There was silence on the other end of the line.
“You owe me, Aggie.” It had been almost five years since I’d let Aggie talk me out of an arrest that would have forever tainted his oldest daughter’s record. I’d been a uniform then, and only a couple of years with my badge. Truth be told, I’d been more than a bit in awe of the homicide detective and had dropped the matter with a warning out of one part fear and two parts respect. But I’d changed over the years, and I wasn’t afraid to cash in the favor.
He let out the breath he must have been holding for the last twenty seconds and muttered something noncommittal before the line clicked dead. I went to make another pot of coffee. I wasn’t worried about Aggie coming through. He was a good man and a damn fine cop. And he owed me.
Two hours and three-quarters of a pot of coffee later, my doorbell rang. I trotted to the door, and then checked the peephole before opening it.
“Here,” Aggie said, thrusting a thick file into my face. “It’s what I could get. I’ll let you know if I hear anything else.” He paused, and an odd look flashed on his face, like he’d smelled something bad. “How are you?”
“Good.” He cleared his throat and shifted on his feet. “Well then.” With those charming words of support, he turned on his heel and walked down the sidewalk, heading back to his car.
I shut the door behind him, flinching as it slammed, nose already in the copy of the file he’d brought me. They’d worked fast. An initial summary of her activities for the last few days had already been compiled, though there were a lot of blanks. Credit card activity for the last thirty days had been pulled. Aggie had even managed to snag the initial scene notes from the lead detective on the case.
The name made me grimace. Corey Williams. Like Vasquez, Williams was a normal on the freak squad because he’d pissed someone off. He took it personally, and didn’t like associating with freaks.
The oak chair creaked faintly as I sat down at the table. I steeled myself to look through the file. Blinking back tears, I checked the initial Medical Examiner’s report. I took a deep breath and swallowed a lump in my throat as I read through the sparse information. She’d been reduced to a victim: female, thirty-five years old, five feet eleven inches tall, single, no children. As a cop I had to keep my distance from victims. If I pondered the fact that the victims I examined with cold detachment were real people with lives that had come to an abrupt halt, it would make me crazy. But Amanda was real to me. Keeping my distance in this case was not an option.
A loud knock sounded from the door and I started. Had Aggie forgotten to give me something? I trotted back to the door and swung it open without checking the peephole. Aidan stood on my step, a tight smile touching his lips.
Before I could open my mouth to tell him to go away, he said, “I’m here to help.”
I swallowed hard and nodded.
He followed me to the dining room and glanced at the small stacks of papers that held the documents from Amanda’s file. “So what do we have so far?”
I ignored the small skip my heart gave at his choice of words and said, “Not sure yet, I was just getting ready to go through her credit card and bank statements.”
I pulled out the stack of credit-card bills, and passed half to Aidan. The Visa’s last activity was two weeks prior to Amanda’s death, at Nordstrom. The Discover card hadn’t been used at all in the last month. Her bank statements were tucked in between her Visa and Discover lists. The last purchase was on the day of her death, for twelve dollars at The Grill House.
I cursed under my breath. “Got something,” I said to Aidan.
How soon after I’d bantered back and forth with Aidan had she arrived? Hours? Less? If I’d lingered a few minutes longer, could I have saved her?
Aidan followed me to The Grill House, and we went into the restaurant together. A new aura seemed to emanate from the diner. Normally welcoming, it felt faintly off to me as I walked through the front door. Nothing was actually different in the air—not being a sensitive I wouldn’t have known it if there was. But it seemed off, knowing this was the last place Amanda showed up on the grid. According to her bank statement, she’d eaten an early dinner here, only four hours after my inadvertent lunch date with Aidan Byrne. The day she stood me up with the briefest of explanations.
I fought the urge to look at Aidan, but finally lost. His eyes were serious, but he offered me a small smile. My heart jumped, and I found myself smiling back.
“Table for two?” a voice asked.
“Lisa here?” I asked the hostess, pulling my gaze from Aidan. She’d gone from auburn hair to an almost white-colored bleached blonde. Between that and her pale skin, she looked like she’d disappear in a good snowstorm.
“Yeah, one sec.”
She reappeared with Lisa in tow less than a minute later. Lisa’s hair was still blue and spiky, but by next week I was betting it would be red or orange. Maybe green.
“Hi, Mac,” she said, with a big customer-service smile plastered on her face. “And hello to you, too,” she practically purred at Aidan, and I barely resisted the urge to smack them both.
“Lisa.” I pulled her toward the entrance, away from the hostess who was leaning in to hear our conversation. “Can we talk?”
“Um…okay, I guess.”
I headed outside, and Lisa shuffled behind me. Aidan held the door for us. He didn’t seem to notice Lisa’s longing gaze, but I did. Who did she think she was, anyway?
Not that I had any claim on him.
I took a deep breath and cleared my thoughts. As the door swung shut, the cool afternoon air touched my bare arms. Fall was definitely here. Lisa dragged her gaze from Aidan and looked at me, waiting for me to speak.
“Has anyone been here to talk to you?” Seeing her confused expression I added, “From the police?”
I took a deep breath. “Amanda’s dead, Lisa.”
“Amanda? Your partner?”
I nodded. Then looked away from the pity that flashed on her face.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Mac.” She gave me a quick, awkward hug. Her expression was now tinged with sadness, but the uncertainty was still there.
“Do you remember when I was here last Monday for lunch?”
“Oh, sure I do.” She smiled and glanced at Aidan.
Of course she’d remember me coming in on Monday, since Aidan had joined me for lunch. I suppressed the glare I wanted to give her. I needed information and scaring her wasn’t likely to help her memory.
“Did you see Amanda come in that night?”
“Yeah, I remember. She came in super late for your lunch date. I told her you’d been in earlier and it seemed like she didn’t remember that she was supposed to meet you. She seemed…”
“Confused, I guess. But happy, like, really happy. Ready to jump on a table and dance happy.”
I frowned. Amanda was solid, and rarely showed her emotions. That kind of display wasn’t like her. “Was she alone?”
“Yeah, but she was dressed up in a clubbing outfit. I asked her if she had a hot date and she said yes. Guess she was meeting him at Sylvester’s.” Lisa’s eyes widened. “Do you think her date killed her? Oh my God!”
I ground my teeth together and forced out what I hoped was an encouraging smile. From the look on Lisa’s face, I wasn’t entirely successful but it was the best I could do.
“We don’t know anything for sure yet. Can you think of anything else she might have said or done?” Aidan asked.
She shook her head. “No, sorry. I wish I did. She was a nice lady.”
After quizzing Lisa for the next hour, making her walk me through Amanda’s visit to the restaurant twice from start to finish, I decided she probably didn’t know anything other than what she’d told me initially. Amanda had stopped in for a quick bite to eat on her way to a club to meet a man, she was elated—giddy even—and had seemed disoriented.
“Thanks for your help, Lisa,” I said, already lost in thought. I gave her a quick wave, ignoring her questions, and stalked back to my Toyota. Annoyingly, Aidan lingered. Probably to smooth things over with the waitress, but I wasn’t in any mood to be charitable about his intentions.
“Are you coming?” I called over my shoulder to Aidan. Without waiting for his reply, I opened my door and jumped in.
Aidan followed me as I drove to Sylvester’s. Anger built in my chest. When had Amanda fallen under the incubus’s thrall? It had to have been after I’d seen her at the crime scene, and after we played phone tag. I would have noticed if she’d been off her game. Wouldn’t I? I shook my head in an attempt to rid myself of the small bit of doubt nagging me. Doubts were useless now. I had to concentrate on finding the asshole who had killed her.
It had to be an incubus—maybe a succubus. Everything fit. Succubi thralled their victims, pulling them into a dreamlike state that lasted for hours, even days, which made their prey more pliable and easily influenced. Incubi could likely do the same thing. Records indicated their powers had been nearly identical to that of their succubi cousins. Marisol had confirmed that research, with what was as close to firsthand experience as I was going to get. Lisa hadn’t seen the killer, but between her and Jason’s statements, I was almost certain it was a man.
But why would the incubus let her out of his sight after he thralled her? Giving her a chance to break free and get help didn’t make any sense. It gave others the opportunity to notice something was wrong. Why risk it? The answer hit me, and my breath flew from my chest like I’d been struck with a sudden weight.
It was part of his game.
The risk, the thrill of making her come back to him, the possession of another’s will. That’s why he did it. Sick bastard. As I pulled into Sylvester’s parking lot, I gripped the steering wheel tighter. The freak was going to pay.