Monday, April 1, 2013
Blood Sacrifice (Bloodlines #5) - Chapter 1
Phillippa Mann gritted her teeth when Alex Stanton appeared in the frame of her new store’s smashed front door. Out of the hundreds of languages she’d learned in her 5,000 years of existence, only one word sprang to mind.
Her assistant manager Jane glanced up from her half of the antique store’s inventory. “What’s wrong?” She whirled toward the front. “Hubba, hubba.”
“Don’t even think about it.” Phillippa shot the twenty-eight-year-old a stern look. “He’s an enforcer.”
Jane responded with a pouty lip. The woman was hornier than all the nymphs in Los Angeles County.
Phillippa clamped down on her own emotions. What the hell was he doing here? The break-in at the new facility for her antiques business was nothing more than a standard smash-and-grab. She returned her attention to her own portion of the inventory, trying to ignore the blue eyes that looked her way. Eyes that still haunted her dreams despite their current neon glow.
A series of quick pencil checks on the sheet covered the nineteenth century letter openers. Nagging unease filler her as she audited the merchandise. Nothing was missing. Not even a single diamond from the heirloom brooches. Why would someone break in, shatter the display cases and not take anything?
Glass crunched behind her. Electricity sparked the instant before a large hand touched her shoulder. His cool skin permeated the thin t-shirt she threw on when the alarm company had called.
“Are you all right?” The Texas drawl remained even though he’d lived in Los Angeles for nearly a century now. Not that she kept track of those things.
She jerked away and faced him. “Everyone’s fine. No one was here when it happened.”
Alex surveyed the mess. “What’s missing?”
Phillippa set her expression to what Jane referred to as her “bitch scowl.” “This isn’t your jurisdiction.”
He glanced at the uniformed sheriff’s deputy standing three yards away and scribbling furiously in her notebook. Phillippa’s muscles clenched when he took a half step closer to her and lowered his voice. “This is Family business, which is why I was called.”
“It’s a Normal crime,” she shot back.
Light flashed in his shaggy blond hair when he nodded at the detective standing near the ruined front door. “Jorge says this doesn’t smell right.”
She snorted. “This isn’t Sifuentes’ jurisdiction either. He’s a homicide detective.”
Alex shrugged. “He was the only Family with rank on duty when the call came in.”
Phillippa closed her eyes. This night couldn’t possibly get more aggravating. She opened them to find Alex staring at her with concern. The last thing she needed was any man’s concern, least of all Alex Stanton’s. “He’s also full of wolf shit. Just because he married one—”
Jane shoved her way between them. Part of Phillippa was relieved by the interruption. The other wanted to snap the girl’s neck. It’s in the past. So why couldn’t Phillippa get Alex out of her head?
“Hi.” Jane thrust her hand into Alex’s. “Jane Chevrette.”
The grin Alex gave her was a few watts short of the one he’d first given Phillippa over a century ago. But he’d also had a tan back then. “Pleased to meet you, Jane.”
The second his hand touched hers, Jane’s smile faltered. A smidgeon of glee fluttered in Phillippa’s heart at the girl’s expression. She’d warned the girl he was a supernatural.
To her assistant’s credit, she recovered quickly, for a Normal, and shook Alex’s hand. She turned to Phillippa, all business. “Nothing’s been touched in the safe. The only thing missing from the showroom is the fake tumi from the Madison estate.”
Phillippa grabbed Jane’s inventory sheaf. “You’re sure?”
“Tumi?” Confusion marred Alex’s face.
Detective Sifuentes sauntered across the room to join them. “What the hell’s a tumi?”
“An Incan ceremonial knife.” The answer came as an afterthought while Phillippa flipped through both sets of pages. “That makes no sense.”
Jane shrugged. “It’s the only piece I can’t find.” She surveyed the showroom. “Doesn’t mean it’s not buried somewhere under this mess.”
Alex’s attention flipped between Jane and Phillippa. “You’re sure it’s a fake?”
The lights in the showroom flickered. Phillippa forced down her irritation. How dare he question her?
Sifuentes’ eyes widened, but Alex regarded her with an amused expression. Jaw muscles quivered as Phillippa reined in the threads of her control. Electrocuting five members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office along with the vampire wasn’t conducive to keeping a low profile.
Jane’s offended expression helped. “The metal used on the piece wasn’t gold or any of the alloys used by the pre-Columbian cultures indigenous to Peru, so we had it tested. The tumi was made of titanium, ceramic composite and another substance our assayer couldn’t identify.”
“Which means. . .?” Sifuentes prompted.
“Someone used leftover space shuttle parts. It couldn’t possibly be authentic,” Phillippa said.
The detective rolled his eyes. “And you had a fake for sale?”
“The piece was clearly marked as a replica. It was unusual enough we thought we could sell it for Mrs. Madison.” Anger punctuated Jane’s sharp words, but the girl’s pique helped Phillippa gain control of her own mood.
Sifuentes rubbed a palm over his face. “I was pulled down here for this?” He flipped his notebook shut and thrust it in his pocket. “Look, Mann, I’ll write this up as vandalism so you can file with your insurance company.” He shot a suspicious look at her. “You do have insurance, don’t you?”
She may have her powers under control, but that didn’t squelch the urge to deck the detective for questioning her. Alex must have read her expression because he tensed and edged in front of Sifuentes.
Not wanting to give Stanton an excuse to touch her, she muttered, “Yes.”
Sifentes nodded and smacked Alex on the arm. “If you need anything, let me know. I’ll have the report on your desk in twenty-four hours.” He pivoted to leave.
Alex’s desk, not hers. The lights flickered once, and Sifuentes looked back and smiled. The evil smirk honed his blade-like nose and pointed chin. “I can turn the investigation over to Ziva or John if you want.”
“No, thank you,” she bit out. It was just her bad luck the vampires were up on the supernatural law enforcement rotation. On the other hand, the witch high priestess was worthless, and the alpha werewolf was a little too enthusiastic in meting out punishment rather than seeking justice. No, it wasn’t the rotation schedule. She could have dealt with any other vampire enforcer. Just not Stanton.
Sifuentes stepped closer to her, and like Alex had earlier, lowered his voice so the other deputies wouldn’t hear. “This would be a lot easier for everyone if you demi-gods would band together and get a seat on the Council.”
Of course, he knew. Nearly every supernatural in Los Angeles had seen her throw lightning bolts when zombies had attacked her former ward’s wedding. And they had spread the gossip as fast as telepathy and the internet could carry the titillating tidbits.
So much for keeping a low profile the last four millennia.
“Not in your lifetime. And you will send a copy of your report directly to me.” She gave the detective a smile, one that had sent Mycenaen soldiers fleeing in terror on the battlefield of Ilium. To his credit, Sifuentes didn’t flinch. But then, he was a Normal married to a werewolf.
“Sure.” He motioned to the rest of his people, and they filed out the door.
Phillippa shifted her attention to Alex. “You can leave too.”
“No, I can’t.” He smiled a real smile this time, one that displayed his extra pointy canines. “Don’t particularly wanna get staked by my boss for not taking care of you.”
Of all the audacious— “I do not need to be taken care of.”
“Don’t worry, Phil.” He cocked a dark blond eyebrow as his expression grew haughty. “It wasn’t an offer. I don’t do one-night stands with women older than my great-great-granny anymore.”