[Note: Despite my best efforts, I've only been managing to post chapters every other week. It seems to be working so I'm going to stick to that schedule until I get this f***ing book done.]
Alex’s stomach lurched. Most of the members were supposed to be locked up in the state psychiatric facility. The handful who were declared sane enough to stand trial had been sentenced last month and had just been transported to the state pen.
Phil looked at him “The Sunshine Believers? Aren’t they—”
Phil! Shut up!
The witch deputy wince in pain at his psychic shout. Obviously, it got through Phil’s shields from the ugly look she shot Alex.
He could see in her eyes when she realized what she almost said in front of the Normal member of the sheriff’s department.
“—disbanded?” she finished.
Even Jorge had a pissed look on his sharp face. “You two are done here. Why don’t I walk you to your truck?”
Alex shoved the dog into Phil’s arms and latched onto her elbow. For a second, the look on her face said she’d deck him. Instead, she jerked free from his grasp and marched for the gate.
The sway of her hips sent a jolt straight to his groin. Dammit, what the hell was wrong with him? A woman had been brutally murdered, and his dick wanted to do all the thinking.
He stalked after her, Sifuentes puffing behind him as he tried to keep up with the supernaturals.
Phil was already in the passenger seat, staring straight ahead when Alex reached his truck.
He paused, his hand on the door handle.
Jorge wheezed for a couple of seconds before he said, “We need to work together on this.”
“And why is that?” Alex snapped. He closed his eyes. His own bad mood wasn’t Jorge’s fault. “Sorry, amigo.”
“De nada.” Sifuentes glanced at the house, then back at Alex. “It’s gonna take both sides to figure out what happened to the vic. There’s a good chance that whoever murdered Madison was the same person or persons who trashed Mann’s place.”
Alex could see his own suspicions mirrored in Sifuentes’s eyes. Phil or Jane or any of the other employees could be lying on the debris of the antiques store, her chest sliced open and her heart missing. “What are you proposing?”
“My people can deal with the Sunshine Believers. But I need your help with the demon equation. They could have been the ones who summoned Mann’s unknown player.”
Alex couldn’t help smiling. He’d never known Sifuentes to ask for any kind of supernatural assistance before now. And if the detective needed it, he would go to his father-in-law first. “Then we share all information. No holding back. Otherwise, someone else may die.”
Sifuentes dipped his head. “Agreed.”
Alex yanked the truck door open. “Did you recognize the scent of the demon?” For a long moment, he didn’t think Phil would answer him. She sure as hell wouldn’t look at him.
Finally, she sighed. “No. All I can tell you is what it wasn’t. It’s not European, North African, Middle Eastern or North American.”
“That only leaves the rest of the world.” He couldn’t stop the sarcasm that leached into his voice.
Her eyes met his. “And all the other dimensions.”
“Other…dimensions?” Sifuentes’s voice rose an octave.
Alex bit his tongue to keep from laughing out loud. Leave it to Phil to play her god card. Good to know she didn’t consider him her only verbal punching bag if she was messing with Sifuentes. Alex returned his attention to the detective. “I’ll eliminate the local demon species before I start checking outside of Earth.” He inclined his head toward the house. “The deputy who’s a witch…”
Sifuentes gave a rueful chuckle. “Goldblum’s got potential. He’s excellent at pulling answers out of ghosts at crime scenes, which is why I recruited him for homicide, but he’s a baby by witch standards.”
“I’ll call Ziva and see if she has a demonology expert.” Alex eyed Sifuentes. “I don’t suppose you could put in a word with the in-laws…”
“Do you have a problem with my wife?”
This time Alex let his laughter loose. “Not one damn bit. She’s got the best nose in the pack.”
Sifuentes rubbed his jaw. “I’ll have her meet you here once the crime scene unit’s done.”
“See you in a few hours.” Alex climbed into the truck and started it. Once he was out of the driveway, Sifuentes waved the arriving CSU van into the spot.
Phil still wasn’t talking, which Alex had to admit to himself was just fine with him. Concentrating on his job kept him from thinking about how her body had felt under his. How much he wanted to feel her again after all these decades.
He punched Tiffany Stephen’s number into the truck’s built-in phone.
“What the fuck do you want, Alex?” So much for pregnancy mellowing her attitude.
“I need some research.”
“I can’t. I’m on goddamn maternity leave until December 31st. Remember?”
Figured that she’d still be pouting about Duncan’s orders. The girl was damn lucky she hadn’t lost her baby after zombies pummeled her during her aborted wedding two and a half months ago.
He sucked in a deep breath and dropped his tone. “And I’m acting Chief Enforcer while he and Caesar are out of town. Do you want to work on a murder investigation or not?”
Silence crackled through the speaker for a moment before she said, “Go.”
“The victim is Beatrice Madison. A Normal whose heart was cut out of her chest. We can place a demon and possibly the Sunshine Believers at the scene around the time of death.”
Tiffany’s sharp intake of breath whistled through the phone. “Those bastards are all locked away after Jessie’s kidnapping last winter.”
Alex couldn’t help smiling. Only Tiffany would be more concerned about a Normal cult than a demon. “Double-check for me. And I need everything you can find on Madison. Focus on phone calls, incoming and outgoing, over the past four days. Also, she had a boarding pass for a flight to Peru. Find out what flight and when she bought the ticket.”
He glanced at Phil. “What’s her husband’s name?”
“Dennis Madison.” She focused on stroking the dog, which had gone to sleep in her lap.
“Hello, sweetie.” Phil’s voice noticeably softened toward her former ward.
Alex prayed Tiffany wouldn’t say anything about Phil being in his truck. Some angel must have heard his silent prayer because Tiffany said, “Is he a suspect?”
“No.” Phil cleared her throat. “He died in an automobile accident two months ago.”
“Did you get that, Tiffany?” Alex said.
“Yeah. You’ll want his background info and the accident report. Anything else, Alex?”
“One more thing. He brought items into the U.S. from Peru for several years before his death. See if you can get a listing from the Customs database.”
“How soon do you need this?”
The waste over such a senseless, obscene death hit him in the gut. “We needed it two days ago, kid.”
* * *
Phillippa winced. Alex’s words felt like a slap across her face. If he hadn’t insisted on visiting Beatrice, Gaea only knew when her body would have been discovered. And devoted little Kiki would have starved to death before she would’ve left her former mistress.
The tiny body in her lap shook and whined. Phillippa stroked the dog’s fine fur, and she calmed, still asleep.
Phillippa wished she could find comfort in a simple touch. What she really craved was a target and a weapon. Electricity rippled along her skin, making the hairs on her arms stand straight up.
If she didn’t get her agitation under control, she’d fry the truck’s electrical system. And she’d be damn to Tartarus before she’d give Alex the satisfaction of watching her lose it again tonight. “What should we do while we wait for the CSU to finish and Tiffany to pull the Madison’s information?”
“‘We?’” Alex glanced at her before returning his attention to the road. “There’s no ‘we,’ Phil. I’m taking you back to your shop so you can get your car.”
Like Hades. “No. I’m your shadow until we find Beatrice’s killers.”
He glanced at her. “And as you’ve repeatedly said, you won’t get mixed up in other supernaturals’ internal matters.”
“And as you’ve repeatedly said, Augustine coven is short-handed these days between Selene’s betrayal and Tiffany’s wedding.”
Wood smoke overlayed Alex’s normal sandalwood scent. Phillippa suppressed a smile. Good to know she was getting under his skin too. Not that she would have thrown Selene’s bullshit in Caesar or Duncan’s face.
“Besides, these bastards hit my place, too,” she added. “And Beatrice is, was, my client, not the coven’s or the pack’s.”
A wry smile spread across Alex’s face. “You really cannot handle the fact that I was right about checking out the Madison house tonight, can you?”
“Men are never right.” She stared out the window.
Of course, Alex couldn’t drop the subject. “Really? I’ve noticed you don’t get this snippy with Caesar or Duncan.”
“In other words, you haven’t screwed either of them.”
There it was. The thing that always lay between them. All because she made the mistake of falling for a Texas Ranger in San Antonio over one hundred-twenty years ago. A Normal she thought was dead.
Ugly truths danced to close to the surface of her emotions. Except this time, it wasn’t anger that consumed her, but immense sorrow. “Beatrice died because of something none of us understand yet. Can you please leave yours and everyone else’s penises out of the equation? Even I understand how short-staffed you are when it comes to daytime personnel if Sam Ridgeway is your only choice to accompany Anne to Ohio.”
Alex’s attention flicked to her, then back to the road. “How did you know—?” Understanding washed over his features. “Tiffany bitched.”
“Don’t worry. She only spoke with me.” Phillip smiled. “She’s not happy about the forced maternity leave.”
He sighed. “I can’t blame her. But you know how Duncan gets any time one of his nieces gets pregnant.”
She laughed. “Yes, I do. And I’ve seen a few more centuries of his macho act than you.”
Alex grinned for a moment, then abruptly sobered. “If I accept your offer of help on this case, that means you’ll have to follow my…instructions.”
He’d been about to say, “Orders.” She’d lay a month’s income on it. His acknowledgement of her feelings without his usual pathetic ass-kissing thawed a tiny bit of her reserve.
He shot her an odd look. “I mean it, Phil. I can’t have you going off half-cocked until we know for sure who tossed your store and killed Mrs. Madison.”
“I swear I won’t do anything stupid.”
“On the River Styx, Phil.” Alex made a point of saying it Ancient Greek, not English.
Okay, now she was pissed. The world righted since they were back to their usual acrimonious relationship.
She sighed, a perturbed sound. “I swear by the River Styx that I will obey your directions during the course of the investigation of the break-in of Seven Wonders Antiquities and Beatrice Madison’s murder,” she answered in Greek. She switched to English. “Happy?”
She leaned her head against the passenger door window. There was only one little problem with assisting Alex during the next few days.
How was she going to keep her hands off him?