“If Zoe’s been turned, do you want me to bring her home or stake her?”
Just a regular Tuesday morning, meeting with clients concerning their under-aged vamp bait. At least for me: Discord Jones, psychic and private investigator, at your service.
Nothing like this was in the parameters for the couple sitting across from me at my desk. Mid-forty yuppies, dressed for success in power suits with hundred-dollar haircuts, they were the fidgety types, though I seemed to have stunned them still.
Their mouths dropped open, and their widened eyes stared at me. Mr. Mitchell glanced at his wife. “We…we haven’t thought about that.”
“You need to.” I laced my fingers, and rested the ball of my hands on the desk to keep from reaching out to shake sense into the couple. No point alienating clients until after the check cleared. At this stage, I could afford to be kind. “A newly turned vampire isn’t anything like those you may have seen wandering the streets at night. It takes them a while to learn to control their thirst, and frankly, most only manage to if an older vampire keeps them in line.”
Her husband was staring at the file when I asked, “Did you bring a recent photo and something personal belonging to her?” Mrs. Mitchell nodded while pulling a framed 5×7 and plastic baggy from her purse. “If you’ll just please put them on my desk.”
She complied with my request, her forehead wrinkling a little. I offered a little explanation after blinking away the dazzle of her rings. “Psychic abilities aren’t magic, and they don’t always work—at least not immediately.”
“Just find her.” Mrs. Mitchell pressed her trembling lips firmly together. She loved her daughter, but there was some irritation and frustration mixed in that love, seeping through the tiny crack in my shield that I allowed for client meetings.
“I have a high success rate,” I said gently. “But I’m not infallible. I’m not going to touch that necklace and be able to tell you she’s at a certain address. I may not sense anything at all the first time I handle it.”
“But you can bring her home?” Mrs. Mitchell had recovered a bit.
“Once I find her, yes. It will take a combination of my abilities and brute force, if she’s been turned. However, before I bring her home, you two need to have some plans in place. She’ll need to be confined, fed, and have someone on hand who can keep her from doing anything unpleasant.” Like munching on you.
Both nodded. I moved on. “Do you have any reason to believe she was kidnapped, or are you certain she ran away?”
“She ran away.” Mr. Mitchell answered, disgust coloring his expression and voice. “Zoe hasn’t adjusted to the divorce or our marriage.”
“We don’t know that,” his wife snapped, shooting him a glance that promised a night on the couch.
“How long ago was your divorce?”
“Four years ago. Zoe was twelve then. We married a year after it was final.” She returned her attention to me, the straight seam of her lips defying me to ask the whereabouts of Zoe’s father, notably his absence from this room now. Okay, then I’d be checking that out later. Taking a few more minutes to wrap things up, I assured the Mitchells that I’d keep them updated as often as possible. While showing them out, I noticed Kate’s office door was open and caught a glimpse of a guy inside.
I’d felt enough glimmers of impatience and anger from Mr. Mitchell to make it clear that he really didn’t give a damn if Zoe were found. As soon as the heavy glass door swung closed behind them and began to distort their receding images, I took a deep breath and let it out. Nope, not calm enough yet to handle the necklace. I needed a distraction and Kate’s office offered a fine one.
“Hey.” Leaning a shoulder against the doorframe, I looked the guy over. He was hot, in that younger Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones way. Dark brown hair, tanned skin, and dark chocolate eyes, which were returning my assessment with a slow up and down sweep. “Intro, please?”
“Jones, this is Nick Maxwell, new hire.” Kate appeared bored. One of these days, I would find out who her mysterious boyfriend was. He had to be an ultra hottie because she never reacted to yummy eye candy, and this Nick guy was firmly entrenched in that particular category. “Maxwell, this is Discordia Jones, our resident psychic.”
His lips quirked. “Hello. That’s a hell of a name.”
“Hey. Yeah, it was my mom’s idea.” Kate had left out what he was. Everyone at Arcane Solutions was something a little more than straight human. Like the witch currently wearing a faint sly smile while fluffing her deep purple hair with her electric blue nails. The message was clear: I was on my own in finding out. “So what’s your specialty?”
A full-fledged grin appeared, striking gold sparks in his eyes. “Back watching and hunting.”
Apparently human and it was daylight. I took a not-so-wild stab in the dark. “You’re a shifter?”
“Wolf. Is that a problem?” His grin turned feral.
I shrugged and crossed my arms. “Not one I have.”
Prejudice had received a surge of popularity since the Melding, with so many new species appearing. Shifters were a favorite target, forced to assume their animal shapes on full moon nights.
After all, the legends and movies had always painted them as uncontrolled, ravening, bloodthirsty beasts. The few I’d met since beginning to work at Arcane Solutions were anything but.
“That’s good, since Mr. Whitehaven mentioned you to me. As in, we’ll be working together.” Nick’s intent gaze said he was quite interested in my reaction to that information.
“Did he now?” I drawled out, past the tightness in my chest, a flash of anger sharpening my own smile.
Without waiting for either of them to respond, I turned and stalked toward the boss’s office, just catching Kate’s “Uh-oh” and the shifter’s “What?” above the thump of my boot-heels.
Mr. Whitehaven’s door was closed, but it usually was and I’d never let that stop me before. Giving a quick knock before twisting the knob and stepping into his office, I discovered he was on the phone.
Not even an eyebrow raised in surprise. “I’ll be just a moment, Discordia. Please have a seat.”
I chose to stand. The exact genetic mix that had resulted in Whitehaven was a mystery to me, but giant had to be part of it. My boss is eight feet tall and older than I like to think about. Standing didn’t really give much of an advantage, but it felt like one. Having to wait was already leaching away my mad-on, so I needed all the help I could get.
If asked to sum up Dermot Whitehaven in one word, that word would be ‘imposing’. I imagine he was terrifying when younger, before age had withered his appearance to something approaching cadaver status. Old or not, he didn’t have a wrinkle, but the smoothest skin I’d ever seen on anyone.
“Yes, that will be quite acceptable,” he told whomever he was talking to before ending the call. Reddish brown eyes focused on mine and his lips curved just a bit. “How can I help you, Discordia?”
Fists planted firmly on hips, I glared back. “Did you hire Maxwell to ride herd on me?”
“Your cases seem to be increasingly dangerous, and while I appreciate your ability to quicken the healing process for yourself, I thought it better to attempt prevention of injuries.” His smile was fading.
“I can take care of myself, and don’t need someone following me around. I’m taking self-defense classes.”
Whitehaven pressed his lips together before speaking. “That’s very commendable, Discordia. However, I think it better if Nicholas accompanies you on your excursions.”
I had two choices: cave now or continue arguing, only to cave later. I always forget that I never win arguments with my boss. Before choosing which it would be this time, Nick appeared at the doorway. “I thought you said there wasn’t a problem with my being a shifter.”
“This isn’t about that, Maxwell.” I waved a hand, hoping he’d take the hint and truck his butt back out. “I don’t need a babysitter.”
Whitehaven focused on Nick, who shrugged. Neither wore an expression I could read, and I don’t poke around in people’s heads unless necessary, because it’s rude.
“You are an invaluable asset, and I personally prefer that you remain as unharmed as possible. Nicholas will accompany you.” My boss smiled again.
Caving was the only option when he used his fatherly tone. “Fine.”
I spun around, only to halt because Nick blocked the doorway. He was taller by a good five inches. “Do you mind?”
“Babysitting you? No,” he replied, a slow grin spreading.
“I meant move. As in now. I have work to do.”
“Is it the dangerous kind?” The shifter turned sideways, giving me room to leave, but not without coming into contact with him.
“No.” A nudge of TK pushed him out of the doorway, clearing my path back to my office. It was a childish reaction. Slamming the door shut before smacking down into my chair so hard it went through seven revolutions before stopping was too. I slowly spun myself round to face the desk and the tokens atop it.
Still not calm, I took a deep breath or ten before flipping the photo right-side-up. Zoe Blacke was a pretty blonde teen with a sullen pout enhanced by heavy magenta lipstick. The photo froze her in time at some family celebration, judging by the candles and tulip-shaped wineglasses winking around her as bubbles reflected the camera flash.
Probably a birthday. I tilted the photo to catch the light better. Sure looked like cherries in the middle of the slice of cake Zoe was mashing with her fork, so Black Forest gateau. Celebratory cake, family gathering, snapshots…and she’d been missing for days. There was lot more wrong with this picture than Zoe’s lavish love for purple mascara.
Mr. Mitchell’s attitude bothered me. He’d pushed the point that Zoe “hadn’t adjusted” twice more before our meeting ended. I wondered if more than his being her stepfather had caused the girl to take off.
“Well, time to try to find out.” Snagging the baggy and spilling the necklace it held onto my desk, I studied it. Nothing expensive, just a wire-wrapped, green kyanite strung on a leather thong. Both crystals and leather are great for absorbing living energy, so I began to clear my mind in preparation.
‘Clear my mind’ is a figure of speech. Maybe some people can manage to go blank, but I’m of the school that even when you’re thinking ‘nothing’, that means you’re still thinking about something.
Closing my eyes and counting backward from ten, I dropped my left hand onto the necklace while finishing. “One.”
A few seconds passed before anything happened, and the images and emotions that swirled into my mind were too confused to make sense.
A boy’s laughter. The sting of cigarette smoke. Heavy music and flashing lights. A faint, metallic taste that coated my tongue and faded. Zoe staring into a mirror, carefully anointing her pursed lips with lipstick.
It would eventually sort out into useful stuff. The truly important thing was the faint shimmer of golden “dust.” It meant Zoe was alive–and still human. Plus it gave me a delicate connection to the girl that should alert me if I managed to get anywhere near her.
I’d set up the portion of my mind dedicated to work to look like my office. Creating a file folder, I tucked the golden shimmer inside of it before filing it inside the Active cabinet.
With any luck, my tracking ability would kick in at some point and lead me straight to Zoe.
Holding that hope close, I opened my eyes and put her necklace back into the baggy before tucking it inside a desk drawer. My next step was to take the photo down to Kate’s office.
Rescuing under-aged vamp bait and retrieving stolen possessions is all in a day’s work for Discord Jones.
When a gorgeous, lying bastard of an elf hires her to find an ancient book, danger takes on a whole new meaning.
The book holds an unbelievably powerful spell, and ‘favored prey of demons’ becomes an unwelcome addition to her resume.