Trail of Dead (Scarlett Bernard #2)(6)

by Melissa F. Olson

“Yeah, yeah.” She gave me a smirk. “You’re twenty-three, Scarlett. It’s not exactly May–December. Maybe May–late June.”

I pretended to stare at the ceiling, whistling innocently, until Molly laughed. “Fine. Be that way. Are you off to bed?”

“I wish. I have to go see Eli to, uh, get my van back,” I said. So smooth, Scarlett. Theoretically, I could just call Eli and ask about the Studio City scene, but I’m extremely paranoid about discussing certain things on the phone. And besides, I really did need to get my van back.

“Tonight? Now?” Her eyes sparkled. Molly didn’t really know how involved Eli and I had become, but she at least knew I had slept with him. “And perhaps get a little something-something else?” Laid, she mouthed, with a smug nod. Molly likes to pretend our lives are more Sex and the City and less Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The book, not the atrocious Keanu Reeves movie.

I rolled my eyes good-naturedly. “It’s not like that. I’m officially back on duty, is all.” I turned to go, but stopped and looked back at Molly, who had unpaused her video game. “Uh, Molls? You didn’t hear anything else from Olivia, did you?”

The last time I’d seen her, Olivia had stalked me outside the hospital, shortly after I’d turned the vampire human again. For whatever reason, the effort to turn Ariadne had almost killed me—and resulted in me temporarily losing my radius. That moment outside the hospital was the perfect opportunity for Olivia to kill me, but she hadn’t done it—which made me believe she wanted to toy with me first. Trying to get to Molly would be just her style.

“Nope,” she said cheerfully, her little vampire avatar leapfrogging over what appeared to be an undead bodybuilder. “Besides, I don’t think she’d mess with me. I’ve got a lot of years on her. And I’m scrappy.”

“Yeah, I know…thanks. You gonna be around later?”

“Nah,” she said, and gave me one of her wicked, not-human smiles, which she managed to pull off even though she was currently human. “I’m probably gonna go check out the after-hours scene.” Ugh. Feeding. Molly had more than enough control to keep from killing her food, and as far as I knew she always left them happy and satisfied, pressing their minds so they would believe whatever story she wanted. I suppose there are worse things in the world, but it still leaves me feeling sort of icky.

I left her there and rounded the corner toward the stairs. “Hey, you put up the tree,” I called back to her. There was a modest four-footer in a little alcove next to the stairs.

“Yup. Did you see the new ornaments?” came Molly’s voice from the living room. I bent closer, squinting past the thick colored bulbs that Molly preferred to see what she’d used for decorations. The long, pointy-looking things weren’t icicles, as I’d originally thought, but tiny wooden stakes dipped in red nail polish to look like blood. In addition to the Nightmare Before Christmas line she’d brought out last year, she also had the Hallmark Keepsake versions of Dracula and Edward Cullen. I shook my head at them. “eBay!” she yelled before I could ask.

Rounding the tree, I dragged my suitcase up the stairs to the bedroom I use. Then I dropped the peacoat on the bed, unbound my long, almost-black hair, and tugged a brush through it. I pulled on fresh jeans and a T-shirt and got out my toiletry bag, heading into the bathroom across the hall to brush my teeth. As I raised the toothbrush to my face, though, I paused, caught off guard by my reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror. With my hair down I looked more and more like my mother every year.

The old grief burrowed back into my chest like a hungry tick. My parents had been killed five years earlier, when Olivia had tampered with the brakes on their Jeep. In a dark, twisted way, she’d wanted me for her surrogate daughter, and my mom and dad had been in the way of her dream. They were dead, and it was always going to be my fault. Seeing my mother’s face in the mirror was the least I deserved.

Knock it off, Scarlett. I dropped the toothbrush in a plastic cup and tugged at the mirror, popping the medicine cabinet open at an angle so I was no longer reflected. Then I took off, rolling my hair into a bun as I walked. I pulled my favorite canvas jacket out of the closet—well, off the floor of the closet—and deposited keys, phone, and wallet in its various pockets. It was a lot warmer than New York, but still only fifty degrees, so I wore a hoodie underneath the jacket. Ready. Well, as ready as I was going to get.

Chapter 3

I usually drive an enormous white van, which Molly has affectionately nicknamed “the White Whale.” It’s equipped with all my cleanup stuff—solvents, sponges, ziplock baggies that are big enough to hold body parts, a mop, et cetera—as well as a whole assortment of random stuff that had been handy at crime scenes in the past—a bag of dirt, air freshener, extra light bulbs. There’s even a refrigerated section for when I have to transport dead bodies. While I was gone, however, Eli had been driving the van, so it was missing from my usual spot in the parking garage down the street from Molly’s. Instead I had Eli’s battered blue pickup truck. I retrieved the spare key from one of the tire wells and turned the engine over. Success. I backed out of my spot and turned the truck’s nose south.

On the way, I finally checked my voice mail. Sure enough, there was one from Eli, sounding panicked and rushed. “Scar, it’s me. I had a really tough job tonight and I’m worried about the results. Call me when you get this, okay? Please?”

That worried me. It wasn’t like Eli to sound so frantic. He’s had a lot of practice in controlling his demeanor. Eli struggles pretty hard with his inner werewolf’s Call of the Wild. For a long time I thought he was only interested in me because being around me is so calming, but he’s proved more than once that it’s deeper than that. Still, our relationship is complicated, partly because of Jesse. And partly because Eli was technically my employee, until I found a more permanent replacement. Finding an apprentice had not been at the top of my priority list the last couple of months.

I drove straight for Hair of the Dog, the bar where Eli works. It was just after 2:00 a.m. on a Wednesday, so the place would be closed, but only just. The bar is owned by a werewolf named Will Carling, who’s the alpha here in LA. Will is one of the few Old World creatures that I fully respect: he’s a good man, and a good leader. Werewolf movies always make it seem like a pack is all about dominance and submission—the pecking order—but in the wild, most wolf packs and werewolf packs are led by an alpha male and female (who are almost always a couple) who solve disputes, keep the wolves in line, and organize full moon activities. Basically, they’re like parents. Will doesn’t have an alpha mate yet, so his pack has a beta, a second-in-command. And that’s Eli. Poor guy has to deal with pack business, holding a full-time job, and being my apprentice. Good thing he has easy access to liquor.