up and I realized I was so tired I’d missed the most incongruous thing in the room, excluding the dead vampire everywhere. It was half-hidden by the chandelier, but I should have noticed the sword hanging hilt-down from the plaster.
“Coffee,” I said, disgusted. “I need coffee.”
Woo just grinned.
We’d seen the crime scene, so it was time to back off and let the techs do their jobs. We retreated to the main level.
Rowan stalked across the living room. The others sat still as only the undead can, waiting.
“Did you see anything--any clues to who did this?” Rowan asked.
“I’m pretty sure it’s our turn to ask questions,” I said. “When did you find him?”
“Three hours ago,” he said.
“You just called forty minutes ago.” Paul looked at his watch. “We’re honored to have made your to-do list.”
Rowan snarled, baring his fangs. “We were looking for his heart. He deserves that much.”
Time to smooth ruffled feathers. “I’m glad you called. It was the right thing. I assure you Agent Woo’s primary concern is finding the heart,” I said. “Might we sit down?”
Rowan sat and his serenity returned. I didn’t like that so much; maybe we’d missed something.
“All right--” I began.
“I am now Lord of this Coven,” Rowan said.
“Of course, my lord,” I said without a trace of sarcasm. “If you’d do us the kindness of telling us what you know?”
“Very little. I was away tonight,” Rowan said.
He looked at his lap and straightened the crease on his trousers.
Paul sighed. “Immunity--for this interview only.”
Rowan tipped his head in assent. A thin lock of his dark hair hung against his pale cheek like a scar. “I was feeding.”
I wondered why he still looked so gaunt and hungry. “Good. She can verify your story.”
“He,” Rowan said, “would be happy to, I’m sure, once he recovers.”
I lifted my eyebrows. “Must have been quite a night, my lord.”
“He had rather too much to drink,” Rowan said primly. Vampires take a pragmatic view of humans who drink--it makes us more pliant targets. His prudish tone was from something else. I’d definitely missed something.
“Okay,” I said. “So you consenting adults had your fun interrupted by the evils of alcohol. Where?”
His sneer was so quick I almost missed it. “Not here, of course.” True. Scarlet might have turned a blind eye to his Coven’s extracurricular activities, but he never tolerated insubordination at home. Coven House is under constant F.V.A. surveillance. “We went to his loft in LoDo.”
LoDo was where I happened to live, too. When it comes to annoying me, a close second to gloating vampires is getting shot at, and a close third is coincidence. I’d had plenty of all three that night. I couldn’t help but ask, “Was your son Daniel with you?”
“No. We haven’t spoken since yesterday.” Which meant the previous night in vampire parlance.
His cock-ass son had shot at me and boasted about his orders, which had come from a now-dead vampire. He’d been certain I was going down until Kenna showed up. Nobody lies to dead men, but they often do under interrogation. I watched Rowan carefully. “You want to know what he was up to?”
Rowan’s black eyes didn’t flicker. “You obviously want to tell me.”
“He was shooting at me.” I should have just kept to Scarlet, but I was jet-lagged and the smell of dead vampire didn’t easily shower off. “In an alley. In LoDo. Under Coven orders. So why don’t we start over and you can try the truth this time?”
Rowan stiffened. “Where is he now?”
I glanced at Kenna before thinking better of it.
“He wouldn’t desist. I was forced to subdue and kill him.” She held out her arm and pulled back her sleeve to reveal a deep scratch. “You’ll be happy to know he fought back, though.”
No one spoke. I carefully kept my gaze on Rowan’s face.
His tongue flicked across his upper lip and he rose. “If we’re quite finished...”
“Who stands to benefit the most from Scarlet’s death, my lord, besides you?” I asked, standing up and blocking his way. His calm ate at me. He should be throwing fits over his dead son.
“Thank you for coming,” Rowan said firmly. “But I must bid you good night.”
I didn’t know how old Rowan was--likely only in his early hundreds--but in that moment he made me feel like I was about four. I didn’t have to try for contrite. “I am sorry for your loss, my lord. It was unavoidable.”
“My colleagues will see you out.” Rowan swept from the room.
We found ourselves on the doorstep a few moments later, staring all around at each other, nonplussed.
“Friggin’ brilliant, Nolan,” Paul said, going down the stairs. “Tomorrow when you come to work, try to remember to bring your investigative skills.”
“Hey!” I said. “Can I have a ride home at least?”
When I turned to commiserate with Kenna, she was gone, too.
I woke early the next morning, half-sick from too little sleep and too much mulling over the case. Rowan was a textbook suspect: next in line for the throne, hungry for power, and willing to bend the law to suit his own purposes. And it usually takes a vampire to kill a vampire.
But I just couldn’t feature him as the killer. He knew something, all right, and maybe he was in on it, but he hadn’t hacked Scarlet to bits with that sword himself. This was no political assassination; this was a hate crime.
It came to me that I smelled coffee. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and went out into the dark living room in my boxers. Somebody had drawn all the shades.
I went into the kitchen to distract myself from Kenna’s smile with pouring coffee.
“Where’d you go last night?” I didn’t sound as annoyed as I might’ve with her peace offering steaming in my hand. “I had to wait over an hour for Woo to give me a ride home.”
“I wanted to poke around while everyone was distracted by the techs,” she said. “Did you find the heart?”
“Yeah, stuck to the back of his door with a deck nail. Woo...uh, well she had chopsticks, so she--”
Kenna arched an eyebrow. “Chopsticks. Professional.”
I shrugged. No one likes to euthanize in the field. “You hear anything around there?”
She shook her head. “White noise.” Even the noise of a fan interferes with a vampire’s hearing.
I wondered why she’d lurked around Coven House, but I’d learned the hard way not to question a vampire without good reason. I reminded myself that I trusted her. If she thought she needed to lurk, then she did.
“I’m going to crash here today,” she said, not meeting my eyes. “Tell Paul I’ll be in at dusk.”
I watched her, concerned. At one time, before I’d come into the picture, Scarlet had been like a father to her. I had a hunch he’d even changed her, though that sort of thing was too personal to discuss, even with me. I was just a human, after all. “You want to talk about it?”
She shook her head.
I cut off the urge to bolt across the room and take her in my arms by scalding my mouth with her coffee. “Bed’s still warm,” I said, turning away from her reluctantly. “Just let me get dressed first.”
The day assaulted me with cold as soon as I stepped outside, and Paul assaulted me with an irritated yell as soon as I stepped in the office. “Nolan! Get in here.”
“Good morning to you, too, Paul.”
He leaned over his desk top. “You want to tell me what went down with Daniel Rowan?”
“I tried, but you left,” I said, spreading my hands. Paul had a temper, but I wasn’t about to let him push me around. “He shot at me and thankfully Kenna showed up--”
“And she thought it was snack time?” Paul ran his fingers through his hair, making it stick up. He looked like a startled comic book character. “Mary and Joseph on a raft, Nolan. You two trying to start a war here?”
“He shot first, and he said it was under Coven orders.”
Paul sighed, sank down in his seat, and tucked his chin into the neck of his turtleneck sweater.
I crossed to the coffee pot on top of his file cabinet and poured two cups. He took it and held it in both hands as I sat down.
“I don’t like Rowan for Scarlet,” I said. “But I think a vampire killed him, all right.”
“Who do you think was behind the hit on you?”
“I’ve racked my brain trying to come up with what I did to warrant it, but hell, I’ve been gone. Before that, I was putting my hours in with routine surveillance. The Coven’s been on the straight-and-narrow since that thing with the C.U. football team last spring.”
A flicker of impatience crossed Paul’s face. He knew that, of course. I hurried on. “My theory is that it’s someone from outside Coven House.”
“How about from outside Denver?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen any new faces lately.” That didn’t mean much. Vampires are pros at concealing themselves. I took a sip of coffee. It sat on my tongue for a minute before I could convince my throat to swallow.
Paul opened a file on his desk. “Well, I got a theory. I think it’s a Jack Crow.”
I almost sprayed coffee all over his desk.
“Look at the facts,” Paul went on. “Our perp went after the top vampire in Denver. He killed Scarlet viciously. Instant press.”
He had a point. Serial vampire hunters love to show off. But successful Crows are few and far between. Usually the first vampire fights back and wins. If it was a Jack Crow, he had death wish.
“It could be political,” I pointed out, cringing inwardly as I proposed Kenna’s theory, which I’d already ruled out. “Daniel said it was Coven orders, remember?” More specifically, he’d said it was Scarlet’s orders. Maybe he had lied, or his father had lied to him. I nudged away the twinge that told me that was a stretch.
Paul rubbed his lips with his finger, thinking. It went unsaid that the two attacks were connected; Paul didn’t like coincidences any better than I did. “Rowan has practically ignored that kid--he’s the third son. Why use him now? No. I really think our Jack Crow manipulated Daniel to come after you, and Daniel took him up on it, maybe as a way to get back at his father. But however it went down, it still means one thing. Someone’s hunting vampires.”
I drank down more coffee, trying to make sense of his reasoning. “But why would a Crow come after me? I’m not a vampire, remember?”
Paul sighed again. I wasn’t catching on quick enough. “Who’s the most powerful vampire in Denver, now that Scarlet’s dead?”
I shrugged. “Rowan.”
I sat back and rested my coffee cup on my thigh. “Kenna,” I said. “You think they were trying to get to her through me?” I absorbed that. Though she always tried to do the right thing, Kenna was no angel, and she was ruthless in a fight. Most importantly, the F.V.A. had her back.
The theory was plausible, but my skeptical nature didn’t like it. Manipulation of this quality was too clever for a human--even a Jack Crow. “So this Crow somehow convinced Rowan’s son to come after me to get to Kenna? I don’t know, Paul. If so, he didn’t make a decent choice--Daniel was no match for her.”
“Maybe Daniel was the only vampire stupid enough to try it,” Paul pointed out.
All right, there was a point. A green third-son looking for glory or revenge, like Daniel Rowan, might go after Kenna and think he would come out still undead. I didn’t answer.
“Maybe you’re right,” Paul said, opening the file on his desk like he was tired of the conversation. “Maybe he acted on orders from his dad.”
I thought we’d ruled Rowan out. Kenna and I certainly had, and I didn’t like Paul pushing an illogical suspect to bolster his own theory about the Jack Crow. He was using the sort of circular reasoning that gets you on the wrong end of a fang in an argument with a vampire.
“I believe Daniel at least thought the orders came right from Scarlet.” I shook my head and thought of the mess inside that study. “Why would he lie to me when he thought he was going to kill me?”
“When would Scarlet have had time to give the order?” Paul retorted. “Woo found a clip full of bullets embedded in his torso. Whoever did it pumped him full before he cut him up.”
I shook my head. “Come on. You haven’t gone up against one of these guys.” I wasn’t trying to get a dig in but just remind him that I knew killing vampires better than anyone in the department. I’d been undercover at Coven House and I’d seen plenty of duels before they were outlawed. “Lead or no, they don’t just lay there. They don’t lose consciousness, remember? And Scarlet had a cache of weapons stored all over that room.”
Paul wasn’t paying me particular attention because he was staring down at the file. “We’ve got a knife with virus on it. It’s not Scarlet’s, but its decay rate is consistent with the time of murder.”
Vampire blood, that meant. Scarlet had fought back. I gestured hard and ignored the coffee I spilled on my pants. “Why didn’t you say that before?”
He looked up at me. His pupils looked like black holes. “I just saw it.”
“I’ll go scout the neighborhood, do the usual rounds, see if anything comes up. You get some rest,” I added, feeling magnanimous since evidence had all but confirmed a vampire had killed Scarlet. “You look like you’re coming down with something.”
The day produced nothing but more frustration. At least things went my way with Rowan’s grub--he confirmed Rowan’s story and made for a believable alibi. I revisited the crime scene and puttered around Coven House while the vampires slept. Near dusk, I gave it up and went home. The more I thought it over, the more Paul’s theory didn’t sit right. I could accept the idea of Jack Crow, sure, but not one with two M.O.s. Murdering is like going to mass for serial hunters; they like ritual.
Kenna sat quietly waiting for me, humming her little song. We couldn’t leave yet--the sun was just dipping behind the back range.
“Stop it,” I said. “You’re creeping me out with that.”
“I would never hurt you,” she said.
“I’m kidding, Kenna.” I sat down, a bowl of soup between my knees, and relayed Paul’s theory. “It just doesn’t add up, though. What serial hunter changes his M.O.?”
She was strangely quiet. Usually she liked to pick apart these cases as much as I did. But then, it wasn’t usually a vampire victim. Usually a vampire was the obvious perpetrator.
“This one’s different,” I went on. “It’s personal. I can feel it.”
She slid one leg over the other, her jeans stretched taut across her thigh. The V of her neckline revealed more skin than was professional.
I couldn’t think with her sitting like that. I set the soup bowl aside, leaned back, and closed my tired eyes. “Paul thinks they were going after you last night, by the way. He sounded worried. I think he’s in love with you, and he’d just better get in line because that’s my job.”
I heard the smile in her voice. “Why would they go after me?”
She could have read a grocery list and made it sound like pillow talk. I rolled my head against the back of the sofa. “Because he thinks you’re the most powerful vampire in Denver now.”
“I am,” she said.
I opened my eyes. She stared back at me, unblinking.
Who stood to gain the most with Scarlet’s death?
She realized what I was thinking at the same time I did. Vampires aren’t telepathic, but they’re good at detecting subtle body language. No doubt my cheek twitched or my nostrils flared.
“You think I did it,” she said.
I hesitated before nodding. We watched each other warily, trying to wait the other out. She won.
“It hadn’t occurred to me until just now,” I said. “But when Rowan’s son attacked me, you turned up at just the right time. And then you killed him. At the time I kind of wondered about it, but...” She was so sensual when she fed that I’d been distracted.
Rowan should have raised holy hell with the F.V.A. about his son’s murder, but he didn’t because it was Kenna, and she was more powerful than Rowan by a long shot.
“Different M.O.s, you said,” she whispered. “It feels like different killers.”
“Different reasons,” I pointed out. “Killing Scarlet was about revenge.”
We hadn’t even had the right victims. I thought I’d been the target, and then maybe Kenna, but she’d been after Scarlet and Daniel Rowan all along, and through them, firm control of the new lord of the Denver Coven.
She shifted, slightly, but it was enough to provoke me into drawing my pistol. She kept her hands carefully in sight. “I tortured Scarlet until he ordered Daniel to rough you up. He went for it, thinking I’d stop.”
I shook my head, confused. “Why?”
“To protect you. You know Scarlet has been gunning for you since you were made as F.V.A.”
“But why manipulate Daniel?” I asked.
Was she ever beautiful when she smiled. “Lord Rowan isn’t any better than Scarlet. Two murdered Lords would be suspect, but I had to get control of Rowan or he’d come after you, too. The attack on you gave me the perfect excuse to kill Daniel. It served as a warning.”
I thought of Rowan’s precise control that night. Message received, loud and clear. “I can’t let this one ride.”
A lock of her hair dipped inside her low neckline as she shook her head. “Go ahead. Take me in. It won’t get anywhere with Paul, not now.”
Paul. He’d looked sick. “You didn’t...”
She nodded. “He wanted it. He asked while you were gone.” She read my feelings perfectly and rushed on, “It didn’t mean anything, though. There’s nothing between us.”
“Does he know about all this?”
I believed her, but I had no idea what to say.
“Nolan, let me protect you. You’re all I have. I can’t stand the thought of losing you.”
I set the gun down. I wasn’t going to shoot her. We had to talk this out. “I can’t stand the thought of you locked up.”
“We’ll frame Rowan for killing Scarlet, and I’ll control the Coven. You’ll be safe and we can be together.”
“You’re asking me to choose between you and my honor as a cop.” In truth, it was bigger. She was asking me to choose between humans and vampires. Don’t think I hadn’t regretted the inoculation, especially when she and I worked a case in perfect tandem, or when she saved my life, or when she slept in my warm bed just to be near me even though we couldn’t touch. But I was immune to vampirism, and the antibodies in my blood would kill any vampire who bit me.
Her voice caught. “You don’t love me.”
“You know I do,” I said. “You know I’ve loved you since we met. We’re lucky just to have...well. Whether or not I’ve got a price on my head doesn’t change anything between us. We’re different species, Kenna.”
My throat closed around the truth. I was mortal. In one or ten or fifty years I’d be dead and she’d still be in prison for what she’d done. Or, Rowan could be in prison, framed to protect our impossible love. I spoke slowly. “I do love you. But I’m human, and I’m a cop. I can’t condone killing to achieve an end, and I can’t condone convicting an innocent.”
“Kiss me, then,” she said.
I shook my head. “No, Kenna...”
She slipped from the chair and crawled toward my knees. Her hand slid up my leg, deepening my constant ache for her. I tightened and turned my face away from the feel of her touch.
“Kiss me.” Vampires don’t breathe, but she used air to speak. It was surprisingly warm on my cheek.
Like a radio in another room, I heard her humming deep in her chest. Her hands slid over my shoulders, pulled me toward her. My mouth opened to protest, but her lips closed over mine. Her song tickled my mouth sensuously. I dared to pull her tightly against me. God help me, I did love her, and maybe it would somehow be all right...
And then one of her fangs scraped my tongue.
She arched away from me. For another moment, she was still in my arms. She stared into my eyes and I still had hope.
Her guttural, animal cry shattered it. She convulsed against me so violently it threw me back. I caught her before she slid to the floor and held her as anaphylactic shock racked her body. It was over in a matter of minutes.
Paul was the first vampire to be a F.V.A. director. We all had to change our hours for department meetings, but it worked out. Relations improved dramatically between Coven House and the Denver branch of the F.V.A. Paul and Rowan became great friends.
I never had a photo of Kenna, of course. A year later, her face was fading from my mind. Not the feel of her, never that, but her smile was gone. I went on working, more dead inside than the beings I policed. They treated me with more respect and Rowan assured me the price on my head was lifted. Maybe it was because I had something in common with them now. Most of them had lost people they loved, too.
Two days ago it was my birthday. I received a package from Coven House. Figuring it was a professional courtesy, I tore off the paper to find an old painting. The glaze was crackled and the gold-leafed frame was chipped and the date read 1889.
It was Kenna, all right, smiling just like she did when she sang her killing song.