Trail of Dead (Scarlett Bernard #2)(12)


by Melissa F. Olson

He fussed with my hair, picking loose strands off my face and smoothing them back toward the bun. Suddenly my hair felt too tight on my head. I reached back and pulled out the rubber band, and he made a soft noise of pleasure, winding his long fingers in my hair, spiraling it around and around. I looked up at him, tensing for a kiss, but he just planted a quick smooch on my nose and said, “Tell me about New York.”

I relaxed onto his chest. New York…was I really there just a few hours before? “It was cold. Very cold. And everything is decorated all to hell for Christmas. It was like being inside a snow globe.” He made a “go on” noise. “The New York null is nice. His name is Jameson, and he works mostly for the city’s master vampire.”

“Malcolm.”

“Yeah.” I tilted my head up at him. “How did you know that?”

“I met him,” Eli said soberly. “I moved here from New York, remember?”

“Oh. Right. Well, Jameson goes to a lot of daytime business meetings with him. I went along, got to know some of the vampires. There, um, weren’t a lot of werewolves.”

“No,” Eli said with some bitterness. “Malcolm doesn’t care for us. He forces the wolves out of the city.”

Which explained why Eli had moved to LA. Not that I’d ever thought to just ask. I felt like an idiot. Two minutes of trying to have a real, no-drama conversation, and I’d brought up a sore subject. “Sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.”

I sometimes forget that for all the tension between Will, Dashiell, and Kirsten, we’re actually pretty lucky in LA. Most major cities are run by one group or another, and everyone else is encouraged to get the hell out of town. LA is the only city I know of where all three groups are welcome to live in peace, minus the occasional skirmish over who insulted whom.

It wasn’t always this way. Witches, werewolves, and vampires all evolved from the same group of people, thousands of years ago. For a long time, they’d all interacted more or less in peace, even helping each other out occasionally. Then there was an Inquisition or five, which was hard on all three groups, but particularly on the witches. Their leaders went to the vampires and werewolves and begged for help, but both groups turned them away, for different reasons. The desperate witches tried to strengthen their magic, and made an inadvertent discovery that changed everything—and led to even more tension. Four hundred-some years of fighting later, a werewolf gets kicked out of New York and begins tending bar in LA.

“Did you learn anything new?” Eli asked, changing the subject.

I shifted around, trying to buy time. Eli knew that I went to New York to find out more about nulls and what they could do, but he didn’t know about my apparent ability to permanently change a vampire back into a human. Unfortunately, when I’d hinted around during theoretical discussions, Jameson had been completely clueless.

I had to make sure Eli stayed that way too. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust him to keep it quiet, but if he knew about my newfound ability he could be at risk too. Besides, if I could permanently turn a vampire, wouldn’t it be theoretically possible to change a werewolf back too? Things between Eli and me were complicated enough without something that big between us. Eli hated being a werewolf (the majority of them did), and part of him would always be hoping I would change him back.

“Sort of,” I said at last. “Jameson didn’t know much more than I did about the history of nulls. But I did pick up a new trick.”

“What trick?”

I rolled off him and sat up, folding my legs. “Go stand in the hall.”

He looked at me quizzically, but I just nodded. Shrugging, he got up and stood out in the hall. Still in my radius. “Farther,” I said. He backed up a few feet. “A little farther.” Realizing what I wanted, he backed up until he left my radius. “Okay, hold still.”

I closed my eyes and concentrated on my breathing. When I was sure I was calm, I felt for the edges of my circle, or rather, my sphere, the same way you can focus on the feeling in one part of your body. I traced the edge of my circle all the way around, until I could hold the whole thing in my head. Then I exhaled and concentrated on the word expand. I felt the circle stretch.

“Whoa,” said Eli from the hall. He returned to my room. “You figured out how to make it bigger.”

Opening my eyes, I shrugged. “Null circles generally expand when we get really emotional or upset. I just learned how to do it without freaking out first. It’s not a big deal.”

“It’s totally a big deal,” he argued, and I felt a little pleased. It had taken me a while to learn it. Meditation techniques don’t exactly come easily to me. For some reason.

He came back to bed, wrapping me up in his arms and the covers. “Very cool,” he pronounced, and he kissed the top of my head. “Get some sleep.”

But I lay still for a few more minutes, listening to his heart and the way he breathed. “Eli?”

“Mm.”

“I don’t want to be a victim,” I whispered. “I don’t want to be her victim. Or her prize, or whatever. I don’t want to be a piece in a game.”

He loosened his arms, scooting his body down in the bed so his eyes could meet mine. He kissed me on the lips, but a warm, chaste kiss with no need to it. “You won’t be.”

Chapter 6

After he’d hung up with Scarlett, Jesse Cruz had turned back to face the bustling activity at the crime scene. The Jeep was an early 2000s model, painted an unfortunate dark red that set off the blood on the windshield. It was standing upright, but looked crumpled, as though it had been rolled like a boiled egg. Which was more or less what had happened. Inside the car, the Reeds still sat upright, pinned in place by their seat belts. Liam Reed was a middle-aged business type with a sharp salt-and-pepper haircut. Sara Reed was a decade younger, with tan skin and laugh lines around her mouth and eyes. She was wearing a navy cashmere sweater with a snowman stitched into the chest. The only visible blood on either of them was a small dark circle that turned the snowman red.

The driver and passenger doors had been opened and the crime-scene photographer, Runa, was snapping shots of the bodies, completely focused on the digital camera. The two uniformed cops who had responded to the call were interviewing, separately, the couple who had discovered the body. A forensic investigator named Walter Benson was crouched next to the Jeep, collecting a sample of leaked oil. The other forensic technician saw that Jesse was off the phone and trotted over, clipboard clutched to her chest.