Read The Dark Side Online

Authors: M. J. Scott

Tags: #Paranormal Romance, #Urban Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Vampire Romance, #Werewolf Romance, #Werewolves, #Vampires, #magic, #Accountant, #The Wild Side Series, #FIC027120, #FIC009060, #FIC009000

The Dark Side (8 page)

BOOK: The Dark Side
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Gray-green eyes studied me for a moment and then he smiled. “Next time have a little faith.”

“Let’s hope there isn’t a next time,” I said with another shiver. If random vampires wanted to start frying themselves in Seattle, they could do it far away from me. The lingering cold feeling stroking my spine reminded me that maybe it wasn’t so random. Maybe Dan was right.

God. When was my life going to get back to normal?

We sat in silence a little longer while I finished my coffee. But procrastination wasn’t going to help anything. I couldn’t help investigate vampire suicides but I could do my job. “If we’re here, we might as well get to work.”

“Call Bug,” Jase called after me as I headed into my office. I stashed my bag and turned on my computer, ignoring the red message light on my phone.

After everything that had happened at Maelstrom and afterward, I wasn’t sure I was up to Bug right now. Not when I was going to have to tell Jase we’d acquired Lord Esteban as a client and ask him about how I might fend off vampire sex mojo. I needed more coffee before I faced any of it.

Coffee rebooted, I fired up my email. More messages. Including one from Rhianna Anders. Bug I could ignore for a little while but Rhi? Tate had killed my family and her big sister, Julie. My best friend. Rhi and I had bonded in grief. She was, after Bug, the closest thing to a relative I had.

And I hadn’t talked to her since before Dan had turned up in my office a few months back.

Great. More guilt. Plus, no doubt, she was emailing to nag about the memorial too.

I opened the message. Yep. She wanted to know if I’d be there. So I fired off a quick ‘sure, can’t wait, see you then, how’s life?’ response then stared at the phone. The red ‘message waiting’ light shone accusingly.

I sighed. Might as well get it over with. If I didn’t call back, Bug would just keep calling. So deal with her, then with telling Jase about our new client. “No time like the present,” I muttered and dialed her number.

“Hello, Aunt B,” I said after she answered with a crisp “Good afternoon.”

“I need to know when you’re arriving on Friday.”

Bug didn’t believe in beating around the bush. “I’m not sure,” I hedged. Mainly because I was actually planning to go down Saturday morning, attend the memorial service and then get the hell back to Seattle before anything could go wrong.

“It makes it hard for me to plan, if you don’t tell me.”

She sounded tired and I pulled a face as guilt pinged. I wasn’t the only one who’d lost someone in the massacre. My family was her family after all. And she’d lived in Caldwell all her life. She’d known every single victim. Half of them had been her students at Caldwell High.

But that was another part of the reason why attending the service was so hard—I hated seeing Bug sad instead of fiery.

“I’ll try,” I said. “But I’ve picked up a couple of new clients recently, so I might not be able to finish early enough to make it on Friday.” No way was I telling her that one of those clients was Lord Esteban. She already gave me enough grief about the fact I was still working on the Tate case. She figured Tate being dead was good enough, problem solved.

“Try hard, dear.” She hung up leaving me feeling even guiltier. I knew she worried that something else might happen to me if I kept working on the investigation and didn’t understand why I couldn’t go back to being just an accountant.

She didn’t know what kept me working with the Taskforce.

She didn’t know about the anti-vaccines that Tate had been involved with, the ones designed to not only reverse immunity to the vamp virus, but ensure that victims would turn if bitten without having to drink the vamp’s blood. And also ensure that anyone they bit would turn as well. She didn’t know because I couldn’t tell her. The existence of the anti-vaccines was pretty tightly wrapped up in layers of government classification.

Tate had tried to use the vaccine on me. Dan had saved me by biting me, gambling on the fact that lycanthropy was more contagious than vampirism.

We still didn’t know whether he’d succeeded because that was true or whether he’d just gotten lucky or whether Tate’s drug had also reversed my were vaccinations. The doctors had been unable to tell once the lycanthropy had taken hold and started working on my DNA.

But no matter why I’d changed, the implications for the vamp population were pretty scary if the anti-vaccines worked. The truce between the races held at the moment because humans had some faith in the vaccines to protect them and because they far outnumbered vamps and weres. If the vamp population suddenly exploded and humans realized one bite could result in them developing a hankering for O positive fresh from the jugular, then everything would change.

And I doubted it would be for the better.

Vampires weren’t my favorite people in the world but I didn’t want fear of vamps to extend to fear of weres. After all, I was one now. As was Dan. If Dan and I actually did walk down the aisle, it was almost certain our kids would be weres too.

I didn’t want my children to grow up being feared and hunted.

We had to track down Tate’s finances and hope the trail would lead us to Dr. Smith and whoever the hell else was behind this lunacy.

All while keeping my aunt happy, not annoying Esteban, and making it through another memorial service.

Simple.

The thought made me laugh. I wasn’t even sure I knew what simple was anymore.

Sighing, I buzzed Jase. If I was going to have any chance of making it to Caldwell and back into Aunt Bug’s good books by Friday evening, then I needed to do some schedule reshuffling.

“What’s up?” Jase slid into the chair on the far side of my desk.

I jumped. Pens and paper went flying. I hadn’t noticed him come in. That was happening more and more lately. Whatever Jase was doing with Marco, it seemed to be strengthening his vamp talents. Or maybe just making him more relaxed about using them.

I told myself it made no difference but it still freaked me out occasionally when he did something really vampy like suddenly appear in a room.

“I need to move some things around. I have to leave early on Friday.” I concentrated on picking up the pens I’d scattered and trying to remember exactly what meetings and client deadlines were in my schedule.

“And?” Jase leaned back in the chair, blue eyes nailing me. He never had to take notes. He had an annoyingly good memory.

“And what? This is the part where you tell me what appointments I can move.” I didn’t look at him. His question had nothing to do with the schedule. He wanted to know what had happened at Maelstrom.

“There’s something you’re not telling me.”

I looked up. He was frowning. I debated not telling him about Esteban for a moment. It would be nice to have one person in my life who wasn’t mad at me.

But I had to tell him. Firstly, because with Dan
persona non grata
as far as access to Esteban’s records were concerned, I’d need help and secondly, because Jase’s psychic abilities were getting stronger. For all I knew he might just be able to pluck the truth out of my mind.

“I need you to open a new client file,” I said reluctantly. “High level security.”

Chapter Four

Jase shook his head. “Please tell me it’s not who I think it is?”

“It’s not who you think it is,” I quipped.

“You’re lying,” he retorted. “Damn it, Ash. You’re taking Esteban on as a client? I’m beginning to think Dan is right about you.”

“Right about me?”

“You have the self-preservation instincts of Bambi.”

I bristled. “Hey, it’s not like I have a choice here. I owed Marco. I do this and we’re clear.”

That earned me another eye roll. “Apart from the blood debt.”

I hunched my shoulders. I didn’t want to think about the blood debt. I had no intention of letting another vampire feed from me. Ever. “Thanks for the reminder.” I gave him my ‘drop-it’ look.

He gave me his ‘as if’ right back. “What makes you think you’re going to get out of this without more trouble?”

I clicked the end of my pen in and out. “It’s a job. We go in, I solve the problem, end of story.” More clicks. The rhythm seemed to go with the chant of
fat chance, fat chance, fat chance
in my head. I made myself put the pen down. “Simple,” I added, trying to convince myself.

“That’s what you said last time.”

Right. Last time. When I’d agreed to help Dan track Tate’s finances and come out of the job with a brand new ability to change into a wolf and in debt to a vampire. Not to mention in love with a werewolf who didn’t seem so sure anymore that being in love with me was a good idea.

But this time wasn’t going to be like that. Not if I could possibly help it. “And I’ll tell you what I told Dan. Bambi ended up king of the fucking forest. So let’s get to work.”

* * *

After about three hours of stony silences, cool coffee and other behavior aimed at letting me know Jase disapproved of our newest client, the intercom buzzed.

“There’s someone here to see you,” Jase said. His voice sounded strange...distracted almost.

“Who is it?”

“He says his name is Nikolai.”

This time Jase sounded dreamy rather than distracted. Crap. The last thing I needed was my PA falling for a minion of the dark side. And Niko was very much Jase’s type.

Hell, he was everybody’s type. Not that I had any idea which team he batted for, but he’d flirted with Dan as well as me, so I figured Jase could be fair game. Particularly if Esteban wanted to gain some sort of advantage by ordering his employee to seduce mine.

Fuck.

I practically sprinted into the foyer. Sure enough, Niko was perched on a corner of Jase’s desk, smiling his depraved angel smile. Jase gazed back with an expression that reminded me of a Labrador who’d just seen five pounds of prime rib drop into his food bowl.

“Nikolai,” I said, trying to figure out how to put myself between him and Jase—impossible unless I climbed onto the desk. I settled for staying on the far side of the desk so Niko would at least have to look at me. “What are you doing here?”

He turned the smile my way and the female part of me went almost as melty as Jase looked. But the wolf snarled. And when it came to vampires like Niko and Esteban, I’d trust the wolf’s instincts over my hormones any day.

I folded my arms and waited. You can’t exactly stare down a vampire—not when some of them can thrall you with a look—but I was learning a little about dominance games from my pack so I let the silence stretch between us while I waited.

Nothing.

“I asked a question.” I let a little rumble underscore my tone. This was my office and I was the boss here, not Esteban or his errand boy. In fact, Niko didn’t strike me as the type to be the boss anywhere.

Turns out my impression was right. Niko made an apologetic face, stood and actually performed a small bow in my direction. The action looked so natural for him I had to wonder exactly how old he was. I knew Marco was old—at least four hundred—but I had no idea about Esteban. Or anyone else in his lineage.

“My apologies, Ms. Keenan,” Niko said. “I was distracted. So much beauty in one room.”

“Cut the crap. Get to the point.”

He leaned down and picked up a stainless steel briefcase. I hadn’t noticed it before because I’d been too busy looking at his face.

“My lord requested that I bring this to you.” Niko held the briefcase out.

I took it gingerly. Quite frankly I’d rather he’d handed me a box of live snakes. They’d be less problematic than the keys to Esteban’s finances. “Thank you.” I passed the case to Jase. “Jason, can you please get this data loaded into our system and secured?”

Niko frowned. “Lord Esteban said the information was for you.”

“And Jason is my assistant. He assists. In fact, he’ll be working with me on Lord Esteban’s...matter.”

Niko looked like he wanted to object again but then his face cleared and he trained another charm-angels-from-the-sky smile on Jason. “Then I shall look forward to furthering our acquaintance.”

“We don’t socialize with clients,” I said, watching Jase’s eyes glaze over with something like adoration. This
really
needed to be nipped in the bud. “Sorry.”

That earned me a ‘we’ll see about that’ sort of look from pretty boy and I let another low growl escape me. Niko shrugged, bowed again, and then turned and glided out of the office.

I waved a hand in front of Jase, who was gazing after Niko like a man who’d just had a close-up-and-personal encounter with a fantasy come to life. “Earth to Jase.”

He focused on me slowly. “Who
was
that?”

“His name is Nikolai. He’s Leah’s brother. You remember Leah, don’t you?” Jase had been at the meeting with Marco and Leah that had led to me incurring my stupid debt in the first place.

Jase wrinkled his nose, some of the worshipful look disappearing from his face. “Yes.”

“Right. So stay away from this one. He works for Esteban and if he’s anything like his sister, he’s trouble.”

Jase’s expression seemed to indicate any amount of trouble might be worth it if it came in a package that looked like Niko.

I intended to change his mind. “Why don’t you deal with what’s in the briefcase and then we can talk about the best approach?”

“Sure. And while I’m doing that, you can tell me exactly what happened last night.”

Now was the time to ask him about Esteban’s powers but something made me hesitate. “Briefcase,” I repeated. “Then work. Remember work? Pays the bills? Stops your paycheck from bouncing?”

“You’re stalling.”

 “Boss’s prerogative,” I said with a grin, and then ducked back into my office before he could do any more interrogating.

* * *

About twenty minutes later, Jase wandered into my office and lowered himself into a chair with a low whistle. “Someone’s ripping off Lord Esteban? All the data is transferred onto the secure server. Filed under ‘Bad Idea.’ I put the briefcase and the hard drive in the safe.” He passed me a hardcopy file, already bulging with paper.

 “Yeah, seems like a good way to commit suic—” I broke off as Jase winced. “Sorry. I meant it’s pretty monumentally stupid. Can’t imagine Esteban is big on leniency.”

BOOK: The Dark Side
10.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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