CHAPTER 6

Raze had been wandering around the city for half the day when he picked up a tail. He took a circuitous route to be sure and when he was, he pulled out his cell phone and called Vashti. “Problem.”

“Hopefully I’ve got a solution.”

“It’s two o’clock in the afternoon and I’ve got a minion sniffing after me.”

There was silence, then a whistle. “Well, that’s interesting.”

“It’s scary as fuck and you know it.” Only the Fallen could take sunlight; minions were mortally photosensitive. The only exceptions were minions who’d recently drank Fallen blood, which afforded them temporary immunity that would last seventy-two hours at most. “We have a full accounting of the Fallen?”

“I’ll double-check, but I can’t think of anyone in that area aside from you.”

“Let me know what you hear. In the meantime, I’m going to have a little chat with my shadow and see what I can shake loose.” He killed the call and shoved his phone in his pocket.

A group of teenagers exited a store in front of him, clogging up the sidewalk and providing the distraction he needed. Darting behind them, he entered the store and shot out the rear delivery entrance. He found himself in a small alley lined with trash and dumpsters and framed above by fire escapes. Leaping the two story distance to the first escape ledge, Raze settled in to wait, knowing his tail would eventually follow his scent.

Ten minutes later, a tiny brunette stepped out of the shop into the alley. He took a deep breath and smelled vampire. Crouching, he prepared to jump when it struck him that she wouldn’t be alone. She would be half of a pair.

He hopped down and blocked the swing of her fist, then shielded his groin when she attempted to take him down with a knee to the nuts. She pressed on, raining blows and kicks, which he deflected with greater speed, his forearms parrying jabs so quickly that to a mortal eye he would’ve seemed to be no more than a blur. He waited for the perfect opening and took it, stunning her with a blow to the neck and catching her in a headlock. Spinning her around, he caged her with her back to his chest.

He yanked her head to the side and bit deep. Her memories flooded into him along with her blood, giving him all the answers he needed… except for where to find Francesca. The baroness had gone under, contacting her minions via phone or email. His fangs retracted and he was licking the tiny wounds closed when her mate rushed into the alley.

“Behave, Lake,” Raze warned her softly, puzzled by some of what he’d read in her mind. “Or I’ll tell him about your little piece of ass on the side.”

She stilled, breathing roughly.

Her partner, Forest-how sickeningly sweet was the deliberate pairing of thosenames?-froze at the sight of his woman helpless in Raze’s arms. “Hurt her and die.”

Raze grinned, but noted the shine of feral madness in the minion’s eyes. He’d seen inside Lake’s mind and knew what these two did on their dates-blood and pain were their aphrodisiacs. “I won’t hurt her… yet. But I’ve got her scent and I’ve drank her blood. I could find her in the Times Square crowd on New Year’s Eve. Think about that.”

Forest’s hands clenched and unclenched rhythmically. “What do you want?”

“Take a message back to the baroness. Tell her to quit dicking around and face me. I have places to go, rogues to kill. I can’t hang around Chicago indefinitely.”

“You’d fight a woman? A lady. One of your own kind.” Forest began to shift restlessly, licking his lips. His eyes were lit with a sick hunger. It seemed Forest found it arousing to watch his woman manhandled roughly.

It was a terrible fact that the majority of minions lost their minds after the Change. Mortals weren’t designed to live without their souls and the Change took that from them. If it were up to the Fallen-who were the source of the dark gift-only carefully selected mortals would be Changed, but vampirism was like a secret shared only with trusted friends, who in turn shared it only with their most trusted friends, and so on. The spread had long ago become uncontrollable as the unstable minions began to Change others indiscriminately. It was Adrian’s job to mitigate the fallout, an endless mission that pitted the Sentinels against the Fallen in a contentious battle of wills.

“The baroness is no lady,” Raze shot back. “I’ve watched a video of her slicing an innocent man open-alive-while humming a merry tune. She can do that, she can fight me. So give her my message: I’m not wasting my time hunting someone who hides behind their minions. She’s got forty-eight hours to take me on or I’m passing her off to Adrian.”

“I’ll tell her.” Forest smiled with eager malice.

Raze shoved the vampress forward into her mate. “I’ll be seeing you two again.”

Hopping back onto the fire escape, he climbed to the roof and set off from there.

* * *

“No way.” Delia planted herself on one of Kim’s kitchen island barstools and shook her head emphatically. “Guys that look like Biker Boy are personality deficient. That’s the trade-off for the hotness-they’re self-absorbed jerks.”

Kim smiled and continued putting groceries away. “You’re right. Absolutely. Except for Raze.”

“There has to be something wrong with him.”

“Yeah… He doesn’t live in Chicago.”

“He snores.”

“Nope.” Although she realized she’d never been awake while he was sleeping. “Actually, I’m not sure.”

“So that’s a maybe. He’s an early ejaculator.”

Kim laughed until her eyes got teary. “Oh my god… No. Definitely no.”

“Being good in bed is a challenge to him. He’s a womanizer who views sex like a sport-all technique and no heart.”

“He’s not the least bit detached. In fact, part of what I loved about sleeping with him was how into it he got. Like having sex with me was toe-curlingly, eye-rollingly good. As for being a womanizer… Yes. Probably. He was going to screw somebody last night. I was just lucky enough that it ended up being me.”

“So, there’s another con-a pretty big one-right there. Does he talk about himself constantly?”

“He doesn’t talk about himself at all.”

Delia’s sloe eyes narrowed behind her glasses. “Maybe he’s married.”

“Married to his job. Trust me, I know the type. I lived with two cops.”

“Self-centered? You had to spell things out for him to get yours.”

“He knew what I needed before I did. He noticed my goose bumps for chrissakes.” Kim shut the fridge door and returned to the island, curling her hands around the bullnosed edge. “It’s going to sound corny, but it’s like he’s totally in tune with me. He knew when I was hot or cold. He knew where to touch me, how to touch me, how long to touch me… Jesus, I cried all over him about Janelle and he didn’t freak out. He didn’t tell me everything was all right or ask me to stop crying. He didn’t go into another room or make noises about it being time for me to go.”

“Damn it.” Delia pouted. “That’s so not fair. I blew him off and you reeled in Mr. Awesome Sauce.”

“I’d apologize, but I wouldn’t be sincere.”

Delia smiled. “I’m glad he’s not a serial killer.”

“Me, too.” Although he just might slay her when all was said and done. She’d been thinking about him all day, thinking about things she wanted to do with him, places she wanted to take him. Like her favorite pizza shop. And the Field Museum, where he could see the real lions from The Ghost and the Darkness.

“You’ve got bags under your eyes, Kimmy girl, but you look all happy and glow-y. I’m really glad about that.”

“I haven’t felt this good in a long time,” she admitted, tidying up the countertop because she wanted Raze to like her place and feel comfortable in it. “A part of me thinks that’s stupid. I’m a mature, successful, professional woman. I shouldn’t have such a crazy mood boost over a guy I’ve known less the twenty-four hours. But that’s the way it is. I needed him and he was there.”

Delia tucked a strand of her chin-length hair behind her ear. “What will you do if you still need him after he’s gone?”

“I don’t know. I guess that’ll be up to him and whether he’d like to keep in touch or not.”

“When does he leave?”

Kim glanced at the digital clock on her stovetop. “Too soon, whenever it is. I have to get ready. He’s going to be here in an hour and a half.”

“You could convince him to keep in touch with you.” Sliding off the stool, Delia straightened the skirt of her flirty blue dress.

“I don’t think anyone can convince Raze of anything once he’s made up his mind.” Kim’s chest tightened at the thought of having even a tiny hold on Raze.

“Think about it. You’re not his type. He walked into that bar looking for a back alley screw or something like it. Then you walked up and rocked his world, just like Roz said you would. He let you into his personal space, fed you, took care of you. You’ve got him already, Kimmy. You can keep him, if you want to.”

“If that’s true, why did you give me the third degree and say all that stuff about something being wrong with him?”

Delia grinned, and pinched her thumb and forefinger together. “Maybe I’m just a teeny bit jealous. But mostly I wanted to make sure you were thinking things through and not getting blindsided by a gorgeous, dangerous-looking man who’s a god in bed.”

“You suck. Thank you for caring.”

Coming around the island, Delia lifted to her tiptoes and pressed a kiss to Kim’s cheek. “Have fun tonight. Call me tomorrow and give me all the deets.”

“Are you going out tonight?”

“Oh, absolutely. You’ve inspired me to find my own Mr. Awesome. He’s got to be out there somewhere. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll have some juicy news to share with you. Wish me luck.”

“All the luck in the world,” Kim assured her as she walked her to the door. “Thanks for hanging out and shopping with me today.”

“I loved it. We should do it more often. Gives me an excuse to augment my own lingerie collection. Bye!”

Shutting the door, Kim engaged the locks and leaned back against the paneled wood, examining her living room as if she’d never seen it before. Her new place was smaller than the one she’d shared with Janelle. She had started over from scratch, replacing everything, including the frames on her pictures. While her previous home had been a riot of color, her new place was softly neutral with occasional dashes of blue. She couldn’t bear to have red anywhere.

Imagining Raze in her private space, a place she’d yet to invite a romantic interest over to see, was deeply personal. She could say in all honesty that she couldn’t imagine inviting any other guy over to invade it, aside from her coworkers. She really hoped he felt comfortable while he was here. She wanted him relaxed and at ease, open. She wanted him as naked emotionally as he’d been last night. She craved that intimacy as much as she craved his hard, muscular body.

Thinking of the stuff she’d bought on her shopping trip with Delia, Kim smiled.

“I’m not done rocking your world, Mr. Awesome,” she murmured, setting off down the hallway to get ready.

* * *

“Forest and Lake got the Fallen blood via a courier delivery this morning,” Raze said into the screen of his iPad. “An unmarked blood bag they shared between them.”

Vash frowned into the camera. “That’s a problem.”

“I emailed the info I got from Lake’s memory of the package and receipt. Let’s hope Torque can track it down to its source.”

“Are we looking for a mole here? A minion smuggling out Fallen blood?”

Because the Fallen couldn’t be everywhere at once, it was necessary to fortify minions to pick up the slack. All of the Fallen routinely stored blood for that purpose. “We need to look closer at that video of the murder. Not just at who’s in it, but where. That body was fresh. She killed him nearby and someone sheltered her while she did it. They also knew me well enough to gauge the best time to dump the body. Maybe that’s why she wasn’t at the meeting at Wrigley Field.”

“She should’ve gotten back to Chicago before you.”

“Not if she was waiting on Fallen blood to take back with her.”

Vash growled. “Fuckin’ A.”

“Yeah…” He glanced at the clock. “I have to go.”

“Why? Clue me in. Do you need backup?”

“It wouldn’t hurt. We’ve definitely got some cleaning up to do in this city. But that’s not why I’ve got to run. I have to get ready for a date.”

Her brows rose. “Is that what you’re calling your suck-and-fucks nowadays? Dates?”

“Shut up. The last I heard, dinner and movies constituted a date.”

“Jesus.” She slumped back into her chair. “Maybe whatever Grimm’s crew has got is contagious and you caught it when you bit Puddle.”

“Lake. I’m signing off now, Vash. ‘Night.”

Raze was out of his chair and moving into the bedroom a heartbeat later. He was dying to get to Kim and he’d have to wander all over Chicago first to be sure he didn’t drag a tail with him. If he’d been thinking straight that morning, he would’ve had her come to him again. Nice and anonymous. If someone was watching the hotel, she’d just look like a guest herself with her bag and direct beeline to a room as if she was a registered guest.

But she wanted him at her place and he wasn’t going to disappoint her or make her think he just wanted to get laid by changing the plans now. Last night, she’d made sure to have her own transportation and to meet at a public place when she hooked up with a stranger. To go from that level of wariness to the trust of inviting him over to her private space was important, and he didn’t want to fuck it up. He’d just have to be real careful. No problem.

For the first time in a very long time, Raze was looking forward to a beginning rather than an ending, which was the inevitable result of hunting.

As he headed into the shower, he was whistling, anticipation a heady warmth in his veins.

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