The crisp air licked my skin as we made our way to Amanda’s car. Safely out of hearing range of our fellow officers, Amanda pulled a pack of cigarettes from her inner pocket and tapped one out. The fire from her lighter flashed and I blinked.
“Don’t give me that look.”
“I’m not looking at you,” I grumbled, continuing to glare at her cigarette. Amanda only smoked when a case really got to her. Her one vice lingered despite her best efforts to control her life with a stranglehold grip. Considering the stress of the job, smoking was pretty damn harmless compared to what she could be doing to cope. It bugged me enough to give her a dirty look, but I wasn’t about to criticize her aloud for a single weakness.
Not with everything she’d done for me.
I shook my head to clear my thoughts, and for the first time noticed her eyeliner and fading lipstick. “So how’d the date go?”
She crinkled her nose. “He canceled. I canceled the last one. I don’t think a doctor and a cop are capable of dating. If my schedule isn’t screwed, his is. Been over a month since we’ve met for a cup of coffee.”
“Want a hug?” I opened my arms wide and grinned at her.
“Shit.” She chuckled and tapped her cigarette lightly, releasing ash into the breeze.
I put my arms down and returned her smile. A van emblazoned with Lake County Coroner on the side pulled up and two youngish-looking men jumped out and headed for the back of the van. Damn, we were farther north than I’d realized. Those guys weren’t going to be happy this body was headed to the city. One of the charms of working the paranormal unit was covering the entire Chicagoland area. Given our expertise, and most local cops’ unwillingness to work OW cases, that area tended to cover Wisconsin to Iowa and far enough south of the city to see corn growing.
“You’ve come a long way, you know.”
Unsure of how to respond, I stared at the ember tipping the end of her cigarette.
“You didn’t even throw up.”
“I haven’t puked since my first case!” My face burned, hot against the coolness of the night air. “Besides, this vic was in one piece.”
Amanda leaned against her car and smiled. “A heck of a first case. Nothing makes a mess quite like a lycanthrope catching her husband cheating.”
Damn straight. They’d probably had to burn that house down.
The second I walked into my house, the hair stood on the back of my neck. Nothing seemed disturbed at first glance. My door was locked, and the small table next to the door still held the decorative box where I threw my keys every night. A print of Monet’s Garden Path hung straight on the wall across from the front door. But something was wrong. A smell in the air maybe, or an imperfect silence that was usually perfect. Whatever the subtle clue, my subconscious translated it to a bad feeling in my gut. Not for the first time in my career as a cop, I wished I possessed the abilities of a sensitive.
I pulled my 9mm from its shoulder holster and crept into my living room. Light glowed from the dining room. Pretty certain I hadn’t left a light on, I eased forward. I took a deep breath and held the air in my lungs, in case whatever waited for me couldn’t be hurt with bullets.
I swung my gun up then rounded the corner into my dining room. A man—or something that looked like one anyway—sat at the oak table. He was reading a book. A cup of coffee rested on a coaster in front of him and he’d propped sock-covered feet on my table. Settled in, right at home.
I gaped, unsure of what to say. My face grew hot when I saw the cover of the book in his hand. A beautiful woman held in the arms of a tall, too-handsome hero with abs of steel graced the cover of the romance novel. I barely resisted the urge to shoot him. Who says I don’t have fan-freaking-tastic self-control?
“Who are you?” I finally spluttered out.
He set the book down and smiled at me. It was one heck of a smile on one heck of a face. A strong jaw covered in five o’clock shadow, dark eyes, and a head of messy black hair set on a very fit, long body.
“Ah, Kiera McLoughlin, I presume?” I thought I detected a slight Irish lilt to his voice, but if he had an accent, it was subtle. He took his feet off the table, moving slowly.
“Presume away. Who are you and what are you doing in my house?”
His smiled turned into a full-on flirtatious grin. “Why don’t you put your gun away so we can talk? About your interesting taste in books, perhaps.”
I glared at him, face burning. Handsome or not, I was in charge in my own house. “No way, cupcake. Tell me who you are and I might consider putting my gun away.”
He sighed, his chest pressing against his tight T-shirt. I glared harder.
“All right. My name is Aidan Byrne. I’m here to talk to you about the murders you’re investigating.”
I lowered my gun a few inches, more because of the weight than any level of trust I felt toward the stranger. “You a witness or something, Aidan? There’re safer ways to report your info than breaking into a cop’s house.”
“Not a witness. I’m a cop, too. OWEA. I think we’re looking for the same killer.”
I raised my eyebrows. The Otherworlder Enforcement Agency was similar to the FBI in that they were selective in what they investigated. Generally, they took on paranormal-related crimes that crossed state lines or OW cases that needed resources outside of what a standard police department could pull together.
“So this perp has killed in other jurisdictions?”
“We think so.”
“Show me some ID.” I lowered my gun a few more inches and approached him carefully. “Please,” I added, belatedly remembering that being polite to the jerk who broke into my house wouldn’t kill me—but pissing off the OWEA might be the death of my career.
Raising one empty hand in the air, he leaned forward, reached into his back pocket with the other hand, and pulled out a leather badge and ID holder. He flipped it open and turned it so I could see.
I took the wallet from his hands and scanned its contents. The dark badge glinted in the low light, and beneath it, nestled in a reflective piece of plastic, was an ID badge. The man’s face grinned at me from behind the plastic, his dark hair and startling eyes clearly visible, even in the crappy ID photo. I shoved my gun into its holster and handed the wallet back to him. Fighting embarrassment, I grabbed the steamy romance novel he’d taken from the stack on the table, and shoved it onto the pile where it belonged.
“Okay, Agent Byrne, why did you think you needed to break into my house to talk to me about this case? OWEA running on hard times? Can’t afford to supply agents with cell phones anymore?”
He put his badge away. “I wanted to talk to you tonight. We’re strictly looking at this one on an unofficial basis.” His easy smile disappeared and he shifted on the chair. “In fact, I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t mention the agency’s involvement to anyone just yet.”
I gave him my best cop stare. “Why come to me? Amanda’s the senior investigator on this.”
His grin returned. “She wasn’t home yet.”
Nothing like being the second-best choice. “You’ve got my attention. What are we looking for?”
“Wish I knew. What we do know is that it has been killing women all over the country for the last two years, at least.”
I started. How many people had this sicko murdered? “Only women?” I pulled out my notepad and pen and sat down.
“Twelve that we know of.”
I whistled under my breath. “Jesus. All…human?”
“No. Not all.”
A chill ran down my spine and I looked up from my notepad. “It’s killing otherworlders, too? What kinds?”
“A selkie and…”
“A psychic. Not exactly an otherworlder, but close enough. One we’d consulted as a part of our investigation.”
I set my pen down and leaned across the corner of the table separating us. “You think she was targeted because you talked to her?”
“Could be the killer thought she knew something. Maybe.”
“Just the selkie and the psychic?” I picked my pen back up and struggled not to chew on it. A killer targeting otherworlders got under my skin. Not all of us were as powerful as vampires or Covenant witches, but most of us could take care of ourselves pretty well. A killer powerful enough to target OWs wasn’t good.
“That we know of.”
“Do you have the files?”
“I can’t share those with you.”
“I’m sorry. Look. I would if I could, but I’ll have to get an okay from my boss before I can do that.”
His smooth, placating tone rubbed me the wrong way, but I didn’t know him well enough to argue with him, even if he was lying. Besides, the OWEA had more bureaucracy in place than the city police.
“Well, get your permissions quickly. Jurisdictional bull isn’t going to help us bring down this killer before it finds another victim.” I thought about what Agent Byrne had said while a minute or two ticked by on the clock that hung from my dining room wall. Surprisingly he didn’t interrupt.
“So a killer who targets humans and otherworlders who are as weak as humans. I’d like to see the fucker go after someone who can actually defend herself,” I said, finally.
“Like a banshee?” His face hardened. “It’s not a good idea to wish for things like that, Kiera.”
I took a quick breath. So what if he knew about my half-banshee status? It might not be common knowledge, but it was hardly a secret. “Everyone calls me Mac.”
“I prefer Kiera.” He stared at me until I felt uncomfortable, and looked down. “We don’t even know if they were targeted on purpose. The selkie, anyway. Neither was open about what they were.”
“Not even the selkie?”
“She was trying to mainstream. A college student.” He leaned forward and I resisted the urge to move in toward him. “Look. This guy is bad news. At the very least we have a serial killer. One who can kill without leaving a mark. You’re not going to find any poison in your new victim, no other indicators beyond what you saw at the crime scene.”