“Oh, hell no.” My declaration sounded a little too loud as I realized the vampire sitting in Mr. Whitehaven’s office was our new client. Before I learned that demons and gods were real and walking around, vampires had been the supernatural species I disliked the most. One had turned my best friend, and then treated her like a dog chew until she couldn’t take it anymore.
The vampire who turns you owns you until you become powerful enough to throw off his or her yoke. I crossed my arms and looked at my boss.
Dermot Whitehaven was an eight feet tall puzzle of genetics, with long white hair, pale skin, and reddish brown eyes. I had no clue what he was, but had seen him fight demons, as well as pick up both Nick and an elf by the scruff of their necks and shake them. I’d also seen his eyes glow a couple of times and knew he was older than I liked to think about. “I don’t work for vampires.”
Lord Derrick, the vampire in question, chuckled while straightening the lace spilling from the cuff of his antique-looking, black velvet jacket. His light brown hair fell in loose curls to his shoulders. He looked as though he should be gracing the cover of a gothic romance. “You’re still holding a grudge.”
We’d crossed paths a few months prior, when I’d been looking for an alleged teen runaway. The vampire had also been searching for the girl, and just as allegedly wanted to hire me to find her, but apparently didn’t know how to use a damn phone to make an appointment. “Your goons trashed my car.”
“I’ve paid for the repairs,” he reminded me.
“You cracked my freaking skull.” It had taken me twenty-four hours, with magical assistance from my witch buddies, to heal from him backhanding me into a stone wall.
Derrick inclined his head. “I’m sorry I injured you. That wasn’t my intention. You do have a reputation for being a little…hot-headed.”
Meaning I didn’t hold back from using my pyrokinetic ability to set vampires on fire when the occasion called for it. I’d met Logan, a tiger shifter, the same night Derrick and I had our run in. “You and your goons beat up my friend.”
The vampire sighed. “We didn’t kill him, Miss Jones. Just temporarily disabled him.”
I scowled and returned to glaring at my boss. “I don’t work for vampires.”
“No,” he agreed. “You work for me.”
Nick, my boyfriend and partner, stepped away from me to take a seat. I sighed, uncrossing my arms, and went to sit next to him since the boss had made it clear where he stood. No sense wasting time arguing with him. Not only was I under contract, but I didn’t want to quit my job, so threatening to wasn’t exactly an option. “Fine.”
Giving in didn’t mean I intended to make things easy, so I didn’t ask any questions to start the conversation. Mr. Whitehaven smiled, leaning back in his chair. “Lord Derrick, if you’ll explain your case?”
“Of course.” The vampire inclined his head before focusing his pale gray gaze on me. “I’ve come here on behalf of our Council. There have been six murders in the past month.”
“Humans?” When he shook his head, I shrugged. “I’m not seeing a problem.”
“Then allow me to explain further. Those killed were well-placed in our hierarchy, and their deaths leave voids. Voids others are fighting to fill, upsetting the balance of power in the Barrows.” Derrick laced his fingers together while crossing his legs, and rested his clasped hands on his knee as he leaned slightly forward. “We have two parties, Miss Jones: Those who believe our survival lies in following certain constraints, and those who don’t.”
“Speak English, dude. I’m not a politician.”
The vampire sat back. “The current majority frowns on killing our blood donors. Those seeking to fill the voids want to return to the old ways.”
I scowled. “Murdering people.”
Derrick nodded. He and I stared at each other for a minute before I spoke. “You’re a powerful telepath, and I’m guessing you have a lot less scruples than I do about poking around in people’s heads. Why come to me?”
“Anyone I accuse or force to confess would be seen as merely steps to consolidate the majority thinking while ridding ourselves of troublemakers. We need someone from outside to investigate.”
Nick chuckled. “Shouldn’t that someone be unbiased and impartial? Because Cordi’s not.”
The vampire smiled. “As far as many of us are concerned, her bias is a benefit. She hates us all equally.”
Hate, such a strong word. Totally appropriate for my feelings about a species that survived for centuries by killing people for their blood. Or who turned people into blood drinkers and then treated them like toys. “I have a question.”
Derrick raised an eyebrow. “Only one?”
“For now.” Smart ass. “When the Sundering happened, most humans were left here, right? So how did vampires survive all that time?”
“Humans are our preferred prey, but blood is blood. It runs red for most species.”
Uh huh and yuck. Why did I let my curiosity push me around? I changed the subject. “The biggest problem I see in taking this case is that I’m a baby in psychic terms. There was a reason I vacated the Barrows after our first contact.”
The vampire’s smile held no small amount of the smug. “I’ll assign a guard to accompany you, and I’d suggest you request one from your tiger allies as well. Two shifters, a vampire, and yourself would give many pause, Miss Jones.”
“I will.” It looked as though the news I’d tangled myself into shifter politics had finally spread. Joy, considering I hadn’t had time to sit down with Logan and Terra to figure out exactly what it meant. Aside from keeping a certain over-large douchebag from kidnapping the teen tiger Queen for a forced marriage.
Derrick rose from the couch, and half-bowed to us. “Lord Whitehaven has my address. I’ll expect you at seven tomorrow night. I can give you enough information to begin with at that time.”
“Sure.” I watched him leave before looking at my boss. “Do you trust him?”
“I trust him to want what’s best for the survival of his species, and killing humans is detrimental to that end here in Santo Trueno.” Mr. Whitehaven’s lips quirked. “It would be all too easy to decimate the vampire population with so many of them concentrated in one area, when one takes into account the weaponry humans have.”
“Right.” I hadn’t thought of that, and wondered if any politicians had. “Bomb all vampires” might make a good campaign slogan.
My boss changed the subject. “How is your house hunting going?”
Nick laughed. “You’ll be sorry you asked.”
“Hush.” I’d gotten kicked out of my apartment thanks to the aforementioned over-large douchebag’s attempt to kidnap Terra while she and Logan were there. Which was the second time I’d helped keep him from succeeding, and when I’d made what both Logan and Nick felt to be a huge mistake: Claimed I’d given them sanctuary, which meant I’d officially declared myself an ally of the White Queen’s clan.
Logan appreciated it, but worried about the danger it put me in. Nick didn’t appreciate it, since he was a wolf shifter and had a little jealousy problem where the other was concerned. Plus, he was mad I’d ignored his advice to stay out of shifter politics.
“We’ve looked at nearly two dozen houses so far. Some were too small, or too close to other houses. A lot have needed repairs.” I felt saddling myself with a mortgage was enough to handle, and didn’t want a major fixer-upper. “Rita found a couple of more for me to look at, and we’re going to see the first of those tomorrow. It’s outside city limits and has some land.”
Mr. Whitehaven smiled. “I’m certain your four-legged friends would appreciate the space.”
We chitchatted for a bit longer, until I realized how late it was getting. “I’d better get home. Mom’s busy at the center tonight, so Tonya’s going to need help feeding all the dogs.”
After saying good-bye, Nick and I walked out to the parking lot. My small sports car looked like a toy next to his crew cab truck, but the sight of it still put a smile on my face. I’d only had it back about a month, and was still in awe over the amazing job Logan had done rebuilding the car after Derrick’s goons had beat it into scrap metal.
“Full moon’s night after next,” Nick said, glancing up at the sky. “Would your mom mind if I stayed over tonight?”
“No, she won’t mind.” Shifters could change shape whenever they wanted, except on full moon nights. They had to change shape then, which meant Nick would be running with his pack, doing wolfy things like hunting for dinner. “Meet you there?”
“Yeah.” His hands found my waist and he pulled me close for a brief kiss. Arms around his neck, I grinned as our lips parted before ruffling his dark brown hair.
He laughed. “No way. Besides, I need to make a quick stop. I’m out of our little friends.”
“Okay. Then I’ll see you when you get there. Just come on in. I’ll tell the dogs so they don’t jump you.” I pulled his head down for another kiss because he’d never bitched about having to wear a condom, a first in my experience. “Bye.”
“Bye.” He let go and opened my car door for me. “Be careful.”
I pulled out of the parking lot and headed for my mom’s house, hoping things wouldn’t be too chaotic when I arrived. Three women, a giant elf-bred hound, four large dogs, and eight yappy Chihuahuas in a three-bedroom house made for crowded quarters.
No one had responded to the found ads for the Chihuahuas we’d saved from becoming bait dogs. I was secretly glad about the last, because I wanted to keep the youngest of the little ones, a spindle-legged scrap of sleek, black fur named Speck.
The crowding was one of the reasons I’d begun looking for a house just a couple of days after moving in at Mom’s.