Authors: J.C. Daniels
That was his job, after all.
Since I respected that, I didn’t beat around the bush.
“I’m tracking down—or trying to track down—some information. I could use your help.”
He arched a brow as he lifted his tea cup to his lips.
He’d help if he could. I knew that. Just like I knew he’d stonewall me if he couldn’t.
“NHs are disappearing. I need to know about any shifters who have gone missing…specifically some in Georgia. I need information and if anybody has it, it’s you.”
The cup froze at his mouth.
Without taking a sip, he lowered it. Then he put it down and moved behind his desk to stare out the window. “Who have you been talking to, Kit?”
I started to move my knee back and forth. “Am I going to sound terribly childish if I say I asked you first?”
“Sound as childish as you want. But you’re more likely to get answers from me if you cooperate.” His eyes narrowed ever so slightly. Then a faint smile appeared on his face. “You can always ask Damon. However, if you wanted to do that, you would have. You often end up in messes that worry him, a fact I’m sure you’re aware of. This is likely why you came to me instead.”
“You’re telling me this because…” I drummed my fingers on the arm of the chair as I stared at him.
“Only two people possess the information you’re looking for—or possess an in-depth knowledge of it. That
know of. Damon hasn’t spoken to you—he wouldn’t, not about this. If somebody has spoken to you…” He let the words trail off.
“If you’re worried my source might be behind these disappearances, you can draw your claws back in, Chang.”
“My claws aren’t out.” A brow lifted. “Yet.”
“I’m terrified,” I said dryly. Putting my tea down, barely touched, I moved to the wall. Giving into the urge, I closed my hand around the grip of the katana. “May I?” Even I heard the wistful note in my voice.
“I’ve been wondering how long it would take you to ask.”
I looked over my shoulder at him.
He inclined his head. “By all means. I enjoy blades but I hardly do them justice.”
A thrill raced through me, muted because I couldn’t hear the katana’s song. My race has an…affinity for weapons. They speak to us, sing to us, murmur in the backs of our minds like treasured friends. But the bond I’d had with my sword had been shattered by a witch back when Jude had kidnaped me. Yet another thing to hate the bastard for.
There was an odd, empty void at the back of my head. I’d been aware of it for a while now. At first, when the weapons hadn’t whispered to me, I’d only felt an ache and I don’t think that was physical. Just something I felt with all my soul.
This void, though, I’d almost swear if you looked inside my skull, you’d see some tiny, pinprick of emptiness.
I’d grown used to it, though, and I was able to swing the blade through the air, smiling at the weight, the balance. “He was made by hand, wasn’t he?”
“Yes. By a true master of the art.”
I swung it again and again until it became a blur in front of me. Through it, I could see Chang’s eyes on me.
“I relieved him of the blade when he tried to use it to relieve me of my head.”
I stopped, mid-swing, and stared at him.
Chang cocked his head, something that might have been feral amusement dancing in his eyes. “It was almost a shame to kill him—he was nearly as good at using blades as he was at crafting them. He had a feel to him like your friend, Justin. Some sort of magic in his blood. Might have been why he almost succeeded in his mission.”
“I have my suspicions. Never could confirm them, but as I was hunting down certain people who didn’t want certain secrets revealed, it made sense.” He moved to stand in front of me, holding out his hand.
I held the katana out in front of me, balanced on my palms.
He took it, angled it so that it reflected the light back at us. “Tell me what’s going on, Kit. I can’t help you unless I know more.”
“How do you know I’m not trying to help
He studied me and I had the impression he might be praying for patience—or counting to ten. Or ten thousand.
“Why don’t we help each other?” he suggested after a moment. “I’ll tell you what I can, after you tell me what I need to know.”
“Damn cats.” I’d muttered this to myself more times than I could recall ever since a certain one of those damn cats had strolled through the door of my office. As Chang’s dark eyes glinted at me, I turned away. I settled down in the chair I’d vacated, watched as he continued to angle the blade, studying it as though it held the answer to some great mystery. “My
, or sources, if you want to call them that, are a couple of witches.”
“Ah…” Chang’s nostrils flared. “And how is Justin?”
With a gleam in his eyes, Chang said, “Then he is well. And the other…source?”
“A friend of ours, a witch by the name of Padraig. He’s affiliated with Banner. We trust him.”
“You trust him. Under many circumstances, that would count for a lot,” Chang said.
“I’ve trusted him with my life.”
Chang turned to face me now and the blade, he studied me, eyes narrowed. “I’m still listening.”
“Justin needs my help on a case…the missing NHs in Georgia. He says there are some cats missing—and he’s got good, solid info.” I was winging it here—I hoped Chang wouldn’t push, because Justin hadn’t told me what Nova had told him. “But he needs confirmation and as much information as he can get before we go in.”
“Go in.” Chang’s eyes narrowed and he leaned forward. “The three of you plan to
“You’re smart. I admire that about you.” I smiled, hesitated for a moment and then sighed. I leaned forward as well and met his eyes. “Look, witches are disappearing, too.”
Something flashed in his eyes. He waited.
“We’re hearing the same about vampires.”
When he didn’t say anything, I got up and started to pace. I found myself thinking of that time, more than a year ago, when I’d found myself standing in here, looking to interview one of the young cats. That was how I’d gotten dragged into the world—I’d only danced along the edge of shifters then, taking courier jobs, and I’d been just fine with that, too. Shifters were
. Especially the cats, although then, it had been because their Alpha had been crazy.
That case that had brought me here had changed my life. Most times, I think it was for the better. But when my nightmares screamed too loudly, I have to admit, I do wonder what would have happened if I’d just told Damon to take his case and shove it up his ass. Then I choked on the guilt.
“It’s not like the games,” I said softly, finding myself at the window where Chang often stood. “Padraig and Justin knew some of the witches that have gone missing. A couple were warrior-born. Tough bastards. One witch of Justin’s skill could stand against a platoon of human soldiers if you put him in the right place.” I paused and then said again, “It’s not like before.”
I turned to see Chang standing just inches away.
His face was grim. “It’s not.”
He gave me five names, five dates, five routes. I noted them all down on a piece of paper while he gave me the stats and other information that wasn’t on the computer.
The latest was going through Georgia—via Atlanta—and the cats who’d gone missing had been seen there.
“She was the most recent,” he said quietly, bringing up a picture of a trim brunette. He looked up at me. “She went missing only five days ago. She could still show up in Orlando, but it’s not looking good. The others, however, are officially counted as missing.”
I studied the woman on his datapad. Shanelle Maguire. “Why was she coming here?”
“Several reasons.” Chang looked back at the screen. “I’m sure you recall the unpleasantness at the Ball. Shanelle is from the clan in northern Georgia. They call themselves the Claw, by the way.” He smiled, as if it amused him.
“The Claw.” It made me roll my eyes. “Sounds like a cheesy TV superhero villain.”
“Doesn’t it?” The smile faded as he hit a key. The image faded out of view, replaced by a stark, staggering display of mountains, the sun rising up low over the mists. I don’t know where that picture had been taken, but the beauty staggered me.
“Shanelle had dual goals when she announced her intentions to come to East Orlando. She’d volunteered her services for business that is ongoing between the Assembly and the Claw.” He paused and then added, “And she has petitioned Damon to rejoin the clan once her job for her current alpha is complete. She lived here years ago, but left. There were…reasons.” His voice was so smooth, I barely noticed the pause.
noticed. But I did notice it. Noticed, filed it away. “Okay, so she left.” I smiled thinly. “I assume it had something to do with Annette. Annette’s dispatched—now she wants to come back and this Assembly job just came up at the right time. How convenient.”
“You noticed that as well.” Chang returned my smile, thin and just barely there. “You’re smart, Kit. I admire that about you. Saves time when I don’t have to connect the dots.” Now he looked away. “Shanelle notified the clan—as courtesy dictates—that she was on official business for the Assembly and then she filed the official petition stating her desire to rejoin the clan and take reclaim her official position.”
“She had been one of the lead enforcers.” His voice was neutral.
neutral. There was something he wasn’t telling me.
The door opened and Chang’s eyes cut to the left.
As Damon came inside, I had a sinking feeling I already knew.
“What, I don’t get invited to tea these days, Chang?” He studied me before shifting his attention to his second.
I folded up the slip of paper and tucked it inside my vest, keeping the movement casual. Damon took note of it—he took note of
I imagined he also noticed the tension in the air and the way my heart jacked up before I got it under control. I could attribute that racing heartbeat to any number of things—I hadn’t seen him in over a week.
Hadn’t touched him—
touched him in far too long.
I could attribute it to nerves.
Maybe even a bit of jealousy, because I knew as sure as he stood there that there was a woman—a shapeshifter—who’d been heading this way to take back her place as an enforcer
as his lover.
But really, just looking at him was enough to make everything in me sigh.
Can we stop waiting already
“I would have invited you, but you hate tea, Damon.” Chang’s calm voice shattered the silence when all I could do was just sit there and stare dumbly at the man in front of us. “Kit wanted to know if I had any information about an on-going case.”
Damon shifted his gaze my way.
Chang might be a picture of masculine beauty, but Damon was pretty much the living, breathing personification of power. Up until he’d steamrolled his way into my life, I’d tended to avoid powerhouses like him, just because I didn’t like to feel that surrounded.
He was gorgeous and headstrong and intimidating and sarcastic.
“Well.” Chang cleared his throat, the gesture pointed. “I think I’m going to attend to some matters out in the club. Kit…if you can, check in when you have information about your case.”
“Uh…yeah.” I barely glanced at him.
“Hmmm.” The dry amusement in his voice was evident. But he didn’t head toward the door.
Rising, I swiped my hands down the sides of my cargoes, looking away from Damon before I somehow embarrassed myself even more. “So…ah…I…”
Chang cut me off before I managed to even stammer out a greeting to the man still watching me with intense eyes. I looked at Chang, then looked again.
He held the katana out in front of him, sheathed.
Slowly, I lowered my gaze to the katana and then back up to him. “I can’t…”
“The blade needs somebody who would appreciate it—” Chang corrected himself. “
as a weapon. I appreciate the effort that went into creating him, and I appreciate the artistry. But I have no need of the blade. You would do his maker justice.”
“You said his maker tried to relieve you of your head,” I said.
“And I repaid him by taking his.” He continued to hold it. “Take it, Kit.”
Greed raced through me and I couldn’t stop myself another moment. Reaching out, I closed my hand around it and took it. “Thank you.”
Chang, instead of replying, gave me a small bow.
I returned it and he left without speaking.
The door closed behind him a moment later and I lowered my gaze to the gift he’d given me.
“If he wasn’t my best man, I’d be tempted to hurt him for putting that look in your eyes.”
I shifted my attention up and met Damon’s gaze.
Even now, more than a year after I’d first met him, looking at him was enough to steal my breath away.
When he asked me out on a date—a for-real, actual
—a little over a month ago, my instincts had been to say no. My heart had kicked my instinct in the balls and screamed
. My response had been a slow, almost stammered, “Sure.” Since then, we usually saw each other once a week, but we met at a designated place.
He didn’t come see me.
I didn’t go to the Lair.
It was always in a public place.
The one exception had been the night of the Halloween Ball and my plans of seducing—or at least telling him I wanted to stop waiting—had gone screaming out the window.
But now we were alone.
I couldn’t exactly call this a
, of course. He’d shown up in Chang’s office, not knowing I’d be there, although he would have seen my car, and to be very honest—he’d probably realized I was here before he even hit the grounds. Shapeshifter senses are funny like that.