Monday, April 29, 2013

Blood Sacrifice (Bloodlines #5) - Chapter 3

[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.

“Stanton, wait!”

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.”

“Anything else?”

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.

“Hey, Phil!”

“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.”

“They are…reasonable.”

“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?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Blood Sacrifice (Bloodlines #5) - Chapter 2

Alex resisted the urge to laugh when Phillippa’s mouth gaped open. But he was through with her insults and her frigid attitude. She’d made her point that she preferred him only when his blood had been Normal temperature. And she was so full of herself, she assumed his practical joke at the San Francisco mansion had been retaliation for her rejection. Dammit, he’d apologized enough over the last 100 years.

“Um, maybe the coven could send someone else to assist you, Mr. Stanton?” Jane asked. The poor girl had paled noticeably during his and Phillippa’s verbal sparring.

Pink flared in Phillippa’s cheeks and her heart rate jumped. Interesting. He couldn’t read her mind, but she couldn’t hide the little things, like her pulse.

He crossed his arms and gave Jane his full attention. “Sorry, darling. I’m the senior enforcer until my boss returns. My coven master values his business relationship with Miss Mann here, so I’m stuck babysitting her.”

Sure enough, the overhead fluorescents flickered on cue.

He ignored the Olympian temper-tantrum. “Could you get me this Mrs. Madison’s number and address?”

“No.” Phillippa’s voice resembled the low rumble of thunder.

“And, I’ll need an inventory of the other items y’all are handling for her.” He gave Jane a gentle smile.

Phillippa stepped between him and her assistant. “I said no.”

He shifted around the irate demi-goddess to face Jane. “You mentioned this was an estate sale. Does the widow have documentation for the items?”

Phillippa whirled to face her assistant. “Don’t you dare answer him.”

Jane flicked a glance at her boss before her attention returned to Alex. “I’ll get it for you.”

Once again, the lights in the shop brightened and dimmed. Alex had to give Jane credit. Most Normals would be quivering with terror when caught in the middle of an argument between a vampire and a demi-goddess. Unless she didn’t know what her boss was. But she damn well knew what he was. He’d caught that much in her surface thoughts when he shook her hand.

Instead, the girl raised her chin a notch as she faced her employer. “Somebody went to a lot of trouble to steal that replica. Don’t you want to know why?” She pivoted and marched toward the store’s office.

Phillippa whirled to face him again, her fists clenched at her sides. “How dare you glamour my employee.” One of the halogen spotlights popped. The acrid smoke overrode the saltpeter scent of her anger.

He crossed his arms. “You keep throwing tantrums, and you’ll fry the building’s wiring. Do you want to explain an electrical fire to your insurance agent or the arson investigator?”

She took a deep breath. It was all he could do to keep his attention on her face and away from her perfectly proportioned breasts. Only one time with her, and the feel of her skin had burned into his cells. Not even the V-virus wiped that away.

Alex shook his head. “I didn’t have to do anything to your assistant. She’s as upset and confused about this break-in as you are.”

“I am not—” she began. Then she took another lungful of air and crossed her arms, matching his body language, as her gaze swept the wreckage. “I really don’t want to explain to my insurance agent why my store was trashed twice in less than a year.”

His eyes widened in disbelief. “Augustine Coven didn’t compensate you for the rogue attack in January?”

One of Phil’s perfect shoulders lifted and dropped. “Caesar paid for the furniture and equipment that was destroyed and the building damage. What he can’t pay for is the time it takes to acquire such a collection in the first place or my reputation. The landlord refused to renew my lease. While the insurance company was thrilled not to pay on the first claim, they will question this one a lot more thoroughly.”

Jane walked back with a piece of paper. “Here’s Mrs. Madison’s info.”

Phil reached for it, but Alex snatched it first.

“Getting slow in your old age, Mann?” He ignored Phil’s look of outrage and scanned the address before checking his watch. It was a little late for a social visit, so he may have to glamour the widow. God, he hated messing with anyone’s mind.

He did another slow sweep of the mess. This may have been sheer vandalism, but something about the break-in just didn’t sit right. And why take a fake when there were pieces more valuable and easier to fence?
He folded the paper and shoved it into the back pocket of his jeans. “Thank you for your help, Jane. It’s been a pleasure.” The girl beamed. He faced Phil. “Since you insist you don’t need my help, have a good evening.” Phil stepped in front of him. “Wait. Where are you going?”

For second, the jiggle of her breasts almost made Alex forget her question. He forced his eyes to meet hers. “Out to do my job. We’ve been a little short-handed lately.” He tried to step around Phil, but she inserted herself between him and the gaping hole where the front door used to be.

“You’re going over to Mrs. Madison’s tonight, aren’t you?” Accusation ran thick in her voice.

“Didn’t you just tell me this wasn’t my jurisdiction?” He gestured at the broken display cases.

“You are not harassing one of my clients.” She planted her fists on her hips. Unfortunately, the motion gave her perfect breasts another little jiggle. Did she still taste like the sweetest white grapes?

Once again, it took all his willpower to meet her gaze. A gaze that literally flashed lightning. “Why do you care?” His was a simple question delivered in a flat voice because he’ll damned if he acted like a lovesick puppy around her anymore.

He wasn’t sure if it was the question or the tone that rocked her back on her heels. Her mouth opened and closed. She stared at the ruined jewelry case a moment before she said, “If something about this piece is the reason for the break-in, Beatrice may be in trouble.”

“Then someone needs to check on her. You coming with me, or you driving your own vehicle?”

For a split second, it seemed like she’d give him more shit. Then she grimaced and turned to Jane. “Will you be all right here until the contractor gets here with the plywood?”

Jane nodded. “I’ve got my Taser if they come back.”

Alex tried to hide his wince. The mention of a Taser brought back too many memories he’d rather forget. He motioned for Phil to follow him out to his truck.

* * *

Fifteen minutes later, Alex stole another glance at the woman next to him. Passing headlights illuminated the worried look on her face. If it were any other female, he’d take their hand and tell them everything would be all right. If he tried that with Phil, she cut off his hand before she beheaded him.

Instead, he focused on the case. “Did Mrs. Madison say where she acquired this tumi?”

She shook her head. The motion sent her high ponytail swinging. “Her husband got it on a business trip to Peru a few years ago.”

“If a tumi is a cultural artifact, how’d he get it through customs?”

She snorted. “Because customs isn’t going to stop you for carrying a fake.”

“What if it’s not a fake?”

He could feel her eyes boring into him as he kept his attention on the road. “You don’t believe me,” she finally said.

“I didn’t say that.” They passed the Beverly Hills sign, and Alex repressed a shudder. Nothing good came out of Beverly Hills. The last time had been a horde of zombies. “But someone went to an awful lot of trouble to steal one fake when everything else would have been more profitable.”

Phil chewed on a thumbnail. He wasn’t going to get anything more out of her now. Damn, she was touchier about her honor than most of the older vampires he knew.

He guided his pick-up into the Madison driveway. The second he stepped out of the truck, a sickly-sweet smell assaulted his olfactory nerve. He reached for his semi-automatic tucked at the small of his back. While teeth and claws were great for hand-to-hand, the specially designed bullets in the magazine gave him a decided advantage.

Phil’s worried expression melted into anger. “Where’s the spare?”

“Under your seat,” he said softly. He reached out with his mind, but the only thing he found was muddled thoughts that screamed canine. With his luck, it could be a were instead of someone’s pet.

She had the second gun in a tight grip as she circled around the bed to meet him. He held up one finger. With hand signals, she asked, Normal or supernatural?

He shook his head and shrugged. If neither of them could tell, this could turn nasty fast. It would be so much easier to communicate mentally, but he sincerely doubted she’d let him create a link for a tight telepathic bond. He’d have better luck getting into her bed again.

She motioned that she would take the back entrance. With a blur of motion even his vampire vision had difficulty tracking, she was across the front yard and over the stone privacy wall.

Alex eased up to the main door, senses extended. Faint sounds came from the house along with the snarl of animal thoughts.

He pulled his shirttail from the waistband of his jeans. The material covered his hand as he tried the door handle.


With his boot, he toed open the huge mahogany door. The smell of decay gagged him.

He followed the sound of crying to his right. Dark cinnamon spots covered nearly every surface of the living room. Including the tiny dog huddled next to the head of the dead woman lying spread-eagle in the middle of the carpet.

A middle-aged woman with a gaping hole in her chest. From the arcing splatter pattern, whoever killed her had started cutting while she was alive.

The dog had white fur where she wasn’t coated with her mistress’s blood. A small scrap of black fabric lay nearby. Something that wasn’t in the room when the killer had cut the aorta. From the smell and the dried puddle under the woman’s chest, she’d been dead for nearly forty-eight hours.

He scanned the room. Trashed. Furniture overturned. Cushions slashed. Odds and ends scattered across the carpet. Whoever did this tossed the room before they started cutting into Beatrice.

While the smell of old blood didn’t trigger the extension of his fangs, anger did.

Phil appeared in the doorway to the back of the house. He caught a hint of what may have been grief before she steeled her thoughts and her expression. She couldn’t hide her scent though. The brimstone of rage poured from her. She pointed at the rest of the house.

Without a word, they checked the rest of the first floor before they swept the second floor. Like the living room, every other nook and corner had been upended.

When they returned to the entrance of the living room, Alex pulled out his phone and hit the speed dial icon for Sifuentes. The only positive in this whole mess was the fact that Madison’s house sat just outside the Beverly Hills city limits. The last thing he needed was LASO and BHPD butting heads.

“Hey, Jorge, I’ve got something for you that’s more up your alley.”

Sifuentes swore in a streak of Spanish before he said, “Madison.”

“Yeah.” Alex gave him the address before he clicked off the call.


He looked at Phil with a start. It was the first time she said his name without the word dripping with contempt since he’d been Turned.< f/>
“Do you have any rags or an old shirt in your truck?”

He followed her gaze to the poor dog shivering next to his mistress. Well, former mistress. “Yeah. I’ll be right back.”

* * *
Phil ignored Sifuentes’s rant as she sat in the front yard of Beatrice Madison’s house. Instead, she concentrated on shaving the blood-matted fur from Beatrice’s Maltese. Unfortunately, all she had to work with was one of Stanton’s throwing knives, but it kept her focused enough that she wasn’t affecting any nearby electrical equipment.

When Sifuentes paused for a breath, she looked up at him. “Kiki hasn’t eaten or had any water in two days, Jorge. Was I supposed to let her starve? Die of dehydration? I didn’t think even you were that much of a shit.”

“You contaminated a crime scene,” he repeated for the thirty-eighth time.

“Tracking a teaspoon of dog urine through the kitchen is hardly contaminating a crime scene.”
Sifuentes threw up his hands in exasperation. “Stanton…”
“In this case, I’ve got to agree with Phil.” The familiar twinkle in his eyes sent unwanted tingles through her body. “You’re acting like a shit, Jorge.”
She returned her attention to Kiki and gave the dog a few more pieces of kibble. She’d doled out the food while they waited for the sheriff’s department to arrive. The last thing she wanted was to make the traumatized Maltese sick.

“Detective?” One of the deputies approached them. The scent of ginger surrounded the man, not the tart apple of a Normal. Witch. “It looks like Madison may have been getting ready to leave town. Suitcases are in the trunk of the car in the garage. Her purse was in the car as well. The killer or killers may have caught her in the garage, then dragged her into the house.”

Sifuentes shoved his hands in his trouser pockets. “Were the suitcases searched?”

“Yeah. But the odd thing is they didn’t take any money. Cash and credit cards are still in her wallet. We also found her passport in her purse along with a boarding pass.”

Sifuentes glared at the deputy. “Where was she headed?”

“Lima, Peru.” The deputy lowered his voice. “Her ghost isn’t around for me to question, sir. Sorry.”

The detective shrugged. “It was a long shot. Nothing appears to be missing except the vic’s heart.”

Phil looked up at the deputy. Honestly, men could be such dumbasses when something was right under their noses. “What about the demon?”

All three men turned to stare at her.

Alex crouched next to her. “What demon are you talking about?”
“The one that was in the house two days ago.” She eyed Alex for a moment before she shaved the last couple of swatches of ruined fur off Kiki.

“Are you saying a demon killed Mrs. Madison?” Alex’s voice broadcast his disbelief.

“No.” She set down Kiki, who gave herself a good shake before she turned and nudged Phil’s hand for more food.

“Then would you mind spelling it out for the rest of us,” Sifuentes growled.

“All I can tell you is a demon was in the house around the time of Beatrice’s death.” Phil held out a nugget that Kiki enthusiastically took. “I’m not saying the demon killed her. The back door was wide open when we got here. It may have stumbled on the scene after the fact, attracted by the scent. If it was here before she died, she invited it in.”

Which only added to the questions of this whole weird situation. Why would Beatrice be dealing with a demon?

There wasn’t anything in her dealings that indicated that Beatrice Madison was nothing more or less than a grieving Normal widow. She’d talked about getting rid of her late husband’s “collection of junk” before putting the house on the market.

Alex held out his palm to Kiki. “Phil, have you been to Madison’s house before tonight?”

Kiki trotted over and licked Alex’s hand. Weird. Most dogs avoided vampires.
Phil nodded. “Yes. Twice. Once for the initial appraisal. The second for when she signed the consignment contract. I didn’t smell or detect anyone other than humans and Kiki both times.”

“Why don’t you think the demon murdered her?” Alex said as he petted the Maltese.

It reminded her of how gentle he’d been with her…

Phil quashed the memory. “The opening is too neat. If a demon, no matter the pantheon, goes after the heart, it likes getting messy.”

“Detective Sifuentes!”

Phil and Alex climbed to their feet at the shout. Before she could say anything, Alex scooped the tiny dog in his arms. A little green monster rose behind Phil’s eyes. Don’t be stupid. Kiki’s not even your dog.

They followed Jorge through the gate to the courtyard. Another deputy knelt near a flowerbed with a flashlight.

Sifuentes snorted. “Dog tracks? You called me over to look at dog tracks?”

“Not the dog tracks, sir. The gold pin.”

Alex crouched next to the deputy to examine the shiny object. Kiki growled low in her throat.

Phil leaned over him to see for herself. It was an odd little pin, still attached to a scrap of black cloth. The pin was about an inch long. A coiled snake-like creature superimposed over a star. Except the reptilian figure had eight tiny legs.

“What the hell is that?” Sifuentes whispered.

“A cult symbol,” Alex said. “The Sunshine Believers.”

Monday, April 1, 2013

Blood Sacrifice (Bloodlines #5) - Chapter 1

Author’s Note: For those of you wondering about continuity, Phil and Alex's story takes place concurrently with Anne and Sam's adventures in Amish, Vamps & Thieves.

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?”

Jane nodded.

“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.”