The sweat dripping down the side of my face into my hair feels good. I don’t think we’ve had such an intense lovemaking session in quite a while. And Lord knows, Dria needed it with the stress the next few hours are bound to bring.
“Don’t shower,” I say to her as she disappears back into the hall. I want my scent to stay on her as long as possible with all the randy wolves on the property.
“You staking a claim, caveman?”
I rise and follow my delectable wife to our bedroom. “Humor me, okay? You may not think it matters, but I know it does.”
She turns back to give me a deep smoldering kiss, as if we hadn’t just done the deed twice. “No worries, love. I think you smell divine.”
Dria saunters off to her walk-in closet, which I swear looks like a mini-Nordstrom’s, to pick some new clothes. She emerges dressed in sturdy jeans, layered over silk long-johns and topped by a black cashmere, body-hugging sweater. I pick something similar for myself—meaning a sweater and jeans, minus the cashmere. We’ll be outside and this is not the season for skimpy.
“We need to chat and plan—you up for it?” she asks.
“No time like the present.” I don’t need to add I always think clearer after sex—that is, as long as I’m not tired. She knows both after sixty-five years. “Want some coffee?”
She nods in response and settles at the round scarred-up table in our galley kitchen, while I pour us some joe.
“Do you think Emiko killed Melvyn?” she asks, accepting the offered cup.
I take a long sip from my mug before answering. “Based on what we learned, I wouldn’t think so, but I don’t know her well enough to judge.”
Dria’s look becomes pensive while she gazes out the window over the sink, her mug untouched in front of her. “It doesn’t match what we know of her so far. Too messy. And her scent wasn’t there.”
“Well, that’s the kicker isn’t it? Jon said he smelled a trace of the vamp from the earlier inhabitants in the lobby, right?”
“Yeah, which means it could be any one of our vampire hunters.”
“Any of them seem crazy enough to deviate from the hunt so soon?” I ask.
“Ah, no. Not that I can figure.”
Time to bring up the difficult topic. “You plan on calling the Tribunal about Joanna now or telling this Coraline chick while she’s here?”
“No on both counts, if I can manage it. I know I have to inform them, but I’d rather wait until the week is out.” A sigh escapes her as she slumps back into her chair. “This freakin’ sucks.”
I don’t like seeing my wife down. She’s such a force to be reckoned with, seeing her doubt herself for even a moment makes me want to leap in and fix whatever I can. The only things stopping me are the knowledge she wouldn’t appreciate it and she’d ask if she needs help. That’s not to say I can’t help in small ways.
“I’ll head back to the basement in a bit and see what Asa did with her remains.”
She nods, while tapping her foot in agitation. “I think we need to question Emiko.”
“You mean one on one?”
“And how do you suppose we do that?”
She picks up her mug and cups the warmth in her hands a moment before taking a small sip. “I was thinking we could track her movements on the property while waiting for more info to come in.” Her eyes start to light with the mischievous glint I know so well. “I’d bet my fortune, things are not what they seem in regards to the charges against her.”
Now I’ll see if I can get her to reach out to friends she doesn’t admit to herself she has. “Would you consider calling Rolando?”
“Do you really think he’d tell me anything of value?”
“He might. You won’t know unless you try.” The scowl on her face makes me realize I need to back off and let her come to the decision on her own.
The opening bars of “I Drink Alone,” by George Thorogood, chime from my discarded cell phone on the counter. Tipping my chair back on two legs, I reach out and snag it off the counter. I flip it open as the chair legs touch back down to the tile.
“’Yello?” Two recent orgasms have put me in a mellow mood, to say the least, despite the trouble we’re facing.
Asa’s hesitant voice reaches me from the other end. “Sightings of Emiko have come in from Bebe, Don, and Stephen. All separately over the past thirty minutes. No contact was made with the fugitive. The others haven’t reported in yet. The cameras showed Stan was out by the apartments with Sanji about fifteen minutes ago. No report from the wolves yet.”
“Have you heard from Cy?”
“No, but the sun is up in New York. We may not hear from him ‘til later.”
“Has the equipment on the control desk been replaced?”
“Good, I’ll be down in a few.” I snap the phone closed and look over at Dria. “You know, I think he meant to do good. Try not to judge him too harshly.”
Her face sets in a frozen mask, devoid of emotion. “Time will tell, won’t it?”
Without another word, she sets her mug back down and rises from the table. She grabs her big fur-lined coat hanging by the backdoor, steps into her waiting boots, opens the door, and slips out into the frigid air.
I need some time to think before I call Rolando. I’ll be back in a few minutes.
I want to be here when you call him.
And with that, she melts into the darkness. There isn’t as much anger whirling around in her head as there was prior to our romp in the office. She seems to be doing okay, but I’ll have to watch her around Asa for a bit. When under pressure, she has a tendency to lash out and ask questions later.
She keeps me on my toes—that’s for damn sure. Like herding a lion. Never kid yourself into believing the lion isn’t going where it wants, which just happens to coincide with where you want it to go for a brief moment.
Taking another gulp, I move to top off my coffee before heading out to the front desk. I’ll put off going downstairs until Dria comes back.
The clattering of pots and pans from the commercial kitchen greets me, as I open the security door from our suite. Our back-up chef stands behind a stainless-steel counter.
“How’s it going, Stephanie?”
She jumps a bit at my voice. “Sorry, sir. I didn’t hear you come in. Things could be better.” Her eyes dart away while she adjusts the white apron covering her curvy hips. “We’re going through a lot of food with Paul experimenting on his shift.”
“Do you think a sous-chef, to help him as a taster, might be a good idea?”
Her face brightens and loses its pinched, worried expression. “Yes, I think that might work.”
“Anyone you have in mind suitable for the job?”
“How about Diane?”
I picture Dr. Cook’s daughter, who joined the staff last year: pretty, curvy… a wild, sexy streak in her a mile wide. Not a good choice around Paul right now. Hmm... I hate how cold and calculating I am right now—but who would be a better choice to not encourage him to snap and possibly cheat on his wife? My mind settles on one of the single men.
“I think Diane is an asset where she is right now. How about Bob?”
She chokes back her surprise. “The big guy from the ground crew?”
“Yeah. Set things up with him. Now that I think about it, we really just need a taster for a few hours a week, not a true sous-chef. Paul can handle the rest of the work on his own.”
“Okay, sir. I’ll set it up.”
Nodding my thanks, I head for the lobby. There’s a slight figure leaning against the front desk, with his back to me. As I approach, the man turns and I see that it’s Sanji’s companion... the calm one. Damn... his name was...?
“Vikram,” he says, reaching his hand out to shake my own.
“Yes, thank you for reminding me. There have been a lot of new faces recently. Is there something we can do for you?”
“No. I’m good.” He radiates good will and a surge of energy. “Just checking to see if there has been any news from Sanji.” He shifts his weight from side to side, like he has to pee or something.
“Nothing so far. They should be good for a few more hours and then will come in to feed and warm up.”
“Fine. I’m off to the game room,” he nods his goodbye and turns to head toward the north wing.
Tommy’s behind the front desk and I raise my eyebrows at him in question, “Anything else come up?”
“Nope, its been pretty quiet, mate,” he looks down at some pink slips scattered across his workstation. “Wait, a message did come in from cabin two.”
My ears perk up. That’s were the dead English werewolf was found. Now if that doesn’t sound like a movie plot, then I don’t know what does. “Yes?”
“He was checking to see if Jet was ready to head out.”
“Did you relay the message to Jet?”
“I haven’t seen him. I activated the message light on his and Matt’s room, but they haven’t checked with me yet.”
Interesting. I wonder if Jet stopped by Melvyn’s cabin to get a wolf snack and got carried away? Or maybe he made sexual advances on the lone wolf and Melvyn wasn’t game? Considering Jet brought Matt with him and never seems to want for a plaything, that scenario seems unlikely.
“Thanks, Tommy.” His crooked smile flashes at me from under a poorly set broken nose.
Dria abruptly breaks into my thoughts, Hey, I’m back and I’m about to call.
Would it kill you to wait for me? I project my agitation at her statement.
Afraid you might miss some good gossip?
Don’t push me away like the others while you work through your distrust issues. I snap back at her. I won’t allow it.
Fine, mister complainer. Then hurry up.
I know her anger isn’t directed at me, so I refrain from lashing back. It’s hard, but I’ve had years of experience dealing with the walls she erects around herself. The connection between us cuts off and I glance down at the pink paper in the young Aussie’s hand.
“Hey Tommy, don’t worry about the message. Give it to me and I’ll take care of it.”
“Sure thing, boss.” He hands it to me and I turn back the way I came.
Taking a deep breath, I try to push out the irritation Dria stirred in me. At times, the powerful vamp acts more like a paranoid General—one who sees those in her command as spies and disloyal. Her past experience in Mikov’s seethe as a young woman, and then as a young vampire, certainly taught her those instincts the hard way.
This recent issue with Asa could set her off for the whole week. Defusing her anger and re-directing her focus will be my biggest challenge over the next few days. Perhaps some more hot sweaty sex will be on the agenda.
A small grin forms on my face as I wander back through the dining room and kitchen to our suite. More sex and no more dead bodies—that should do the trick.
The peace from our darkened living room is marred by my wife’s pacing, the cordless phone clutched firmly in one hand.
“Took you long enough.” I ignore her taunt, knowing its true source.
“I have only a few hours before the sun comes up in Buenos Aires.”
I nod and walk past her to the kitchen. I think the carafe still has some coffee left. Pouring myself the last cup, I add some creamer as Dria finally succumbs and calls.
“This is Dria McAndrews, I’d like to speak with Rolando.”
There is a pause for a few minutes while the current gopher answering the phones tracks down the member from the Inner Circle. Rolando isn’t an ancient yet, but his spot close to them as an advisor is a much-coveted one.
My enhanced human senses, thanks to sharing Dria’s blood, range pretty close to those of a vampire. I can easily hear both ends of a phone conversation, a great skill to have when you have a pacing wife on your hands.
Rolando’s smooth voice comes on the line. “Why Dria, what a pleasant surprise. I take it you’re enjoying Coraline’s presence?”
“Can it, you hack. A phone call of warning would have been nice.”
Rich laughter floats across the line before he settles down enough to respond. “There were orders no one should reveal plans—to anyone, not just you. The choice of who got to go wasn’t even announced until an hour prior to take off.”
“Whatever did you do to earn the hateful gleam I saw in Cora’s eye before she boarded the plane?”
Dria waves a hand dismissively, “Bygones. Let’s just say it’s professional jealousy and leave it at that. What can you tell me about Emiko?”
“Let me first ask—what do you know already?”
“A contact did some research for me and uncovered she was trained in ninjutsu before being turned over two centuries ago, but that’s it so far.”
“Good, so you have some idea of who you’re dealing with. She’s highly skilled. I wouldn’t doubt it if most of your hunters are killed before the end of the week.”
Dria winces at his last statement. “That would not be good for business.”
Rolando’s humor comes through loud and clear. “No, I bet it wouldn’t.”
“What can you tell me from her time serving the Ancients?”
“She’s a skilled enforcer, her success ratio was almost as high as yours.” My wife rolls her eyes at his statement, but it makes me wonder if there couldn’t have been some “professional jealousy” from others brewing against the slight Asian vamp as well. “She served about five years before she snapped.”
“Quite shocking really. She tore apart five officials in one night and then placed the remains of their bodies near one of our hidden street entrances. The news and media had a field day.”
“But why? Did anyone think to ask?”
“Her claim of innocence could not be corroborated.”
“Wait, so she’s essentially guilty until proven innocent?”
“This is not the U.S. judicial system we’re dealing with, you know.” The rounded tones of Rolando’s Latino accent reveal a slight reprimand in his rejoinder. “Her scent was on the bodies, they were killed by shuriken and chopped up with a katana—her chosen weapons.”
“Was there a trial?”
“Kind of. That’s where things started to get a little weird...”
Dria stops dead in her tracks and locks eyes with me. “What are you getting at?”
“I don’t have any proof. Just my own conjecture and gut telling me something isn’t right. But I will say one thing before I get off the phone—all of this started after you reported Ivan’s death this past fall.”
“Then I was right, she was the vampire who released Ivan under orders and sent him after Angie?”
A click sounds from the cordless, indicating Rolando has ended the call before going into more detail.
“Dammit!” she says before slamming the phone onto the counter. “What do you think?”
“I think something is up. But I have no idea what,” I say.
“Why is Emiko being used as a fall guy? Or is she complicit in this whole scenario?”
Whoa. That’s one I hadn’t thought of. “So she could be guilty, innocent, or involved in the conspiracy brewing around you?” My cell phone chirps out Thorogood at my waist again, and I note it’s Asa, calling from the basement. “I need to go check on some things downstairs, see if any more info on the hunt has trickled in. Why don’t you try to relax?”
“Relax? Are you out of your ever-loving mind?”
I stand and approach her slowly. I wrap my larger body around hers in a fierce hug. “You need to find your center. You will not solve anything if you’re agitated. Exercise. Go through some sparring moves in the dojo. Try some yoga. Do something before you check on Paul.”
Criminey. I almost forgot about him. Where is he?
He’s sleeping, in his safe room below.
Oh, yeah. She sighs out a deep breath while relaxing a bit in my embrace. Okay, you’re right. I need to chill for a bit before I attempt to help him. You’ve got things covered?
Yes, my love. I say in her mind as I step back releasing her. Go. I can handle things.
“Let me go get some exercise clothes on and I’ll head right out. Thanks, hon.”
My glorious, but high-strung, wife heads down the hall and a bit of my own tension leaves me. I chug back the rest of my coffee and head down to the basement.
I trigger the hidden locking mechanism and wait for the wall to slide open. The smell of bleach wafts out of the opening, while my first view into the room reveals a bunch of broken-down cardboard boxes.