Two place settings sat on the dining room table, with one plate practically licked clean and the other with small chunks of mashed potatoes and a couple of green beans still on it. Wine glasses—both empty—sat behind the plates. Two candles with blackened wicks sat on the middle of the table. The food looked like it had been there since the night before: crusty, but with no sign of mold.

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Sudden pressure on my chest suffocated me and perspiration covered my face. Amanda was meticulous with everything in her life. She would never leave dirty dishes lying around. I wiped a sweaty palm on my jeans and moved slowly toward her bedroom.

I almost turned and walked away when the subtle smell touched my nose. Calling in backup wouldn’t make me less of a cop. I was only human—well, mostly. But if she weren’t behind the door, I’d never live it down. I tried to tell myself that the scent came from the dirty dishes in the dining room. Although every cell in my body screamed my worst nightmare waited for me, I couldn’t turn away. I didn’t want to remember her how I would almost certainly find her behind that door. I needed to remember her for her dry sense of humor, her tireless devotion to duty, her loyalty to her friends and fellow cops, and her willingness to befriend a half-assed member of a species so dangerous they couldn’t live among normal humans.

I twisted the doorknob, pulling out my gun as the door creaked open.

Amanda lay on her bed, eyes clouded and wide-open, head hanging off the foot of the bed so she stared at the door. Her limp hair streamed down, almost touching the carpet. Lipstick still colored her mouth, and mascara smudged under her eyes. Gritting my teeth and swallowing a scream, I turned from her and went to call it in.

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My partner was dead.

Chapter Four

I hadn’t felt the urge to scream so badly in a very long time. Not because any vision of death struck me, but because I’d just seen my worst nightmare. I wanted to yell and curse and scream because it hurt so much. Only the thought of how pissed Amanda would be if I broke the windows in her new house prevented me from wailing my heart out. So instead of howling, I sat on a chair next to the door in her bedroom and waited for everyone to arrive. I didn’t touch her. The cloudiness in her still-open eyes kept me from an inane hope she might still be alive. She would be cold. I didn’t want to remember my friend as cold.

By the time the crews of emergency personnel circulated through and my boss arrived, I had regained some semblance of control. Lieutenant Vasquez stared down at me, blocking my view of Amanda. His eyes were tight, and his mouth formed a grim line.

“Let’s go talk in the kitchen.” His tone brooked no argument, and he headed out of the bedroom without waiting for me to get up.

I rose from the chair, feeling my legs protest. My backside was numb and I vaguely wondered how long I’d been sitting. I glanced one last time at Amanda, and then walked out to her kitchen.

The lieutenant stood, arms crossed, next to the sink. A frown creased his face. It was as close to upset as his expression ever got.

I pulled one of the chairs from her small breakfast table and sat down heavily. The grief that had pressed on my chest was gone, and the realization that one of the only people I’d thought of as a friend was now dead remained distant. I was numb. On some level, I realized my numbness was due to shock, but my mind shied from studying my emotions too closely.

“Tell me.”

“I hadn’t been able to get ahold of her since Monday night, at the Rebecca Anderson murder scene. She left me a voice mail with some instructions, said she was going to be out of touch for a bit. When you told me you hadn’t heard from her either…” I waited for the rebuke, for him to say I should have said something this morning, not come over here by myself.

“Go on,” he said.

“House was locked tight. I broke in the back door. She hadn’t had time to install a dead bolt.”

“You get any other info yet on the earlier victims, the ones outside our jurisdiction?”

“No. I haven’t gotten them from my OWEA contact.” Belatedly I remembered promising Aidan I wouldn’t mention the OWEA’s involvement to anyone. Oh, well—not like I could keep that to myself now anyway. A dead cop upped the stakes for Lieutenant Vasquez. Amanda’s death changed everything for me.

“OWEA’s involved?”

“Yeah, not…officially, though.”

A flicker of emotion flashed across his face. Annoyance, maybe. But before I could identify it, the expression disappeared. “What’s the agent’s name?”

“Byrne. Aidan Byrne.”

He jotted the name down on a small pad of paper. “Anything else I need to know?”

“I’ve told you everything, Lieutenant.”

“Good.” He nodded, and then hesitated before he said, “Can you get yourself home? I could tell a uniform to—”

“Home? I’m not going home.” The numbness abruptly disappeared and a burning hole ate at the middle of my chest. I could either cry in front of my lieutenant or be pissed off at him. Given the choice, I’ll always go with angry over sad.

“Of course you’re going home. Your partner was murdered for Christ’s sake.” He crossed his arms and looked down at me like I was slightly daft.

“Screw that! I just needed a…breather. I’m fine. I’m helping. No way in hell am I going home.” I glared at him and he stared back at me, irritation plain on his face.

“You’re no longer on this case, Mac. You’re going home.”

“That’s bullsh—”

“Shut it! I understand how you feel right now, but this isn’t a discussion. You’ll go home under your own power, or I will have someone escort you. Is that clear?” His eyelid twitched. Lieutenant Vasquez did not run a democracy, and his officers arguing with him when he’d made up his mind was one of the few things that pissed him off.

I opened my mouth to protest, and then snapped it shut. Squabbling with the lieutenant wouldn’t get me anywhere. “Fine,” I said, keeping my voice even. “But I’d appreciate it if you’d keep me informed.” That’s the least you can do, jerk.

He gave me a quick nod and pointed at the door, his message clear.

The door clicked shut behind me and I was proud of myself for not slamming it. I was a freaking professional.

The burning ember at the end of a cigarette caught my eye. I met Mason Sanderson’s hard gaze with one of my own. The night hid his features, but I recognized him even in the low light. The Internal Affairs cop didn’t say anything.

Even though Mason stood outside of the building, leaning against a tall, old tree, I had the uneasy feeling that he had heard my exchange with Vasquez. I didn’t need Internal Affairs on my ass, so I held my tongue. A couple of seconds into our staring contest, he nodded at me, his expression solemn. I nodded back, unable to speak, and headed for my car.

I probably hadn’t convinced the lieutenant I was going to follow his orders to a T, at least not for long, but he almost certainly figured he’d cowed me for the short-term. I smiled. He didn’t know me that well.

What he didn’t know couldn’t hurt me.

I considered heading to my dad’s house instead of home. It would take over an hour—he lived in a town so far out it could hardly be called a suburb. The drive would be worth it to get a big bear hug from him and the reassurance that everything was going to be okay. But along with the reassurances, I’d have to deal with the subtle hints that this wasn’t the best line of work for me to be in, and the less-than-subtle statements from my stepmother to that effect. I loved them, and they were great parents, but they couldn’t accept the fact I was a cop. Neither of them liked that my job put me in danger, or that my freak squad status constantly reminded them I wasn’t entirely human. Both of them were human, and while it wasn’t a fact they held against me consciously, I knew it lingered in the back of their minds.

The numbness returned by the time I turned into my neighborhood. The world felt surreal. Lights were too bright, colors bled dry of their brilliance. Pulling into my driveway, I smashed my foot on the brakes to avoid hitting the Jeep already parked there. As my car jarred to a stop, I heard a crunch. I jammed down on the clutch, and threw my Rav4 into reverse and backed up enough to check the damage.

I slammed the car door and walked up between the cars. A small dent bent my bumper in. The Jeep had a single scratch. A light shone from inside my house, stealing some of the night away and casting long shadows in the driveway. Eyes narrowing, I stomped up to the front porch. I swung the door open, cringing as it hit the wall with a loud thump. If that left a mark on my wall, I was going to be doubly pissed.

I strode through the living room into the dining room. Sure enough, he was there. Feet on my table, the same romance novel he had been perusing before in his hand, cup of coffee steaming on the table in front of him. How did he find where I hid the pile of books? Did he go through my coat closet?

He looked up from my novel, dark blue eyes crinkling at the edges, a hint of a smile on his handsome face. Suddenly, I was glad to see him. Yelling at Aidan sounded infinitely more appealing than crying my eyes out.

“You owe me a bumper.” I tossed my files on the table and headed for the kitchen. No way was I asking about the book. Was he actually reading it? Grabbing a cup out of the cabinet, I poured the coffee and struggled to keep my voice even. “We have a new victim.”

“You’re sure it’s the same killer?”

I walked into the dining room and sat down at the table, in front of where I’d thrown the files. I took a sip of my coffee before I spoke, considering how much to tell him. Since I was officially off the case and he might be my only chance of getting in on the latest information, I decided to spill.

“Yes. Same M.O.” I hesitated, and then forced out the rest between gritted teeth. “Vic was my partner, Amanda Franklin.” I concentrated very hard on my coffee cup. If I glimpsed pity in his eyes, I’d go over the edge into either tears or a fit of rage. Neither would help me find her killer.

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