“Do your best to be polite,” Claude said to me, back stiff in the formal chair.

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I opened my mouth to tell him I was always polite, thank you very much, but the door behind us unlatched before the words could pass my lips.

The man who strolled in didn’t look like a vampire, let alone one strong enough to hold an entire city the size of Chicago. And the unassuming young-looking man with the dark hair and a slightly too-wide nose especially didn’t look strong enough to control all of the vampires in three states. He wasn’t particularly tall—maybe five feet nine inches. A square jaw and dark brown eyes added to his average appearance. No power rolled off of him, seeking to overwhelm me, no supernatural aura of fear made my heart race around him. If I didn’t know who he was, I would have dismissed him as nothing but a normal young man.

I would have been wrong.

Claude bowed his head to the Magister as he rounded the desk. He walked behind it, looking out of place among the old things surrounding him. After a quick jerk of his head to Claude, his attention moved to Aidan. He nodded to him as well, a contemplative expression on his face, and then he turned to look at me.

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“This is Detective McLoughlin. Mac, this is Lucas Chevalier, Magister of the Northern Midwest Territory,” Claude said. “This is Aidan Byrne. He’s assisting with the investigation.”

“Mr. Chevalier,” I said.

“Please, call me Luc.” He smiled at me, and I wiped my palms on my pants, but he didn’t move to shake my hand. Throat suddenly dry, I didn’t offer to shake his either.

I gave him a quick nod when I couldn’t think of the right response and turned my attention to Claude. His eyes never left the other vampire.

“Detective, thank you for agreeing to see my son here rather than at your police station.” Luc sat down, seeming at ease with police in his house.

“Not sure it was much of a choice, but you’re welcome.”

Luc Chevalier laughed, and motioned toward the doorway. A man who bore a striking resemblance to the Magister strode into the room, assessing Claude and me before quickly dismissing us and looking at his father. They could have been brothers, and I wondered if they were actually blood relatives. Such a thing wasn’t unthinkable, but it would mean that Nicolas was nearly as old as Luc. Could he be his actual son? If so, it meant Luc had fathered him before going through the change, as they called it. Vampires were not alive, and therefore couldn’t biologically father children.

“This is my son, Nicolas. He will answer your questions.”

Nicolas leaned against the desk rather than sitting in one of the extra chairs dotted around the room, and crossed his arms. Unlike Claude and Lucas, a clear feeling of something wrong rolled off of this vampire, with a touch of the fear their race was known to cause in humans and otherworlders alike. Like the sex appeal of succubi, it wasn’t something they could control. Not according to common knowledge, anyway. I shot a quick glance at Claude. I’d always assumed that the stronger the vampire, the more aggressive the aura of fear that followed him. Stuck in a room with one of the most powerful vampires in the city—a man who seemed to elicit no fear whatsoever—made me wonder if the opposite was true.

“I understand you worked with Claire Simons?” I asked, pulling out a small notepad and pen from my pocket.

He shrugged. “I guess you could say that. I’m an attorney. She was a paralegal. She didn’t even work on my cases.”

“Did you know her outside of the office?”

“She wasn’t exactly my type.”

“Really? That’s not what I heard.” I’d heard no such thing, but I hoped the rumor that vampires could tell if the living lied was a fairy tale, or at least an exaggeration.

Luc Chevalier’s chin rose slightly, and he stared at his son. I couldn’t see a change in his expression, but the sneer faded from Nicolas’s face and he uncrossed his arms.

“Look, I didn’t associate with her outside of work. I didn’t even really notice her. She just didn’t hit my radar,” he said, tone matter-of-fact.

“Oh really? Why is that? She didn’t look tasty enough for you?”

His lip drew back in a snarl. “I wouldn’t say that. All you humans taste pretty much the same to me.”

“Watch who you’re calling human, Fang.”

Nicolas knelt in front of me, face only inches from mine, in less time than it took me to blink. His wide mouth revealed the very things I’d used to insult him, and he hissed, the sound escaping between his fangs as naturally as it would a snake.

A second later he was back across the room, held against the wall several inches off the floor, secured by Claude’s forearm under his neck. Aidan stood between them and me, his attention focused on Nicolas. His hands were clenched tightly at his sides and he stood in a fighter’s stance, legs wide set.

The hissing Nicolas had started at me continued, but it was now directed at his assailant. Spittle flew from his lips onto Claude’s face and neck and I flinched in disgust. Disgust was easier to deal with than the fear making my heart pound incessantly in my chest.

Luc Chevalier didn’t move from his chair, but when he spoke it was as if the air had left the room. “Nicolas, you will behave yourself or face the consequences. Claude, release him. We will discuss why you feel you can manhandle my family later.” He turned his gaze to me and for a brief moment I felt the power he kept hidden. Only a glimpse, but it was enough to make me vow then and there to stay the hell away from vampires if I could—this vampire especially.

Aidan moved to my side and gripped my shoulder, just for a moment. Something about his steadiness next to me settled my fear. I forced myself to ask a few more pointed questions designed to get another rise out of Nicolas, but he didn’t go for the bait. I couldn’t shake the feeling there was something off about Nicolas Chevalier, but nothing seemed to tie him to this case. I wasn’t going to poke around in a hopeless effort to figure out what it was about him that my subconscious didn’t like. Suicide wasn’t on my to-do list.

A short time later, we were escorted from the office to the front door, and sent on our way. I searched my memory for the exact effect my screams would have on vampires, but couldn’t recall anything specific outside of mild discomfort. I made a mental note to research the effect of banshee screams on the bloodsuckers the second I got home. I was pretty sure they would be even less effective than on humans, but couldn’t hurt to be certain.

“Sorry your time was wasted out here,” Claude said as we reached our cars.

I stopped in my tracks. He was really going to act like nothing unusual had happened in there? Fine. He’d helped me, so I’d pretend if it made him feel better. Besides, I needed to get the hell out of this place. I had to make sure Amanda was okay. She hadn’t checked in with me for too long. I didn’t have time to waste on bullshit like telling Claude Desmarais exactly what I thought of his kind and his Magister. I shrugged. “Not your fault. Vasquez…thought this was a good lead,” I finished lamely.

“Besides,” Aidan said, “I wouldn’t say it was a total waste. Hell, it was worth it for me to watch you knock that guy down a peg.”

Claude laughed, and then got in his car and waved. The roar of his engine interrupted the otherwise relatively silent day. Only the sound of cicadas filled the silence when he got far enough away that I was able to hear anything but his car again.

“I’ve got to go,” I told Aidan. “I’ll see you later, okay?”

He nodded, but his eyes followed me as I jumped into my SUV. I glanced at my cell phone while I pulled on the seat belt, which kept my eyes firmly away from the sexy man I really wanted to stare at. No missed calls. Giving the vampire’s opulent lair one last fearful glance, I headed back down the long driveway.

Amanda’s house sat surrounded by mature trees and a sprawling lawn in an older neighborhood full of large lots that offered ample privacy. It was a small home, painted a medium blue with white shutters that were never closed. Bright daisies had overtaken the area between the house and yard. Only the concrete steps leading to the front door hadn’t been overwhelmed by the aggressive, cheerful flower.

The tightly locked front door barred my entry. I banged on it a few times before peering through the window, pushing down my panic. It just wasn’t like her to go so long without contacting me—or at least Vasquez. But her house looked like it was in order. No bloody handprints on the wall, no knocked over knick knacks, no furniture pushed from its normal spot on the floor. I took a deep breath, told myself there was no real reason to worry, and headed to the back. The knob was also locked. I knocked twice. No answer. I took my driver’s license out of my wallet.

As a cop, Amanda knew to keep deadbolts on all of her doors. But she’d just moved into this house and she hadn’t had time to add them to the older home. Slipping the license between the door and the frame, I jiggled it and pushed. A few seconds later it popped open, revealing Amanda’s tidy kitchen. Like her locks, it also needed some updating, but it oozed charm, with checkerboard tile flooring and white cabinets. No dishwasher, but like me, she lived alone so the dishes weren’t too much of a burden.

She’d given a housewarming party the week after she’d moved in. A crazy organizer, she’d unpacked every box, hung every picture, before the party. It was a cop party. Nearly everyone Amanda knew was a cop. She didn’t have any family to speak of, so we were the only ones she invited. Entertainment had been limited to the Bears game on her small television, and visiting with other guests and the hostess. But she’d supplied us with a lot of beer and food, which was enough to keep a bunch of cops and their families happy.

I stepped through the kitchen into her formal dining room. I secretly thought this was the reason Amanda bought the house. Spacious enough to hold the antique table her mother left her when she passed, it was a room meant to be used by a large family. Despite her normally dismissive attitude on the subject, Amanda dreamed of having a big family someday, a secret she’d confided in me one night after too many drinks.

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